GIFTED EDUCATION NEWS-PAGE
VOLUME 16, NUMBER 5
P.O. BOX 1586; MANASSAS, VA 20108; 703-369-5017 www.giftededpress.com
The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design (2006) by Leonard Susskind. New York: Little, Brown and Company. Sussskind is a highly reputed theoretical physicist from Stanford University who is one of the originators of String Theory. His book includes a comprehensive and understandable discussion of the current state this field of science. He first presents the history and disputes surrounding quantum theory. Then, he shows that the Standard Model of the construction and function of elementary particles, as depicted by Richard Feynman, has dominated physics for many decades. This model has led to what physicists and cosmologists call the Anthropic Principle - all of the fine-tuned requirements for the design of life on Earth might be the work of a higher being or at least the result of innumerable and necessary coincidences in the physical world. Further support for this principle comes from Einstein's Cosmological Constant which supposedly functions in a precise manner to prevent the over-expansion of the universe into disruptive particles that are incapable of forming planets, stars and galaxies. This constant is a form of anti-gravity that prevents gravitational forces from reversing matter into a singularity (collapsed universe) which astronomers and cosmologists have proposed as existing before the Big Bang. The exact mathematical value of the cosmological constant has plagued physicists since Einstein first presented it in 1917 and later rejected as being the biggest blunder of his career.
Beginning in the late 1960s, physicists started working on a theory which stated that all elementary particles (electrons, protons, neutrons, quarks, photons, and so forth) are composed of string-like objects that vibrate at different rates and have different shapes. String Theory was originally developed to provide a clearer explanation of particle physics and cosmology than the Standard Model, particularly in unifying ". . .gravity with quantum mechanics. . . ." (p. 123). However, the mathematics underlying this theory leads to a universe consisting of nine spatial dimensions and one time dimension - understandably difficult for most human beings to conceptualize.
Professor Susskind has provided an incredibly clear picture of String Theory's history and basic underlying concepts. His explanations are free of the complicated mathematics used in forming this theory. Instead, he presents simple diagrams illustrating how strings work to produce the fundamental particles of matter. This theory also predicts that there are an almost infinite number of universes (Landscapes) that have physical laws different from our own. If this is the case, then the Anthropic Principle becomes meaningless because our universe might have occurred purely by chance. As Professor Susskind emphasizes, String Theory will require many more years of theoretical work and empirical research with particle accelerators and other instruments to prove its usefulness. In the world of physics, it has caused enormous controversy among theorists and researchers that will take years to resolve.
This book represents a "tour de force" in explaining difficult concepts originating from Isaac Newton's time to the modern era of relativity, quantum mechanics, Feynman diagrams and String Theory. Gifted students who have a bent for studying science and for wrestling with complex scientific theories will enjoy and learn a great deal from reading this book.
A Life of Discovery: Michael Faraday, Giant of the Scientific Revolution (2002) by James Hamilton. New York: Random House. This book is an object lesson in how an individual from an economically poor environment, who was endowed with talent for rigorous thinking and systematic study, developed into one of the greatest scientists of his age. Faraday's life (1791-1867) also illustrates how mentors can play a significant part in the education of a highly gifted individual. This British scientist, instrumental in explaining and demonstrating that electricity was a field force rather than a narrow phenomenon confined to wires, revolutionized nineteenth and twentieth century technology. He invented the electric motor and thereby accelerated Britain's and the world's industrial revolution. He showed how electricity and magnetism were two closely related sides of nature's display of energy and movement through his experiments on electro-magnetic rotation. His later research demonstrated the principle of electro-magnetic induction which is the basis for the generation of electricity and the use of this powerful technology in industry and society. Finally, he laid the groundwork for later achievements in physics by influencing James Clerk Maxwell's development of the mathematical principles underlying electro-magnetic conduction (1864) and Einstein's work on relativity (1905, 1915-16).
Michael Faraday was the son of a blacksmith and raised in a strict religious sect known as the Sandemanians. This sect ". . .preached love and hope rather than hellfire and damnation, but it was tough love. . . ." (p. 4). They also emphasized dedication to hard work and to the strict interpretation of the Bible. When a youth of 13 or 14 years, he started working as an apprentice for a bookbinder and bookseller, George Ribeau, his first mentor. Ribeau recognized Faraday's curiosity and intelligence, and encouraged him to read books and engage in intellectual discussion groups. Faraday became an expert bookbinder under Ribeau's tutelage but decided that his real interests were in scientific research, particularly chemistry. He attended many excellent science lectures available to laymen in London, and eventually became an assistant to the outstanding chemist, Sir Humphry Davy at the Royal Institution of London. Davy was Faraday's mentor for many years and helped to expand his cultural horizon by taking him on a grand tour of France, Italy, Switzerland and Southern Germany. While Faraday was developing skills as a research chemist, he was also participating in philosophical discussions (City Philosophical Society), systematically improving his writing and speaking skills, and studying visual arts. He was a great believer in self-improvement through intensive study and interactions with intellectually stimulating peers. Although Faraday had numerous personal and professional conflicts with Davy because of his patronizing attitude, they were later resolved to the satisfaction of both men. Faraday was eventually admitted to the Royal Society (the preeminent science association in Great Britain) after much professional controversy about his work on electricity. In later years, he was a senior lecturer at the Royal Institution and the Director of the Laboratory. Regarding the uniqueness of Faraday's cognitive awareness, the author says: "Leading with his eyes open, it was this heightened awareness and its consequent insights that gave Faraday the edge over his contemporaries. Faraday was an artist whose mode of expression happened to take him towards the interpretation rather than the representation of the natural world, and if there had ever been a crossroads in his early life, one sign would have pointed to 'art', the other to 'science.'. . ." (p. 234).
A Life of Discovery is a fascinating account of an outstanding scientist and unique human being. To understand the life of Michael Faraday is to also understand some of the important features of giftedness - high levels of curiosity, the importance of mentors, advanced perceptual sensibility, and exceptional levels of reasoning, verbal expression and conceptualization. Teachers should carefully study this book to improve their own understanding of these characteristics of giftedness.
Seen and Unseen Mentors: Enhancing the Arts for the Gifted Student
Eugene Avergon Diana Avergon
Art by Choice Books Fletcher, North Carolina
A mentor can be described as a teacher, an advisor, a trusted friend or an influential person. The common thread among mentors is that they do influence. As gifted students sometimes seek mentors as guides in their learning experiences, they also look to influences that can help them better understand their own talents and feelings. Mentorship programs have become part of some school offerings. Coaches, tutors, master teachers and community leaders are made available to work with students. These seen mentors are contemporary in a student's life. Students who gain access to a mentor who inspires them will often gain a friend, a role model or perhaps a person who will greatly enhance their focus. An unseen mentor can influence a student through images, writings, music or some other media. These mentors, never seen by the student, might live contemporaneously or be from the past.
Seen Mentors. Ellen Winner speaks of those profoundly gifted students who attend schools that do not meet their academic needs and consequently seek education outside of the classroom. She discusses artistically gifted children who made connections with artists, and how those adults served as teachers and mentors.1 Schools can assist in expanding the learning environment by accommodating students in finding out-of-school programs. These programs might take the form of community mural painting, architectural and landscape development, museum education and independent study, to name a few. Mentoring experiences can best come out of these direct contacts.
An arts mentor may lead a student to discover a personal style, express emotion or it might extend a direction. Mark Rothko, a leading Twentieth Century Abstract Expressionist painter was brilliant, yet often a cautious and self doubting artist. His contemporary, Clyfford Still, became a mentor to him. As Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still emerged as figures in the new American painting exhibits of the late 1940s and early 1950s, the two contemporary painters grew close. Still's earlier and confident advancement into abstraction was followed by Rothko's own move into a period of bold experimentation. Katherine Kuh related that Rothko found Clyff Still a stimulating influence on his thinking and a provider of courage to sustain his work between 1947 and 1950.2 It would allow Rothko to transit from Surrealistic myth-influenced paintings to those of highly abstract-influenced forms of pure color.
Unseen Mentors. An artist never met by a student can act as an unseen mentor. Research might lead a gifted student into reading the brilliant essay by Piet Mondrian, Plastic Art and Pure Plastic Art (1937), from which his final rectilinear, nonobjective painting style emerged. A young artist might be impacted by the images of the stupendously scaled impermanent installation art done by Christo, such as his Surround Islands, Biscayne Bay, 1980-83. Sharon Daniels, operatic soprano and director of the Opera Institute, Boston University, speaks of Bidu Sayao (debut in 1936) as her unseen mentor: "It may be pretentious to claim Bidu Sayao as my teacher. I actually never met her or even saw her perform. But she profoundly affected me as a young soprano. ...[it was] always Sayao whose voice, whose very soul it seemed, intimately entered my senses, my heart, my intellect, inspiring me first to sing beautifully, but also to tell the truth; to be true to style, but also to be unafraid to be unique in soul and emotional personality."3
Mentors can provide a gifted student with intellectual and emotional motivation for carrying work forward. Whether seen or unseen, these mentors can "...support and challenge as they help their younger charges develop a vision for the future (Kaufman, 2003)"4
1. Ellen Winner (1996). Gifted Children: Myths and Realities. New York: Basic Books, 250-251.
2. James E. B. Breslin (1993). Mark Rothko: A Biography. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 223.
3. Sharon Daniels. From Opera's Masters: Enlightenment and Empowerment.
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4. Del Siegle (2005). Developing Mentorship Programs for Gifted Students: The Practical Strategies Series in Gifted Education. Waco, Texas: Prufrock Press, Inc., 4.
Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright © by Gifted Education Press, June-July 2007