The flight from reason

The flight from reason JA Goldman - ‎1973I would like to report...

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letters Text Aids in Statistical Mechanics Course To the Editor: I would like to report the success I have had using the new text by Ralph Baierlein, "Atoms and Information Theory: An Introduction to Statistical Mechanics," reviewed in a recent issue 149, A397 (1972)]. While there is not enough material for a full course, the text is extremely successful when used with one of the more conventional texts (Davidson or Hill). It is extremely well written and very readable, the kind of a book that can be read for pleasure and relaxation as one would read a novel or best-seller. Such readabilitv is seldom found in anv soecialized text and is the key to this honk's success. he information theory approach and Baierlein's presentation provides the chemistry student an intuitive feeling for the foundations and ideas of the statistical mechanical methods. Students can learn the concept of probabilities and can much better understand the conventional ensemble approach; in fact, I have cut hack the lecture time devoted to these topics by assignments from Baierlein. Several of my students have commented on their enjoyment of this text, the enlightenment is worth the cost (two $14 hooks for a one-semester course). Raymond L. Schmidt Louisiana State University in New Orleans New Orleans, Louisiana 70122

The Flight from Reason To the Editor. As one of the many who are intensely concerned about the current challenges to the validity and the value of reason, I found the September editorial (p. 579) notably perceptive in its suggestion that "the skepticism toward i t (reason)'' is, in a sense, often merely an extension, or an extrapolation as it were, of that attitude of skepticism which is a significant function surely not only of science hut of authentic education in general. By recognizing as one possible consequence, that the contemporary (albeit not developing de nouo, having had historical impulses) nurturing of an unbounded skepticism might very well become liable to distortion, perhaps we will be somewhat better prepared to deal with the actions that arise out of the words of challenge to reason. In a manner of speaking, the habit of skepticism does cause a struggle-of the emotions as well as of ideas-to occur within each of us, and as was indicated in the July editorial (p. 447), it is this struggle which provides human beings with meaning and understanding. There is a decided difference between struggling and suffering. Suffering, more often than not, results in a paralysis, a t worst, and a procrastination, at best, of action. It is struggling, and not suffering, which infuses life and authentic liberal education. Science is surely one of the liberal arts when it liherates the human mind-while a t the same time it nurtures a comparatively disciplined approach to reality. Thus, inquiry into nature, in a sense, does require an ongoing struggle. Nonetheless, regardless of how precisely the current skepticism can be considered an exaggerated form of rationality, I am not altogether convinced that the search 304

/ Journal of Chemical Education

is all that often for "a better quality of reason." A focus on instantaneous physical and psychological experience (the use of consciousness expanding drugs, for hut one example) does not seem to exemplify an aspect of rationality because reason by its very nature is rarely an instantaneous process, regardless however else some might wish the case to he. Indeed according to some current writers (e.e.. Roszak. Castaneda. Weil) the search is often for a "'&ibn" othe; than the rational or scientific one. Be that as it mav. we should realize that reason is more than merely logic. Logic may be utilized to achieve a particular goal, but it is reason and values that provide a guide. One such value is the common good although perhaps it often is not always immediately or entirely evident. Man is not only a reasoning individual but a feeling one so that neither heartless reason nor mindless feeling are truly human. J a m e s A. Goldman New York City Community College Division of Continuing Education 300 Jay Street

Alternate Pathways to Mastery of Material To the Editor. Delwyn D. Johnson's letter "Watered-Down" Chemistry: A Tired Cliche (J. CHEM. EDUC., 49. 378 (1972)) is very much to the point in its description of what the cliche implies. However, he was being entirely ton kind when he failed to point out that the matter of "watered-down" courses is very much related to academic snobbery. The offering of esoteric content, which is so often irrelevant to the needs of the student (and is therefore perceived by the student to be tough), simply serves to stroke the instructor's ego; the arguments that "it makes the course interesting" and "it serves to stretch the minds of the student" are the unsubstantiated rationale for the insertion of this irrelevant material. Unfortunately, I find that Johnson has himself been entrapped by another cliche: a student is only capable of learning to a certain level. This cliche is a reasonable summation of observations made when all students are given the same single learning pathway and the same fixed period of time to achieve variable degrees of mastery of the content. Yet if we subscribe to this cliche, the beauty of the question "what do students need to learn" is destroyed. On the assumption that we have determined what students need to learn in a given course, it is only reasonable that: first, we demand that the students master this material (otherwise we are contributing to their cumulative ignorance); secondly, we (our educational institution) allow them the time they require in order to master the material; and thirdly, our educational institution provide us (the faculty) with the forms of support that enable us to provide students alternative learning pathways to mastery of the material. The evidence is suggesting that 90% of the student population can achieve mastery under the above conditions. The value of this approach is that the needs of the student, rather than those of the instructor, are served through a systematic approach to the curriculum and to learning. Douglas K. Jardine, Dean Academic Studies Capilana College

West Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada