Active learning is superior to passive learning. Primates, including humans, learn and remember best by actively doing tasks. Rhesus monkeys, for instance, learn far more through active participation than they can through passive instruction.
Even worse, our educational system prizes “verbal” passive instruction. This emphasizes feelings instead of abstract evidence-based reasoning. It sets children up to be failures in life when they realize that verbal skills are utterly worthless in society.
Eliezer Yudkowsky described why we need to understand the technical explanation rather than meaningless verbal explanations. His technical explanation of a technical explanation describes Bayesian reasoning. The only way to truly learn it is to sit down and actively use Bayesian probability theory.
Yudkowsky warns us not to Guess the Teacher’s Password:
There is an instinctive tendency to think that if a physicist says “light is made of waves”, and the teacher says “What is light made of?”, and the student says “Waves!”, the student has made a true statement. That’s only fair, right? We accept “waves” as a correct answer from the physicist; wouldn’t it be unfair to reject it from the student? Surely, the answer “Waves!” is either true or false, right?
Which is one more bad habit to unlearn from school. Words do not have intrinsic definitions….But in school, the teacher hands you a gold star for saying “made of waves”, which must be the correct answer because the teacher heard a physicist emit the same sound-vibrations. Since verbal behavior (spoken or written) is what gets the gold star, students begin to think that verbal behavior has a truth-value. After all, either light is made of waves, or it isn’t, right?
Does the student technically understand the wave equation? Can he use the mathematical formula to describe “waves” in the sense that physicists understand waves?
Or are the students just mimicking the sound-vibration pattern of “waa-v” to get a gold sticker reward? They are like lab rats pushing a button to get food pellets. There’s not higher thought process. Students and rats are conditioned to engage in repetitive behavior without real understanding about the technical process.
Wellington Grey mocked this notion with a sample test that asked: “This is the wave equation. How does it make you feel?”
As I said before:
“Education Departments oppose logical positivism and empiricism…. Arguments are based on emotional appeal and clever vocabulary rather than empirical evidence. This is absurd.”
This is the Stupidity of Nuance.
Yudkowsky notices that this leads to even worse behavior. It encourages students to guess the teacher’s password. If they are confronted with an anomoly, they will shout out meaningless sound-patterns that sound like “scientific” explanations. They no longer think mathematically or scientifically. They guess words until they get that gold sticker.
Suppose the teacher presents you with a confusing problem involving a metal plate next to a radiator; the far side feels warmer than the side next to the radiator. The teacher asks “Why?” If you say “I don’t know”, you have no chance of getting a gold star – it won’t even count as class participation. But, during the current semester, this teacher has used the phrases “because of heat convection”, “because of heat conduction”, and “because of radiant heat”. One of these is probably what the teacher wants. You say, “Eh, maybe because of heat conduction?”
This is not a hypothesis about the metal plate. This is not even a proper belief. It is an attempt to guess the teacher’s password.
The students attempt to guess what a scientific hypothesis would sound like despite lacking understanding. The situation he describes is implausible – there is no explanation (except that the teacher flipped the metal plate just before the students looked at it).
This is not even about memorizing mathematical formulas like wave or diffusion equations. You must use those formalas to anticipate experiences. Otherwise you are parroting sound vibrations to make yourself feel good but have no ability to anticipate experience.
This is how human beings think, unless they are trained not to fall into the trap. Humanity stayed stuck in holes like this for thousands of years.
Here’s another example. Many people believe in evolution. When the teacher asks, where did people come from? Students shout back “evolution!”
I did that too. I did not have the slightest clue what evolution really meant until I was much older.
Our educational system teaches an “evolutionary narrative” rather than what evolution is. Teachers tell their students to memorize a verbal story instead of teaching them the technical explanation of how evolution occurs.
There should be no surprise that some reject the evolutionary narrative and favor the creationism narrative. Students can pick and choose whichever verbal story they find most pleasing rather than understanding which is correct.
I was lucky. My high school biology teacher repeatedly told us that “evolution” is not a narrative. He set me on the right path. He tried his best to describe genes. He told us that exchanges of genetic material through asexual or sexual means created diversity (without the need for much mutation). He then told our all male class to stop giggling every time he said sexual. We did math in biology class. We studied probability when looking at genes and evolution. When I wasn’t giggling, I started to understand the technical aspects of evolution, but at a superficial level though. I could guess the teacher’s password (genes!) and show a little math to pretend I knew what that really meant.
Once I played with a genetic algorithm, I understood how sexual exchange of genes produce the necessary variation and adaptation for evolution. I saw the vast range of diversity it produces. The genetic algorithm, technically, is just a search program which can simulate evolutionary dynamics or other complex adaptive systems. I originally used it for game theory decision-making. The GA shows how “genes” or any other building block can recombine and produce new characteristics or behaviors.
I also realized how very little I knew about evolution. The more I technically understood, the more I realized how incomplete my knowledge is. I don’t know! I would never get gold stickers in school again.
I am now consistently amazed at people who profess belief in evolution and claim that their personal behavior is not linked to genes. It’s linked to “culture” in their minds. Animals have culture too, it’s a product of genes. However, they must really believe in evolution because the clearly do not have a technical understanding it. They reject one of the great products of genetic evolution and choose to believe in a different creationist narrative.
These people shout “evolution!” as a marker of group identity to differentiate themselves from the religious group who shout “creation!” This is just verbal behavior linked with primitive tribalism. It is not scientific.
School taught me nothing. With the exception of mathematics classes, everything I truly learned occured outside the class room. Education involves virtually no abstract reasoning. It was all about verbal passwords and simple-minded monkey behavior. Education is passive learning.
The failure of our educational system to teach critical and abstract reasoning skills is destructive to our society. By rewarding verbal behavior, it encourages the human cognitive bias that verbal “nuance” signifies intelligence. It does not. It signifies ignorance of a technical understanding. Nuance is just a lot of sound-vibrations that cannot anticipate experiences. It explains nothing, but sounds impressive to our primitive minds.
Verbal behavior makes arguments beyond available evidence. Humans instinctively create verbal narratives to make themselves feel good.
Richard Dawkins bemoans this destructive trend in his “Enemies of Reason” Series. People uncritically accept nonsensical “alternative medicine” because it makes them feel good. Words like holistic have no technical meaning whatsoever, yet people believe in the concept anyway.
Afterall, if you have no technical understanding of waves, evolution, or gravity, then “holistic” is just another word and just as good as anything else. Who are these so-called scientists to say otherwise? Holistic feels good – it’s spiritual! No need for double-blind experimental testing, no need for empirical evidence, no need for technical understanding of the process. Just say spiritual and that’s good enough.
This is a betrayal of the Enlightenment. The fundamental problem, I think, lies with the fashion, throughout our educational system, to teach students to value private feeling more than highly than evidence-based reason. This is rooted in the post-modern relativist agenda. For relativists, scientific truth is just a patriarchical Western orthodoxy that, like the old Roman Catholic Church, stands in the way of other equally valid outlooks on the world.
Real teachers should teach their students empiricism. They have to tell students to examine the empirical evidence and technically describe the evidence. Perhaps a pure mathematical education may actually be a good idea.
Students should be punished for using verbal answers, they should be punished for guessing, they should be punished for extending their explanation beyond evidence. These bad instincts should be drilled out of our minds, not reinforced with gold stickers.
The lack of reasoning in our education systems forces intelligent men to struggle through this retarded system and then unlearn all these bad habits. This is crippling to our society.