Entering the Third Plague Block with Epistemology

I’ve been thinking hard about how I’m going to run my new class, How to Tell What’s Real. This is the shape as I’m thinking of it now:
We will start each class with meditation. Not only do I think this will have the general benefits that meditation has, but it should also free our minds to allow our intuition to flow better, as well as giving us a bit of room to unclench from our prejudices.

The next part will be a little free-roaming.

First, we’ll need to talk about what we mean when we say something is “real” or “true”. There are a few meanings. “Chihuahuas aren’t real dogs” is a comparison to an imagined, ideal dog; “Chihuahuas are Canis Domestis, descended from the same recent branch as German Shepherds, Irish Wolfhounds, and Chows” is another kind of “real”.

Then we’ll have to discuss what it means to be sure of an assertion; what it means to be accurate versus precise. What it means to develop a hypothesis, and then to revise your hypothesis.

We’ll talk about questions rattling around in our heads. “How does atomic energy work?”, “How bad is COVID?”, “What’s money?”, pulling them into component parts to figure out what we’re really asking.

We’ll start learning how to research the problem and how to do experiments. Some of the time, of course, we won’t be able to perform the experiment we’re interested in. We have to obey my basic Makerspace principle of “No storing or releasing an amount of energy that can kill a kid” and we have limited time or money. When such limitations prevent us from doing direct experiment, we’ll look at primary and secondary reporting, or, if we can’t find any, we’ll see if we can contact the people who know about the kinds of things we’re wondering about.

My hope is that our questions will come fast and free after a while, choosing which ones we can really research. I’m a little concerned about the kids who tend not to speak up, and there’s only so much I can do about that; I often have side-channel conversations with quiet students already, but discussion could wind up being a really important part of the process and I want those kids to feel comfortable speaking up. I think we’ll have a strong “Ask each other questions” policy to encourage exploration over argument, but depending on who actually joins me, that side channel might turn out to be really vibrant.