Wednesday, September 28, 2005

In which the Meridian prepares to lead unsuspecting freshmen in a discussion of the question, "What is 'reality'?

In my 16-weeks-of-work-crammed-into-7-weeks-of-classes version of Comp I, we begin a small unit on how to write an argument. Our model essay is Socrates' (via Plato) "Allegory of the Cave." For many of my students, this has traditionally been the first time they've been asked such basic questions as the above-posed one and "How do you know what you know?" For those who take it seriously, it's hard work--and great fun.

Inevitably, the evidence-of-the-senses proof will come up today, and for that I will be prepared: I will be wearing a shirt (natural fabric, no tricky additives that I'm aware of) that appears dark olive green in sunlight and fluorescent light but dark brown in incandescent light. There's a scientific term for colors that do this, but it escapes me just now (perhaps my readers . . . ?). I'll also be using the example of the long upstairs hall for an example of vanishing points and how information we receive through the eyes can distort how we perceive space.

Anyway. I'll let you know how it goes. And, since I also teach two sections of the much-saner, traditionally-scheduled 16-week version of this class, this same unit will come up again in late November; thus, if any readers have ideas for simple illustrations like the above that get students to thinking differently about what they experience as material reality, I'd much appreciate hearing about them.

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Ariel said...

That seems a great idea for a Comp 1 class. I had an excellent Comp teacher, but we never got into epistemology.

Anonymous said...

I had a college professor who, when giving his intro to Hume, would say something like "According to our senses, there's no way to know whether or not there's a green monkey in my desk. We base our belief that there is not on the probability statistic that in past sensory encounters with the desk, it did not contain a green monkey. In this case however.." *pauses to produce green monkey from desk* " turns out that we would be wrong."

I ended up taking several classes from this prof, so I saw the presentation several times with varying receptions.

- MoleculaRR

Anonymous said...

Also, I thought I'd mention that in my class we're just starting a unit on Alternate Reality Games, so I was posing similar "reality" questions in class last week. I asked things like "What's the difference between truth and fact?" and "What's the difference between fiction and a lie?"

The point being that they're all conditions of belief influenced by rhetorical cues which can be manipulated, as they are in ARG.

veach st. glines said...

Chatoyance is the term for a substance which changes color or luminescence under differing light sources.