Let's do a bit of dot connecting...
About 35 to 40 million years ago something rather cool happened. The branch of primates we're from, now the apes and old world monkeys (Catarrhini) went from two to three cones in our eyes.
Cones are the specialized cells that allow us to discriminate differences in something we call color.1 We're pretty good at sorting out color - at least women are as many women know when they see men attempt to match colors when they dress.2 The extra type of cone that was added gives us the ability to tell the difference between red and green - an impossible task for your dog or cat - or most mammals for that matter. But why?
Curiously there may be a trigger. It turns out trees that produce fruit started to take off about the same time 40 million years ago. Specifically trees that produced a fruit that changed in color from green to red when it was ripe. And there appears to have been a trigger that produced the colored fruit.
Around 40 million years ago the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere dramatically decreased. Our planet depends on having some carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to act as a greenhouse gas. As atmospheric CO2 levels dropped the planet chilled. The fruit bearing trees may have been a response to the changing climate.
It may be that a drop in greenhouse gases let triggers for two evolutionary paths - trees that produced fruit that turned red when it ripened and our ancestors who got a third cone to quickly detect "redness" in ripe fruit. Something that could be rather useful.
40 to 55 million years ago the Tibetan Plateau rose dramatically. It altered wind flows as well creating a lot of weathering of the rock - a process that absorbed enormous amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and lowered the Earth's temperature as a result.3
A curious hypothesis with individual steps - triggering events - that are reasonably certain can be assembled connecting the dots from several fields. It is not proven science, but gives an interesting chain of events that spin off other significant questions. Who would have guessed that our ability to tell green from red may have roots in the rise of the Tibetan Plateau?
I used this as an example of connecting the dots and finding some interesting places to ask some interesting questions along the way at a talk to some computer artists six months ago. The talk was about forty minutes and the question and answer portion was great going about an hour and a half until we needed to leave the auditorium as someone else needed it. These folks were very tuned to ways they could play tricks with our vision to aid their storytelling and I probably learned at least as much as they did.
To pass the time rowing this morning I listened to an OnPoint podcast (WBUR) on education in Finland and South Korea. (The program is archived here with the audio at the top of the page. There is a linked video on the Finnish system that is worth watching at least a bit.)
I am concerned about the direction of education here - or at least what I've observed in the local schools - with the focus on STEM and testing, seemingly at the expense of nearly everything else. Ours is a wealthy district and the kids are pushed fairly hard to make certain SAT and various other scores and this is reflected in relative property values.
If I had been in such as system I don't think I would survive - at least I wouldn't thrive. It was very important for me to get the basics as a kid, but I had the luxury of a lot of free time - sort of necessary as everyone was from an agricultural community. There wasn't a lot of homework and it was possible to focus on that and use the spare time for other things - in my case being curious about nature.
I learned to ask questions and have them rewarded with new questions rather than answers and I learned subjects like math were thinly disguised tools that would allow me to sharpen the questions. Even though I didn't have a lot of art I learned that it was very useful in visualizing more abstract concepts. Eighth grade art class turned out to be very important in the scheme of things.
In grad school we had several Korean students with perfect GRE scores but none made it past the master's degree level.4 The problem was that the first five or so years of a physical science is spent learning technique. You are just barely to the point where you can go out on the two wheeler with training wheels and then you can start doing real science. That required a very different skill than just memorizing factoids and manipulating some simple formula. At this point you sound like a scientist, but you don't really know what you are doing. The next three or four years after that is required to get to the point where the training wheels can come off. The Korean guys never managed that leap. They simply had no background in creative thinking. I "cheated" by starting when I was 12 and many of my successful classmates had similar stories. At the time about a third of the new Ph.D.s in physics and astrophysics came from a rural community and half lived within a 50 miles of a good natural history museum.
I don't know what is optimal, but I suspect the Finish system is much closer than the South Korean. But in any case I'd love to see a professionalization of teaching along with a wide range of offered subjects and a focus on connecting the dots among them. Becoming a nation of good test takers is probably close to being optimally wrong.
1 We take in some photons - the particles of electromagnetic radiation - through these two little dots in the front of our heads called pupils. These are focused on a photoreceptor called the retina that, with the help of a chemical reaction, creates signals that are processed in the brain to give is a color movie in three dimensions that gives us a pretty good "visual" sense of the world around us.
"Color" is a an abstraction created in our mind. It loosely corresponds to the wavelength of light, but not strictly
Way to simplistic, but I've written a bit more in earlier posts - particularly this one.
2 In the "green-blue" region we're sensitivity to wavelength differences of about a billionth of a meter. In the "red" range about ten billionths of a meter - at least for women. Men are much worse. Color discrimination is one of the more interesting sexual dimorphisms.
3 A small article here. Evidence has become stronger since then.
4 The Graduate Record Exam - at least the physics test - was multiple choice and covered a wide range of topics. Some foreign schools focused on the test as a measure and taught lots of factoids and manipulation. Measuring how much real science a person could do at this point would be much trickier and not something a test could manage, but an advisor would have a good sense. Something much closer to the Finnish system.
Sukie is allergic to chocolate. While this might be seen as a tragedy, it does me that I get all of the chocolate that comes into the house. But for special treats I've had to learn how to work with carob and certain types of white "chocolate" (like almond bark). Here is a cookie that works for Valentine's Day.
White and Red "Chocolate" Chip Cookies
° 1 stick (about 115g) unsalted butter softened
° 125g white cane sugar
° 100g light brown sugar
° 1 large egg (pasteurized if you sample the dough:-)
° 1 tbl whole milk (I've used cream too)
° 1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
° 125g bread flour (you can use all purpose flower, but the cookies won't be as chewy)
° 95g all purpose flour (add a bit if you are only using AP flour to get to a 250g total for flour. You can also add some if you like fluffier cookies or if you live in high humidity)
° 1 tsp baking soda
° a bit of salt to taste (1/4 tsp for me)
° 15 to 20 maraschino cherries diced and patted dry with a paper towel
° a small bag (6oz) white chocolate chips (the cheap ones are almond bark)
° 100g broken walnuts or pecans
° Beat the butter on low speed for a minute or two at a low speed until smooth and creamy and add the sugars and beat at a medium speed until combined and smooth - another two minutes or so. Add the egg, milk and vanilla and beat on medium high for a couple of minutes until light and fluffy.
° Slowly add the flours, baking soda and salt and mix at a lower speed until they are just combined - maybe a minute. Don't over-mix! Now stir in the chips, cherries and nuts by hand.
° Divide into about 16 bits of dough and refrigerate for at least 6 hours (very important!)
° Bake for about 8 to 10 minutes at 350°F on the middle oven rack. The goal is a bit undercooked in the center as cooking will continue as they cool. Add a minute or two if you like them crunchy. Cool on a rack