关于SJC数学、科学课的问题

羊聒 2017-08-11

在哲学、历史领域阅读古代的classical books似乎很少有人表示反对。然而在数学、科学领域的学习是否应当阅读古人的作品?一个21世纪的学生为了了解这一行当还应该阅读Newton甚至是Aristotle的原著吗?主流科学家如Einstein,Bertrand Russell等人的意见是不应该。但也存在着St. John's College这样的少数派,主张应该,并且一直这么实践着。

究竟要不要读科学领域的原著?理由是什么?身为一个真诚热爱科学、并且打算St. John's College的学生,这是一个必须要考虑的现实问题。


先看反对者。

Sidney Hook在他的文章《A Critical Appraisal of the St. John's College Curriculum》里就极力反对这种阅读原著的做法。为此,他引用了Einstein,Bertrand Russell和Richard Courant的话

Courant

"There is no doubt that it is unrealistic to expect a scientific enlightenment of beginners by the study of Euclid, Appolonius or Ptolemy. It will just give them an oblique perspective of what is important and what is not. Studying the more modern works by Descartes, Newton, etc., except for a few single items, would be even more difficult and likewise not lead to a balanced understanding of mathematics."

Bertrand Russell

"The subject on which you write is one about which I feel very strongly. I think the 'Best Hundred Books' people are utterly absurd on the scientific side. I was myself brought up on Euclid and Newton and I can see the case for them. But on the whole Euclid is much too slow-moving. Boole is not comparable to his successors. Descartes' geometry is surpassed by every modern textbook of analytical geometry. The broad rule is: historical approach where truth is unattainable, but not in a subject like mathematics or anatomy. (They read Harvey!)"

Einstein

"In my opinion there should be no compulsory reading of classical authors in the field of science. I believe also that the laboratory studies should be selected from a purely pedagogical and not historical point of view. On the other side, I am convinced that lectures concerning the historical development of ideas in different fields are of great value for intelligent students, for such studies are furthering very effectively the independence of judgment and independence from blind belief in temporarily accepted views. I believe that such lectures should be treated as a kind of beautiful luxury and the students should not be bothered with examinations concerning historical facts."

罗素和柯朗的指责主要是指

爱因斯坦提供了解决的途径

对此我的观点是


再来看支持者

考虑到St. John's College的Great books program是Robert M. Hutchin在上世纪引入,而当时芝加哥大学的教授Mortimer J. Adler,也即是《How to Read a Book》的作者,在美国各地主持了许多类似的“名著阅读活动”,他们两人的教育理念与St. John's College当然有极深的渊源,只是现在我还不清楚。

下面引用的仅仅出自《How to Read a Book》的内容。

我先引用Adler话

to follow the strands of scientific development,to trace the ways in which facts,assumptions, principles, and proofs are interrelated,is to engage in the activity of the human reason where it has probabaly operated with most success.

显然,他阅读科学原著的目的并不是像罗素、爱因斯坦、柯朗他们所建议的那样,仅仅是学习科学知识本身,而是想要通过“to follow the strands of scientific development”来看、来感受“human reason...operated with most success”——简单说,Adler的目的却是学习“科学史”,把科学当成人类理性的一种运用,作为一种“哲学”。

他继续说


综上,对于通过阅读科学原著来学习科学这种学习方式,我的观点是

第一,坏处。无法了解到最新的成果。如果一个人抱着成为科学家,想要“expand the frontier of science”为目标来学习,正如罗素、柯朗所指出的,这种做法是极其愚蠢的。因为速度慢、效率低。

第二,好处。如果一个人学习科学的目的不仅仅是“expand the frontier”而是想要学习科学史,把科学作为“哲学”(最广义)的一个分支来学习的话——即,他想了解科学知识是怎么来的,怎么从最直观的常识一跃而成那些初看莫名其妙的公式和概念,他想要通过阅读这些书训练自己的理解力(就像通过阅读哲学、历史一样),看以往拥有强大思维力的人是怎么样从纷繁的自然世界中抽象出理解自然界的关键问题,又用怎样天才的方法和艰辛的努力得到结论,这样的结论又是怎样被后人继承或修改,即做一种“智力的健美操”的话,阅读原著的做法就是可取的。

第三,平衡点。

读Aristotle,Ptolemy,Galileo,Newton,Einstein他们的原著的同时阅读一些科学史专著,就像阅读Plato,Kant,Hegel时同时阅读一本哲学史一样。

另外同时阅读相关主题的现代教材,在网上学习相关主题的在线课程。例如下面这两个地方就是绝佳的去处。

How to become a GOOD Theoretical Physicist

Classical Mechanics,MIT Open Course Ware

Front Page,MIT Open Course Ware

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