a Divine creative inspiration or impulse

Science and Tradition

    At the base of the S.M.A.R.T Learning diagram are what may be called the fundamental concepts of learning: Science and Tradition.

Science builds knowledge  through observation and experimentation. Science allows us to discover new ways of doing things.  Tradition retains knowledge and practices that we have determined to be important or valuable, and therefore should be remembered or recorded and passed along to future generations. Science focuses on the discovery of knowledge. Tradition focuses on the retention of knowledge.

SMART begins with Science for it is the basic way to acquire knowledge, not only for humans, but for most intelligent animals. We may “discover” knowledge through our own initiatives, or by observing the experiences of those around us. A new-born observes that crying will produce a desired outcome: change my diaper, feed me, or just hold me. Infants quickly learn that they can get what they want through loud and continuous verbal communication. We may learn by observing the experiences of others, both positive and negative. Eating those berries made our friend sick. Lesson learned - don’t eat those berries (even if that may not have been the cause of the sickness.) We also may choose to individually discover something that the collective “we” already knows. For example, we may be told that the stove is hot, or the scissor are sharp, but decide to test that knowledge through personal experiments; often to our own detriment.

An excellent example of learning by “experiment” can be seen in the practice of texting while driving. Tradition (recorded knowledge that we believe is valuable) clearly demonstrates that this practice is not safe, and creates a very high risk of collision, personal injury, and death. Yet, many continue to experiment with this practice, believing that they can “safely” text while they drive. Each time an individual texts while driving without incident, they are building their own “knowledge” based on experimentation - knowledge which is both faulty and dangerous. Until they are willing to learn from other’s misfortunes, they will continue to rely on their own personal knowledge, often with disastrous consequences.

As information is gleaned from Science, we begin to establish what we believe to be trusted or reliable knowledge, again both individually and collectively. When such knowledge is deemed to be valuable, it becomes Tradition, which we pass along to future generations through education, both formal and informal, and the establishment of cultural practices and social customs. All intelligent animals may establish traditions, from migratory paths to methods of acquiring food. Tradition provides a framework for social interaction. Tradition sets standards and practices that have allowed civilization to advance and modern humans to evolve. Tradition provides a “comfort zone” for behavior. Tradition also establishes a body of knowledge that serves as a launching point from which we conduct new exploration and discovery through Science in our never ending thirst for greater knowledge.

Note that SMART learning makes a distinction between Science as a learning channel, and science as a “body of reliable knowledge,” which is how it is often defined. We pass along “reliable knowledge” to future generations through Tradition. This is an important distinction, for the knowledge we rely upon today (“reliable knowledge”) may subsequently be proven “unreliable.” The following illustrates this point. The Almagest (introduced previously) documented some of the most important astronomical observations of Science which were thought to be true and reliable in the 2nd Century. This body of knowledge became scientific Tradition for 1500 years until disproved by new discoveries in Science.

Tradition provides a foundation for learning in nearly every walk of life: including medicine, food and nutrition, engineering, hygiene, and of course, education, to name just a few. Much of what we learn in Science is built upon scientific Tradition, from traditional ways to conduct experiments and record data to traditional beliefs in laws or principles. For example, theoretical astrophysics today is based in large part on a centuries-old scientific Tradition called the Cosmological Principle: a principle that can neither be proven nor falsified. Recent discoveries in Science indicate that this Traditional belief may not be reliable. Yet it continues to be used as a fundamental concept for theoretical astrophysics, for without this belief, much of the knowledge gained in this particular subject over the last century will become suspect. We should value our Traditions for the wisdom they convey. At the same time, we must be willing to challenge what we think we know in order to discover what we don’t know.

Science supports Tradition, and Tradition supports Science. Both are fundamental to learning. Despite this interdependence, throughout history there has been a tug-of-war between Science and Tradition. Science seems to be constantly trying to break with Tradition, while Tradition seems to be constantly trying to resist the discoveries of Science. Yet neither can advance without the other. This is one of the great paradoxes of human learning. For example, eastern Traditions in medicine that have been proven to be “reliable knowledge” within certain cultures over hundreds or even thousands of years of practice may be rejected by western medicine as “unreliable knowledge.” This phenomenon is evidenced by the diversity of knowledge accepted as “reliable” by some cultures but deemed “unreliable” by others. It can be seen across the spectrum of subjects; from health care to history, from engineering to education, and from science to sociology.

We use Traditional “reliable knowledge” for the pragmatic purposes of engineering, designing, curing, manufacturing, and exploring. At the same time, we seem to be naturally “wired” to want to challenge what we know in order to learn what we don’t know. Despite the knowledge gained through thousands of years of recorded history, we question “reliable knowledge” and push boundaries. Indeed that’s the only way we discover new things. Often, we must learn from our worst experiences. We build better planes by analyzing failures in flight. We build better cars based on accident investigations. As we become smarter, we learn to conduct Science observations and experiments in more controlled environments. Food safety inspections help protect the quality of what we ingest. We test new medications before we prescribe them. We simulate the flight of an experimental aircraft before we put a test pilot in the cockpit.

We exercise and communicate the fundamentals of learning, Science and Tradition, through two additional learning channels that are unique human contrivances, and make modern humans unlike any other species on the planet - the learning channels of Math and Art.


Click the following to read more about:

Math and Art: Communicative Learning

Reason: Intellectual Learning