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Waiting For Einstein


I recently came across something that Dana wrote that got me to thinking. Dana does have that effect on me! In this case, this time he was speculating on whether we would ever see a Thai Einstein. He was definitely rooting for one to
make his appearance. I am too, although after living here for some years now, I am not holding my breath waiting for Somchai to stroll down the red carpet in Oslo to receive his Nobel Prize anytime soon.

This led me to pose this question. Why shouldn’t Thais be among the top scientific minds in the world? Are Thais any less intelligent than other people? I don’t think so. I have no evidence of what the IQ curve for the Thai
population is, but I would be surprised if it were any different than say the Japanese or the Chinese. These two Asian countries have produced some brilliant scientists. If the reason is not genetic, could it be societal? Is there something about
contemporary Thai culture that precludes scientific excellence? <Average IQ in Thailand is 92. In Japan it is 105, one of the highest in the world. China is 100, the same as New Zealand and the UK. By comparison, USA and Australia are 98Stick>

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been a question asker. Hey, inquiring minds want to know! My little Sam seems to have followed in his daddy’s footsteps. All day long it's “What, Why, When, How
and Who”. The other night we were reading a book where there was a hot air balloon race going on. I could barely read a sentence without him asking, “How does the balloon fly?” “Where are the balloons going?”
“Can Sam fly in a balloon?” All these are in addition to the color of each balloon and a host of other questions about the story’s characters. I answered each question as simply as I could…..often many times! I am a firm
believer that the only foolish question is the one you never ask.

Here in The Land of Smiles, children are encouraged at an early age not to ask questions……especially questions that their parents cannot answer. Being too curious may lead to “dangerous behavior”, such as wondering why
the social system is the way it is. If nothing else, asking questions may be embarrassing. In a society where people dread even the possibility of losing face, it seems more prudent to keep your opinions to yourself. This does little
to nurture critical thinking. This is not a climate which produces budding scientists.

Critical thinking is of course one of the things missing from Thai science curriculums. Thai science textbooks don’t even mention the scientific method, let alone teach how to use it. Thai students, unfortunately like many students
in Farangland, equate science with technology…..usually some gadget. Thai science textbooks leave out some pretty basic information. I like to tell the story of a visit my wife and I made to a state park back in Massachusetts which had some
spectacular geologic formations created during the last Ice Age. My darling tee-rak, who has a degree in computer science, simply could not believe that a large portion of the Earth was covered in glaciers many kilometers thick. She never heard
anything about this in school. Sadly, I believe it. I also sadly note, that today many Americans believe the Earth was created 6000 years ago and men once walked with dinosaurs……until “The Flood”! Science is actively under assault
from religious kooks. Global warming? Oh, that’s some myth concocted by “Liberals”.

The scientific method is what holds back the forces of superstition and ignorance. It is a way of attempting to explain the physical world around us in an objective, rational manner. Isaac Newton sees the famous apple fall from a tree. He wonders how
and why this occurs. Based on observation he poses a hypothesis. To test his hypothesis he performs experiments. He studies the data he has collected, and after careful consideration he reaches some conclusions which are expressed in mathematical
theorems.

Albert Einstein was famous for his thought experiments. He asked himself, “What if?” Of course, unlike you or me, Einstein had the ability to actually answer the questions he posed!

Take a walk around the campuses of schools around Thailand, including colleges and universities. Talk to the students. Are there any burning questions in the minds of these young scholars, other than “What’s for lunch?” Ask a sampling
of the students what the name of the last book they read was? Specify that this does not include comic books! The silence will be deafening. There is simply no tradition of reading or scholarship.

This is not to say that Thailand is a nation of dunderheads. I have a young sixteen year old girl that I have been tutoring for three years. Her goal is to become a doctor. Her parents have encouraged her to pursue her dream. I have no
doubt that not only will she become a doctor, but that she will be a first rate one. There are many fine physicians here in Thailand. My own cardiologist is one of them. But there is a big difference between studying diligently to master a specific
discipline, such as medicine, and developing the kind of intellect required to be a theoretical physicist. For that you need to be encouraged to think, to ask questions, and to simply wonder. Thailand I’m afraid to say does not foster any
of those qualities.

Nothing would make me happier than to be proved wrong. The potential for Thailand to be a great nation is here. I for one will shout Chai-Yo as loudly and with as much gusto as any Thai the day that Somchai goes to receive his Nobel.

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Stickman's thoughts:

The Thai students I taught at high school level were decent enough achievers at maths and science. But in other subjects, especially subjects where you needed to apply what you had learnt to a situation, ant just regurgitate it, they didn't do well at all.