Thai Thoughts and Anecdotes Part 306
THAILAND: LAND OF PHYSICISTS
In most cases you have not been tested for comprehension at the moment of data presentation in school. It just is not done. The test for comprehension of presented material comes later at the end of the week, or at the end of the month, or at the end of the subject, or at the end of the semester, or at the end of the school year. An example of instant data presentation testing is the reflex test. Someone fires a bullet at you and you have to duck. This, naturally, is a concept example. A more common example is brake reflex testing to weed out drivers who should not be driving. Another good example is airline pilot problem solving testing (problem: left engine just fell off).
If same-time retention testing were done what would it show? Well, it would show less comprehension than you might expect. Why? Three reasons:
1. In many cases the sound of the language dilutes from understanding the material. As an example, Thai language is a 'song' rather than a spoken language in the same sense as many other languages. It is a tonal language. You sing the language. You can not have poor listening skills with a language that is sung and retain good comprehension skills. Thai students have to listen intently. While they are listening intently are they learning intently?
2. Another impediment to maximum efficiency in understanding new material in a teaching situation is the human face. Mammals cue in on faces to pick up important social information (friend or foe). In other words, humans look at human faces with too much attention in a classroom setting. They would be better off putting a mask over their eyes and just listening. The student is semi-riveted by the professor's face to the detriment of same-time learning. We all do it. It's what we do. It's what we are. We are mammals. Hence some of the extra time that has to be spent doing homework.
Females do this more than men. One of the things that leads to female drivers having accidents is that every time a female driver says something to the person riding in the passenger seat they have to turn their head to look at their face. And every time a person in the passenger seat of the car says something, the female driver has to turn her head to look at the speaker's face. If it is someone in the back seat the female driver will try to find the speaker's face in the rear view mirror or (god forbid) turn her whole head around to make contact with the speaker's face. Talk to Driver's Education teachers. Talk to automobile salesman who take female customers out for a test drives. You will get an earful. Men can carry on a conversation without turning their heads so they are still looking through the windshield at the road ahead while they are conversing. Females are head turners. Every time they say something they turn their head to lock onto the face of the person they are talking to. Naturally, when they turn their head to make 'face' contact they take their eyes off the road. Accidents.
Females stare at the face of the man they are with. They are information seeking and making decisions about that man using that information. Does this mean when your Thai girlfriend is staring at your face while you are talking she is more primitive or more advanced? Not sure. You decide. While trying to figure that out consider the obverse. To wit: If you are not looking at your girlfriend's face (additional information seeking) when she is speaking to you are you more advanced or less advanced? No wonder Thai women do not respect us. We do not even use all the information on offer.
Staring at a woman's cleavage (ok, she probably hasn't got any cleavage in Thailand)–reword: staring at a Thai woman's breasts (ok, she may not have any breasts)–reword: staring at any part of a Thai woman's body other than her face when she is talking tells her the advantage is hers, she is already moving the ball down the field and you are chasing her. Chasers can become winners, but they start out as losers. Are you chasing something? You are not a winner. Yet. Are you in a bar in Thailand? Is a beautiful sexy Thai lady talking to you? Are you not looking at her face? Loser. Good luck.
3. The third common impediment to same-time classroom learning has to do with pictography. Pictography? Yes, what the ideas look like when written on the blackboard. In fact, many (all?) times the visuals of the charts, or the diagrams, or the sentences, or the maps, or the number presentations, or the equations can be so much visual fun (charming) to look at that you get diverted from the main event which is what idea the professor is trying to transfer from his brain to your brain.
Farang teachers of Thai children will tell you that without pictography their teaching/classroom control would plummet. Ok, but they should never forget that there is always a certain amount of Thai learning comprehension currency lost during the dog and pony show that has to be made up for later. Asian teachers have a long record of historically and contemporaneously opting out of this teaching challenge by adopting rote learning with it's additional stress, penalties, humiliations, and unearned rewards to the short term memory gifted.
So, to review: same-time learning comprehension can be diluted by the student spending too much time listening to sounds (spoken language), staring at the face of the teacher, and being visually charmed by what's being written (displayed) on the blackboard.
An excellent example of this that occurs worldwide in many first year graduate level physicist classes is when a lesson plan is spent on cosmology. Here words like eternity and infinity and mathematical notations for eternity and infinity to several powers dominate the discussion. It's fun. Demanding math regarding quantum theory and subatomic particles is left behind as well as all that slightly dizzying stuff about charges, and gravity, and electromagnetism, and the General Theory of Relativity and . . . it's fun. But what is retained and learned? Can the brain relieved students learn important cosmological concepts while listening to the sound of the language, and staring at the teacher's face, and copying down the modern hieroglyphics off the blackboard?
A good example of a learning moment lost is when the universe is described as infinity to the fourth power. Write it out–you'll love how it looks. Cosmological notation looks so neat, makes you smile, and convinces you that you are smart. Certainly smarter than non physics majors . I mean, liberal arts, what is that useless crap all about? Anyway, it is explained that the fourth power is time. This is one hundred percent incorrect as a description of the physical universe. Why? Because the first three powers applied to infinity are not a measure–they are a concept. Infinity is not a number, it is a concept. Infinity to the third power is complete and boundless. Applying time to the equation like a gimcrack salesman does not make the universe more boundless. No moment of time in a boundless universe has greater weight over any other moment of time. Boundless means without defining limits: even by time.
When you raise your hand in class and say that infinity to the fourth power is not a correct notational definition of the universe–no one at first will argue with you. They were too busy copying pictures off the blackboard, watching the teacher's lips moving, and subliminally listening to the sounds of the classroom. All irrelevant to learning incoming data. The fact that time in a boundless universe is infinite, and that is the definition of eternity, is interesting; but it is not relevant to a description of the physical universe. The teacher will ask you to repeat what you have said. He will ask you to repeat what you have said twice. Then he will ask you to meet with him after class in his office. He knows more about subatomic quantum theory math than you do; but you know more about cosmology. Points to you but he does the grading. Be careful.
What has this got to do with Thailand and the Thai experience? Quite a lot, actually. To review: time is not relevant in describing the universe. The universe is timeless. There is no fourth dimension as a physical descriptor of the universe. The fourth dimension refers to time. Time is not physical. Enslaving ourselves to time is needless stress and cosmologically irrelevant. And it smacks of the amateurism in Einstein's General Theory of Relativity fudge factor constant.
Most poorly listening, only average intellect, inaccurately taught graduate students in physics will receive masters degrees without mastering this concept. But it seems that all Thais instinctively know that time and the measuring of such are irrelevant chimera. The appointment time was 2:30 p.m. and they show up at 4:00 p.m.? What are you upset for? Don't you know that in a boundless universe there is no time? The Big Bang theory is the pitiful childish invention of time worshippers and time toy worshippers.
You start a clock, you start a watch. Then time proceeds linearly. No exceptions: you must start time–you must start your 19th century pendulum clock, you must start (set) your modern watch. You start time. Hence the Big Bang theory. Somebody (Something) started the universe. Gosh, it's so simple. A ten year old can understand it. And so wrong. At last after thousands of years we have the ability to embarrass ourselves for the same length of time and to the same degree as Aristotle did. What an accomplishment.
The Big Bang theory–there was nothing, then there was a big bang, then there was something. And the Big Bang started time. Isn't it curious, and childishly pitiful, that the modern physicists explanation for the start of the universe and it's subsequent time properties perfectly mirrors the invention of time measuring devices? Coincidence, or foolish intellectual behavior that can not be defended and can not be explained? There was no Big Bang. The universe is not a clock, no one started the universe, and no thing started the universe; it's existence measures nothing and can not be measured, it exists outside of time, and it will not run down. Thousands of physicists know this to be true, but there is little anti-Big Bang intellectual activity because to go against contemporary scientific mythologies is to risk not getting research funds to run labs and to support families. Next time you meet a physicist who says his specialty is cosmology and seeking out the ultimate truths of reality, ask him who he works for. Whatever he says should make you wonder. Seekers of truth often exist apart from mankind.
Eternity can not be measured. Infinity to the fourth degree power looks exciting and opens the door to countless mathematical descriptor adventures but it is the quacking of ducks. Quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack. The universe has no beginning and has no end. As such it is the only concept or tangible without time. Time has no value, it does not exist. The mathematical notational symbol for infinity is pictograph genius and attaching a small rider number four in the upper right hand corner lends the requisite religiosity of scientific certitude. How could it not be correct as a complete description of the universe? And there are so many math things that can be done with bracketed and over-and-under equation parts that travel the length of the blackboard. After copying one of these monster equations down (checking ten times to make sure you have done so correctly) the seduction is complete. God, all this complexity-simplicity-certainty must be an example of mankind's ability to finesse nature down to a singularity–the Big Bang theory. Wrong. Incorrect. Nonsense. Silly.
The universe does not worship time and neither do the Thais. Have you ever heard a Thai tapioca farmer discourse on the Big Bang theory? When his water buffalo finally blew out the compacted green mass of twelve days constipation that made a big bang, but as for the rest of it–there is no fourth dimension in describing the universe and he knows it. After the harvest is in he will go to Bangkok to drive a taxi. The owner of the taxi cab company will expect him . . . well, he will arrive when he arrives. Time means nothing and all Thais know it. No westerners know this, but all Thais know this.
Ever followed Thais walking on a sidewalk? Slow walking as if they have uncertain bowels and zig zagging from side to side like sailboats tacking to windward? Time urgent? Not a bit of it. Time means nothing and they know it.
That woman in the money booth on the Skytrain who attempts to short change you when you give her a one hundred baht bill for a token? She's not a short sighted, avaricious thief. She's a Thai physicist in touch with the universe. She knows that matter in a timeless universe has no owner and exerts no dominion. And since matter and energy are cosmically interchangeable forms of the same thing, the energy that you put into earning that money is of no consequence. Your energy is now baht matter, and matter has no owner. It might as well be hers as yours. Thailand. Land of philosophers in tune with the cosmos.
The elderly, illiterate, completely non-communicative taxi driver who picks you up five blocks from the Emporium and then flashes right by it because he has no idea where it is, and he has no idea where he is, and he has no idea what he is doing, and he has no idea what destination request you made knows that his incompetence is of no consequence, and your wasted time is irrelevant. Time is irrelevant. He was late to the birth of every one of his children, he was late to his daughter's wedding, and he was late to his wife's funeral. None of it mattered. Actually, since none of it mattered, then by definition; he was not really late. Time penalties can only be assigned when time matters. And it has been his experience in the Kingdom from birth to his current career as an incompetent taxi driver that time is irrelevant. The universe is not four dimensional by description, but only three dimensional.
Jerking open the door and throwing myself from the taxi two lanes from the curb directly into the colliding paths of oncoming steel monsters I do not hold him accountable. I know that he is in touch with forces and concepts more basic than gravity or particle-wave conundrums; and I am only a tourist. Thailand. Land of smiles? Land of scams? No and no. Thailand. Land of physicists. Land of cosmologists. Why does Fa smile when she sees me coming? Because 'short-time' or 'long-time' are of no consequence. It's all about the relationship. How much can she seduce from me? How much can she sell me (I luf you–you hansum man). And what's a relationship without time? Up to you?
Up to you is not an abdication of adult participation, or indifference to self-interest; it's a marker of intelligence. An intelligence that knows that nothing matters, there is no future, there was no start, and the present can not be improved or influenced or stopped. It has all been pre-ordained without agenda, or consequence, or meaning. My name is Fa. I am sitting on the bench on the boardwalk opposite the A.A. Hotel. I am being warmed by a dying star. The rest is up to you.
Conclusion? Thais are cosmologists without physicist agendas. They know that describing the universe as infinity to the fourth power is incorrect. Infinity to the third power describes the universe because infinity is not a number or a measure, it is a concept. Real intelligence goes beyond numbers. Do you think that when you go to heaven and sit at the feet of God he is going to talk about numbers? Not a bit of it. He's got stuff to do. The addition of time has no effect on the boundlessness of the universe. It is simply the mental jewelry of a stage of human development where everyone is looking at clocks, and everyone is looking at watches. We have legitimized our enslavement to time by adding it as a fourth power descriptor of the universe because we can no longer imagine life without time measuring. You have never heard Thais do this. Good on them.
Now when I go to Thailand I go there with the sure and certain and somewhat startling knowledge that Thais are better connected to the universe than I am connected to the universe. It makes no difference why. Their ignorance of their knowledge is not relevant. It is the results that count. When I am waiting for a Thai that is late for an appointment, or I am being held up by slow moving Thais on the sidewalks of Sukhumvit; I just remind myself that it is their way of telling me that they are cosmologists and I am not. I sometimes wonder if farang does not mean foreigner, but instead means 'not connected'. Thailand. Land of physicists.
So, the next time you think you are being disrespected and stolen from in the Kingdom try to look at the situation objectively, charitably, rationally, and scientifically. The woman in the money booth at the Nana Skytrain station isn't disrespecting me or stealing from me; she is simply participating in nature on a cosmic scale. She's a physicist.
Coming out of the shower at the Rajah Hotel I catch the big huge ex-mamasan stuffing my laptop into her underpants. Did I sigh with disappointment, or remonstrate with the male whine of the farang aggrieved? Not a bit of it. I was pleased to have known her. During boom-boom I had made intimate meaningful contact with another Thai physicist. Gravitational calculations only work if most of the universe is composed of invisible dark matter. In other words, the most important part of the universe we can't even see. How important can a laptop computer be on a cosmic scale? How small would it be of me to stress over this? I let her have it and I felt honored to be connected to a Thai physicist in tune with the universe. No wonder everyone says Mai Pen Rai here. It's really a Thai physicist mantra when you think about it.
I picked up Fxxxyou off the boardwalk in Pattaya. At least I think that was her name. Getting undressed at the Ma Maison hotel on Soi 13/0 I noticed that she was wearing those red old fashioned water bottle thick adult rubber diapers. The 'no leak' kind that leave two deeply indented rings on the upper thigh. She also had a loop of clear plastic aquarium tubing around her neck as some kind of necklace. I didn't ask.
Later on, after she left; I noticed four beers missing from the mini-fridge. She had been wearing flip flops, a T shirt, and a wrap around short skirt. No purse. She must have poured the four beers into her rubber adult diaper while I was brushing my teeth in the bathroom. Made me proud. Another Thai cosmologist allowing me into her life of nature and physics. The beers weren't stolen. It was simply matter assuming a different location in a boundless universe without agenda, or morals, or time. I was learning a valuable lesson. All you control in pinwheeling clusters of matter and anti-matter is what you can pour into your pants and suck out later with 3/8" clear plastic aquarium tubing.