Sunday, April 29, 2012

On Teaching and Rainbows


My Southern Maine Community College students recently had to read Mark Twain’s “Two Ways of Seeing a River.” Most students understandably argued that knowing more about something causes a loss of mystery.  Patrick Doyle, however, had something else to say.  With his permission, I reprint part of his Discussion Board post:

A rainbow went from a beautiful mystery to simple prismatic refraction of white light. Many stop there and decide there is nothing special about it. You can twist any view point to a negative, one sided view. You need to delve deeper. The amazing amount of circumstance that goes into the natural occurrence of a rainbow yields the most impressive view point. The angle of the earth on its axis at the perfect distance from the sun with perfect humidity conditions is the only way it is possible. The only reason you can see the rainbow is a circumstance of billions of years of evolutionary change. Your eyes happen to compute the proper range of light wavelength into the colors you see. The billions of years of development deemed that for your survival, these are the necessary types of light you need to see. I can go on and on. Everything down to the atomic structure of every occurrence is amazing. I think Twain would of changed his mind if he knew the atoms that made up that river were once in the middle of the sun. A slightly deeper understanding of something may kill sentimental beauty, but an even further understanding yields the greatest beauty in the universe.

South Portland, Maine

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