Thinking Like a Scientist – Lessons from Elon Musk

Firstly, for many of the regular readers in UAE and India it’s Diwali – so Happy Diwali, Happy New Year and the very best of everything you wish for yourself and your loved ones for the coming year.

As it’s Diwali and a holiday, that gives lots of readers some extra time on their hands, which is why I’m taking this opportunity to share with you an article which is quite long, but fascinating and truly will stimulate your thinking in many ways.

Wait But Why – The Cook and the Chef – Musk’s Secret Sauce
(Click on this link to open the article.

(This is the sanitised U rated version (the original, which can also be found on the ‘What But Vhy’ website uses more ‘adult’ language and is somewhat more blunt in parts.)

As I said, the article is long and you’re going to need to set aside a bit of time to read it. But, if you do, my feeling is you won’t be disappointed and it will prove well worth your time and effort. Having only finished reading it in the last 24 hours, I know I can still benefit a great deal more from reflecting on it and working through the mental process of how it might contribute to living a more meaningful life.

I felt it was right on with regard to understanding science working from first principles. It immediately made me think of the fundamental problems that exist in the way science is taught – a simple set of dogmatic certainties to be memorised and reproduced.

Later the article goes on to explore a concept of chefs (those who originate new recipes, starting from first principles) and cooks (the vast majority who, to a greater or lesser extent, stick to recipes which have already been outlined by someone else). This caused my thinking to broaden to all the other issues about education today, what are the first principles and what would chefs be doing to create the education today that will enable young people to grow up successful and to live meaningful lives. Are our schools all being set up by cooks and not chefs? Is there even a societal inclination to keep chefs away from education because they are likely to cause youngsters to question more, challenge more and will expect an overall handing over of ‘control’ in schools.

Much to ponder on. For anyone else with the stamina who does read the whole article, I’d love it if you would share your thoughts here, whether they are directly related to the applicability of these ideas in the education arena or not.

I had to laugh when the article, towards the end, draws on the analogy of the Hans Christian Anderson story of the Emperor’s New Clothes as part of the explanation of the difference between chefs and cooks (and why there are so few chefs). One thing he doesn’t talk about – our education systems are clearly designed to perpetuate dogma and to mould young minds in to the cook mould.

So, the question I’m left with – what would learning for children look like, if the objective was more chefs? What would education look like if we were designing it completely from new, starting from first principles and unbound by the orthodox?

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