The Quintivium

The only notable exception were the Romans, who were more interested in practical things like politics, entertainment (the gladiatorial “games”), military, law, and oratory than in abstract skills.

Cicero, the Roman statesman, orator, and educator famously said “the investigation of nature seeks to find out either things which nobody can know or things which nobody needs to know.”

This reflected, and simultaneously guided the Romans’ attitude toward science and mathematics. The fact that a “Roman mathematician” or a “Roman physicist” sounds like an oxymoron is the outcome of this attitude. Another outcome was the Dark Ages, which occurred because of the global outreach of the Roman ideology, which started when a Roman soldier murdered Archimedes in 212 BCE and ended when Copernicus published his De revolutionibus orbium coelestium in 1543 ACE. The pictures of gladiators and the torture chambers of The Inquisition between Archimedes and Galileo in the banner of the website is a sad and disturbing testimony to what happens when social conditions interfere with the course of our evolution.

Conclusion? Our evolution demands the teaching of the most abstract ideas to our children in as early a stage as possible. Plato’s pedagogy proved to be so effective as to lead the Greek society to a historically unprecedented intellectual glory. Let us then adapt his pedagogy to our education. The modern equivalent of Plato’s astronomy – the fundamental science of his time – is physics; and the equivalent of geometry and arithmetic is mathematics.

The present-day education must emphasize teaching our children the five fundamental abstract skills: reading, writing, music (and the arts), physics, and mathematics. The first three are the means by which our species communicates with itself. The last two are the means by which it communicates with Nature.

Wait before you start laughing at me! Go back 40-50 thousand years and tell a mother that someday her 4-year old child will be able to speak. She will laugh into your face as if you were crazy and say that she herself can barely pronounce a few monosyllable words! That she has heard of this superhuman genius, living in a cave not too far from hers, who can put a few words together and make a sentence! … But now we know that the human brain is a remarkable organ which can change its own anatomy to accommodate our new skills, and that is how our 4-year-olds have become capable of learning a language.

2 thoughts on “The Quintivium”

  1. I always tell my first year chemistry students that the way to get good at doing chemistry problems is to do chemistry problems until they are bleeding from their eyes. Or that if they are having dreams from waking up from a dream that they are doing chemistry problems then they have ALMOST done enough problems.

    However, none of them want to believe me about this and think that it’s going to be just like high school where if they show up they pass the class. None of them seem to realize that there is no requirement that anyone pass the class. I just finished grading finals and have students emailing me about how they should have a higher grade because they tried just as hard as everyone else or that if they don’t get a higher grade then they will be set back a year in their progress. Neither of them apparently thought about any of this from the beginning of the semester. It sometimes makes me wonder if I’ll make it to retirement age in about 15 years. 🙁

    1. To me, any science is a skill, the derogatory word that “educators” use to discourage true learning. And as you correctly observed, to learn a skill, you have to repeat it over and over again. “Educators” look at science and math learning as a “process,” which eliminates the end result and emphasizes attempt: as long as students “try,” they are in the “process” of learning and should be given credit!

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Education drives the evolution of our species.