Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Wonder v. Bias

The one where I combine holidays, science, and Hedy Lamarr, using Adam Savage.

I’m excited to be able to finally reference Adam Savage in one of my essays. My family enjoyed, as many have, the fun experiments he, Jamie Hyneman and the whole Mythbusters crew performed through the years.

Mr. Savage has taken his interest in science education and exploration back on the stage, this time with Michael Stevens, more commonly known as the YouTuber, VSauce. We saw Brain Candy Live! at the Riverside Theatre in Milwaukee and it was a fantastic experience.

It was fantastic on several levels. First, the science itself. They cover things that, as my kids pointed out, you might just never think about, but are cool if you do. Second, there were unscripted mistakes: things failed to work the first time. Or even second. Adam and VSauce handled them with humor and determination- both of which were GREAT teaching moments for us parents to see and bring up later. And perhaps reminders to ourselves, too?

Lastly, I fell in love with one of Mr. Savage’s responses to audience questions. An audience member asked (I’m paraphrasing): What’s your biggest science no-no?. His reply?


As he explained, we all have biases. We tend to believe certain things or people. The key, he explained, is to realize that and work hard every day to remove yourself from your experiments. For me, that also applies to our overall lives. The fewer biases we have, or the more we can be aware of them, the more clear and true our lives become.

When we’re soaked in bias, we can become cynical.

Synonyms for cynical include “skeptical”, “sarcastic”, and “suspicious”. One develops a response to the world that assumes the worst. Ideas that control a cynic: “See, I told you.”, “I bet you it won’t work.”, and “What’s the point.”. Basing your thoughts and life like this, it becomes hard to embrace some pretty powerful and uplifting concepts, ones that the Brain Candy Live! show seeks to cultivate. Why cultivate them? Because these ideas allow us to explore and grow as both individuals and as a species.

Exploration and growth come from having a sense of wonder.

The excited “Aha!” moment of discovery. The wide smile that slowly creeps across your face when an understanding comes to you for the first time. That sense of awe when you arrive at an overlook after a difficult climb and you come face-to-face with a gorgeous panorama.

Without a sense of wonder, you may never seek to combine old things into novel new concepts. The new movie, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, explores the life of 20th century Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr. Leslie Camhi contributed an article this week in The New Yorker on her life, entitled Hedy Lamarr’s Forgotten, Frustrated Career as a Wartime Inventor. Sexual bias was part of the reason for the US military not using Hedy Lamarr’s system to guide torpedos. That discovery eventually led to today’s GPS, Bluetooth and WiFi, as more wondering minds expanded our technology and finally used her work.

Children can usually feel wonder. We can, too.

It’s the end of the year and time for many around the globe to celebrate joyous occasions. In January, I wrote a short piece called Slainte! Health to You!!, on a historic celebration in the UK, that does a little comparison of cynicism and wonder during the holidays. Wonder is not a fantasy. It can be destroyed, certainly. However, a sense of it can be restored.

Brain Candy Live! gave examples of the incredible beauty in our world. Reality can inspire wonder if we have the eyes, hearts and minds to see it.

Best wishes to you- may you experience a sense of wonder this festive season and beyond!

Inspired? My book, Dear Teachers, offers inspirational photos and thought-provoking essays for anyone in education- with space to record your own thoughts, too! Order now for yourself or someone you love.

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