Marginal Notes

Two Day. Back to gym. We have a stand-in clerk this week while the modal clerk is off in the Floridas turning herself into “Long Pig”. The clerk came in this morning mumbling about having to park her “new” motorcar in the back pasture because of fear of people dinging her doors.

This set me to thinking about an article [Link] entitled “Academic Journal: Newtonian Physics Is ‘Oppressive’ to Marginalized People.” I have been musing over this article for a week now because I have had an enormous difficulty understanding it. The composition is not intended to illumine, at least to me,

“In a paper for The Minnesota Review, culture and gender-studies researcher Whitney Stark argues that Newton’s understanding of physics is oppressive because it has “separated beings” based on their “binary and absolute differences” — a structure that she calls “hierarchical and exploitative” — and the same kind of system is “embedded in many structures of classification,” making it “part of the apparatus that enables oppression.” Stark explains:

This structural thinking of individualized separatism with binary and absolute differences as the basis for how the universe works seeped into/poured over/ is embedded in many structures of classification, which understand similarity and difference in the world, imposed in many hierarchical and exploitative organizational structures, whether through gender, life/nonlife, national borders, and so on.

According to Stark, the tendency to categorize in this way particularly hurts marginalized people because it can cause the activist efforts of minority groups to be “overshadowed” by the efforts of dominant groups.”

I have read the “Principia” in both Latin (the original) and English and I have to admit that I can’t find what is being talked about here in “binary and absolute differences” unless what is being railed against is the maths and what is implicit to them. Now I will admit that my Latin was never very good and has deteriorated since but I have some understanding of classical mechanics and I am totally at a loss. 

I do have to say that the concepts of classical mechanics are not easy. They are not as difficult, in many ways, as those of quantum mechanics and relativity, but they still do not fit naturally with the evolved brains of two megayears of humans who spent almost all that time as hunter-gatherers. And that may be part of the problem.

The difficulty, as perhaps measured by how long, if ever, it takes to “grok” classical mechanics, is different for every one. I started studying classical mechanics at age eleven or so and thus had the advantage of youthful plasticity and a lot of years to be bored in public schule. 

I can also state based on personal observation, which is thus statistically unsound and highly biased by small sample volume, that the minority students in my physics classes, all twelve years thereof, were almost always smarter than the majority of majority students. Now this can partly be explained by economic filtering – “if you ain’t super smart, we ain’t gonna waste money on sending you to college” – but not all. 

Now all physics is a bit intimidating. So is English Literature and Team Athletics. You gotta work to learn enough to have confidence in what you can do with what you know. And if you don’t learn it, you ain’t gonna know. 

This may be part of what is being talked about in the article. If you can’t learn the material than you don’t know and can’t do. But how is that marginalizing? Is there supposed to be a “Royal Road” for learning? Isn’t that why we have teachers?

But then I reflected on the stand-in clerk and her doors. Specifically, when did we change out outlook on life from humility to arrogance? In years past, If someone couldn’t learn something because of just not getting it, they were humble enough to admit it and move on. Life isn’t about admiration, it’s about accomplishment. 

I don’t know if this is what the article is trying to say but that’s at least the conjecture that I am evolving, that people today are too arrogant to confront their own inabilities. And therefore the “system” is to blame for not making things easier. 

Well, that’s not how Nature works, and nothing is more natural than physics. It demonstrates repeatedly that we have to comply with Nature and not expect Nature to comply with us. And if you don’t get Nature on Nature’s terms, you may not survive. 

But if your “reality” is Society and you think you will get what you want and you have to get it by other people either aiding you or getting out of the way, then Nature seems very inimical. And if you can’t get it, then you have been wronged and are a pitiful victim who must be coddled. Or in the case of learning something, that thing has to be wrong and righted to your desires. Or denied. Which may be the same thing. 

Which isn’t to say that there aren’t bad teachers. I’ve commented on this and espoused that whether a teacher is good or not is determined by individual students, not necessarily metrics. But some things can’t be taught, they can only be learned. Like riding a bicycle. You can get hep but ultimately, you have to learn for yourself. 

Now this may not be what the article is about but absent any clearer communication – or an epiphany of learning on my part, this is what I’ve got. 

And yes, physics marginalized me because I took longer than my fellows to get some things. It marginalizes everyone, at least that I have known. And that was a good and necessary thing because it taught discipline and self-determination.