vendredi 30 septembre 2022

Methods, methods, methods

 Methods are like backbones
Yesterday, talking with students, I realize that they are doing things in a haphazard way, actively of course, but without much order, without enough organization, in a word with too little method.

And I see that, in spite of all their efforts and their desire, their good heart, they are going to the wall, because they have no "direction", the one that the methods would give.

I can't help but relate this to an article that appeared yesterday in a major scientific journal, which showed that the majority of university physics professors in the United States come from the same few institutions.

These institutions, of course, select the "best" students, but above all, as they have the "best" professors, these professors communicate the "best" information and, above all, the "best" methods: a virtuous circle.

The students thus obtain methods, which structure them, which structure their work, and one can hope that they in turn will go and distribute these methods, which make us stand upright, upright, if not grow.

I also realize that, over time, my courses have been structured around a five-column table: information, notions and concepts, methods, values, anecdotes.
But the order is not right: values are first, of course, because we only do things on the basis of our values.
Then there are the methods, those methods that give direction, that structure our (intellectual) path.
Only then are there the notions and concepts, which are like intellectual tools: the equivalent of hammers, screwdrivers, and saws, but for what is thought, whether it is chemistry or physics.
For example, the fact that egg white is composed of about 90% water and 10% protein is a piece of information, certainly useful for science and technology, but there is no need to be grateful to anyone for passing it on.
Finally, there are the anecdotes that put a little fun in otherwise serious studies. We must not forget them, they are not incidental, but they are not structuring either.

The methods? Obviously I have to make a summary of the ones I have and the ones I pass on. Among those I transmit, there are local and general ones.
Among the general ones, there is the soliloquy method, which allows to solve problems, to analyze them, to gain autonomy... Among the more local methods, there is the 1 3 9 27 method, which allows you to write correctly, efficiently, to structure a speech as well, a communication in general.

But there are many other methods, such as
- the calculation of orders of magnitude,
- the idea of separating literal, symbolic and formal calculations from numerical calculations,
- the use of an electronic agenda that reminds us what we have to do so that we don't forget anything
And so on.

How to compose a collection of methods? Perhaps, in order not to forget anything, we should consider the three fields of administration, communication and work, and relate the methods to these various fields.
But it is necessary to continue the analysis further, because what is a method? For example, when we tie shoes in a certain way, explicitly, it is indeed in a certain way, with a method. But this method is obviously not a method of thought; it is a method of gesture, and it is clear that, since the life of the chemist is divided between experimentation and theory, there is reason to distinguish these two types of method in the field of work.

Translated with (free version)

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