The Constructionist In All Of Us – Limiting less relevant and inert facts.

We all interpret information differently. The traditional method of education is seen as “a place where the teacher (“expert”) pours knowledge into passive students, who wait like empty vessels to be filled“, including factoids to later be regurgitated with some degree of memorization in an assessment, usually a paper based test. Factoids, points of view and opinions are often mistaken as being communicated as having a concrete nature and/or truth. We believe this to be the case as “assumed” experts, as well as those proficient in a given subject, communicate a thought, concept and/or fact – speak with an authority on the topic matter. News commentators, reporters and entertainers all too often fall into this category as they are perceived by their audiences as being knowledgeable. After all gravity is a force of attraction that always exists between two objects, the force of which increase with ever increasing mass, making it an undeniable law … or at least as we currently accept the idea of gravity, this isn’t to suppose that the description of gravity can’t be built upon with greater understanding or substance. Suggesting “Breaking the Law of Gravity” as a possibility would challenge a paradigm of accepted observation, belief and law – when really the idea to be communicated is an expansion of understanding. We all too often take what we read, see and/or hear as a measure of fact, and accept “law” as irrefutable – but this isn’t always so. This absence of clear definition is easily demonstrate-able when considering the conflicting information gathered between individual witnesses having observed the same accident. We have to remind ourselves that knowledge is something that is individualistic and something that is to be built upon. There needs to be a temperament in its’ communication, and the source considered (scrutinized). There is shared opinion that ews anchors, TV personalities and the media (in its many forms) need to be questioned as they have all too often gotten it wrong. As a result, when the media loses its objectivity so does the general population, and should likewise share in and bear responsibility for errors of judgement and ethics of misleading information. The reports of cold fusion in the late 80’s is one such example where the media was quick to distance itself yet should have bore shared responsibility itself in knowing there is a process for scientific peer review … something it should have exercised as well. Given this, a recommendation on the part of the receivers of information (we are all students in some capacity) would be to never consider TV personalities (search engines or social media) as authorities on any legal, historical, technical or scientific topic. This doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t some limited truth and usefulness in the ideas, opinions, points of view, of false interpretations and/or seemingly inert facts. The problem that arises though is in knowing what and how to filter information and what is worthy of consideration simply because there is so much information to process. To the constructionist these factoids (tidbits of information) are important, but how important should we make them?

Constructionist think of information communicated as knowledge “not as inert factoids to be memorized, but as a dynamic, ever-changing [views] of the world we live in and the ability to successfully stretch and explore that view.”1 As an undergraduate I clung to Einstein’s often misquoted statement about readily available information and an individual’s ability to think. The number of factoids in the sciences are overwhelming.

“Never memorize what you can look up in books” is a quote often attributed to Einstein, though what he actually said was somewhat different. He was asked, but did not know the speed of sound as included in the Edison Test. When this was pointed out, he said, “[I do not] carry such information in my mind since it is readily available in books. He also said, “…The value of a college education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think.”

Caterina Fake

So as such, instructors would commonly hand out physical constants and such perceived static factoid information, this has become a common practice even in today’s grade level classrooms. Whether for the better or worse, the more you use a “factoid” the more likely you are to remember it and the importance behind its value and subject matter becomes to you. Those of us in practice of a given profession don’t need the sheets except when significant digits became important for a calculation. We’ve simply used information over and over again, it’s value being ingrained in our routine. As a constructionist, even the “useless” factoid has utility and value (although one would think less); it could be argued they have great potential in a yet to be realized future utility. So why live with the less used information? Does it have the capacity to hinder us and/or obscure the important things of function? Does this data impede our ability to think and rationalize?

As Caterina Fake reflected upon poetry, she reminds us in a quote by Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451:

“Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.”

With Bradbury’s idea it should be apparent that we should limit our intake of inert facts just as we limit our intake of calories. It does make me contemplate whether or not there is a cost to pay for such memorization. When does too much information do us more harm than good? There is a false illusion of intellect and thoughtfulness with accumulation of useless factoids. Perhaps it’s best to document the factoid in a book and put it aside for a rainy day for when a usefulness arises.

With this idea I will continue to limit intake of “inert” facts and take a conservative view on being a constructionist to allow myself to think/contemplate and reason/rationalize. I’ll side with Einstein on this one – process, thought and enlightenment are greater in results over memorize and regurgitate. Allowing Socratic questioning and discourse to prove or disprove an idea as a means of greater understanding.

What was the speed of sound again? … anyone? eh.


Below is the email that sparked this thought on the value of factoids, watch your factoid count (analogous to your calorie count):

With these chain emails, I often wonder if the curse (at the bottom) would be satisfied if you simply sent it back to the originator 5 times?
Neat factoids below (despite Henry Adams’ view).  Hope all is well!



———- Forwarded message ———
From: Susan
Date: Mon, Aug 26, 2019 at 8:07 AM

Another Learning experience….enjoy

JUST PLAIN NEAT INFORMATION….. Glass takes one million years to decompose, which means it never wears out and can be recycled an infinite amount of times!
Gold is the only metal that doesn’t rust, even if it’s buried in the ground for thousands of years.
Your tongue is the only muscle in your body that is attached at only one end.
If you stop getting thirsty you need to drink more water. When a human body is dehydrated, its thirst mechanism shuts off.
Zero is the only number that cannot be represented by Roman numerals.
Kites were used in the American Civil War to deliver letters and newspapers.
The song Auld Lang Syne is sung at the stroke of midnight in almost every English-speaking country in the world to bring in the new year.
Drinking water after eating reduces the acid in your mouth by 61 percent. Drinking a glass of water before you eat may help digestion and curb appetite.
Peanut oil is used for cooking in submarines because it doesn’t smoke unless it’s heated above 450F.
The roar that we hear when we place a seashell next to our ear is not the ocean, but rather the sound of blood surging through the veins in the ear.
Nine out of every 10 living things live in the ocean.
The banana cannot reproduce itself. It can be propagated only by the hand of man.
Airports at higher altitudes require a longer airstrip due to lower air density.
The University of Alaska spans four time zones.
The tooth is the only part of the human body that cannot heal itself.
In Ancient Greece , tossing an apple to a girl was a traditional proposal of marriage. Catching it meant she accepted.
Warner Communications paid 28 million dollars for the copyright to the song Happy Birthday, which was written in 1935.
Intelligent people have more zinc and copper in their hair.
A comet’s tail always points away from the sun.
The Swine Flu vaccine in 1976 caused more death and illness than the disease it was intended to prevent.
Caffeine increases the power of aspirin and other painkillers, that is why it is found in some medicines.
The military salute is a motion that evolved from medieval times, when knights in armor raised their visors to reveal their identity.
If you get into the bottom of a well or a tall chimney and look up, you can see stars, even in the middle of the day.
When a person dies, hearing is the last sense to go. The first sense lost is sight.
In ancient times strangers shook hands to show that they were unarmed.
Strawberries and cashews are the only fruits whose seeds grow on the outside.
Avocados have the highest calories of any fruit at 167 calories per hundred grams.
The moon moves about two inches away from the Earth each year.
The Earth gets 100 tons heavier every day due to falling space dust.
Due to earth’s gravity it is impossible for mountains to be higher than 15,000 meters.
Mickey Mouse is known as “Topolino” in Italy.
Soldiers do not march in step when going across bridges because they could set up a vibration which could be sufficient to knock the bridge down.
Everything weighs one percent less at the equator.
For every extra kilogram carried on a space flight, 530 kg of excess fuel are needed at lift-off.
The letter J does not appear anywhere on the periodic table of the elements.
And last but not least:
This is called ‘Money Bags ‘. Send this on to 5 people and money will arrive in 5 days. Based on Chinese Feng Shui, the one who does not pass this on will have money troubles for the rest of the year.
Superstitious or not, I passed this along because it is interesting information.
Good friends are like stars. You don’t always see them, but you know they are always there .

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