Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Power of A Good Question

Today was the last day of instruction in what was probably the best science class that I have ever taken. I am pretty sure that I gained more understanding of physics in the last six weeks than I did in a whole year of undergraduate college physics.

The fascinating thing is that during the last six weeks, not one of my ten or so instructors ever told me anything! They just asked me questions - hundreds upon hundreds of questions. Sometimes I asked the instructors questions, and then, just maybe, they would tell me something. Most of the time they would, instead, just ask me another question. For someone who likes to talk and who loves attention, this is the most amazing educational set-up ever.

But as I walked the mile back to my dorm today, reflecting on the learning that I have done through the last six weeks, the most incredible thing for me to notice was how much I own my current understandings.

I discovered the basic principles of special relativity! They are my principles, and it may as well be said that Sarah Angell discovered special relativity, because, indeed, no one ever told her what special relativity was. These brilliant instructors just asked me questions until the only option was to discover the theory myself. Space-time dilation is not just some crazy idea in Einstein's head; it is now a crazy idea in my head. It is a crazy idea in my head that makes me so excited that I am even willing to fall asleep thinking about physics!

What a brilliant system of education! For me to think that I discovered special relativity is about as crazy as me thinking that I, not Columbus, "discovered" America. But the craziness hasn't stopped me from thinking of my discovery as any less important than Einstein's.

At this point I can hear Mr. Gilbreth from Cheaper By the Dozen telling his children that this post topic is not of general interest. But perhaps he would have spoken too soon.
  • Regardless of how I feel about special relativity, how many times, when I pause to think about it, have I learned the most about myself in the context of relationship, when someone has simply asked me a question that was tailored perfectly to me?

  • How clarifying has it been for me, when a friend who knows me really well, asks just the question that I need to work through a particularly challenging decision?
  • How I often do I find myself strikingly aware of my love for God when I put myself in Peter's shoes as he is questioned by the resurrected Christ, "Sarah, do you love me?"?

Oh, the power of ownership!