14 October 2021

Dutch educator Kees Boeke (1884-1966) was the inspiration for the very popular video Powers of Ten

Picknick: the Powers of Ten opening scene (2010)

This is the opening scene of the legendary Powers of Ten educational movie that was produced in 1977 and published in 2010 on youtube. Since its publication on youtube it received more than 7 million views! In the description of the video on youtube there is no mention of Kees Boeke who invented the idea of using steps of 10x as an educational device. An unfriendly omission. However, his name is present in the last second in the Credits section of the movie: "With much gratitude to Kees Boeke". Okay, but this is rather vague. Exactly, what did he contribute? It is not clear that the film was based on his book Cosmic View (1957). Boeke deserves more than this. Hence this blog.


Kees Boeke was a Dutch teacher and education reformer. His idea was a method to teach schoolchildren relative sizes. In 1927 he made his first attempts to use steps of 10x. Much later he also tried steps in powers of two, but quickly returned to the powers of ten. He called them 'jumps of ten' because he started jumping upwards.

First page of Kees Boeke (1959,2021)
'Wij in het heelal, een heelal in ons'.


Boeke started with a picture of a girl [1] taken on a sunny day at the schoolyard. She has a frustrated cat on her bosom. The rest of the book contains drawings, some color, some black and white. From the first picture he starts zooming out by jumps of 10x. Higher and higher above the ground. Village (Bilthoven), region, country (The Netherlands), Europe, Earth, Solar system, etc. And then back to the micro world. For a historical context: the book appeared 12 years before Neil Armstrong became the first human to step on the moon (1969).

A year later another video appeared on youtube: Powers of Ten - Ultimate Zoom (micro-macro - Imax combined) 815,989 views 12 Feb 2011:

Powers of Ten video (2011)
 

The video starts with a display of the cover of Cosmic View. The universe in 40 jumps and two previous videos. That is the good news. The bad news is that only the upper half of the cover is shown. So, the name of the author Kees Boeke is not visible! What a pity! His name is also absent in the description of the video and in the Credits at the end of the video. I find the music irritating and superfluous. It would have been better to have a voice-over or at least display the steps of the power of ten in the bottom left corner.

The educational value of The powers of Ten in general is far more than teaching schoolchildren relative sizes. I think the true value lies in placing all the natural sciences on the same scale of sizes: biology, chemistry, physics, geography, earth-sciences, cosmology. Because humans are in the middle of the micro- and the macro world, it helps to see the places of all sciences on the scale of powers of ten. It would be a suitable introductory film for a Big History course because Big History is trying to integrate all sciences including social sciences.

Recently his original book in Dutch (1959) has been reprinted (see previous blog) and two former teachers of the school Kees Boeke founded, published a book about Kees Boeke and the origin of the powers-of-ten-idea. The school he founded, the Werkplaats Kindergemeenschap, Bilthoven, still exists.


  • youtube: Powers of Ten™ (1977) (length: 9 min)
  • book: Kees Boeke:  'Cosmic View: The Universe in Forty Jumps' (1957)
  • book: Kees Boeke: 'Wij in het heelal, een heelal in ons' (1959)
  • wikipedia: Kees Boeke (1884-1966)
  • previous blog (Dutch): De Tiendesprongen van Kees Boeke (10 Oct)


Postscript 16 Oct: Powers of Ten video (2011) added.

[1] According to one of the authors,  Jos Heuer, the girl is Mirjam Freudenthal. [19 Oct 2021).


10 October 2021

De Tiendesprongen van Kees Boeke

Jos Heuer, Henk Willems (2021)
Tiendesprongen,
Walburgpers

Kees Boeke: Wij in het heelal, Een heelal in ons.
heruitgave
2021, Walburgpers

De Tiendesprongen van Kees Boeke (1884-1966) zijn wereldberoemd geworden, maar weinigen weten dat ze van Kees Boeke afkomstig zijn. Robbert Dijkgraaf en Vincent Icke, beide natuurkundigen, hebben hun enthousiasme uitgesproken. Kees Boeke was een leraar, onderwijshervormer, pedagoog, activist, Quacker-pacifist en revolutionair denker. De Engelse titel van zijn boek dat alles in gang zette is Cosmic View, The Universe in 40 Jumps (1957), de Nederlandse titel Wij in het heelal, Een heelal in ons (1959). Recent is er een heruitgave verschenen van Wij in het heelal (2021) (foto boven). Het is interessant om te zien hoe Boeke te werk ging. Twee oud-docenten zijn in diverse archieven gedoken om een reconstructie te maken van hoe het idee ontstond en zich ontwikkeld heeft (Tiendesprongen, zie afbeelding boven).

Er is een film gebaseerd op het idee verschenen: 'Powers of Ten' (1977) die in 2010 op youtube (9 min) is gepubliceerd onder dezelfde naam. Nu: meer dan 7 miljoen hits! Het werd een klassieker. Als je die bekijkt krijg je de beste visuele indruk van het idee. Uiteraard kon Boeke toen hij zijn idee publiceerde niet beschikken over moderne animatietechnieken. De eerste scene in de film is de bekende picknick scene van een man en een vrouw met afmetingen van 1x1m. 1 meter = 100 of: 10 tot macht 0. In het Engels is macht power, vandaar de titel Powers. De film zoomt uit met niet minder dan 24 stappen van 10. Bij de laatste stap ben gekomen tot: 1024 x 1024 meter. Dat is de werkelijke afmeting van wat je op de foto ziet (lengte x breedte). Daarna zoomt het weer in met grote snelheid naar de picknick scene en daarna verder inzoomen met 16 stappen van 10. Uiteindelijk heeft het vierkant een onvoorstelbare kleine afmeting van 10-16 meter. Technisch is de film zeer knap gedaan. Misschien zijn we tegenwoordig te veel verwend met Google Earth en animatietechnieken. Maar dat bestond in die tijd nog niet!

Helaas zie ik in de beschrijving van Powers of Ten op youtube geen vermelding dat het originele idee van Kees Boeke was! Echt een misser. Wel staat op de allerlaatste seconde van de aftiteling "With much gratitude to Kees Boeke". Dat dan weer wel. Maar wie ziet dat nu?


 

I heb geprobeerd deze post te publiceren op 10-10 10:10:10 maar Blogger laat het tijdstip niet (meer) zien :-(


PS 19 Okt: met dank aan Jos Heuer voor correcties in de tekst!

 

 


27 September 2021

Are humans produced in Senapathy's Primordial Pond? Yes and No!

A Human in the Primordial Pond?!
this picture is not in Senapthy's book!
©GK

I never noticed this specific huge internal inconsistency in Senapathy's theory of 'Independent Birth of Organisms' until Senapathy explained his request to remove humans from the Primordial Pond.

The problem with his request is that one part of his theory says:  

  • (1) the Primordial Pond does not produce humans

and another part says:  

  • (2) the Primordial Pond does produce humans

In the previous blog I showed that according to his theory humans 'should' originate in the Primordial Pond. That is the second part of his theory explained in chapters 6-8 of his book Independent Birth of Organisms. Obviously, statement 1 and 2 are logically incompatible. That is a very serious problem for a scientific theory. Please note that nowhere in his book he makes explicit statements about the origin of humans! Senapathy confirmed this by email [1]. It must be inferred from his text. But, he himself draws precisely that inference in his email: humans did not originate in the Primordial Pond. This contradicts his theory (part 2) that all eukaryotes could arise in the Primordial Pond (previous bog). He is silent about that so far. So, I am justified in claiming that there is an inconsistency in his theory. A rather big inconsistency. It is weird that I have to point out what his own theory predicts!

But the question about the origin of humans is not a minor issue. If you construct a complete new theory about the origin and evolution of life, your theory should explain the origin of humans. If Senapathy had stated it explicitly, he might have noticed the contradiction himself. 

So, how did he justify the first (1) claim? I did not explain that in my previous blog. Senapathy justifies his request 'to remove humans' with the first part of his theory. It is his 'solution' for 'the gaps in the fossil record'. He devoted many pages to 'gaps in the fossil record' ('missing links'!). He gives quotes from his book that proves this point. For example, on page 454 he claims that phyla, classes and orders arose by independent origin, and families, genera and species mostly by evolution (p.454). Since humans are on the species level and not on the level of phyla, classes and orders, humans originated by evolution and did not originate in the Primordial Pond, he wrote in his email. So, let's accept for the moment that his claim can be derived from his book, although it is not stated explicitly anywhere. Even then, it is not right to ignore the part of the theory that contradicts this claim. And it does not help to call part 1 'the core of the theory' [2]. 

We have assumed that Senapathy has shown quotes from his book that prove his assertion. Should we accept his defence for part 1? Senapathy clearly wants independent origin of 'distinct' organisms, so he asserted that they originated in the Primordial Pond. But that is nothing more than wishful thinking! Senapathy has to show that his Primordial Pond can only produce 'distinct' organisms 'unconnectable by evolution'. He has to show that a basic molecular mechanism produces the results he claims. Whatever the truth of the 'missing links', even if there are thousands and thousands of 'missing links', that does not automatically validate his own theory. He has to come up with a specific mechanism. It should have been present in chapters 6-8.

For me this particular inconsistency was a surprise, despite years of thinking and writing about 'independent origin'. I had pinned down the most fundamental error in his theory (the elephant in the room), and here you have a huge and new inconsistency.

Scientists don't want an inconsistent theory. Such a theory predicts A and non-A. So, if A is observed, the theory is true, and if non-A is observed the theory is true also. The theory is always true regardless A. The theory is unfalsifiable (regarding A). If scientists discover an inconsistency they try very hard to remove it. When this fails they discard the theory and construct a new one.

Professor Sharon Peacock (source)

The lesson of this is that any scientific theory should be examined for internal contradictions. It should be thoroughly debugged just as software. A scientist should have the courage to openly change his mind. I read an interview with virologist Prof Sharon Peacock, Director of the COVID-19 Genomics UK consortium, about the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic:

"There is reason to think the virus did emerge from an animal host," she said.  "I haven’t seen any definitive evidence it is an engineered virus or escaped. But what this virus has taught me is to be humble when I’m wrong, and I’ve been wrong quite a few times and have had to become nimble in changing my mind.
So if further evidence comes along that shows the virus as being engineered, I would be willing to consider that. But at the moment, in my view it has arisen from an animal." (source)

That's the real scientific attitude! Humbly admitting you were wrong! That commands respect and will certainly not damage your reputation. On the contrary!


Notes

  1. "As the foundation of my theory is the independent birth of organisms classified in the highest ranks, I have not focused on the origin of humans in my book. Thus, I cannot give you a quote where I mention that humans did not originate independently. However, as I described in my book, I believe that organisms classified in the lower ranks (families, genera, and species) have evolved over millions of years. (...) To provide a detailed assessment of humans was not the intention of my book, as I was focused on the independent origin of organisms in the higher taxa, and Homo sapiens is classified at the lowest rank of a species"  (from email Senapathy 17 Sep 21) [added 28 Sep 21]
  2. It has always been clear to me that part 2 was the core of his theory because it gives a description of the mechanism by which organisms arose from the Primordial Pond. In my review of the book I have shown that the mechanism doesn't work, but here I am describing his theory. [added 29 Sep 21]


Sources

Until the moment of publication of this blogpost Senapathy did not respond to my previous blogpost and 2 emails. 

Until today, 11 Oct 2021 Senapathy did not comment or email me.

Oct 13: added falsifiability.