Cultural, International, Life as it is, Religious, Technical

Albert Einstein’s Views on Religion

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Einstein and Tagore, the two intellectual giants of the 20th century, from the West and the East

Many people, particularly those promoting and propagating religious beliefs (in all major religions), had over the years laid claims that Albert Einstein was a man of religious conviction. They often put forward Einstein’s famous quote, “God does not play dice”, implying that belief in God’s harmony and absolutism in creation was inbuilt in Einstein’s thought process. Nothing, I emphasise nothing, could be more egregiously misinterpreted and misrepresented than this.

Albert Einstein was not a man of religious conviction by any standards. His religious views, if considered dispassionately, would verge on the side of atheism; although he did not like him to be branded as an ‘atheist’. His views on religions were very well contained in his one and half page letter, written in German in 1954 (just a year before his death) to the German philosopher, Eric Gutkind, which contained, “The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable but still primitive legends, which are nevertheless pretty childish”. He also said, “No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can change this”. That letter had been sold in an auction at Christie’s in New York only a few days ago (2018) for the staggering sum of $2.9 m (£2.3 m).

Einstein's letter

That “God does not play dice” was not said by Einstein out of devotion to God, but as a retort to the underlying theme of “Copenhagen interpretation” produced by Niels Bohr/Heisenberg and others on quantum mechanics. Although Albert Einstein and Max Planck were the pioneers of quantum concept in the first decade of the 20th century, subsequent developments of quantum mechanics by Niels Bohr / Schrodinger / Heisenberg / Pauli / Dirac and many more leading to probabilistic nature of objects (elementary particles) were very much disputed by Einstein. An object is either there or not, it cannot be half there and half not; Einstein contended. In that context, he rejected the probabilistic nature of objects by that quote. He also said, the moon is there on the night sky whether we observe it or not. Just because we cannot observe the moon because of cloud in the sky does not mean the moon is not there!

However, quantum physics was relentlessly moving forward into the probabilistic interpretation of objects and successfully explained many hitherto inexplicable physical processes. Einstein struggled the latter part of his life with the nature of reality. When Tagore and Einstein met in Berlin in 1926 (and at least three more times until 1930 meeting in New York), they had a very fascinating philosophical discussion/debate, not so much on the existence of God but on the nature of reality. Tagore held the Eastern philosophical view of convergence of man (meaning life) and nature, Einstein held the view of ‘absolutism’.

In the letter, Einstein, an Ashkenazi Jew, also articulated his disenchantment with Judaism. “For me the Jewish religion like all others is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people,” he wrote.

However, as a child he was religious; as is the case with most of the children of religious families anywhere in the world. But he had a fiercely independent mind and a deeply inquisitive trait. He disliked authoritarian attitude – whether in teaching or training. He was very unhappy at the Luitpold Gymnasium (a strict discipline focussed school) in Munich, where his parents enrolled him for proper education. He described later that he deeply disliked the ‘rote learning’ method at the school with no opportunity for creative thinking. He, however, remained at that school to keep his parents happy. Years later, he advised people, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning”.

Einstein did not or could not completely discard the notion of supremacy of the supernatural power, which became inbuilt in his childhood, although he rejected consciously the idea that this religion or that religion derives from the orders or massages from God. By the age of 13, he started doubting the religious teachings and “abandoned his uncritical religious fervour, feeling he had been deceived into believing lies”.

He believed in or had strong inclination towards “Spinoza’s God” (Baruch Spinoza, a 17th century Dutch thinker), “who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind”. Einstein had the same or similar mindset. This streak of thinking had a strong resonance with the Eastern philosophy that man and nature merge into one or have strong inter-connection.

The physical world follows a set of laws and principles with specific physical constants relevant to the natural world. Any variation of these laws and constants would negate the existence of this universe and could possibly generate another universe. That may be the underlying thinking in the idea of multiverse. So, to claim that a grand designer created this universe with specific set rules and laws for our habitation in mind is a mendacious presumption.

Einstein was, to a large extent, ambivalent about God, the so-called grand designer. He could neither prove or disprove the existence of this ‘Uncaused Cause’, the ‘Unmoved Mover’ and hence it was sensible to maintain some ambivalence; but all his instincts were against such a presumption. He said facetiously, “I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details.”
– Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist.

Advanced science, Astrophysics, Environmental, Technical

How global warming is impacting on Earth’s spin

Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions might be affecting more than just the climate. For the first time, scientists at NASA presented evidence that the orientation of the Earth’s spin axis is changing because of global warming.

global_warming_1[1]The Earth spins from west to east about an axis once every 24 hours, creating the continuous cycle of day and night. The north-south spin axis runs through the North and South Poles and is tilted by 23.5 degrees from the vertical. The axial tilt causes almost all the seasonal changes.

But the tilt is far from constant. It varies between 21.6 and 24.5 degrees in a 41,000-year cycle. This variation together with small fluctuations in the Sun and Moon’s gravitational pull, oblate shape and elliptical orbit of the Earth, irregular surface, non-uniform distribution of mass and movement of the tectonic plates cause the spin axis, and hence the Poles, to wobble either east or west along its general direction of drift.

Until 2005, Earth’s spin axis has been drifting steadily in the southwest direction around ten centimetres each year towards the Hudson Bay in Canada. However, in 2005, the axis took an abrupt turn and started to drift east towards England at an annual rate of about 17 centimetres, according to data obtained by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites. It is still heading east.

After analysing the satellite data, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California attribute the sudden change in direction of the axis mainly to melting of Greenland’s ice sheets due to global warming. The reason: Melting of ice sheets and the resulting rise of the sea level are changing the distribution of mass on Earth, thereby causing the drift of the spin to change direction and become more oblique. The axis is particularly sensitive to changes in mass distribution occurring north and south of 45 degrees latitude. This phenomenon is similar to the shift in the axis of rotation of a spinning toy if we put more mass on one side of the top or the other.

Since 2002, ice sheets of Greenland have been melting at an annual rate of roughly 270 million tonnes. Additionally, some climate models indicate that a two-to-three degrees Celsius rise in temperature would result in a complete melting of Greenland’s ice sheets. If that happens, it could release the equivalent of as much as 1,400 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, enhancing global warming even further. It would also raise the sea level by about 7.5 meters. By then, the wobbling of the Poles would also be completely out of whack.

The ice in the Arctic Ocean has also decreased dramatically since the 1960s. For every tonne of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, about three square meters of Arctic’s ice were lost in the last 50 years. This reflects a disquieting long-term trend of around ten percent loss of ice per decade. Furthermore, Antarctica is losing more ice than is being replaced by snowfall. The influx of water from the melting of ice of the Arctic Ocean and Antarctica together with the melting of glaciers and the subsequent redistribution of water across the Earth is also causing our planet to pitch over.

What does this mean for us? Although something as small as we humans shook up something as massive as the Earth, it won’t turn upside down as long as the Moon, which acts as a stabiliser of the Earth’s spinning motion, stays in the sky as our nearest neighbour. However, if the shift of the spin axis maintains its present rate and direction, then by the end of this century, the axis would shift by nearly 14 meters. Such a large shift will have devastating consequences for climate change and our planet.

The orientation of the Earth’s spin axis determines the seasonal distribution of radiation at higher latitudes. If the axial tilt is smaller, the Sun does not travel as far north in the sky during summer, producing cooler summers. A larger tilt, as could be in the future, would mean summer days that would be much hotter than the present summer days. In addition, it would impact the accuracy of GPS and other satellite-dependent devices.

Since global warming is causing the Earth’s mass to be redistributed towards the Poles, it would cause the planet to spin faster, just as an ice skater spins faster when she pulls her arms towards her body. Consequently, the length of a day would become shorter.

Our biological clock that regulates sleeping, walking, eating, and other cyclic activities is based on a 24-hour day. Faced with a shorter day, these circadian rhythms would be hopelessly out of sync with the natural world. Moreover, a rapidly spinning Earth will be unstable to the extent that the Poles would wobble faster. This would create enormous stress on the Earth’s geology leading to large-scale natural disasters that will most likely be disastrous for life on Earth.

We may not witness the effects of a rapidly spinning Earth by the end of this century or the next. Nevertheless, the effects will be perceivable a few centuries from now if the global temperature keeps on rising and the ice sheets keep on melting in tandem.

The shift in the Earth’s spin axis due to climate change highlights how real and profoundly large impact humans are having on the planet. The dire consequences of the shift in the axial tilt towards a larger obliquity, as noted above, is not a wake-up call, but an alarm bell. There is still time for our leaders to listen to the scientists and formulate a long-term approach to tackle the problem of climate change instead of a short-term Band-Aid approach, as outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement, which will see us through only to the end of this century. Therefore, our foremost goal before the death knell should be to reverse global warming, or at the least, to stop further warming instead of limiting it to 1.5-degree in the next 75 years or so.

The author, Quamrul Haider, is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.

 

Advanced science, Bangladesh, Economic, Environmental, International, Technical

Harnessing the Solar Energy absorbed by ocean waters

solar_energy

The world’s oceans constitute a vast natural reservoir for receiving and storing solar energy. They take in solar energy in proportion to their surface area, nearly three times that of land. As the sun warms the oceans, it creates a significant temperature difference between the surface water and the deeper water to which sunlight doesn’t penetrate. Any time there’s a temperature difference, there’s the potential to run a heat engine, a device that converts thermal energy into mechanical energy.

Most of the electricity we use comes from heat engines of one kind or another. The working principle of such an engine is very simple. It operates between two reservoirs of thermal energy, one hot and one cold. Energy is extracted from the hot reservoir to heat a working fluid which boils to form high-pressure vapour that drives a turbine coupled to an electricity-producing generator. Contact with the cold reservoir re-condenses the working fluid which is pumped back into the evaporator to complete the cycle.

The idea of building an engine to harness energy from the oceans, mainly to generate electricity, by exploiting the thermal gradient between waters on the surface and deeper layers of an ocean is known as OTEC—acronym for Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion. With OTEC, the hot reservoir is an ocean’s warmer surface water with temperatures, which can exceed 25 degrees Celsius, and the cold reservoir is the cooler water, around five to six degrees, at a depth of up to one kilometre. The working fluid is usually ammonia, which vaporises and condenses at the available temperatures. This is analogous to choosing water as the working fluid matched to the temperature differential between a fossil-fuel-fired boiler and a condenser cooled by air or water.

The maximum efficiency of a heat engine operating between reservoirs at 25 and 5 degrees Celsius is 6.7 percent. This means efficiency of an actual OTEC engine will be much less, perhaps 2-3 percent. But low efficiency isn’t the liability it would be in a fossil-fuelled or nuclear power plant. After all, the fuel for OTEC is unlimited and free, as long as the sun heats the oceans.

The greater is the temperature difference, more efficient an OTEC power plant would be. For example, a surface temperature of 30 degrees would raise the ceiling on efficiency to 8.25 percent. That’s why the technology is viable primarily in tropical regions where the year-round temperature differential between the ocean’s deep cold and warm surface waters is greater than 20 degrees. The waters of Bay of Bengal along the shores of Bangladesh, a country that enjoys a year round warm, and at times very hot weather, have excellent thermal gradients for producing electricity using OTEC technology.

The world’s biggest operational OTEC facility, with an annual power generation capacity of 100 kW, was built by Makai Ocean Engineering in Hawaii. Tokyo Electric Power Company and Toshiba built a 100 kW plant on the island of Nauru, although as much as 70 percent of the electricity generated is used to operate the plant.

The US aerospace company Lockheed Martin is building an OTEC electricity generating plant off the coast of Hainan Island in China. Once operational, the plant will be able to generate up to at least 10 MW of power, enough to sustain the energy requirements of a smaller metropolis. India is building a 200 kW plant, expected to be operational before 2020, in Kavaratti, capital of the Lakshadweep archipelago, to power a desalination plant. Other OTEC systems are either in planning or development stage in Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and several countries along the Indian Ocean, mostly to supply electricity.

Like any alternative form of energy, OTEC has its advantages and disadvantages, but the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Among the advantages, the one that stands out is its ability to provide a base load supply of energy for an electrical power generation system without interruption, 24/7/365. It also has the potential to produce energy that are several times greater than other ocean energy options, such as waves and tides. More importantly, OTEC is an extremely clean and sustainable technology because it won’t have to burn climate-changing fossil fuels to create a temperature difference between the reservoirs. A natural temperature gradient already exists in the oceans. The gradient is very steady in time, persisting over day and night and from season to season. Furthermore, the desalination technology as a by-product of the OTEC can produce a large amount of fresh water from seawater which will benefit many island nations and desert countries.

However, recirculation of large volumes of water by OTEC power plants could have negative impacts on the aquatic environment. In particular, the introduction of nutrient-rich deep waters into the nutrient-poor surface waters would stimulate plankton blooms that could adversely affect the local ecological balance. Additional ecological problems include destruction of marine habitats and aquatic nursery areas, redistribution of oceanic constituents, loss of planktons and decrease of fish population.

Since OTEC facilities must be located closer to the shores due to cabling constraints, they could have significant effect on near-shore circulation patterns of ocean water. As a result, open ocean organisms close to the shores will be especially affected because they are known to have very narrow tolerance limits to changes in the properties of their environment.

The biggest drawback of OTEC is its low efficiency. This implies that to produce even modest amounts of electricity, OTEC plants have to be constructed on a relatively large scale, which makes them expensive investments. It’s the price we should be prepared to pay to curb global warming. Industry analysts however believe that in the long run, low operation and maintenance cost would offset the high cost of building OTEC facilities.

The current effort, as agreed in the 2015 Paris Accord, to keep our planet lovable is like taking one giant step backward before trying to move one step forward. If technology for OTEC and other eco-friendly renewable sources of energy are fully developed and globally commercialised, it would indeed be one giant step forward in mitigating global warming. They would also equip communities worldwide with the self-empowerment tools that are required to build an independent and sustainable future.

 

The author, Quamrul Haider, is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.

Advanced science, Astrophysics, Bangladesh, Economic, International, Technical

Orbit of Bangabandhu-1 and other satellites

May 12, 2018 is a red-letter day in the history of Bangladesh. On this day, “Bangladesh started a glorious chapter in the history with the launching of Bangabandhu-1 satellite,” President Abdul Hamid said in a message to the nation. Indeed, Bangabandhu-1 added a new milestone to the path of continued advancement of the country. Proudly displaying the flag of Bangladesh on its solar panels, the satellite is orbiting the Earth in a geostationary orbit located at 119.1 degrees east longitude.

The physics of a satellite’s orbit is remarkable. For our current knowledge of orbital motion, we owe tons of gratitude to Johannes Kepler who, in the early 17th century, relentlessly pursued the planetary orbits by putting the Sun at the centre of ‘his’ Universe. In this pursuit, he gave us three laws of planetary motion that endure to this day. Of particular interest to the motion of satellites is his third law, which states that the square of a planet’s orbital period (in years) is equal to the cube of the planet’s average distance (in astronomical unit) from the Sun. One astronomical unit is the average distance of Earth from the Sun, which is approximately 150 million km.

By working with his laws of motion and the universal law of gravitation, Isaac Newton found that Kepler’s third law is a special case of a more general law. He showed that in addition to the cube of the average distance of a planet from the Sun, square of the orbital period is also inversely proportional to the mass of the Sun. Moreover, according to Newton, the orbital speed of a small object orbiting a much more massive object depends only on its orbital radius, not on its mass. Accordingly, if satellites are closer to Earth, the pull of gravity gets stronger, and they move more quickly in their orbit.
The speed, however, depends on the mass of the massive object. That is why an astronaut does not need a tether to stay close to the International Space Station during a space walk. Even though the space station is much bigger than the astronaut, both are much smaller than Earth and thus stay together because they have the same orbital speed.

Satellites can be placed in different kinds of orbit – geosynchronous, geostationary, Sun-synchronous, semi-synchronous, orbit at Lagrange points.When a satellite is placed in a ‘sweet spot’ where, irrespective of its inclination, it orbits the Earth in the same amount of time the Earth rotates with respect to the stars, which is 23 hours 56 minutes and 4 seconds, it would appear stationary over a single longitude in the sky as seen from the Earth. This kind of orbit, where communication satellites are placed, is called geosynchronous orbit.

A special case of geosynchronous orbit is the geostationary orbit, which has a circular, geosynchronous orbit directly above the Earth’s equator. Besides communications, both orbits are also extremely useful for monitoring the weather because satellites in these orbits provide a constant view of the same surface. Using the rotational time and known mass of the Earth, we find that the orbital radius of a geostationary orbit is about 42,220 km from the centre of the Earth, which is about 35,850 km above the Earth’s surface.

Just as geosynchronous satellites have a sweet spot, satellites in a near polar orbit have a sweet spot too. If the orbits of these satellites are tilted by about eight degrees from the pole, a perturbing force produced by Earth’s oblateness would cause the orbit to precess 360 degrees during the course of the year. Satellites in such an orbit, known as Sun-synchronous or Helio-synchronous orbit, would pass over any given point on the Earth’s surface at the same local time each day. Additionally, they would be constantly illuminated by the Sun, which would allow their solar panels to work round the clock. Orbiting at an altitude between 700 and 800 km with an orbital period of roughly 100 minutes, satellites in a Sun-synchronous orbit are used for reconnaissance, mapping the Earth’s surface and as weather satellites, especially for measuring the concentration of ozone in the stratosphere and monitoring atmospheric temperature.

Many Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites are in another sweet spot known as semi-synchronous orbit. While geosynchronous orbit matches Earth’s rotational period, satellites in semi-synchronous orbit, at an altitude of approximately 20,000 kilometres, are in a 12-hour near-circular orbit. With a smaller orbital radius, a satellite would have a larger coverage of ground area on the Earth’s surface.

Other orbital sweet spots are five points located on the Earth’s orbital plane. The combined gravitational force of the Earth and the Sun acting on a satellite placed at these points, known as Lagrange points, would ensure that its orbital period is equal to that of Earth’s. Hence, the satellite will maintain its position relative to the Earth and the Sun.
The two nearest Lagrange points, one between the Earth and the Sun and the other in the opposite direction of the Sun, each 1.5 million km away from the Earth, are home to many space-based observatories. Some of them are the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory designed to study the internal structure of the Sun, the Deep Space Climate Observatory producing accurate forecasts and providing warning by monitoring dangerous space-weather conditions, and the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe measuring the cosmic background radiation left over from the Big Bang.
The writer is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.

Advanced science, Cultural, International, Life as it is, Technical

Are teachers the “Luddites” of higher education

It is obvious that online education has cut out the bricks and mortar frills of a normal campus and replaced classrooms with a computer screen on top of a desk at a student’s home.

luddites

According to tech-employment experts, more than half the jobs in the United States would be automated in a decade or two. That should not come as a surprise. Robots are already working as telemarketers, replacing assembly line workers, whisking products around Amazon’s huge shipping centres, diagnosing medical conditions and performing minimally invasive surgeries. They are writing stories for newspapers and magazines, too.

For all of its ambiguities, technology has also made its way into the arena of higher education. Today, we are fascinated by videotaped lectures. We revel at the online learning format MOOC ‒ acronym for Massive Open Online Course. We rave at Coursera ‒ a venture-backed, education-focused technology company. We rant about Udacity ‒ a for-profit educational organization offering MOOCs.

Courses offered by these asynchronous programs do not take place in a real-time environment. As a result, there is no class meeting time. They enrol tens of thousands of “followers,” a Twitter term I prefer to use, because it offers a more apt label than “students.” The followers are provided with syllabi and assignments and are given a time frame to complete the course work and exams. Interaction with instructors usually takes place through discussion boards, blogs and Wikis.

So, what happens next? One clue might lie in the early nineteenth century Britain when the intrusion of mechanized technology into the textile production process ignited the Luddite rebellion, named after Ned Ludd, a mythical weaver who lived in Sherwood Forest. He supposedly broke two mechanical knitting machines to vent his anger against automation.

Incensed at the machines that they believed would replace them, the textile workers or the Luddites, as they were called, raided factories and sabotaged machinery by night, in the hopes of saving their jobs. The rebellion was a total failure. Nonetheless, the Luddites bequeathed us a namesake pejorative hurled at anyone daring to stand in the way of technological progress. The term Luddite has now become a synonym for technophobe.
I write this piece not as a technophobe, but as an open-minded professor sceptic about technology’s impact on the state of higher education. I have enthusiastically experimented with YouTube clips, Facebook course pages and discussion blogs in many of my courses. I appreciate the word processors, particularly TeX/LaTex ‒ a high-quality typesetting system designed for the production of technical and scientific documentation. I value the usefulness of the Internet that gives me access to a treasure trove of information on an untold number of subjects, as well as technical journals essential for doing research. As a theoretical nuclear physicist, I am grateful for the open-source software, such as Mathematic that took the sweat out of high-level mathematical calculations.

Nevertheless, I am also disturbed by some aspects of online education’s impact on learning and scholarship. That is because from the vantage point of science pedagogy, technologies have still to offer an adequate answer to a question that should always be at the forefront of our conversations: How much does the whole person matter?

It is obvious that online education has cut out the bricks and mortar frills of a normal campus and replaced classrooms with a computer screen on top of a desk at a student’s home. While proponents of online learning would like us to believe that their ostensibly laser-like focus on higher education is admirable, one cannot help but wonder about the value of the traditional liberal arts college experience that is lost in the process.

As many have noted, the experience of a lecture hall ‒ usually a metaphor for college as a whole ‒ has not changed all that much in the last 500 years or so. Standing astride at the podium or writing on a chalkboard, professors edify the students by pouring forth their knowledge. Whether the endurance of this long-established format is either a virtue or vice depends on how close your postal code is to California’s Silicon Valley.
Against this age-old backdrop, enter the heroic innovators ‒ the techno utopians. In their view, online learning offers a solution to the various crises higher education is facing today.In particular, it accommodates adaptable scheduling, comfortable learning environment, variety of programs and courses to choose from, and strips down costs, so that education could be spread to people not privileged enough to afford the sticker shock of today’s tuition fees.

Is online learning really making good on the promises the techno utopians are claiming? Numerous studies over the years have shown that technology hurts students’ progress more than it helps. The studies conclude that students who rely solely on modern technology to get their degree in quick and easy doses often lack the ability, and more importantly patience, to think and study the old-fashioned way. They belong to a generation of digital natives who are apparently incapable of prying themselves away from their computer screens for even a 50-minute classroom lecture.

Furthermore, recipients of degrees from online educational facilities should be prepared to face a few initial hiccups, simply because there is a greater likelihood that their degree would be considered to have much lower value than the one obtained via mainstream classroom education. Consequently, prospective employers may be sceptical about the credibility of even well-known online learning enterprises that generally offer only certificates of course completion. They are, however, appropriate learning environments for adults with time constraints or busy schedules, or those who want to take enrichment courses to enhance their career.

Others have noted that online course innovations seem uniquely tilted in favour of fields like science, engineering and mathematics and less suitable for subjects like history, philosophy, or English. In that sense, technology has a bit of bias, as any bleary-eyed humanities professor who cannot feed a stack of essays into Scantron will tell us.
Even if online learning does get better at spreading knowledge, can it ever match college’s time-honoured strength in cultivating wisdom? Confronting that challenge requires us to answer the question of how much the whole person really matters. Technology seems to suggest it does not and should not. Indeed, the ideology of technology is to disaggregate the whole person ‒ to stretch human faculties to the point where space and time become irrelevant.

Arguably, college, at its best, is all-encompassing. It is a place where one undergoes intellectual, social and spiritual transformation. Yes, education happens in the lecture hall. An ineffable, unpredictable vibe that a great class discussion generates leaves its participants buzzing.

But education also happens on a theatre stage, in museums and art galleries, at an atelier, at a research lab at a hospital, in the study abroad program and many other places outside the classroom. It remains unclear how MOOC, Coursera, Udacity, or technology in general can help cultivate wisdom across all of these fronts and thus enrich the whole person that college education epitomises.

Although we may be at the dawn of a post-human era, as some have argued, I do believe that we are losing more than we are gaining from a technological hypnosis that has the potential to reclassify the teacher as a network administrator. If we could avoid bowing to the pressures to convert higher education into virtual reality, we will preserve something essential to our humanity, a sense of community.

To that end, we still need to be face-to-face with the students, to meet with them in groups for discussion, or to have one-on-one meeting with a student seeking guidance. These relational roles and human touch of a teacher can only be accomplished in a campus environment.

Having said that, are we facing our own virtual obsolescence just like the Luddites? Only time will tell whether we will become neo-Luddites or not. However, if the prediction and vision of automation is even halfway correct, I am afraid higher education in a campus setting may soon become redundant, as techno utopians are forecasting, when a one-size-fits-all online education presents itself to institutions looking to streamline the overhead. If that day arrives, it won’t just be faculty’s loss; it could be a loss of our students’ sense of wholeness too.

 

The writer is Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York