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Could a Change of Plaques at a Museum Help Engender True Philosophy? Answered

I visited a famous museum of art a while back, and was awed by the breadth of their collection.

I spent most of a day there, and as I walked through, something occurred to me; the historical plaques I read only told the story of our current understanding of history. They did not mention how our ideas of, for example, 12" Egyptian stone carvings, have changed from thinking they were idols to something like spirit "vessels" for the departed. This one-sided view gave the impression that we knew all about Egyptian culture. Yet, our understanding changes all the time. Translations of the "Book of the Dead" from 1930 hardly resemble recent translations.

I wonder, if we mentioned on a plaque how a particular artifact changed our views of ancient cultures, and did this for several artifacts, or even mentioned briefly some key research along the way, we might jog the minds of museum goers a bit more. Maybe get them thinking that the world is more open than presumed. Thus some visitors might get excited at the unanswered questions and have a desire to do further research in a topic on their own.

If a change of plaques could tell a larger story of how our ideas and "what we know" is challenged and changes all the time, then perhaps . . . it might even jog the visitor to challenge some of his or her own ideas, thus beginning to inspire true philosophy.


As gmoon says, good museums update display information as often as possible, though not necessarily on a very frequent basis. If artefacts have had a significant impact on a branch of study, then that is, in my experience, usually stated (although UK universities are not funded like US museums, relying less on endowments and bequests).

It can be expensive, though, and time consuming. I am in occasional contact with a large aquarium in the UK regarding updating its displays, and funds and time have meant that they are still in the planning stages of what to put up after some six months of work (they are trying to balance the needs of eager youngsters who can't read with more inquisitive minds who find cartoons childish).

As for politics, though, the only places I can see standing beliefs outweighing facts in a museum context are the various Creationist "museums" popping up around the world, where they display utter tosh like dinosaurs and humans co-existing and fossils being laid down by Noah's flood.

(Quietly seethes and contemplates arson)

If they want to believe in creationism, they can. However insane it may be. (The anematronic dinosoars would be fun to see go up in flames though)

That reminds me, I had quite an discussion (it was really an argument) with someone that supposevely believes in God today, but all of her answers were on some sort of methanphetamine. She literally pulled the answers and "proof" out of her *cough*.
She used the bible as proof, and then I made a reference to The Lord Of The Rings. Sorry for going off on a tangent, it just reminded me of it.

Oh dear. I'm afraid of where this thread is going, but, nevertheless. . .

Believing in creationism does not make one insane. Even the idea is not insane. It may be wrong. But, as I have said numerous (numerous!) times, each of us believes something utterly ridiculous. The point of manners, etiquette, and just general tolerance is to allow people to believe what they want to.

It is the way that people act that we need be worried about. After all, each of us has insane thoughts and beliefs, every time we dream.

I should add, "allow people to believe what they want to and respect it". This does not mean that you agree with it or even imply that you approve of them believing it, but you do not mock it. And on the flipside, if you have truth, you share it with others in a loving, unimposing way.

With you on the act - everybody has weird thoughts and daydreams, but most of us realise how anti-social it would be to try and force others to share that weirdness. I know you find it hard to grasp, but I am OK with people believing in Creationism (religion is, after all, an evolved emergent phenomenon, and DNA is hard to defeat). I am not OK with Creationists who flatly declare huge swathes of evidence-based science to be wrong, or even satanically-inspired lies, just because they contradict the basis of their income worldview. Creationist museums don't present an honest opinion; this is our Faith, we have no valid evidence for it but it comforts us in times of need. Instead they say this is the real world, if anybody tells you differently they are evil atheist liars who are attempting to subvert your soul for Satan.

Look, two wrongs don't make a right. So you're not okay with it. You lovingly guide them to truth. Things we know, not postulate.

They say dinosuars walked aside man a few thousand years ago. You say, well, that doesn't really match some things we've seen, especially if you look at carbon decay rates.

You don't belittle their faith because one expression of it is ridiculous. After all, there have been plenty of ridiculous expression of scientific thought. And still are. Like dumping tons of iron into the ocean and such.

I know you find it hard to grasp, but I am OK with people believing in Creationism Not sure what you mean by this. You sure don't seem to be OK with it. I worked with a guy that claimed he was never angry, but constantly yelled at me when I asked him the status of his projects. Sure seemed angry to me.

I'm not expressing my point very well, am I?

It's the pushing on others that is the problem.

Creationists actively promote concepts as "fact" that are demonstrably false. They deliberately misquote respected scientists (check out the "talk" page of the Conservapedia page on Evolution for a typical example).

They actively campaign to have scientific concepts removed from science curricula because they contradict their religious standpoint.

The creationist stand-point is purely Faith-based (ie lacking in credible evidence), and so belongs in church or as a subject of study in a class on comparative religions. It does not belong in a science (evidence) lesson, yet they expect to get "equal time" for their beliefs (which is where Pastafarianism entered the scene).

If they keep it within their churches, if they admit Creationism and Intelligent Design are religious positions, if they do not publish outright lies and claim they are scientifically-sound, then I am fine with it.

When they turn up at my school and try and tell me that I should be teaching "biblical truth" in a physics lesson, and that I should teach my class that the universe was formed only 6000 years ago, then I am not OK with it.

You didn't express yourself poorly; I read it poorly. I was in a hurry and it seems I just about missed the entire last paragraph. Sorry about that. I want to explain that I generally believe the Bible to be literally true. However, I think far too many people assume the text says things it doesn't. As I believe God created the universe, I guess that makes me a Creationist. However, I do not support or in any way endorse the Creationist museums, or teaching Biblical truths as scientific evidence. They're not. I'm fine with someone teaching "The Bible says that the God (or gods) created the world in seven creative periods called days. It doesn't say much more than that about the process of creation, though it implies some delegation was involved, and perhaps commitees. Astrophysicists are pretty sure that the universe came to being in a giant explosion of matter and energy called the Big Bang. Here's why." I've been pondering over why I'm ok with this teaching of religion in the classroom. I think it's because it's the truth. I mean, I learned in high school various other religions' beliefs on the creation of the Universe, particularly the ancient Greeks, why not the Bible's version? Which is pretty short, and doesn't say anything about dinosaurs or matter created out nonexistence. If people are lying or doing crazy things like trying to forge archaeological "evidence" in support of their view of the Creation, they ought to be brought up on charges for any crimes they commit. But I don't think the average Creationist (by this I mean the average Christian) lies about these things. One final comment, as for scientific concepts being taught, I am fine with it, as long as they are portrayed as having a certain confidence level, backed up by certain evdiences that the concepts appear to explain quite nicely. This goes along with the whole point of this topic.

as long as they are portrayed as having a certain confidence level, backed up by certain evdiences that the concepts appear to explain quite nicely. This goes along with the whole point of this topic.

Spot on. I even encourage my better students to try and catch me out, rather than taking it on trust that what I say is true. Like the boy who went to a talk by a US creationist and came back convinced that bones could fossilise in a few days or hours (rather than millions of years), because the speaker (Ken Ham) told him that mineral impregnation was the same as mineral replacement. All I did was "fossilise" a sock and proved Ham wrong. Disproving Ha,'s lies about carbon dating was harder, because the boy was eleven, and not very "up" on his nuclear physics ;-)

Yeah the carbon dating thing's not very convincing. Personally, I'm guessing it's hard to explain because we don't understand the phenomenon that well. Or at least the people that try to explain it don't. I know I don't know how we can be so sure that decay rates aren't affected by other factors. How do we the decay rates don't change? Anybody running a multi-decade experiment just tracking the decay rates to see how well empirical evidence matches up with the calculated rates?

Carbon dating is a bad argument because any physicist will tell you that carbon dating is only accurate on the order of thousands of years. There are other radio-dating methods that are accurate over tens of millions of years, but Creationists seem to conveniently "forget" that.

We know the decay rates don't change because the universe would have to change for that to happen. Radioactive half-lives are as axiomatic as 2+2=4. They are the basis of atomic clocks, which are so accurate they can detect the minute relativistic effects of air travel.

The empirical evidence for C-dating is copious, well-documented, and covers centuries (not just decades) since samples with well-known dates have been used for calibration (such as fabrics or wood from ancient buildings whose construction is well-documented).

For a much fuller explanation of why radiometric data cannot be dimissed as potentially-unreliable, try this:

Radiometric Dating, A Christian Perspective.

Well there's no conflict with my Christian perspective, but I've been pretty ignorant of carbon and radio dating techniques. Cool.

Sadly, the only thing I remember being taught in my high school as less than fact was the theory of evolution, and the gifted class taught by the devoutly religious PHD.

I have even heard rumblings of this type of thinking invading the Meeting I go to, whereas before the past decade, nothing like this would have been a problem. Another system subject to decay, like all others, and when I pass on, there might not be a voice left there to steer towards sanity. *sigh*

This is why I don't particularly like the label Christian and the connotations surrounding the label Christian. Not all of us hold one hand over our eyes while we drive through life. And those of us more closely associated with Judaism, have not need to prove (or disprove) God, as we are not here to force anyone to see, or believe anything. Discuss, debate if you like, learn and think about things, but never force anything on anyone.

Well, as I have said before, clearly, over and over, I think that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, and religion installs good values in people. The only reason I went off on her was the fact that she insulted my non-religious views.

See now, you had me up to the contemplating arson. I think it's pretty ridiculous for people to be claiming such things as well, but I think it's just silly reactionism. This anger is why I thought it was funny you were reviewing a book on science and God. I just couldn't see how you could review it objectively. But I didn't read the book or the review, so what do I know? I think Nacho Mahma might do good on that, though. Back to plaques: I suppose then that the display plaques would be a great place for ubiquitous e-paper writings that could be changed to various languages and allow you to get just a little more information, should you desire. Five more years, then?

On the contemplating arson thing. Haven't you ever heard of a joke?

I can be objective when I need to be - I'd be a pretty poor scientist otherwise.

It's very hard to keep my temper, though, when I see people simply ignore demonstrable facts because they contradict their world-view, or, worse, they break their own rules to try and make the rules go away (like the Creationist who was caught with a hammer and chisel trying to make a dinosaur trackway look as if some of the footprints were human).

Or they contradict themselves to try and cover the hole in their arguments (I have had the same creationist tell me that the fossil record was laid down by Noah's flood, and at exactly the same time it cut the Grand Canyon through that same fossil record).

Ignorance may be bliss, but wilful ignorance is the nearest thing to an actual sin that enters my world-view.

One of the ideas I am persuading the aquarium to pursue is pod-cast plaques - visitors can download audio tours of the aquarium at the level of detail they desire (kids' versions could have cartoon-voice characters, etc), load them into their mp3 player and then play the tracks that match the tank they are looking at.

Or they can take their mp3 players to a counter in the museum and have the files loaded up there and then.

I didn't know you were a scientist! I thought you were mostly a teacher. What do you study?

pod-cast plaques - Great idea. Another is to have GPS enabled devices or bluetooth to enhance unguided tours.

Actually, I also think willful ignorance is a sin. And honking your car horn at 2am (DARN YOU, NEW YORK DRIVERS!)

I'm a science teacher. It is hard to be one in a UK school without being a scientist first.

I did three years at uni studying Paper Science (how to turn tall green things into flat white things), then spent four years running the labs in a paper mill.

A few McJobs came after redundancy, then a year teacher-training and now nearly eleven years as a science teacher (plus a few other subjects on the side).

I don't specialise any more - I'm a scientist of the old school, where one knows a reasonable amount about as many areas as possible, and is capable of understanding much more.

I'm a scientist of the old school, where one knows a reasonable amount about as many areas as possible, and is capable of understanding much more.

That's what I'm after. I seek after principles. I find that in many fields the most proficient are the individuals that have truly mastered the basic principles, whether that's the chords of guitar playing or developing CG techniques. One of the most engaging links I've seen is how many principles in seemingly unrelated fields are nearly identical. I'm particularly impressed by the language we use to describe light and sound and their comparisons. Truly spiffy.

Hey! Rock on!

spent four years running the labs in a paper mill. I have a friend that works as a lab tech for international paper. Occasionally she has brought us samples of odd smelling gels to get our reaction to the scents. "Don't put this in your mouth." was her warning, as I recall. :)

ignorance may be bliss, but wilful ignorance is the nearest thing to an actual sin that enters my world-view.

I don't know about sin, but willful ignorance is one definition of "stupidity" in my book. (honking one's horn a 2 am is stupid arrogance ;-) ).

Come to think of it, willful stupidity is a sin....so I agree :-)

They have Creationists museums? I want to see one...

Shall we say "ex nihilo" creationist museum?

yeah, kind of like the idea of abiogenesis

Thanks for the link. Unfortunately, the website doesn't really show any pictures...

... "T. rex—the real king of the beasts. That’s the terror that Adam’s sin unleashed!" I actually smacked myself on the head for reading that... It is one thing to believe in God, and growing up in a Christian family, I know how literal some people take everything the Bible says. However, to have Adam walking with the dinosaurs is just a smack in the face of science. And then to come off sounding like what they teach is true and... let me quote this: "and everyone who rejects His history-including six-day creation and Noah's Flood-is ‘willfully’ ignorant."

I just, you can't put your own ideas into the text. And you can't make assumptions. A day meaning the same as 24 hours, or even ex nihilo creationism. The scriptures say nowhere that anything was created out of nothing. To assume so and then claim other people are willfully ignorant is . . . sad. Really, really sad. Because they will one day regret such things. I mean, for one thing, it's a pretty big waste of time.

Yeah, as Paul the apostle wrote: Rom. 2:24 For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you, even as it is written. It is their ignorance that puts Jews and real Christians in a bad light. It is sad...

. Sounds good to me. I'd contact the museum with the idea.


10 years ago

While on first glance this seems an enlightened idea, it would open the process to politicization (and we've already plenty of that in art as well as science.) AFAIK, curators modify that stuff all the time, I don't think there's any set standard on what to include. I'm satisfied to leave such commentary to them...(and no doubt external interests already pressure many.)

and no doubt external interests already pressure many

I hadn't thought about that. Do you mean opposing archaelogical/historical camps might be putting pressure on the curator to support their viewpoint?

If that's the case, what would be wrong with showing both viewpoints (albeit as briefly as a curator requires)? Isn't the point of a museum public entertainment (maybe the wrong word here) and education? Presenting opposing ideas might even encourage visitors to judge for themselves (in a cute, ignorant way) which viewpoint is more supported by the artifacts around them. That would seem like a good thing to me.

Of course, I'm sure you're right. I have all sorts of naive notions about jobs I've never held. I imagine a curator could set out all sorts of reasons of impracticality, as you've suggested.

But still, I wonder.

First, commenting again on your OP: This one-sided view gave the impression that we knew all about Egyptian culture.

I'd have to agree. There are lots of layman's misconceptions about many subjects; art, science, history, etc. We do tend to filter things through our own culture (sounds kinda familiar ;-) .)

Akhenaten, for instance, was often sited as the first monotheist, which he was not. He tried to shift cultural focus from Amun-Re to Aten, not elevate Aten as the single deity. The lesser Egyptian deities survived quite well during his reign (he certainly pissed off the priest of Amun-Re, though)

Tutankhamun's tomb is often presented as a spectacular example of Egyptian art (it is pretty impressive, as the only relatively unrobbed royal tomb.) Yet many of the funerary artifacts were 'hand-me-downs'--the original owners names erased and replaced...many now consider the burial a slap-dashed rush job.

Even so, I'd be satisfied to be presented with the current 'best educated guess' at a museum, rather than several confusing alternatives. Many things I was taught when younger have been deemed incorrect. Changing information can be viewed as a good thing....I not sure but that curators worry about presenting too much information.

In that vein, some exhibit material might (like television) be aimed at casual observers.

I hadn't thought about that. Do you mean opposing archaelogical/historical camps might be putting pressure on the curator to support their viewpoint?

Sure, for one. Also, most museums tend to mirror community standards. Their endowments are largely supported by local corporations, etc. The very choice of exhibits, catalogs, etc. are dictated by more than artistic or historical reasons.

You're likely to see radically differing styles at different regions. And it's impossible to please everyone, of course, even by offering a 'balanced' viewpoint.

You know, you could always contact them, right? You'd get a much more informed answer...

You know, you could always contact them, right? You'd get a much more informed answer...

I never considered it. Until now. Yeah, I guess I will. Thanks!