The aim of the Paradox Lab is to improve children’s habits of inquiry, self-directed learning, and critical reflection. The programs we offer take the form of summer camps, weekend programs, after-school programs, sessions that take place inside the classroom within the normal school-day. The center also offers programs for K-12 schoolteachers interested in bringing critical thinking into topics within their regular curriculum –arithmetic, science, history, reading, writing, and art. We will also offer sessions for parents and joint parent-child sessions to encourage philosophical dialog in the home. The center includes a research program for the evaluation of cognitive development as a result of the various creative and critical thinking exercises. We plan to collaborate with companies involved in assessing Common Core State Standards to develop measures of high-level cognitive ability.
One of central notions we plan to teach children through the center is the notion of a paradox. A paradox is a set of considerations that seem to pull our intuitions in opposing directions, such as the classical tension between free will and determinism. Most unanswered questions in philosophy, science, history, mathematics, and even in court, can be framed as a paradox. To make the questions tangible for children, we aim to bring such abstract questions the personal experience of the children.
"It has been one of my great learning experience to have participated in your class this quarter. It has expanded my thinking and changed the way I see the future of technology (Especially in terms of A.I.!). I’ve enjoyed the class discussions a lot. Hearing other student’s diverse viewpoints would bring light to angles of a scenario that I had no idea even existed! In addition, whenever we would diverge from the topic at hand, I felt as though the conversation had a way of coming back to the mechanics of qualia. When we did the discussion about what it is in meat brains that give rise to qualia, we delved into a whole conversation about the purpose of qualia. Some of the ideas discussed, included were that qualia was the byproduct of a survival instinct, and the challenge to that, of how a survival instinct wasn’t enough for something to have the same qualia as humans because human qualia is more complex than just an animal’s survival instinct. The level of thought that went into these discussions made them that much more memorable. I think that having so many curious student minds coming together to share their thoughts and perspectives on these philosophical questions is amazing. Your interest to start this program in the Humanities Circle is so great, as it helps cultivates young minds to think deeply and maturely about these topics."
— Middle School Student in Puzzles about Consciousness Program. March, 2017.
The center also introduces children to methods of inquiry that have been made precise in analytic philosophy and span across the sciences. Philosophers ask, for example, what conditions are necessary for an entity to meet in order for the entity to count as a mind, or to count as knowledge, or to count as morally good, and what conditions are sufficient? We can think of the scientific discovery that water is H2O as involving the same kind of analysis, done in the laboratory rather than in the imagination. We can teach children to think in this way by using either common philosophical topics or we can use topics that may be more readily interesting for children. We may ask, for example, what it takes for something to count as a cake. Is it necessary for it to be baked? Is it necessary for it to be edible? Is it sufficient for it to come from a cake shop? Is it sufficient to look like a cake? These exercises will also allow children to learn further notions relating to inquiry, such as the notion of a hypothesis (e.g., the hypothesis that in order for something to be a cake it is necessary for it to be sweet), the notion of a counter-example (e.g., a crab cake is a cake that isn’t sweet), and the notion of a thought experiment (imagine if we were to make a cake accidentally using salt instead of sugar, will it still be a cake, albeit a bad one?). These methods span all disciplines of inquiry but are made explicit and immediately available through philosophy.