Act 46 and Democracy

What does Act 46 mean for democracy?

Before considering that general question, let’s review a more specific question: What happened with Act 46 in Cambridge?

The short answer is that the town lost control of its elementary school. The photo shows the Cambridge Elementary School on November 30, 2018.

My town of Cambridge, Vermont, had its own high school until the 1960s when six towns in northern Lamoille county, including Cambridge, combined grades 7-12 into a single, new facility in Hyde Park: Lamoille Union Middle and High Schools. The towns retained their separate elementary schools.

Many towns in Vermont went through a similar process in the 1960s. Towns joined together to form union school districts to afford larger high schools, while retaining town school districts for smaller elementary schools.

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Science vs. Philosophy

What is the difference between science and philosophy?

My last two posts (here and here) touched on themes involving both science and philosophy. And that got me thinking about the relationship between science and philosophy.

I don’t hold myself out as a scientist. But I do, obviously, sometimes refer to myself as “The Switchel Philosopher,” at least “a part-time amateur philosopher-in-training.” When I started this blog in February 2017, I wrote in this post: “Philosophy is asking questions and thinking about the answers.” Isn’t science the same thing?

Well, let’s practice a little philosophy and think about the question at the top of this post:

What is the difference between science and philosophy?

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Complementarity and Civility

Niels Bohr was one of the most important physicists of the 20th century, a peer of Albert Einstein. In the previous post, I used Michael Frayn’s play Copenhagen to introduce Bohr and his contribution to quantum theory – the principle of complementarity.

Bohr was Danish. The highest honor of the Danish government is the Order of the Elephant, awarded to Danish royalty and sometimes to foreign heads of state. It is rarely awarded to a commoner. It was awarded to Bohr in 1947. Being a commoner, he did not have a coat of arms and upon receiving the order he designed his own – shown to the left.

Note the symbol of yin and yang and the Latin motto contraria sunt complementa (opposites are complementary).

Here is a definition of complementarity from a contemporary physicist:

Complementarity is the idea that there can be different ways of describing a system, each useful and internally consistent, which are mutually incompatible. It first emerged as a surprising feature of quantum theory, but I, following Niels Bohr, believe it contains wisdom that is much more widely applicable.

The “I” in that quote is Frank Wilczek, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who won the Nobel prize in physics in 2004 for work in quantum theory.

Bohr found much in common between the principle of complementarity and the ancient Chinese concept of yin and yang. So the basic idea has been around for a while. But Frank Wilczek goes on to make a point that I had not considered before:

Understanding the importance of complementarity stimulates imagination, because it gives us license to think differently. It also suggests engaged tolerance, as we try to appreciate apparently strange perspectives that other people have come up with. We can take them seriously without compromising our own understandings, scientific and otherwise.

“Engaged tolerance” is another name for civility. There has been much talk lately about civility, or the lack thereof, in our culture and politics. In my town of Cambridge, we recently had an election between Zac Mayo and Lucy Rogers for the Vermont House of Representatives in which civility was a major theme (more info). Zac and Lucy intentionally practiced civility in their campaigns, including a surprise musical duet that went viral and caught the attention of CBS Evening News. See On the Road with Steve Hartman 10/19/18. We are proud of the way that Zac and Lucy conducted their campaigns with civility, and they serve as an admirable example for the rest of us.

We could all use more civility in our lives. The point of this blog post is that perhaps thinking about complementarity can help us achieve more civility.

Source:

The quotes above by Frank Wilczek are from the book This Idea Is Brilliant by John Brockman. Mr. Brockman posed the following question to over 200 influential thinkers around the world: “What scientific term or concept ought to be more widely known?” Their answers constitute the book. Dr. Wilczek’s answer was complementarity.

It is perhaps appropriate that I learned about the book This Idea Is Brilliant from Zac Mayo. I blogged about that last month in Illusion of Explanatory Depth. That post also discusses civility, from a different angle.

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Copenhagen – the play

Copenhagen by Michael Frayn is a fascinating play about uncertainty, complementarity, friendship, morality, and the atomic bomb. Most of these themes are familiar words, but what the heck is complementarity?

Copenhagen is based on an historical event, a meeting in September 1941 between two physicists: Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg. Bohr’s wife, Margrethe, was also present. Heisenberg requested the meeting, and he traveled to the Bohr’s home in Copenhagen.

There is much uncertainty about what was discussed in that meeting. In Copenhagen, the ghosts of Werner Heisenberg, Niels Bohr, and Margrethe Bohr reminisce about what happened, or might have happened. Even after the fact, they aren’t too sure of what that meeting was all about.

Bohr and Heisenberg were colleagues and friends. They had worked together in the 1920s at the Institute of Theoretical Physics (which Bohr founded, now called the Niels Bohr Institute) at the University of Copenhagen. They both made major contributions to the new theory of quantum mechanics. Bohr won the Nobel prize in physics in 1922, Heisenberg in 1932. Heisenberg was 16 years younger than Bohr, and Niels and Margrethe Bohr had welcomed Heisenberg into their home almost as a son.

Fast forward to September 1941.

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Responses from Lucy and Zac

In my previous post (Questions for Zac and Lucy), I posed questions for Zac Mayo and Lucy Rogers, candidates for the Vermont House of Representatives representing my town of Cambridge and the neighboring town of Waterville. Please see that post for background about my questions, which are about local government. This post contains responses from Lucy and Zac.

Please also see my previous post for comments about the Candidates Forum at the local library on October 10, especially the duet that Zac and Lucy sang at the end, including links to a Seven Days article and a segment on the CBS Evening News (“On the Road with Steve Hartman”). There is video at those links. That duet went viral!

Responses to my questions:

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Questions for Zac and Lucy

The library in my town of Cambridge, the Varnum Library, hosted a Candidates Forum last night for Zac Mayo and Lucy Rogers who are running for an open seat in the Vermont House of Representatives, representing Cambridge and the neighboring town of Waterville. It was an extraordinary event, and it gives me renewed faith in our democracy.

Both Lucy and Zac are young (in their 20s) and both are putting considerable energy into this campaign – knocking on doors and meeting with people affected by government such as small business owners, childcare providers, healthcare providers, and many others. There are differences between the candidates, but they both grew up here, went through the local schools, went away for a time, and came back. Both Zac and Lucy are clearly committed to serving the people of Cambridge and Waterville.

The most striking thing about the campaign, especially in light of current national politics, is their shared commitment to civility. At the end of two hours last night of respectfully making statements and answering questions, Lucy and Zac sang a song together for the benefit of the audience. I’ve never seen anything like it in any political campaign:

We in Cambridge and Waterville are indeed fortunate to have two young people of such high quality campaigning to be our elected representative in Montpelier.

I also want to commend the Varnum Library for organizing last night’s event. It was very well done. Moderator Lucie Garand did a great job. Last night’s forum was a shining example of why libraries are important to democracy.

There were many good questions last night, but other than questions about schools, I don’t recall any questions about local government. I have questions for Zac and Lucy about local government. I did not ask these questions last night because I did not know how to present them in a way that either the candidates or the audience would understand them in that forum. They require some background explanation.

The rest of this post is my questions. My questions are informed by my experience on the Cambridge selectboard, but my questions and comments are my own. They do not represent the selectboard’s views.

Lucy and Zac:

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Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Through the power of his words, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn helped change the world. He wrote about Russia, the country in which he was born and where he died. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature. His writings helped bring about the downfall of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR or Soviet Union), which began and ended in his lifetime. But surprisingly the place where he lived the longest, and where he was the most productive, was Cavendish, Vermont.

Aleksander Solzhenitsyn lived from 1918 to 2008. The 100th anniversary of his birth is being celebrated in Vermont this year. Who was this man and what did he do? And what was his connection to Vermont?

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