Essays by Terry Halwes


Links to writings on various topics, found in various areas of Dharma Haven.

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Understanding Science
The word dharma doesn't only mean truth in the profound sense of the teachings of the Lord Buddha and other spiritual masters, or the inner sense of ones own true path in life; dharma means truth in the ordinary sense of the actual facts of a situation or the scientific principles that explain those facts. 

Misconceptions about science abound in the popular media, and they are quite popular in the professional media as well. Having so much widely disseminated inaccurate information about something as important as science has many unfortunate consequences.

"The Terrible Truth About Truth"

"We cloud the minds of our readers when we talk about scientific knowledge being true as far as it goes, but incomplete; or when we say that scientific knowledge gets more and more likely to be correct, but we can never really be certain that it is true. Science is not a defective process that should produce truth, but can't quite get the job done. We started with pre-scientific beliefs, found various ways of improving them, and have continued doing that, improvements following other improvements, seemingly without end. There's no reason to expect this process to stop -- indeed, the growth of our knowledge in almost every field is accelerating."

"Perhaps at this point we can afford to take a good look at how the concept of truth is used in talking about science, and ask ourselves if it really serves any useful function. The teaching of science might well do without it, and the practice of science seems not to need it at all.  We might consider giving up the imaginary ideal of perfect truth as a goal, and replacing it with the idea of continually improving understanding."

"Principal Problems with Principles"

"I want to explore the question of how we ever came to expect scientific knowledge to be infallible in the first place. 

Since this is not a mystery novel, I suppose it won't hurt to give a brief outline of the plot right away. We'll start with the Greek geometers, who took some useful facts about triangles and developed a way of showing that they had to be true about triangles in general. This established the idea of logical deduction as a source of certain knowledge about the natural world. 

Then we jump a two thousand years to Isaac Newton, who developed a mathematical system that explained the movements of heavenly bodies and objects on the earth with a single set of simple principles. Scholars were used to thinking of logical deduction as a source of certain knowledge, and Newton presented his principles in the form of a series of illustrated arguments that looked a lot like geometry proofs. That's just about the whole story, in a nutshell, except that Newton's Laws worked so well that for over two hundred years the idea that they were correct -- absolutely, certainly correct -- was essentially unchallenged. 

By extension, scholars naturally expected that all scientific research had the potential of yielding such impeccable results.

In this essay we'll look at some of the details of this history, and at some of the problems with these highly influential over- generalizations. Hopefully, taking a look at how these ideas emerged and how they fell from grace may help us get free from the tangled mess we find ourselves in today."

"Dispelling Some Common Myths about Science"

Science is not a new kind of knowledge; it is not created only by a professional elite; and "The Scientific Method" is really many methods, including aspects of basic intelligence found in infants and animals.

"The Myth of the Magical Scientific Method"

The procedure that gets taught as "The Scientific Method" is entirely misleading. Studying what scientists actually do is far more interesting.

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Toward Educational Practices That Work
In these articles I discuss some serious problems with the ways we have been thinking about schools and what they should be doing, and some general principles for beginning to understand how to let them do a better job of helping students learn, as well as specific changes, at each level of the process, that can give teachers, parents, communities and students a better chance of working successfully together to build a mutually respectful, sustainable community. 

"Compulsory Failure in Modern Schools"

Blaming students for failures to meet standards set by the schooling system and its employees is contrary to logic, and counter-productive.

"School systems know that a certain percentage of their students will fail. After a relatively short time, they know who those failing students will be -- they will be the ones who failed before. Since the system forces everyone to participate in this learning contest, those who have failed will have many opportunities to fail again, and again. We are teaching these people that they are not who they should be. How many of them have the personal integrity to reject this arrogant slander, which our schooling system puts into the mouths of so many figures of authority? Of those who do have that much strength of character, how many will not simply give up on the schools; how many will also have the tolerance to continue trying to work with a system that has treated them so shabbily, and which continues to do so year after year?"

"Step by Step: Toward Success for All Students"

At every level, many variables (things we could change) affect current and future educational success. Of those many variables, most have small effects, but a few variables affect educational success profoundly. This article is about those few, immensely powerful variables, and what we might well do about them. We start with preventing prenatal malnutrition, and go on through infancy, day care, preschool, and beyond.

"Even if your main focus is saving the taxpayers' money, one of the best ways to do that is to make sure that all the students in your community succeed in school."

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Health and Healing
In our modern world, dominated so thoroughly by Western material success, not only our schooling systems but our health care systems as well have come resemble industrial assembly lines. People with health problems become "patients," a word that shows just how little contribution we are expected to make to the healing process. We are to wait (patiently) for experts to evaluate us and assign treatments. What we can do to help is to comply with their instructions and take our medications on time.

If treating people like defective machines worked, and there were no alternatives, it might be acceptable. Fortunately, there are alternatives. Unfortunately, they are rarely available and even more rarely understood by health care practitioners. My goal here is to point out some ancient and modern wisdoms of healing and healthy living, as a first step toward making humane health care standard practice.

"Tibetan Medicine: A Model of Health"

"Imagine a medical tradition, highly effective, offering medicines that produce no lasting negative side effects, sustainably using resources of the natural environment, and fostering basic sanity and compassion as the essential basis of health and well-being. Tibetan Buddhist medicine, as practiced throughout a vast area of central Asia for many hundreds of  years, was such a tradition."

Medical Research, Tibetan Style

"Evaluation research can explore whether Tibetan physicians, using traditional methods of diagnosis and treatment, are successful in treating various health problems, or in helping to prevent them. However, designing studies that will truly and fairly address that question presents a real challenge. Specifically, studies that impose restrictions on various aspects of the Tibetan doctor's work are inadequate for assessing the full potential of Tibetan medicine."

"Hildred Schuell's Aphasia Therapy"

"Energy Flowing Through A System Tends To Organize That System" -- "Hildred Schuell learned how to gradually cure aphasic patients by protecting the flow of communication during therapy sessions, by removing the element of panic and struggle."

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