The painter, scientist, and poet described in Sparks of Genius each reduced complex“visual, physical, or emotional ideas to bare, stripped images, revealing, through simplicity, thepower of purity.” Astronomy is ripe for abstraction and analogy because of its relative surfeit of certainty. An abstraction is different from an analogy in that it captures the essential features of an underlying object. An analogy captures the similarities between two objects. Thosesimilarities may or may not be the essential features of the objects. The broadest, most generalanalogy is very abstract: to that end, Pablo Picasso wrote that “whatever is most abstract mayperhaps be the summit of reality.”
Sparks of Genius says abstractions are “so simple that they seem unremarkable”. So, Iwanted to make the Milky Way galaxy as simple as possible for students. We can view the MilkyWay in two ways: from our perspective, or from the imagined perspective of an outside observer.From our home the Milky Way is a beautiful milky perspective of stars on the horizon. But fromafar and as part of the Milky Way, we are traveling through space in the arm of our galaxy. Toreturn to Werner Heisenberg, he wrote that an abstraction is “the possibility of considering anobject under one viewpoint while disregarding all other properties of the object” - to that end Iﬁrst analyzed three images of the Milky Way galaxy as abstractions, then created three of myown. Teachers can facilitate student’s abstracting through working with students to drawrepresentations of astronomical bodies such as the Milky Way Galaxy.
The scientist Stanley Smith wrote as he worked with metals how he “came to have anatural understanding, a feeling of how I would behave if a certain alloy, a sense of hardness andsoftness and conductivity and fusibility and brittleness.” This embodiment of a subject or objectis a valuable thinking tool. To demonstrate embodied thinking for students, I created an activityabout the speed of light. Light travels from the Moon to Earth in 3.1 seconds, and from the Sunto the Earth requires 8.3 seconds. This is how long it takes at the speed of light to travel thosedistances – how about a speeding bullet, car, or human?
Light travels about 186,000 miles per second – that is 671,000,000 miles per hour. Sincean automobile does not typically drive faster than 80 miles per hour, one can really only imaginehow fast light is. But what if students could feel with their own bodies not the speed of lightitself, but the difference between the speed of light and a common activity? So the purpose of this kinesthetic activity is for students to feel the magnitude of the difference between the speedof light and our running bodies.
Have students run lengthwise down a football ﬁeld - this symbolizes the speed of light,An object that travels three inches in a year is traveling 0.00000005 miles per hour – or veryclose to ninety million times slower than our running humans. The difference in the speed of ourrunners and the object that moves three inches in a year is almost precisely the same as thedifference in speed between the speed of light and our runners. Teachers can facilitate student’sembodied thinking through embodying the difference between the speed of light and a commonactivity.