The Wisdom of Sages: Nuclear physics education, knowledge-inquiry, and wisdom-inquiry

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This article addresses the difference between knowledge-inquiry and wisdom-inquiry in nuclear physics education. In the spirit of an earlier study of 57 senior-level textbooks for first-degree physics students, this work focuses here on a remarkable use of literary quotations in one such book. Particles and Nuclei: an introduction to the physical concepts, by B. Povh et al, opens with an epigraph from Wilhelm Busch's Max und Moritz which has been rendered, in the celebrated translation by C. T. Brooks, as “Not alone to solve the double/ Rule of Three shall man take trouble;/ But must hear with pleasure Sages/ Teach the wisdom of the ages.” What the student gets, however, is technical material followed abruptly at the very end by the biblical advice, from the Book of Jeremiah 'And it shall be, when thou hast made an end of reading this book, that thou shalt bind a stone to it, and cast it into the midst of Euphrates'. From a study of these and other quotations and other features of the book the present author infers a strong desire to express something important about wisdom, which is however even more powerfully suppressed by the ideology of knowledge-inquiry. The article ends with a brief discussion of 'wisdom of the ages' and 'wisdom for our age'.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)587-593
Number of pages7
JournalPolicy Futures in Education
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2012


  • Education
  • knowledge
  • wisdom
  • Physics
  • Text
  • inquiry

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