Scholarship and education

Kids' questions about the paranormal

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Ghost story magazines have been pulled from the market, and Death Note has been taken offline. Will this turn China's youth away from superstition and onto the path of scientific development?

Last year, science fiction author Han Song visited a Beijing middle school to present a talk on the power of imagination. In the Q&A session after his presentation, the students were most curious about the paranormal — UFOs, aliens, parallel universes, and ghosts.

On his blog, Han listed all 36 of the questions he received. Here's his introduction to that post:

On 19 September, at the grand call of the China Association for Science and Technolgy to bring popular science onto school campuses by "joining big hands to small hands," I went to the Yunhe Middle School in Beijing's Tongzhou District to speak as an "expert."

That day, more than 700 high-school freshmen boys and girls were brought together to hear my lecture. My topic was "Imagination and Our Future," and I spoke of why imagination is more important than knowledge (this is quite a boring issue in China).

After the students had listened to the talk, they immediately brought up 36 questions for me to answer (if the post-lecture Q&A time hadn't been limited to one and a half hours, they'd have continued, and I'd probably have collapsed). The moderator, a freshman politics teacher, saw my equivocation and said, concerned, that this was the first time he'd seen so many questions, and he recommended that I select a few to answer briefly. Ultimately, that friend acted like a State Council Information Office press conference moderator and selected questions for me to answer.

I'm actually pretty ashamed — I wasn't able to answer many these students' questions. Two points came to me: first, that the students usually may not have had the opportunity to ask these questions, and second, the teachers usually my not have thought of how to answer the questions.

Ah, society!

Ah, the future!

The teacher moderating the lecture was quite experienced. He saw my dismay and came over to assuage me: "Don't pay it any mind. The questions the students are asking are all naive and superficial."

Then he said something that I didn't really understand: "They're interested in everything that has nothing to do with their studies."

After I returned home, I carefully copied down the "naive, superficial" questions that those fifteen and sixteen-year-old students asked. I believe that one day, the comrades at the Ministry of Education Information Office will be able to answer them.

The full list of questions follows:

The Students' Questions

  1. Are there really ghosts in the world?
  2. Why is it only the small publishing houses that publish books about the world's unsolvable mysteries?
  3. Did America's Apollo really land on the moon?
  4. Do ghosts really live with us on the earth, only their level of space is different, so we can't see them? But then why did a Japanese TV show have ghosts recorded on camera?
  5. What about the sixth sense? Is there such a thing as ESP?
  6. Is the earth and the galaxy or the sun just a toy for some group of higher life forms?
  7. Later in our lives will we be able to talk to ghosts?
  8. Are there strange beings like dryads in real life?
  9. I've heard that somewhere they dug up an alien corpse, and they found something that couldn't have been made with current technology. What's the explanation for this?
  10. I've heard that the sinking of the Titanic wasn't really because of an iceberg?
  11. Why is science unable to cure some diseases but superstitious techniques can?
  12. Are crop circles made by aliens? Even though humans can make them, why is their composition different from those made by aliens, and why are some of them so complex that humans can't make them? Any people have recorded aliens making them.
  13. When people disappear in the Bermuda Triangle, is it because of parallel universes?
  14. Can black holes really swallow everything in the world?
  15. When the @-shaped flying thing appeared in the night sky over Dalian, what was it?
  16. Mr. Han, I'd like to ask you, many people say that our creativity and fantasies are flights of empty fancy, and we ought to put our minds to our studies. What do you think about the conflict between fantasy and studying?
  17. Is the entire universe we live in just one atom, and outside the atom is an even bigger object or an even larger universe?
  18. You have just said that China is relatively conservative and places an emphasis on history. I want to ask you, how can China improve?
  19. In some scientists' theories, different dimensions exist because of magnetic fields; in that other dimension there is a world like this one in which everything is identical to things here, including your other half. Is there any scientific evidence for this?
  20. How can China's backward test-oriented education get a substantive change in outlook?
  21. Many people have taken photographs of UFOs; not only on earth — astronauts have also snapped pictures in space. Why aren't these ideas made public in society for confirmation or denial?
  22. Why do so many ships and plans meet disaster in the Bermuda Triangle? Why did an American plane end up on the moon after a WWII mission?
  23. Are there eyewitnesses to UFOs, and are there real photographs? Do aliens really exist?
  24. The mystery of why the incorruptible corpse of an old woman in Xianghe hasn't been explained. Why doesn't the old woman decay?
  25. What are "flying rods"?
  26. Are there really the remains of buildings on Venus? If there are, then are there aliens?
  27. Sir, do you believe that UFOs are the newest American weapon, or are they alien objects?
  28. What is the fourth dimension? Could you think if it as a transparent body?
  29. Are there really parallel universes? Do a second and a third universe exist?
  30. Hello, sir! Science fiction may have something to offer future development, but does it have a misleading effect on we young people?
  31. Have people returned from the dead in the Bermuda Triangle? Is this because of magnetic fields?
  32. I've heard that in college there's this experiment: In a dark, rectangular room, one person stands in each corner of a dark, rectangular room. When you touch one person's shoulder, after a few rounds, you can feel a second person's shoulder.
  33. Why have people died from curses after entering the pyramids?
  34. Is there any possibility for people to travel through time to the past or the future?
  35. Are there really ghosts? Like ghosts of dead relatives who appear in dreams?
  36. Is there a life beyond?
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There are currently 14 Comments for Kids' questions about the paranormal.

Comments on Kids' questions about the paranormal

These questions are really good. Current scientific theories can answer a few of these.

Some of those questions can be answered pretty easily. A few others with the hedgy "I don't know."

BTW, why the question about the Apollo program? Are Chinese children taught the conspiracy theory that it was a hoax?

No way. I'm positive they don't get taught this in school, it's not a big conspiracy, OMG, chi-commies teach their kids moon landing was faked, rolls eyes.

And no, it not faked because we bounce lasers off mirrors on the moon...

as a former teacher of philosophy, creative writing, drama and russian (had to learn at least one other language besides English), I can tell you that these questions are fantastic!

And if there is no room in China's education system to help the children answer them, satisfactorily or not, there is no hope for China.

Jay the Buddha man: No, the "chi-commies" don't teach their kids moon landing was faked, as much as real US education don't teach their kids the world was God-created. But that doesn't prevent 3 presidential candidates (adults, not 15-year-olds) refusing to believe in "evolution", does it? Now that deserves a real "rolling of eyes".

To differ from "chi-commies", it is essential to go beyond your ideology talking. Conspiracy theorie always find its followers, it just somehow found its way here in China too. The only difference is while you guys are believing, speculating without proof, and asserting, these kids are thinking and asking questions. The similarity of course is, both the groups don't have a clue.

It is ironic that while the lecturer set to "enlighten" the kids about imagination, the questions asked were actually not so much about "imagination" but truth, and sadly they might not be able to find easy anwsers anywhere, certainly IMHO not from the lecturer.

Granted, answers are out there somewhere, but only through comparative thinking and some research can they be revealed to the inquisitive minds, and that's precisely something the teachers won't teach in their schools and frankly those kids don't have time for, so the easy way for everyone (kids, teachers and lecturers alike) is to pile up these questions when some "big kid/brother" lecturer came along handing out easy answers (many of which may not even be true in nature) to satisfy their short-lived curiosities, which eventually lead to many of the faulse beliefs and superstitions in the Chinese society.

I'm not being cynical here, being a Chinese myself, on looking back to the sweet 16, been there done that, I have to say these kids really disappointed me. They don't even do better than my generation. I could just image if we were them, we would ask the exact questions, and exactly go on with our lives foretting all about it. The sad truth is, not like some US "ideologist" might suggest that "chi-commies" fed their kids up with fake knowledges, these kids are just too busy studying to care about the real knowledges, basically spending 90% of their time mesmorizing every last details in books. This is the Chinese way, for two thousand years, schools've been creating perfect technicians of knowledge, or knowledgers, but not intellectuals.

As a engineering major, it is embarrassing to admit that only after reading the book Fabric of Comos by Brian Greene, I started to really understand what I spend so many years learning. But "no hope"? I wouldn't go so far as to say that. There always will be hope.

A question always intrigues me that whether imagination is an intrinsic function/faculty of human minds that is utterly independent of outer influence, Or instead it is dependent on such parameters such as enviroment, education, knowledges...

If it is independent, we would expect even a solitary human being is capable of the wildest imaginations, which seems to be true in some cases. Then again, these imaginations still have to be builtup on the basic values and understanding of the world as the particular individual percieves it. If it is dependent, then the real question is, what is, and who is to decide the "correct" way to nurture it rather than curtail it?

We do know that human brains are not fully functional before certain ages, so it is reasonable to assume that imagination is something happens after the complex of the brain systems develop to a certain magnitude, but we also through our daily encounters see some highly developed minds could result in very limited imaginations, which ironically leans toward the theory of its independence.

Any ideas?

Sorry again I failed at being sarcastic. I need to stop posting around mid-night after a long day at school plus working out, my brain spews out the most extreme and retarded thoughts. I was speaking from the perspective of some inner demon that dwells in my extremely messed up psyche.

The kind of scientific knowledge one learn in school can all give theoretical answers to these questions. But to study and learn at the edge of science requires a lot of effort plus tremendous amount of hard work, perhaps even a little bit of smarts. Science is advanced in small steps, so everything works out.

What society needs to do is to spark these young minds so they do go on and pursue their imaginations to the fullest possible extent.

But in REALITY is that not everyone can be scientists. It takes something special to have the dedication to do science. Science just doesn't provide the instant gratification that most people crave. No matter what education system you come from, the reality is that people are different. Some will have the spark while most will not.

I'm a loser so take what I'm saying with a pinch of salt.

Jay the Buddaha man: I double-checked your previous post and found I might in a hurry mistook your meaning, and became a bit edgy, anyway my bad. I'm a Chinese from an authoritarian state after all ;)

I totally agree with you about the schools, but my worry is, first these kids don't have time, second they are not and most of them will not be well equipped with the power to find the knowledge, I'm not talking about "Scientist" knowledge, but common sense knowledge. The science popularization in China is so bad that a majority of the population can be only labled under ill-informed and misguided, if not superstitious and bigotry.

If you read Chinese, I recommend a site: xys.dxiong.com, it talks all about the fraud and corruption in the college and research fields, of course the orininal site is blocked by the authority, this is only a mirror site accessible in China. Ironically, there are these so-called pundits/experts so bad in their research, but still hold comtempt for the proper work of science popularization for common people.

My point is, even these pundits are ill-prepared to enlighten these kids about the questions of ghost and UFOs, what can we expect from this "science fiction" writer (ever read any Chinese science fictions?) and teachers. Of course imagination is never a bad thing, but in terms of the situation in China, I suspect it would evetually lead to erroneous convictions and further disconnection from reality.

I like question 20.

I will not deny that the education system in China used to be test-oriented which cultivated quite a lot of students with high marks without real social ability,but believe it or not, it is in the process of changing now. Chinese education bureau and all the teachers are all striving for a better schooling method for the future Chinese education system. Nowadays the "quality education" is a hot topic all over the country. So my suggestion is to get rid of all your stereotypes, and all we need is some time and patience. You just wait and see!

Leo: I could only assume you are a Chinese as I am, so either you are so disconnected from "reality" that you'd rather believe Santa is an old obese man coming down the chimney along with every rhetoric the "bureau" or "Party" putting forward, or you are just trying to defend the pride of being a Chinese, which IMHO is less important than the truth.

3und said: "...these kids are just too busy studying to care about the real knowledges, basically spending 90% of their time mesmorizing every last details in books."

I disagree. While most of these questions are framed in yes/no format, the topics and breadth suggest a genuine curiosity and groping sense that "real knowledge" might be more complex than the black-and-white test answers these students memorize on a daily basis. Every single question demonstrates recognition of conflicting data, and curiosity not only about what the truth could be, but how to find out. For instance, Questions 2 and 4 suggest skepticism not only with fact but also the facts' sources. The underlying discussion for which these questioners seem to pine is one about the veracity of various media, how to know which to trust, how to distinguish sources' motivations. In my experience, though the Chinese populace often lacks access to data, they also recognize that there are plenty of facts they either (a)don't know (b)can't trust. If we are worried about fact obsessions and often ill-guided adherence to naive beliefs... Then these clearly are the right questions. The determinant of these students' success will be whether they can construct productive forums for exploring them.

Moreover, many of these questions also strike me as examples of young people wanting to express their imaginations and curiosity -- do you think questioner number 6 thinks he will get a straight answer? They desire is not for fact, but for discourse. The frame for it was, of course, an Q&A session under the gaze of a disapproving teacher. The teacher's response was one of the most interesting parts of the blog post, to me.

wow

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