Paideia High School/Cosmic View

A Paideia Unit Plan based on Kees Boeke's Cosmic View (1956).

While not pictured in Boeke's classic work, IC 405 - The "Flaming Star Nebula" is certainly part of the cosmic view!

Column One edit

Exordium edit

The Exordium is the teacher's introduction to the work that is the subject of a Paideia Unit Plan. This introduction consists of both an oral and written presentation of the text. For longer works, the teacher may limit the oral presentation to key passages. The teacher should read the text live distinctly, accurately, and intelligently. In addition, the teacher should provide high quality recordings of the text if possible. Students should have a consumable written copy of the text both electronically and in hard-copy if possible.

Oral Presentation edit

There is currently no audio recording of Cosmic View available. Since the work is still under copyright protection, it may not be legal to post a recording. The text of the work is relatively short and, thus, easily read live. Because Cosmic View is as much a work of visual artistry as it is a written work, oral presentations must be accompanied by the pictures if at all possible.

Written Presentation edit

  • Cosmic View (An online version of the classic book)
  • Available in Gateway to the Great Books[1]
  • The original book is out of print but may be available through used book vendors.

Interpretation edit

Level of Words edit

Definitions of Key Terms edit

December 21, 1951, 12:00 Noon: Every image in Cosmic View is developed with this precise date in mind [2].

General Vocabulary edit

Cosmic View: Glossary of Terms

Level of Sentences edit

Level of Passages edit

Erudition edit

Position of The Netherlands
Provinces and special municipalities of the Netherlands.

Biographical References edit

  • Information about the author, Kees Boeke.
  • The biographical sketch in Gateway to the Great Books[3] is worth reading if you can find a copy.

Film References edit

Cosmic View inspired two films: Cosmic Zoom and Powers of Ten. Both are freely available on the Internet[4].

Geographical References (with Maps) edit

  • See the position of The Netherlands in both Europe and the world to the right.
  • See map of the provinces and municipalities of The Netherlands to the right.
  • Bilthoven, the home of Werkplaats Children's Community and Kees and Betty Boeke.

Historical References edit

  • The experimental school De Werkplaats[6], founded by Kees Boeke, has been based in Bilthoven since 1926. Cosmic View was published in 1956.
  • The Dutch Queen Beatrix went to school in Bilthoven. She attended the Werkplaats, the same school as the little girl in Cosmic View.

Literary References edit

  • "Although these views are as true to reality as they can be made withour present knowledge, they portray a wonderland as full of marvels as that which Alice saw in her dreams" (emphasis added; see Alice in Wonderland).

Column Two edit

Column Three edit

Great Ideas Addressed in this Work edit

The term "great ideas" refers to the list of 102 ideas prominent in Great Books of the Western World.[7] and the 4000+ ideas listed in the "Index of Terms" in the same work [8]

Great Ideas Addressed in Cosmic View

For each entry below, see Great Books of the Western World's Syntopicon at the volume and page numbers indicated. This information is quoted from Gateway to the Great Books.[9]

ELEMENT, Vol. 2, pp. 400-412, especially

Topic 3a: Element and atom: qualitative and quantitative indivisibility

INFINITY, Vol 2, pp. 816-834, especially

Topic 3: The infinite in quantity
Topic 4b: The infinite divisibility of matter: the issue concerning atoms

MATHEMATICS, Vol. 3, pp. 42-62, especially

Topic 5a: The art of measurement

QUANTITY, Vol. 3, pp 527-545

WORLD, Vol. 3, pp. 1118-1140, especially

Topic 2: The universe and man: macrocosm and microcosm
Topic 5: The number of worlds: the uniqueness of this world; the possibility or actuality of other worlds
Topic 7: The space of the world: astronomical theories concerning the size or extent of the universe

Potential Seminar Questions edit

The following table serves to guide teachers in understanding the types of questions that could guide a good seminar on Boeke's Cosmic View. In addition, the table may serve to trigger additional question ideas and offer a guide to writing good questions. Good seminars follow the general structure given by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren in their classic How to Read a Book published by Simon & Schuster in 1972. Column one gives the four main questions that a demanding reader should ask of any book. These questions guide the types of questions and the purpose of each type used in good seminars. The last column serves to illustrate questions that might be asked of Boeke's Cosmic View.

Again, the questions in the last common are examples. A good seminar will not use all of these questions. A quality seminar plan should be built around one or two questions from the first row, one question from the last row, and one to three questions from the middle two rows.

From How to Read a Book

Adler & Van Doren (1972)

Question Type Purpose of Question Type Sample Seminar Questions

Answers to Be Supported from the Text

What is the book (work) about as a whole? Opening Identify main ideas (and "great ideas") What is the most important word or phrase in Cosmic View? Why?

Is Cosmic View the best title for the work? Why? Why not?

What alternative title would you give the work? Why?

What is being said in detail and how? Analytical Root out main ideas, assertions, and arguments What are the one or two main points Boeke is making with Cosmic View? Support your responses from the text.

Is there evidence in the text that Boeke is a pacifist? What evidence do you find for or against the assertion that he is a pacifist?

What bearing, if any, does the assertion that Boeke is a pacifist have on his main points?
How does the main theme of Cosmic View support or contradict pacifism?

How does Cosmic View relate to the idea of infinity? What evidence do you find in the text that Boeke addresses the idea of infinity?

In the second half of Cosmic View, Boeke stops after only half the number of pictures. Why? Support your answers from the text. Comment and question further.

What does the answer to the question above say about Boeke's understanding of the divisiblity of matter? What does he say about whether he's right or not?
Does the text demonstrate that Boeke has an understanding of the quantitative and qualitative aspects of the divisibility of matter?
Does the text demonstrate Boeke's understanding of whether or not matter is infinitely divisible?

Find examples of what the text says about measurement?

Why is measurement and art (you may want to recall the types of art from another seminar)?
In what ways does the text bring out important ideas about measurement? Cite the text to support your discussion.

Discuss this idea in light of Cosmic View: The universe and man: macrocosm and microcosm. Support your points with textual evidence.

In what ways, if at all, does the text address the possibility of life on other planets?

What direct evidence for this possibility do you find in the text?
What indirect evidence do you find for this possibility in the text?

In what ways,if at all, does Cosmic View discuss the size and extent of the universe?

Is the universe finite? Infinite?
Does Boeke address this question? Directly? Indirectly?
Is the book (work) true, in whole or part? Evaluative Make and support judgments Boeke makes some assertions and value judgements in both the introduction and the conclusion of Cosmic View. Find them. Are they true? Why? Why not?

Are Boeke's assertions and assumptions about the divisibility of matter true? How do you know? How could you find out? Are Boeke's assertions and assumptions about the nature and extend of the universe true? How do you know? How could you find out? Does Boeke have an adequate grasp of measurement? Could he have benefitted from advances in the art of measurement that have been made since he published Cosmic View in 1957?

What of it? Closing Relate judgments about ideas to one's own life Does Boeke success with you? That is, does he succeed in changing your view of the cosmos and your place in it? Is this important? Why? Why not?

What is the most important idea in Cosmic View for you? Why? Why not?

Do you think Boeke's work could inspire you or someone else to become a scientist who studies either the cosmos or the atom?

Have you ever gazed at the stars in wonder? How does Cosmic View inspire you (or not) in this regard?

A Sample High School Seminar edit

Introduction to the Seminar

Seminars are “conversations, conducted in an orderly manner by the teacher who acts as leader or moderator of the discussion”. [10] The purpose of seminars is for participants to deepen their understanding of the great ideas that shape us as human persons and citizens. Through discussion we learn, share, and deepen our grasp of concepts. Rather than simply seeking to remember information which we are likely to forget, we form our understanding in ways that will last the rest of our lives when we engage each other in dialogue.

Participating well in a seminar requires effort and skill. The effort is a choice, and skills develop with practice. In this seminar, your two leaders will press you to express yourself clearly at three levels: words, sentences, and arguments. If we press you to make clear what you mean by a particular word, take it in stride. Do not feel pressured or "put on the spot." We're merely trying to help you practice an important skill, namely using words well to express your thoughts. We may also ask you to repeat yourself or to say the same thing in a different way. We may stick with you, press you, insist on greater clarity of expression. Again, we're your teachers, and we're trying to help you develop excellent communication skills. Smile, and work with us. Finally, we will ask that you make your points and draw conclusions logically. We'll ask that you think about your points and the premises they rest on. Do your points have reasons? Are your assumptions plausible? We ask that you work with us in a conversational spirit while understanding that there is method to our madness :-). We want to help you learn.

Introduction to the Work

Welcome to today's seminar on Cosmic View by Kees Boeke. By discussing this classic 1957 work, we seek to enlarge our understanding of a number of great ideas. Within the scope of one seminar, however, we must limit ourselves because time will not permit us to delve deeply into all of the ideas in this important work.

Boeke's Cosmic View is indeed classic. It has inspired people for three generations. The creators of two short films, Cosmic Zoom and Powers of Ten, credit Boeke for their inspiration. Not only does Boeke obviously discuss great ideas like ELEMENT, INFINITY, MATHEMATICS, QUANTITY, and WORLD, but also, more subtly, he explores EDUCATION, LIFE AND DEATH, WAR AND PEACE--timeless ideas that will speak to three more generations and beyond! Cosmic View is a great and important work, relevant to our war-torn and violent world today, relevant to the struggle for democracy we see developing in Egypt, relevant to education both there and in our own country. It is worthy of our study and discussion.

Introductory Questions

  1. I mentioned two short films inspired by Cosmic View. The title of the first film by Eva Szasz, produced by the National Film Board of Canada in 1968 is Cosmic Zoom. The title of the second one by Charles and Ray Eames, sponsored by IBM, is Powers of Ten, originally produced in 1968 and rereleased in 1977. We'll watch this latter one now. As we do so, I want you think about the three titles. Write them down now: Cosmic View, Cosmic Zoom, and the one we'll view, Powers of Ten. Think about how these titles are the same and how they're different. Think about the ideas these titles summarize. Would one of the other titles better express the ideas in Cosmic View? At this point, simply answer "yes" or "no"; we'll go into more depth and reasons later.
    Now I would like like you to consider the full definition of the word Cosmos from which Boeke gets the word Cosmic in his title.
    Pronunciation: käzms; in senses 1 and 2 also -ms or -mäs
    Function: noun
    Etymology: German kosmos, from Greek, order, ornament, universe
    1 -es a : the universe conceived as an orderly and harmonious system -- contrasted with chaos b : ORDER, HARMONY
    2 -es : a self-inclusive system characterized by order and harmony amid complexity of detail
    3 capitalized [New Latin, from Greek kosmos] : a genus of tropical American herbs (family Compositae) having opposite leaves, flowers solitary in loose corymbose panicles, and flower heads with prominent rays most cultivated varieties of which are derived from a Mexican species (C. bipinnatus) and are popular fall-blooming annuals
    4 plural cosmos \-ms, -mz\ also cosmoses : any plant or flower of the genus Cosmos[11]
    Now lets go into more depth on the title. Would you change your mind now? What would be the best title for Boeke's original Cosmic View? Would one of the other titles have been better? Why or why not?
    What ideas is Boeke including that the film we viewed is not? Support your answers from the text.
  1. [figure out how to get this to start with "2"] Who would like to read the second paragraph of the introduction aloud?
    "At school we are introduced to many different spheres of existence, but they are often not connected with each other, so that we are in danger of collecting a large number of images without realizing that they all join together in one great whole. It is therefore important in our education to find the means of developing a wider and more connected view of our world and a truly cosmic view of the universe and our place in it."
    Boeke uses the title of his work near the end of this passage? How does this use shed light on his purpose for writing Cosmic View? In addition to considering this text, you should support your answers about Boeke's purpose by citing additional lines or passages.
  1. Who would like to read the last five paragraphs of the work? The conclusion?
    "And so our journey ends at the nucleus of the atom, that mysterious, utterly small, and incredibly powerful center of energy which only recently has unveiled some of its mighty secrets to mankind. Whereas at the end of our first journey we stood in awe before the imposing greatness of the dimensions of the universe, and felt as nothing in comparison to their immensity, the conditions are now completely different. True, we feel as much awe and reverence when we attempt to think of the miracles of dynamic power that are hidden in these domains of the smallest existing entities, but our own dimensions are now indescribably colossal compared with what we see.
    Thus on the scale of the last drawing, the height of the little girl would be about 15,000 million kilometers, that is, more than the diameter of the solar system! If we add the thought that man is beginning to control and use these limitless nuclear powers, it is clear that unthinkable possibilities are within his reach. When we thus think in cosmic terms, we realize that man, if he is to become really human, must combine in his being the greatest humility with the most careful and considerate use of the cosmic powers that are at his disposal.
    The problem, however, is that primitive man at first tends to use the power put in his hands for himself, instead of spending his energy and life for the good of the whole growing human family, which has to live together in the limited space of our planet. It therefore is a matter of life and death for the whole of mankind that we learn to live together, caring for each other regardless of birth or upbringing. No difference of nationality, of race, creed, or conviction, age or sex may weaken our effort as human beings to live and work for the good of all.
    It is therefore an urgent need that we all, children and grown ups alike, be educated in this spirit and toward this goal. Learning to live together in mutual respect and with the definite aim to further the happiness of all, without privilege for any, is a clear duty for mankind, and it is imperative that education shall be brought onto this plane.
    In this education the development of a cosmic view is an important and necessary element; and to develop such a wide, all-embracing view, the expedition we have made in these "forty jumps through the universe" may help just a little. If so, let us hope that many will make it!"

Boeke uses the word cosmic several times and, yet again, he repeats the title of the work in the last paragraph. Why? What does Boeke want to accomplish? What changes does he hope to produce in his students? His readers? What are his main ideas and his overall purpose?

  1. Boeke uses the ideas of scale, mathematics, and measurement extensively. How? Cite examples? Why? Does this add to or detract from his purpose in writing the work?
  1. In what ways is Boeke's work like poetry? In what ways is it not? Does Boeke have a creative purpose in his use of math, science, and measurement?
  1. Does Boekes work contain truth? Falsity? How? Why? Cite examples.
  1. Does Cosmic View make a difference? Does it make the difference Boeke hoped for? Does it make a difference for you?

References edit

  1. Gateway to the Great Books by Robert M. Hutchins and Mortimer J. Adler, Eds., 1963, Vol. 8, pp. 600-644.
  2. See Cosmic View, Picture #13
  3. Gateway to the Great Books, vol. 8, pp. 597-99
  4. The short video from the National Film Board of Canada called Cosmic Zoom, available on YouTube, is based on Boeke's work. This animated film is remarkably similar but dynamic in presentation. The film is also available on the National Film Board's official website. Another film inspired by Boeke's work, Powers of Ten, by Charles and Ray Eames features more detail and narration. After watching the film, click "home" and explore the interactive features of the website!
  5. Devi Prasad, War is a Crime against Humanity: the Story of War Resisters' International. London: WRI 2005
  6. De Werkplaats website. Viewed 04/12/2006.
  7. see especially Vols. 2 and 3, <enter additional bibliographical information>
  8. see especially vol. 3>
  9. <enter bibliographical information
  10. Adler, Mortimer, (1982). Paideia Proposal, p. 17
  11. "cosmos." Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. (17 Feb. 2011).