UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Soft physics: healing the mind/body split in physics education Pfeiffer, Benoite Jeanne Françoise


Physics education is facing a crisis of meaning: students can “plug” numbers into formulas, but research shows they do not give much meaning to physical concepts. This thesis explores how the cultural context of physics education, in particular the mind/body cartesian split, contributes to a loss of meaning. Drawing from sensory scholarship, cognitive linguistics, feminist critiques of science, her own teaching experience and education research on student misconceptions and intuitive knowledge, the author challenges the mind/body dichotomy by exploring how the body can make sense of the physical world through the senses. Physical concepts can be more-than-representational, exist beyond mathematical symbols and signifiers, but nevertheless be perceived through touch. In her quest for a mind/body truce, the author has created provocative stories for the physics classroom that welcome the body and its physic-al knowledge, and that reconcile intuition and Newtonian physics. This subtle change of perspective leads her to replace the alleged mind/body war with a respectful quest for compromise and fine tuning, and to analyze the dominant patriarchal narratives of the physics community. The author advocates for an intuition-based, sensory, student-centred pedagogy that redefines traditional power relationships in the physics classroom and challenges indoctrinating scientific discourses, hoping it will contribute to improving the inclusiveness of the physics community. Such a paradigm shift requires a re-storying of collective narratives. Physics is not about dominating nature but about learning from nature; it is time to abandon the myth of the detached observer and study nature from inside, at the confluence of everything that make us humans.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported