Hands-On Consciousness

by Anne


Explainers, monks, and Exploratorium teachers exploring sensory exhibits in small groups in preparation for co-facilitating the monks’ World of Your Senses exhibit for Exploratorium visitors.

Explainers and monks working out a problem about mirrors during a morning training session.

Explainers and monks sharing magic tricks with each other and the Exploratorium visitors.

Explainer and monk dissecting a cow eye together for Exploratorium visitors.

What is the purpose of science museums? Is it the democratization of science learning, increasing public science literacy, inspiring people to explore the natural world, instilling compassion for other living things, empowering critical thinking, inspiring the next generation of scientists, something else? I think it’s all of those things… but what is really behind all of those intentions?

This month, we are hosting a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns who are science leaders in their home monasteries and nunneries in India.  What they care most about is peace and happiness for all people.

With this as our starting point, the Exploratorium Explainers are partnering with the monastics to co-facilitate their World of Your Senses exhibition, created as a part of the Science for Monks program. The monks and Explainers spend an hour each morning before the museum opens to the public learning together (and from each other). During the day, we are partnering on all aspects of facilitation–interacting with visitors at exhibits, dissecting eyes and flowers, and hosting philosophical discussions. As well as just getting to know one another, we are exploring Buddhist and scientific ideas about consciousness and how we come to know and understand the world around us.

What we’re discovering is that approaching our work with the intentionality of  peace and happiness brings a mindfulness to “Explaining” that feels right. We’re also discovering that Explainers and monks have much more in common that that we all wear brightly-colored uniforms. We share a love of curiosity and openness to new ideas and experiences. Buddhism may not be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of science museums, but opening up this exchange of ideas and processes is a great way to get at the heart of what we care about.