TOK: #14 – Art and Beauty

Do you think that theories such as the elements and principles of design or the Darwinian explanation of art proposed by Dutton mean that beauty is not in the eye of the beholder?

Provide claims with examples in support of this KQ, and counter-claims and examples.

One can argue that because of the elements and principles of design and the Darwinian explanation of art proposed by Dutton, beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. This is because the elements and principles and design and the Darwinian explanation both essentially define what makes something look aesthetically appealing to us. When explaining the Darwinian theory of beauty, Dutton states that “beauty is an adaptive effect” and is a result of the evolved human psychology. Thus, although we may not be aware of it, we all have the same idea of what is beauty in our minds. Not only is our perception of beauty a result of natural selection, but there are also many different things that result from this process that we may not be aware of. For example, the fear of heights is a result of natural selection, which explains why many people share this common fear. Relating this back to art and beauty, an example could be a sunset, which many people consider to be beautiful. Similarly, many people can also find beauty in the same piece of artwork. For example, Vincent van Gogh’s starry night is a famous piece of work that many people appreciate. Although people may not realize, it is partly because of the way van Gogh uses different elements and principles of design in the piece to create an aesthetically appealing artwork. For instance, the painting uses a lot of line which creates movement, especially in the sky surrounding the stars. The use of color also creates contrast between the dark night sky and the stars. Thus, the elements and principles of design and the Darwinian theory of beauty show that beauty does not lie in the eye of the beholder, and is in fact determined by specific aspects or natural selection, explaining why many people find beauty in the same things.

On the other hand, one can also argue that regardless of the elements and principles of design and the Darwinian explanation of art, beauty still lies in the eye of the beholder. Ultimately, whether something is beautiful or not is based on our own opinion and is subjective. Though those ideas can provide and guideline for what is considered aesthetically appealing or provide support for why we think something looks beautiful, our own perspective on beauty is still based on our own opinion in the end, and thus beauty still lies in the eye of the beholder. A piece of artwork can incorporate many elements and principles of design effectively, but someone may still find it not aesthetically appealing. Relating to the example given above, even though van Gogh’s Starry Night uses many elements and principles of art, this still does not guarantee that every single person would think the artwork is beautiful. They may not like the composition of the piece, or the meaning behind it, etc., thus showing that beauty still lies in the eye of the beholder. In art, it is possible for many people to interpret the same piece differently based on their imagination, past experiences or simply personal taste, and because whether or not they find a piece beautiful is partly based on how they interpret the piece, beauty is still subjective and does lies in the eye of the beholder.

Thus, even though the elements and principles of design and the Darwinian theory of beauty provide “rules” or support why many people have a common idea of what beauty is – showing that beauty is not in the eye of the beholder – ultimately, our idea of beauty is still based on our own opinion and interpretation of the artwork which cannot be determined and fixed by theories.

TOK: #12 – What is Art?

Knowledge within arts is not objective and therefore not meaningful.

Based on my interpretation, this claim is stating that only objective things are meaningful, and that subjective things are not significant because they do not provide a definite answer to anything, and is instead based off of one person’s point of view. Knowledge within the arts can include the creation of the art piece or the interpretation of the piece.

On one hand, it can be argued that knowledge within the arts is subjective and therefore not meaningful, especially if someone is looking at an artwork to obtain factual information. For example, if someone were to look at Francisco Goya’s The Third of May 1808 with the goal of learning more about what happened during the Napoleon conquering of the Spanish during the beginning of the 19th century, then this piece may not be meaningful in providing them with factual information about the event. This is due to the fact that the painting was created by one person, thus the depiction of the event is only based off of the artists’s personal point of view. Since the artist is Spanish, the painting depicts the Napoleon in a more negative way. However, someone from France may have a completely different perspective on the event. Therefore, the artwork is not meaningful because it does not allow people to gain an accurate idea of what happened through the depiction of the artwork.

On the contrary, it can be argued that subjective works are in fact even more meaningful than objective works. Using the same example as above, one could find the subjectivity of the piece to be meaningful as it would allow them to understand how people from different backgrounds interpreted the same situation differently. Similar to history, it is valuable to know about the different interpretations of the same event as it allows people to gain a more well-rounded understanding of what happened. Even though the arts are subjective, it can also be meaningful because it can allow people to understand more about the artist’s personal thoughts. One part of the arts are about expression one’s own emotions and feelings, so it can be valuable for people to use artworks to understand how people’s surroundings can influence their thoughts. For example, in Van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Crows, his emotions are clearly represented through the images. This piece is subjective as it only represents one person’s emotions. However, many people found this famous piece of work to be meaningful as it allowed them to understand Van Gogh’s emotions at the time more. Therefore, subjectivity can also be meaningful, depending on what the knowledge in the arts is being used for.

TOK: #11 – Science vs Pseudoscience

It is unsurprising when we hear that experts in Art can’t always agree what ‘is’ and ‘is not’ Art. We might say that the distinction between what ‘is’, and what ‘is not’ art, is not always clear. Similar to the question of what is art, the distinction between science and pseudoscience is also not clear. Analyze this claim. 

The distinction between science and pseudoscience can also be known as The Demarcation Problem. One approach to distinguishing between science is pseudoscience is using falsification, which was proposed by Karl Popper. Falsification distinguishes between the two by looking at whether something can be proved to be untrue, or falsifiable. In other words, according to this, science is anything that can be proved wrong. If something cannot be falsified, then it is not science. Popper also believed that science was based on disproving theories rather than searching for the truth. For example, according to falsification, the claim “Rocks form when melted rocks cool and harden” is science as it can be falsified. One can investigate into the formation of rocks, and see whether or not rocks actually form from melted rocks.

However, it can be argued that the distinction between science and pseudoscience is not simply this clear. There are aspects in the sciences that cannot be falsified, but is still considered science. For example, in chemistry, chemists are often trying to synthesize chemicals and create new ones. By doing this, they are not trying to falsify any existing hypotheses. The creation of a new chemical is also difficult to falsify, as if it has been created, then it must be true that it is possible to create it. It wouldn’t be possible to design an experiment aimed at proving that the creation of that chemical is not actually possible. There may be methods that would lead to the creation of the chemical being impossible, but if it has been created with one method, it must be possible again. Thus, using falsification to distinguish what is science is not very reliable as there are things in science that cannot be falsified/are not aimed at disproving existing theories.

There are also cases where the distinction between science and pseudoscience is simply a matter of personal belief. For example, herbalism, which is the practice of using herbal supplements to treat medical conditions, is something that does not clearly fall into the category of either science or pseudoscience. Some people may strongly believe in its effective this, and thus think that it works based on scientific evidence, while some people may think that it is not an effective way of treating medical conditions as there isn’t solid scientific evidence, and thus consider it a pseudoscience. Therefore, the distinction between science and pseudoscience is clearly very blurred, as there are many factors that come into play, and also many different ways of differentiating between the two.

TOK: Chinese

“It is not always useful or desirable to use neutral or objective language.” 

There are certain circumstances where it is desirable or useful to use connotated or subjective language. At times, people may not want to directly speak about a certain subjects, such as taboo subjects or topics considered rather harsh or inappropriate. For example, when talking about death, it is common for people to use euphemisms instead of directly talking about the subject. In English, some common phrases used to talk about death are “passed away” or “in a better place”; similarly, in Chinese, some euphemisms for death are ”去世“ or ”升天“. By using these phrases, the subject of death is presented in a less negative way as these words all have a relatively more positive connotation than simply saying someone died. Subjective language is also commonly used in the media and news to sensationalize events in an attempt to appeal to the target audience more. Thus, there are certain situations where it is more acceptable or preferred to use connotated or subjective language.

However, one may argue that at times it is desirable or useful to use neutral or objective language. Academic writing is one situation where subjective language would most likely not be accepted. When neutral or objective language is not used, people can interpret information inaccurately as words have different meanings to different people as well. For example, if subjective or connotated language is used to analyze or present research or data, then the information may be communicated incorrectly as people would interpret it differently. Although the media uses subjective language to appeal to the audience more, it could also be argued that neutral or objective language should be used to present information in news articles. The facts should simply be recounted, and the author’s own opinion shouldn’t influence the way the information is presented. Therefore, depending on the circumstance, neutral or objective language can also be more useful or desirable than subjective language.

TOK: #9 – Intro to Natural Sciences

Reflecting on our discussions in class, and with inspiration from the TED video, what distinguishes Natural Science from other AOKs? Identify any potential issues or questions that may arise when you consider your definitions.

The Natural Sciences is an area of knowledge including subjects such as chemistry, biology and physics. It is distinguished from other AOKs in a few different ways. Firstly, as discussed in class, the Natural Sciences is only limited to the natural world. The natural world includes everything in our physical world. This means that any idea that cannot be explained by the natural world is not a part of this AOK. Ideas relating to the supernatural world exceed the limits of the natural world and cannot be answered by experiment, and thus is not part of the Natural Sciences. Questions regarding the natural world, such as how rocks are formed, or the speed of light can all be answered or investigated into through experiments and solid evidence. However, questions relating to topics such as life after death are not part of the natural world and thus natural science cannot explain these ideas.

The Natural Sciences is constantly aiming to disprove an existing theory instead of aiming to seek truth in something, as discussed in class. This distinguishes it from other AOKs as other AOKs such as history or math aims to find the correct answer. For example, in the development of the atomic model, scientists conducted experiments to disprove a certain point of the existing theory presented by another scientist. Through the gold foil experiment, Rutherford disproved the Thomson model and showed that there was actually a concentration of positive mass in the atom. Thus, this shows how scientists only strive to understand concepts and theories more rather than find the one true answer. In History, historians are seeking to find what truly happened and gain a better understanding of it, instead of placing more priority poke holes at facts that are already presented.

The idea of the Natural Sciences being testable and being built upon theories inferred from solid evidence also distinguishes it from AOKs where there is no single correct answer. For example, in the arts, there is no right or wrong answer regarding how a certain piece of artwork should be like, or what message the artwork communicates. Thus, if one were to try and disprove information in the arts, or test a certain piece of information, it would be difficult because technically nothing is wrong. Even though knowledge gained from the arts can be supported by evidence (e.g. supporting how a piece of work communicates a certain emotion), one cannot test it to see whether it is correct or not, as the arts can be interpreted different for each individual. Therefore, it is important that knowledge in the Natural Sciences can be tested in order to allow scientists to further seek understanding.

 

TOK: #8 – Faith & Intuition

Present a simple outline of the basic ‘problems’ of faith and intuition as WOKs

Faith:

  • Is not based on any solid evidence, rather it is a belief based on our feelings and thoughts – difficult to prove which belief is more “correct” in cases where beliefs contradict each other
  • Can be regarded as irrational to others who don’t share the same belief
  • Doesn’t have a strong level of certainty – even though someone may claim to feel something deeply or believe in something strongly, that doesn’t mean that it is true
    • Ex: someone may feel like they won’t succeed in life, but this doesn’t mean that that is necessarily true
  • Feelings and beliefs are personal, and therefore can be very subjective. This means that sometimes we tend to believe things that we would personally prefer or things we wish to be true, even though they may not be true
    • Ex: when Charles Darwin proposed the theory of evolution through natural selection, many churches and Christians refused to accept this theory because this theory went against their belief in God and Christianity. Thus, this shows how they held their belief in God because they wanted to keep believing that God was real, rejecting the theory of natural selection.

Intuition:

  • Often referred to as a “snap judgement”. In other words, it is a claim made without processing any information to justify the claim (no evidence to support the argument)
    • If other pieces of information had been taken into consideration before making the judgement, the result may be different
    • Ex: Someone taking a multiple choice test may run out of time and select a random answer based on their intuition, or their gut feeling. This is not a reliable way of selecting the correct answer because if the test taker had actually solved the question they may have selected a different answer. Thus, intuition is not always a reliable way of knowing.
  • Some may argue that because intuition is based on your instinct, it is unreliable because we don’t consciously go through a mental process to say something based on intuition
  • Influenced by past experiences, however, past experiences cannot always accurately predict what will happen, and thus intuition based on experiences will not always lead to the best conclusions
    • Ex: Our intuition may tell us that something bad would happen if one particular action was carried out based on past experiences, but what happened previously may not happen every single time, so in this intuition is unreliable

TOK: #7 – Language

“The vagueness and ambiguity of language always limits the production of knowledge”.

The vagueness and ambiguity of language may limit the production of knowledge in some contexts, but may also enhance the production of knowledge in other contexts. In some areas of knowledge, it is the vagueness and ambiguity of language that may in fact help enhance the production of knowledge. In the discussion of this claim, “production of knowledge” will include the knowledge learned/gained from language and the different ways of interpreting something.

One example of vague language limiting the production of knowledge is in the natural sciences. There is a lot of subject-specific vocabulary used in subjects like chemistry or biology. If someone were to describe a very specific concept or topic in the natural sciences with vague language, it would inhibit the production of knowledge (i.e. communication of information) because it would be difficult to describe something accurately without using the subject-specific terminology. Also, especially since many things in the natural sciences have similarities, such as the physical properties of different elements, if one were not specific in describing the one element, then it would be easy to confuse it with another. Thus, the vagueness of language can pose problems with regards to the production of knowledge in the natural sciences.

However, in some cases, the vagueness and ambiguity of language can in fact be a benefit to the production of knowledge. In the arts, things are often open to interpretation and is up to the viewer to find their own meaning within a piece of work. Language does not only include text, but also includes visuals. In the arts, a piece of artwork will not explicitly and specifically communicate what it means. The viewer must read between the lines to figure out what it means to them personally, which is part of what makes art special – it has the power to reach out to the audience in more than one ways. In this case, the vagueness and ambiguity of the artwork (the language) has benefitted the production of knowledge because if the piece of work were not open to interpretation, it would have taken away the audience’s experience of appreciating the artwork and finding out what it means to them. Therefore, vague language does not always inhibit the production of knowledge.

The claim presented at the beginning makes a very extreme argument that knowledge always inhibiting the production of knowledge. As seen in the second example, there are times when this type of language is not a problem in the production of knowledge. Thus, I disagree with this claim, but I do agree that there are certain circumstances where vague and ambiguous language may be and inhibition. However, a question that arises with this is “what is considered to be vague and ambiguous language?” This can be quite subjective as someone might think a certain word has a very specific meaning, while someone else could argue that it is open to interpretation and does not specify anything. Hence, it is important to first define what exactly is “vague and ambiguous language”.