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”.

 

TOK: #6 – Imagination & Memory

  1. Create a simple ‘cheat-sheet’ for both imagination and memory.

  1. Despite the imperfections of imagination and memory as ways of knowing, the Areas of Knowledge have developed in such as way as to overcome them. Discuss this claim with reference to at least two AOKs.

The arts is one AOK that has developed ways of overcoming the imperfections of imagination. While new ideas in the natural sciences may be sometimes regarded as delusional, artists are often encouraged to use their imagination to come up with innovative ideas. In fact, it is usually the more innovative or unheard of ideas that make the artist more unique and liked for their art. For example, if there is a class of 20 art students, and they have been asked to draw an apple in any way they wish, most students may choose to do a pencil sketch. However, the few students who use their imagination to approach the task in a more creative way (e.g. using different media) would stand out more, and their artwork would be more unique and interesting for others to appreciate. Thus, in the arts, the preposterous ideas that come with imagination are accepted and even encouraged for an artist to be more successful.

History has also developed ways of overcoming the imperfections of memory. Some may argue that memory can be unreliable and bias as it can be influenced by personal experiences or feelings, restricting memory from being able to recall events factually. History has overcome this by accepting the different interpretations of a single event that can be recalled from memory. For example, during the World War II, there were many different groups in conflict (e.g. Allies for Axis), and thus many different interpretations of the event. Historians have taken these different perspectives and used them to better understand what happened during World War II. For historians, it is extremely valuable to investigate into multiple interpretations of an event as it allows them to be able to gain a deeper understanding of what actually happened, especially since many historical events involve conflicting parties and it is vital to understand the perspective of each party. Therefore, history accepts the imperfections of memory by finding the value within having multiple perspectives regarding the same event.

TOK: #5 – Reason

Pure logic is only concerned with the structure of arguments. The validity of an argument is independent of the truth or falsity of its premises.

Simply post your thoughts with reference to at least one AOK.

I agree with this claim because an argument can be logical and come to a valid conclusion even if its premises are false. A valid argument only assumes that the premises are true, and therefore the conclusion must be true as well. A logical argument does not mean it is a sound argument (have valid and true premises). The logical flow of the argument is independent from the truth of the premises, and only depends on the order and construction of the argument.

Take mathematics as an example supporting this claim. Mathematics heavily relies on deductive reasoning to come to conclusions. For instance, when trying to solve for the 4th angle measurement of a quadrilateral with three known angles, it is important to know the sum of the angles in a quadrilateral. If this is known, then it would be possible to find the measurement of the unknown angle as you could subtract the sum of the three angles from the total sum. In this case, whether or not the premises (sum of angles in a quadrilateral and sum of the three known angles) are true will not affect the validity of the conclusion (measurement of unknown angle). For example, let’s say the sum of angles in a quadrilateral is 200 degrees, and the sum of the three known angles is 150 degrees. Assuming this is true, the fourth angle would measure 50 degrees. Even though the premises are false, the conclusion is still valid because by using deductive reasoning we can come to the conclusion that the fourth angle measures 50 degrees. Thus, this shows how the validity of an argument is independent of the truth of its premises, and that knowledge cannot be gained from pure logic as the conclusion can be false even if it seems to make sense.

This can also be applied to inductive reasoning. In the natural sciences, experiments are conducted and data is collected to come to a conclusion about a certain topic. For example, a scientist conducts an experiment to investigate how much force is required to pull brick across a wooden surface, and uses the data collected from the numerous trials to draw a conclusion about how much force is required. The conclusion drawn from this experiment can be considered valid, regardless of whether or not the data collected was reliable. If the data were not reliable as it was not collected in a controlled manner (e.g., maybe a different method of measurement was used each time), then the truthfulness of the conclusion would be weakened, even though it would still be valid as it follows the logical flow of the argument, or in this case the data collected. Since the data was not collected by a reliable method, the premises would not be as truthful. Thus, this shows how the knowledge gained from pure reason may not always be the most reliable as an argument can be logical but still come to a false conclusion.

Therefore, although reason can be a useful way of gaining knowledge, it can often lead us to coming to false conclusions even if it may be valid (premises are assumed to be true). An argument can have logical flow and still come to a false conclusion as well. Thus, in order to make sure an argument is sound, the truthfulness of the premises must be carefully evaluated.

 

TOK: #4 – Sense Perception

“Even though there are problems with our perceptual systems, this doesn’t mean that knowledge gained from our senses is completely unreliable.”

Discuss this claim with reference to at least one Areas of Knowledge.

Knowledge gained from our senses isn’t always completely unreliable. For example, while looking at a piece of abstract art, there is no right or wrong answer as to what the viewer sees in the painting. One might see a particular object, or one may only see it as a mixture of colors and shapes. Both of them are interpreting the piece of art through their senses, and although they are different they are neither right or wrong, meaning that neither of their knowledge gained is unreliable or reliable. They may have interpreted the piece differently to what the artist intended, but that doesn’t mean what they saw was unreliable because there are many different ways one piece of art can be interpreted. Similarly, while creating a piece of art, the artist might see a mixture of colors and think it looks aesthetically appealing, while someone else thinks the opposite. Since visual arts is a rather subjective topic, the knowledge gained from our senses isn’t unreliable because different people interpret the piece in their own way, based on their experiences and emotions. In this case, the knowledge gained is more opinion-based, which cannot be right or wrong.

On the other hand, it can be argued that knowledge gained from our senses can sometimes be unreliable. For instance, while playing music one might play a note and think it is in tune while it is actually not. In this case, the information gained from hearing would be unreliable because it is difficult for us to tell by hearing when a note is exactly in tune. In the same case, if a note that is out of tune is played before a note that is in tune, the second note may sound out of tune compared to the first note even though it is actually the note that is in tune. In this situation, the knowledge gained from hearing is unreliable because it has been influenced by past experiences. Thus, there are problems with our perpetual systems that makes the knowledge gained from them unreliable at times because our senses are not always the most accurate, or the knowledge gained can be influenced by other pieces of information.

Although there are times when knowledge gained from sense perception is unreliable, this isn’t always the case. Knowledge gained from our senses isn’t always complete unreliable as there are situations where there can be multiple “answers”, where any knowledge gained from our senses can be considered reliable.