TOK Reflection #9: Pseudoscience

Today we will be briefly talking about the distinction between ‘what is’ and ‘is not’ Art and analysing the claim “Similar to the question of what is art, the distinction between science and pseudoscience is also not clear’. First of all, we have to make things clear first, that science and art have different characteristics, it is not because we don’t understand the concept well enough that we are unable to distinguish what is what and what is not, but because there are a variety of ways one can interpret the concept and also because these are highly complex fields where practitioners themselves have been questioned over the things that they produce or formulate, by that I mean artists criticising one another, scientists criticising one another, which can be heated and thus creates a lot of confusion and debate over whether fringe ideas or productions should be widely accepted. With that being said, let us explore two of the world’s most interesting and controversial subjects.

As mentioned before, natural science is different than art, as science requires objectivity to be able to be believed, while art is a subjective area of creativity, where everyone is able to criticise whenever or whoever they want just because something might not look appealing. That’s why these two subjects are so interesting. If someone’s art is denounced but other people call it art, then what really is ‘art’? If a scientific claim is denounced, but other people call it science because there is evidence, then what really is ‘science’? As mentioned, people debate ‘is’ and ‘is not’ art based on what they see visually and whether it is aesthetically appealing. For example, Claude Monet was derided by critics when he first revealed his famous landscape paintings, with many saying that they were formless, unfinished and ugly. But then people now study and appreciate it in art colleges, so does that not mean its art. Furthermore, Edvard Munch’s Scream might be ugly because of its bizarre expressiveness and because there is no form whatsoever because of its hasty use of colour, but it managed to be sold for $120 million in an auction because someone admired it as a piece of art. Again, what is art if ugly art is appreciated? Another piece of ugly art is The Ugly Duchess. We might be disgusted because of the wrinkled skin and withered breasts, but nonetheless, it is art that is kept by the National Gallery. Again, what is art if ugliness is appreciated modern day? What really defines art? Therefore, art, in my own opinion, is based on how one perceives it, but it doesn’t mean it’s not clear, because some people might be able to explain why something is or ‘is not’ art. But if one cannot explain why they think the way they do, then the distinction between two objects is not always clear.

As for science and pseudoscience, again, I do not believe that the comparison between them is not not clear, because what they believe or try to prove is based upon deductive reasoning, where through analysing a substantial amount of evidence, and adapting based on previous knowledge, conclusions can be drawn. If one cannot back up anything with evidence then it is not clear because there is no structure to it. An example of where science is able to be backed up by evidence is the highly debatable Theory of Evolution created by Darwin. His theory was based upon his speculation that a land mammal can be turned into a whale, which scientists know that Darwin had the right idea of a bear turning into a whale, just that he looked at the wrong animal. The story of the origin of whales is one of the best examples that scientists have of natural selection. After making expeditions, researching and experimenting, he came up with the theory that populations evolve over the course of generations through the process of natural selection, where organisms better adapted to the environment tend to survive and produce more offspring. Despite criticism from the church that humans and animals are unrelated and were all created by God, the scientific community has found evidence to support this, which suggests that any claims by creationists cannot render the theory of evolution as false. But if someone manages to actually prove that natural selection is not true and everything was derived from God, then what happens to all the knowledge that we’ve been taught in Grade 7, in biology about natural selection? By proving our fundamental understanding of biology as incorrect, that means everything we’ve been taught in biology, although backed up by evidence is also viewed as false! Then that would mean that we are not even humans or organisms or what not and we are just some random part of the universe that just came here without knowing what we were doing here. That would be a disaster.

Going back to the comparison between pseudoscience, again, like science, pseudoscience draws speculations and conclusions before testing, Although what they use is based upon inductive reasoning instead of deductive reasoning, the distinction is clear, because at times, some of their theories or beliefs have been backed up by evidence. For example, Chinese medicine fits into this. Chinese doctors believe that certain herbs and using sloughed snake skin and a variety of bizarre remedies will cure one of their diseases, which is backed up by the fact that it has existed for thousands of years and has been tested many times, for example, the use of sloughed snake skin to cure eye infections, sore throat, haemorrhoids etc was described in Shennong Ben Cao Jing (The Classic of Herbal Medicine), dated 100 AD. Although there is evidence that might disprove that their remedies work, they are able to find ‘reasons’ why it doesn’t work the way it is supposed to, for example, saying that it takes time and the healing process doesn’t occur right away. Chinese medicine’s ability to have dozen of claims around it and criticisms being able to be dodged helps it in distinguishing it clearly from science. Science is backed up by theory, whereas pseudoscience is backed up by inductions, but where is validity is hard to challenge because reasons can be made to prove that it works. Thus the claim that what ‘is’ art and ‘is not’ art and science vs pseudoscience is not clear I do not believe is correct, as there is evidence on both opposing sides as to why they think the way they do, making everything clear for people who wish to delve into such interesting debates.

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TOK Reflection #8: Intro to NS

Natural Science is an interesting AOK in that it differs radically from others. Instead of gathering knowledge from one method, it utilises multiple ones. But are the natural sciences reliable at all or are they just a bunch of conspiracy theories formulated through made up evidence that doesn’t exist? This is something that we will explore below, how different it is and whether it is reliable or not.

It is obvious that no matter whether we are science-oriented people or social science oriented, natural science is the most reliable out of all the AOKs and possibly even in science (disregard the conspiracy theory part, it was just a joke). This is because the natural sciences use  inductive reasoning in order to prove a claim or to create a theory out of nowhere that is backed up by circumstantial evidence. Inductive reasoning works because an observation is made and a hypothesis is created before a random brainy scientist concludes that what they were investigating is indeed true. Inductive reasoning also works for human sciences where hypothesises need to be made to come up with a conclusion. For example, economics and politics are the best in applying this. Right now, in the United States, we see the Trump administration trying to push forward a tax reform bill which they say will provide relief to the middle class which has been harmed by the high tax burden on them. That’s their hypothesis, as they are predicting something. Although there are various procedures and legislative measures that need to be done to pass this completely, if one reads the whole bill or reads the summary and listens to the Democrats, educators, tax attorneys etc, they will say that the tax reform is nothing more but a tax break for the wealthy and an increase in debt. There is a hypothesis, then after investigation, a conclusion is made. Simple as that. But the problem with inductive reasoning in these fields is that humans are unpredictable and results could be affected by free will, as there are no laws or whatsoever that control. But that is a whole other problem. None of that. We are doing a comparison, not an introduction to another concept.

Comparing natural sciences with history, history is about the past world, and analysing the actions and events of our past world. There is no knowledge in history that we don’t know if available to us, but up to one historian’s job to gather all this information and compile into his or her own subjective interruption of a past event. Furthermore, in history, the knowledge that is accepted is either not very flexible or is not the product of the work of the people who researched the topic beforehand. Therefore, we can conclude that natural sciences and human sciences are much more different as it focuses on our evolving world around us.

All in all, Natural Sciences is an AOK focused on helping us better understand the physical world around us through an experiment and induction based system focused on the physical world while the human sciences are based mostly on observations and fact based knowledge, as it focuses on the study of human behaviour, or to simplify it, analysing why humans act as they do.


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TOK Reflection #7: Faith and Intuition

Faith and Intuition. What do they even mean? The literal meaning of faith is when we have faith in someone, that is when we put our complete trust or confidence in someone or something. This is most commonly seen in religion, where one views things based on spiritual conviction rather than hardcore evidence. But it does not have to be limited to religion itself and can be applied in different sectors, for example politics, where one has a biased view on the world and is inclined to support one particular side of the political spectrum without compromising or being accepting of the other. As for intuition, it is associated with instinct, where we understand something without taking into account the need for conscious reasoning. It is the gut feeling or as the second Nanny McPhee film pointed out in one of the scenes where the character knew that their father did not die in the war, “I feel it in my bones”.

But sadly, as we all know, the world that we live in today was not designed to be 100% perfect. If it was, we wouldn’t have all these problems of religious and ideological extremism , bigotry, fake news, lies etc etc. But that’s a whole other story that is not TOK thinking (as it’s my own personal belief). The basic problem from both faith and intuition as a WOK is almost everything, from unproven scientific claims to outrageous conspiracy theories about the JFK assassination which is basically what I said would not talk about, but now I will talk about. As mentioned, our beliefs aren’t always true, but we feel with great certainty that it is true. But knowing does not make anything necessarily true, because our mental state only represents the way we see things, not controlling it. Beliefs that are strongly felt can be false. For example, I was inclined to believe that Reaganomics actually worked for America and stimulated the economy, but after reading articles about it, it seems that my belief is false and it actually contributed to income inequality in the US and the increase in debt (my political views have changed drastically from capitalist in G7 to socialist in G10-11 and infinity and beyond). But obviously how we feel is real, because if they weren’t, then we would be living in this dystopian world where there is no such things as emotion.

There are many valid reasons as to why we might question faith as a way of knowing knowledge. We want to believe things that we want to be true, and thus, as studies show, we interpret ambiguous knowledge that benefits our own interests (eerily similar to corporate greed). That’s perfectly fine as it is a common human trait. Also, it fits perfectly well with my one-sided political views, where capitalism is bad and needs changing, conservatives are stupid and lunatics, you get the point. As humans, we think that our abilities are above our own peers, because they can’t all be right (again, perfectly normal way of thought). We can test our abilities, we can trounce a person in an issues based debate by manipulating a lie into a way the audience buys into it. But we cannot test beliefs we have on faith. We have such beliefs because we want to hold them in our hearts forever, so that we will be ready to question them. Our beliefs are strongly influenced by our education, our living environment and our families. For example, because we stay with our parents most of the time, we intend to acquire their beliefs, attitudes, behaviours, habits. Most commonly is political leanings. If your parents are conservative and are traditionalists, you will vote for a conservative party in elections and have a traditional view on the world and vice versa. Faith-based beliefs are like all beliefs, influenced by the way we were raised. We might think that it is a result of our understanding of how the universe works, but let’s come clear to the fact that we believe in ones that we grew up with.

But even worse is the fact that our faith-beliefs cannot be changed. How do I know whether my present faith beliefs are better than the ones that I might have had when growing up? There is no correct or good way to choose between them, and thus, any belief we have can be wrong. Only non faith-based beliefs can be changed through thought and experience. Thought and experience is the best to let us know at least the truth, but not all truth, but faith doesn’t bring anything to the table.

So yes, faith is a bad way of knowing. Faith-based beliefs can be mistaken, as we hold them because we either have biases or because of family influences. Furthermore, they can’t be changed through thought and experience. Thus we will be stuck with an unorthodox view for the rest of our lives which we will be inclined to continue believing even if it already has been unproven.

But is it completely bad? Not necessarily, but they can be useful, because it can increase happiness. If I want something to be true and I believe that it is true, it can make me a happier person, even if other evidence disproves it. When we get what our heart contents, we are happier. Look at Denmark for example. Their GDP per capita is in the top 10, minimum wages are high and Danish trade unions mean strong workers right, there is strong social support, people can turn to a friend in times of troubles, life expectancy is high, they are generous, they are the less corrupt. And this is all because of the faith that the Danish people have towards social democracy and a welfare state.

As for intuitions, there are limitations again to every sector. Intuition, as mentioned previously is the ability to acquire knowledge without inference or reason. They mirror the advantages of logic based systems. As we don’t infer or read before knowing something, we cannot do long term predictions. For example, people always say that the world is going to end in a year or two. That’s because they are influenced by certain beliefs on the web (any kind of theory, no matter outrageous or not can be put on now), which leads them to have confirmation bias and then they start to feel for that theory because of something horrific they’ve seen on the news or in society. Leading back to the discussion, as intuition cannot do high precision predictions, they are not productive. They cannot generate any knowledge by manipulation of an existing theory that has already been confirmed (climate deniers….). Also, intuition requires experience. We acquire intuition through learning and the benefit of learning something in a certain situation is possible if we encounter it over and over again. If we don’t have experience with the situation, one has to make a guess or generalisation of a previous experience to guess what might occur. This fits right into the theories that the world will end suddenly. Because they don’t have experience of doomsday, they make a guess from a previous event that nearly caused global destruction to guess what might occur in the future. Finally, we as humans tend to have this funny trait where we overestimate the accuracy of what they know. There are recent surveys where managers overestimate the percentage of their organisation treating employees well, when employees had a significantly lower percentage who thought they were treated well by their bosses.

But the benefits of intuition is that it allows us to think before we act. For example, if we receive a curt email from a peer, we might have a small voice in our head that tells us to take a deep breath before responding so as to not escalate the curtness further. Furthermore, all humans are different, so when we meet different people for the first time, we need to pay attention to first impressions, as they are often the most accurate in telling you whether this person is someone to be trusted. Think of it this way. Rarely will your potential boyfriend tell you that he cheated on his last girlfriend, or the fact that he is looking for someone to cuddle up with when his girlfriend is out of town. Intuition can also help if we have concerns for others. We might have this feeling in our gut that because of something that occurred to a friend, we will be inclined to go and check to see if they’re OK. Also, intuition can allow humans to think of which route to take when driving. Do you want to take the fastest or slowest route if you are late for work? Do you want to take shortcut to the supermarket? Finally, intuition can help us if we have a health concern. If you start trembling uncontrollably and can’t hold a fork stably, you might want to consult with your doctor whether you have Alzheimer’s. Although Alzheimer’s is incurable, it will leave you a better person if you reveal it early to friends and family so that they won’t have to worry so much about whether you will completely deteriorate. Thus, intuition can be helpful if we feel uncomfortable about a particular feeling or when we need to make a quick decision when travelling.

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TOK Reflection #6: Language

What is language? It is the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured way. It plays a role in communicating what we know to the audience. Also, it can only be understood if we are able to bring out the message successfully. The claim we will be focusing on today is: “The vagueness and ambiguity of language always limits the production of knowledge”. Two Areas of Knowledge that fit well into this are the arts and history.

In the arts, there is this matter about translation of literary texts. There are two ways in translating literary texts. One, translating the text word by word, and secondly, translating the meaning of the text. Our logic leads us to take the second way, because to understand a translated text, we need to understand the message that is being brought out. But that’s not enough. It is possible that there is in need of a third way, which is conveying what is beyond the text, that is the whole expressive style and its ability to convey the vision of the author, That is because language is very ambiguous. Different countries have different cultures and what is translated might be different from the original text. Language can be used in translated texts to alter people’s thoughts and emotions through persuasive words, euphemisms, grammar, revealing and concealing. And as a result of that, the translated text is confusing because there is no coherence. Also, the translator can miss the underlying rhythm of the text (if he is not creative) and this can cause crucial information to be left out. For example, a translation of Baudelaire is a reinterpretation of the poet’s work. But the problem with translators is that they can either translate the beauty, losing the accuracy or translating the accuracy, losing the beauty. That is why there are so many different translations of his work, because it is not possible to translate both at the same time. Another example is the starting line of Beowulf. The pronoun ‘Hwæt’ at the start of the sentence was found to have been misinterpreted 4 years. It was translated into ‘What ho!” “Hear me!”, “Attend”, “Indeed” and “So”. But a historical linguist has said that it is supposed to be the word ‘How we have heard of the might of the kings,” not “Listen! We have heard of the might of the kings”. This confusion dates back to Jakob Grimm, who said in 1837 it was an interjection (because of a space in the middle of the word and another). From all this, we can see one needs to be in full command of the particular language that the text is written in so as to publish the most accurate text possible. Hence, it can be seen that the language barrier between a translation and the original language of the text has created large misinterpretations of how one reads the text and how a word should be translated.

Secondly, with regard to history, we learn history by reading textbooks, watching short documentaries, listening to the teacher. This shows that we rely heavily on language to listen to history. Also, historical records are recorded with our own voices so as to keep them for generations and generations. If there wasn’t the concept of language, there wouldn’t be much history today and we would still be living like primitives. Although it is a great factor to learn and understand history and how the world that we live in was shaped, as mentioned before, it is an extremely powerful tool that can be manipulated by groups or individuals so as to influence the way that we think. For example, during WWII, there was a lot of Nazi propaganda which established in the public minds that Jews, Romani, homosexuals, communists and degenerate art (The term for Modern art), all of them the doing of Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. In all these propaganda, there was one recurring them. Their nation is the most superior and others are weak. Through this stereotyping through strong derogatory language, the Nazis were able to brainwash most of the German people into becoming nationalistic and racist. Another example of this is North Korean propaganda, which has strong anti-West and militaristic propaganda and is able to brainwash the citizens into thinking that their country is the best. Back to the point, not only did language help shape up and build history, there is the problem of vagueness and ambiguity. Language differs from different groups, cultures, and places, and thus, no one country speaks the same language. Because of this, recording and keeping sources of artefacts can have limitations, as they can be lost in translation. Different words from different languages might have more than one meaning and thus, this affects our understanding of history and might lead us into believing something that is wrong as true. For example, casse-toi in French translates directly into ‘go break yourself’. But in France, it means ‘get out’. The misinterpretation of the language itself might also impact the way that we view a particular nation in history. Furthermore, many historical records were found all over the world and in dozens of different languages, and for historians and writers to translate these sources, it will result in issues in translation and thus could have altered the history that we know over generations.

Ultimately, I believe that this statement is true, because if a person does not interpret a foreign text by going beyond the meaning and word by word, then it will limit what we know, as translators not having a full grasp in that particular might leave out crucial elements. Thus, this would affect the production of knowledge.

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TOK Reflection #5: Reason

Whatever is reason? Reason is the power of the mind to think, understand and form judgements logically. It is something that we use to make decisions and it occurs instinctively, as we decide on the best path to take unconsciously, influenced by possible previous experiences. The claim that we are focusing on is: 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. Whether I agree with this statement or not, the answer is yes. Despite all the news about conspiracy theories, fake news, logically fallacies etc, I agree with this statement, because arguments can be structured through inductive or deductive reasoning. But if an argument is valid, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is true, but at the same time, it can be partially true. For example, during the 2016 Election, multiple polls showed that Clinton was leading Trump by 3-14 percentage points and many pundits believed that she would win the Presidency. The statement is that ‘Clinton will win the Presidency because she is leading Trump in the polls”. Ultimately, this did not happen, and Trump’s victory shocked pundits. But the polls were valid in saying that Clinton would win the popular vote. Although this does not show the layers beyond the polls and what kind of people were surveyed, the statement is valid, because it was spread around the news in the months leading up to the election. But the problem with polling is that it can be misleading (as not everyone is polled), therefore it makes us think a different way.

But if we look on the other side, if we are shown a statement that we know is fake and unrealistic, then it is not valid, because it has to be backed up by valid information to be proven valid. For example, some people might say smoking dozens of packs of cigarettes or drinking red wine is healthy, but on the other hand, there has been little evidence that shows that cigarettes make you healthy, as you are prone to lung cancer, while drinking red wine is now proven to not cut cancer or heart disease, but instead lead to it. As a result, a statement can only be valid if you have strong proof about the claim. If any scientific study does not back up the statement, then no matter whether we might be inclined to believe in it or not, the only way forward is if we use our sense perception and deduce what is right and what is not.

Regarding the areas of knowledge, let’s take religion as an example. One of the most debated theories is the belief of the creationists that all the living organisms in this world are created by God. We know that this is wrong, as evolution is the most commonly accepted among the scientific community, because of scientific proof. But the argument that all living organisms were created by God is valid, as they use inductive reasoning, because they observe the Earth and from what they see (for example the hypothesis that Earth is 6000 years old, so it wouldn’t have been possible for organisms to evolve), they make a claim. But then, there is no proof. Although this is false, it can be valid, as people took in several observations and came up with a conclusion. Therefore the validity of an argument is independent of the truth and falsity of its premises.



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TOK Reflection #4: Emotion

Before we go into any claims about emotion, we have to understand what emotion is. Emotion is an instinctive feeling as distinguished from reasoning or knowledge. But at times, one’s emotions can alter and manipulate what a human being thinks, leading society astray. But at times, emotion does not create disorder in society, instead causing people to view events in an objective way. This most commonly fits into the social and natural sciences, where every fact and theory, no matter unorthodox or not widely accepted must be viewed from an objective perspective without any biases. This leads into the claim: A good historian strives to be as unemotional as possible, this is the only way to write accurate history.

The job of a good historian is to view all the facts before them, look at them from an objective perspective without any personal or cultural biases, and from that, to record the history as accurate as possible without errors, speculating about the causes over why the world that we live in today is shaped as it is. But that is not without its faults. The overcomplexity of a certain historical event or the mountain of evidence that view the event from different points of view can cause historians to perceive the event from a subjective way, writing their own version of history based on personal experiences or from stories that they have heard. This is known as confirmation bias, when we are inclined to believe new theories or evidence so as to confirm our beliefs and theories. Therefore, recorded history can be skewed because of misconceptions. a good historian will consider a variety of facts and evidence and conclude a reasonable explanation that is as accurate and factual as possible. Furthermore, with emotion, historians may only look at the evidence that is provided in front of them and be satisfied, and may not conduct an in-depth analysis due to their lack of types of sources. An unemotional historian will never use their imagination to interpret pieces of evidence of history, and will only use reliable sources to help deduce the truth in history, will which limit the possibility of misinterpretation and misunderstanding in the writing of history. By being unemotional, a good historian can write a more precise and authentic record of history because they will always prioritise the facts and evidence of history before anything else.

However, a counterargument to this is that emotion can hinder history, which is also true. It has happened most commonly in the historical account of major wars, when one side said that they had an advantage, while the other side might say that side was weak and that they were the superior ones. This is what we are going to explore. A highly complex war that historians still question which events should be used into writing an accurate history.

This example is the War of Austrian Succession. This was a war that was fought between 1740-1748 over a combination of Central European rivalries and colonial competition between England and France. It was caused over the matter of who would succeed Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor, who had died on October 20th 1740. At the time of his death, Charles VI had no living sons (one had died after birth) and instead had three daughters, Maria Theresa, Maria Anna and Maria Amalia. Because he had no male issue, the next in line to the throne was Maria Theresa, his eldest daughter. But this complicated matters further. His eldest daughter was never a candidate for the throne, because according to the Salic law, a civil law code, women were to be excluded from the succession to thrones, fiefs etc. The plan was for Maria Theresa to succeed to the hereditary domains and her husband elected as Holy Roman Emperor. Maria Theresa’s right to hereditary domains was made possible by the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713 issued by Charles VI, where hereditary possessions could be inherited by a daughter (as he had no male successor). As a result, because of this sanction, he spent most of his reign preparing Europe for a female ruler, by asking the courts of Europe to accept it at high cost in concession. In the end, many European courts recognised the sanction, including Great Britain, France, Saxony-Poland, the Dutch Republic, Spain, Venice, States of the Church etc etc. When he died, several nations such as France, Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria broke their promises and contested the claims of Maria Theresa on Charles’ Austrian lands, with many rulers saying that as male heirs with genealogical basis, they could inherit the titles of the Imperial title.

And so started the continent-wide war when Frederick the Great (who some say was more powerful than Maria Theresa, who was perceived as weak) invaded the Provinces of Silesia controlled by the Habsburgs. But the problem that historians face is the fact that there were dozens of battles across different theatres, including King George’s War in British America, the War of Jenkins’ Ear, the First Carnatic War in India, the Jacobite rising and the First and Second Silesian Wars. With so many wars across different continents, this connects back to the claim. How can the historians of multiple nations depict the War of Austrian Succession in an accurate manner? Also, how can historians cover the history without having a prejudice over the other that had been longstanding for many centuries? The Brits fight the French because of Britain being under the control of France for ages, which led to the 100 Years War, the Prussians hate the Austrians because they both want to be the leader of German-speaking peoples. All this can impact the emotions of the historians, for example, Austrian historians might wish to disregard battles where they did not win or suffered mass casualties and blame Germany for having an ambitious  ‘madman’ as Emperor which resulted in their misfortunes. On the other hand, Germany might blame Austria, saying that Maria Theresa was weak, Frederick was strong and ambitious, therefore the death of Charles gave them a chance to challenge the Habsburgs, and also, their own rulers had genealogical connections to the Habsburgs, so they were the rightful heirs to the throne. All the history behind the rivalry might impact how they view the war and it might mislead students of this field of European history.

Although emotion can hinder how we view the world around us and how it was formed,  it also helps us understand it. However, I believe that emotion’s potential to hinder our perception of history greatly outweighs its ability to understand it. This is because history is meant to be unbiased so that all perspectives can be viewed from a neutral side. If historians are always subjective in their writing of history, then our understanding of history will always be biased and we will end up having a biased mindset and would perceive wrong as right. However, by being unemotional, a historian will focus on being objective, considering only the evidence and proof that makes the most sense, and will always attempt to record the most objective and factually accurate record of history. Through objectivity, it will allow for a truthful and honest perception of history, without any sorts of bias or lack of credibility present.

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TOK Reflection #3: Sense Perception

What is sense perception? Sense perception is the faculties of sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch by which the body perceives an external stimulus. Now we know what sense perception is, I would like to support the statement ‘Even though there are problems with our perceptual systems, this doesn’t mean that knowledge gained from our senses is completely unreliable’. But why? This is because these ‘problems’ with our perceptual systems could range from being deaf, blind etc in terms of the five senses, but it doesn’t mean that we are also like that, because everyone is entitled to their own opinion of what they hear, taste, smell etc. I can say that smell plum in wine, and another can say that they smell grapes, but that does not make the latter unable to smell, because everyone has their own distinguishing sense. Secondly, our knowledge is completely based off ideas that are made from our observations and senses of the world. Everything that we see, hear, taste, smell is what our mind deems important. Our world functions through common sense realism, and this is what allows us to go through a normal day without making any major missteps. Although there are times where our brain perceives things wrong, something we can call as logical fallacy, or representational realism. But this is something that we do not need in our lives, because if our lives were run by wrong perceptions and fallacies, the whole world would not be able to function properly. Finally, ‘unreliable’ means something that is not to be trusted, something that could be made up, for example, fake news, lies, eyewitness testimonies, conspiracy theories etc, but how do we know that it is ‘unreliable’ if someone perceives it that way? (I’m not implying that the items above are backed with fact)

To use an AOK and a real life situation, let’s choose history and communism vs capitalism. We all know what communism is, which is a political ideology whose goal is to implement a society where the socioeconomic order is structured among ownership of the means of production and where the state is classless, and also where the state and money do not exist. This was proposed by German philosopher Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in their 1848 publication of The Communist Manifesto, in response to the revolutions of 1848 that had erupted. Capitalism is the economic and political system where the country’s trade and industries are controlled by big corporations and oligarchs (or bourgeoisie) through private firms that only care about profit, not for the working class. This was proposed by the famous Adam Smith, who in his book The Wealth of Nations expounded upon how competition and self interest can lead to prosperity. Let’s set communism is good, capitalism is bad as a claim and vice versa as the counter argument.

Everywhere we go, we see homeless people begging on the streets for food and some money, we see waste collectors, cleaners, elderly people collecting cardboard to sell for money, we see rural areas, we see illnesses, we see war, we see injustice, and the list goes on and on. This we can all see in our everyday lives when we walk in the streets, when we visit other nations, when we search online. Communists say that capitalism is the main cause of poverty and other ills, and this is true, as it is organised in ways that allows the small elite (the top 1% of the 0.05% of the 0.001% of the 0.000001%) to control most of the capital–factories, machinery, tools–used to produce wealth, leaving the working classes out and creating unjust situations for them, for example paying lest than the minimum wage, not allowing unions, unsafe situations. Also, it leaves a small portion of the total income and wealth made to be distributed to the rest of the population. With people competing over what’s left, a substantial amount of people will wind up short and end up living in poverty. As a result, because of these poor conditions, communists say that they are the best, because it can do away with all class systems, by that, where everyone has equal access to health, education and food, where the resources are governed by a group that represent the whole population. Basically, everyone leaves peacefully without having to fear the big corporations, the oligarchs and the special interests. To summarise that, communism ensures the welfare of people. That is a main point that communists make about why they are better than capitalism, because they provide citizens with their needs and remove the class system, creating a socially equal society for everyone.

But at the same time, as a counterargument, capitalists say, look at Russia and China. Perfect examples of how communism has failed as an ideology. Look at the amount of poverty in these nations caused by the lack of industrial growth, the corruption, where an influential group of political leaders benefited from the system, it is anti-ambition and anti-creativity, because everyone is equal, one cannot expect to do something out of the ordinary and also, communism views jobs like a poet or painter as completely unnecessary and ridiculous. That is why capitalism is better, because it is good for the society, as every job can help someone else. For example, a factory worker creates items that a society can’t live without. Police make sure people are protected. They also say that it results in a decentralised economic system where people are open to more options in business, which encourages competition, which in turn encourages economic growth.

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TOK Reflection #2: Intro to WOKS (Ways of Knowledge)

What is reason? It is something that we use whenever we make a decision and this happens instinctively, as we decide on the best path to take, depending on previous experiences. But which AOK (area of knowledge) can this connect to? In my opinion, reason is particular relevant in history (one of my favourite subjects). Without reason in history, what we know now about the past might be distorted, and there would be a possibility that we would be inclined to believe one specific point of view and completely disregard the other. For example, if Hitler won WWII, we would be inclined to believe that Hitler’s goal of white supremacy is correct and that there is no flaw in it. From just example that could have happened in real life, we see the need of reason in history. To all the historical negationists, fake news spreaders, Holocaust deniers, you are not correct. Everything is based upon facts, not conspiracy theories.

We know that everything in the world is in need of reason, but what benefits does reason bring to history in general? How does it contribute to knowledge? Firstly, with reason in history, we can compare evidence from various sources to reach conclusions about events. For example, some people might say that the West won the Cold War against the Soviet Union because of their powerful economic, political and military factors, but in the perspective of Russian historians, they might say that the Soviet Union won (even though they didn’t win) because they were able to bring many countries under their control and were able to win several proxy wars against United States supported forces. Another main point is that reason is needed to ‘interpret’ evidence, meaning, placing events in historical context to make sense out of evidence. Without that, history would be distorted and we would be inclined to think of an alternate world, something similar to the alternative history novel The Man in the High Castle, where a book known as The Grasshopper Lies Heavy portrays an alternative history where the Allies won WWII. The final important point is that reason allows for the critical examination of historical facts to determine if they are accurate or fit with previously held beliefs. If we don’t have reason in examining historical facts to determine if they are accurate, then the whole world would be full of lies. A person can make a random claim, for example, saying the American Civil War was fought over land, not slavery and state’s rights or that the Holocaust never existed and that Jews were treated fairly without anyone correcting their error, instead confirming it as true. Simple ignorance can alter our perception of things and facts and we will be manipulated into believing false claims, without questioning ourselves whether what we say is right and not being aware that a claim could be wrong.

We know that WOK are double-edged swords, but reason, which we always try to use in every decision that we make, cannot always be correct. There is something known as deductive fallacy. Some are present innocently, for example, something saying the wrong thing because of a slip of the tongue. But some are not innocent and are deployed deliberately so as to mislead us, and sometimes, they remain undetected by us so that an audience can end up being tricked and mislead. For example, I can say that the Democratic Party is the best and well reasoned political party in the United States. James Buchanan was a Democratic President, therefore he was a good President. This is a formal fallacy, or a logical fallacy. Number 1 and 2 is true, but we cannot say with certainty that James Buchanan was a good President even if he affiliates with a party who once fought for the working class, as we do not know enough about his Presidency to make such a claim. This shows how a very strong belief of a specific point (especially if you are strongly biased) can lead us to have poor reasoning, or so as to say, to be ignorant and ‘blind’ of the facts presented in front of you. This shows how reason, despite how we need it in every aspect of our lives can be fallible. For history, there is always right and wrong, because different historians and cultures might view a certain event from totally different points of view. For example, Japan can say that they did nothing wrong in WWII, while China will blame Japan for the Nanjing massacre and their evasion of questions over Japan’s role in WWII. A difference in opinion can lead to different interpretations of the teaching of history. This is one weakness. Let us proceed to a second

A second weakness is the commonality of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias may determine which evidence is used to support historical interpretations, and a well known example is the conspiracy theory over JFK’s assassination. Confirmation bias is the tendency to look for and find confirming evidence for what you already believe and to ignore disconfirming evidence. JFK conspiracy theorists ignore the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald was the assassin and they seek to believe other matters such as the man holding an umbrella open when it was not raining, saying that he could have been the signal man to Oswald, the umbrella was a weapon and other claims. They also talk about the Babushka Lady, a woman wearing a Russian-like headscarf, saying that she was a Russian spy, an assassin holding a camera gun. There are many claims about the JFK assassination, and 6 in 10 Americans refuse to believe the fact that Oswald acted alone. We all know that Oswald acting alone is the legitimate claim that is mentioned in history books, but yet there are still people who refuse to believe it just because the evidence of a false claim arises almost immediately after something major happens, way before evidence has been properly gathered and analysed about the real cause of the event.

Regarding these two main weaknesses, emotional bias and logical fallacy, which can impact reason greatly if we misinterpret facts and if we are influenced by our own passionate views on a specific topic that leads us to greatly disregard others can be a very influential factor on how we view the world. But although we might not be able to fully remove this, I believe that history can guard against these weaknesses in reason. As I mentioned previously, by comparing evidence from different sources to reach conclusions and by using inductive reasoning to make generalisations from a selection of historical events, we can greatly eliminate logical fallacy in facts, we can prevent the spreading of false information and we can create a theory to explain the real events that have shaped the world we live in, preventing alternative perceptions of the events.

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TOK Reflection #1: Knowledge and Explaining

Being right or wrong is a very subjective topic. Everyone will have their own perspectives on a certain thing and why they think it is right or wrong. It is something that can be subject to debate (if there is evidence and examples for both sides) and in that case, different people can be right in their own perspective.

For example, in history, there is one significant event where the definition of a term is interpreted differently by two different nations, which is that of the Armenian Genocide. Genocide, as we know is the organised killing of a people for the purpose of putting an end to a particular ethnic group, so as to say, total disintegration. During the Armenian Genocide, in the Armenians perspectives, it was a genocide, as 1.5 million Armenians were subjected to deportation, abduction, torture, massacre and many other reasons. They say that the vast majority were sent to Syria to die of thirst and hunger in the desserts, and also say that they were methodically massacred by the Ottoman Empire (modern day Turkey). That is the Armenian thesis, that it was a genocide and was intended to exterminate their whole population. Also, Armenia compares these actions to Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis during WWII to show that they are correct by saying that the genocide’s goals were the fundamentals of what the Holocaust was intended to do and that it is correct.

Another claim is the proof of eyewitness accounts (which is obvious). Among these were Christian missionaries, doctors, nurses, school and university teachers from Germany and Austria-Hungary and also, there were other nations, the USA, Sweden, Norway and Denmark who witnessed this event. Not only that, there were several German and Austro-Hungarian officers and soldiers in the Ottoman Army, and also foreign ambassadors and diplomats present in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul), while other eyewitnesses were stationed in other consulates around the Ottoman Empire. Many of these reported about the ongoing violence and massacres, and after the horrors of these events, many published reports and memoirs, books, and photographs of the events to show the full atrocity committed by the Turks. As a result, Armenians stand by their claims and calls Turkey genocide deniers, and to this day, there is still a frosty relationship between the two countries because of this event which has been implanted into many Armenians.

In Turkey’s perspective, they say that what they did was not an act of genocide. In their view, they say that it was not genocide and that it was an act of retaliation towards the Armenians Again, I am not an Armenian Genocide denier, but there is factual evidence to back this up. Prominent historians say that there was no order for a ‘final solution’ to exterminate ALL of the Armenian people. That is backed up by the fact that comprehensive Ottoman archives contain no such documents that suggest a plan. And to this day, there is still no evidence that it was a ‘final solution’. And also, soldiers and civil servants were punished for misconduct, which is a stark difference to the Holocaust, where the heads of the concentration camps and other Nazi officers were not punished, as some of them perished during the raid or committed suicide. Secondly, after the Ottoman Empire lost the war, the British High Commission in Istanbul arrested 144 people that were put on trial for harming the Armenians. An Armenian scholar was appointed to review US, British and Turkish records to back the claim that they encouraged the killings of Armenians, but the investigators discovered a lack of evidence that Ottoman officials publicly encouraged these acts.

And many historians back up Turkey’s claims through other events that happened before the war. The Ottoman government, part of the Central Powers (the baddies) had reason to fear that Russia and other Christian nations were intending to carve up spheres of influence in collaboration with disaffected minorities. And this is backed up by how the massacres did not begin with the war. In fact, there had been many pogroms in 1895-1896 where thousands of Armenians were killed. A mass deportation programme during times of war in a short period of a million people (disputed) is exceptional. Massacres of on civilian or ethnic ground sadly occurs, but the attempt to dispose of an entire ethnicity, is something that should not be placed on an event that was exacerbated by the Armenians themselves.

Another piece of evidence that backs up their actions is that these events were not the plan of sick minded individuals that wanted to exterminate a race, but were done because the Ottomans feared Christianity interfering into their Muslim culture. This was the result of nationalist movements, one that wished for independence, and one that had seen these movements during the Balkan War turn into movements of monstrous size, and at the time, the interior minister said that Armenia could not be the ‘Bulgaria of the East’. All this led to inter-communal warfare, driven by the mistrust and suspicions between communities, and the political ambitions of the nations. The Armenians were not innocent victims of the atrocities, they played a role in starting them. Another claim was that they were not ruthless killers of innocent children and women and to present these events as a genocide and to compare them to the Holocaust is deeply offensive and blasphemous to the Islamic religion. Jews were killed because Hitler wanted an Aryan race to be created, while the actions of the Armenians provoked Turkey into acting. Also, another claim is that at the time, there was no policy of genocide in Turkey. The authority of the government in these areas was limited to a network of alliances with Turkish and Kurdish warlords, which the government has literally no control. These facts cannot make a huge human toll disappear and as a result, what the Armenians say is false. That is the perspective of the Turks and to this day,

The evidence that supports Turkey is great, while the evidence on the Armenian side is also able to be believed. So there is no denying the fact that this was a genocide because of reports by many nations and also because of the statistical claim that 1.5 million people were massacred. So in this aspect, it is then possible for two people to disagree but both be correct, as they both hold truth to it, as historical, statistical and eyewitness accounts are used to back up both claims. Both perspectives to the subject are right because we can know what is right and wrong but at the same time, we cannot force others to choose what is right and wrong, as we have freedom of speech.

My rant on history aside, I feel that being right is more complicated than an objective affair. This is because through ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, we can be directed towards one specific side because of knowledge, knowledge, knowledge, which is an important part of our lives to be well informed and to not make mistakes. Because of the knowledge and facts presented to us, we can lean towards one specific side and completely disregard the other. To give another example, take the Civil War fought between the Union, which were opposed to slavery (called abolitionists by the Confederates), composed of mostly free states and several border states which allowed slavery but supported the government of Abe Lincoln and did not secede, and the Confederates, which supported slavery and were mostly Southern slave states. We all know the outcome of the war, and that was that the Union forces won against the weak rural, lack of manpower Confederate states. However, if the Confederates had the geographical, economical, political and militaristic advantage, then they would have won the Civil War, Reconstruction would have never happened, the US would have been controlled by conservative Democrats and Republicans in support of segregation, which would then result in them helping Hitler, and if that occurred, Hitler would be controlling the whole world. If this had happened, then the whole world would be subjected to listen to the white supremacist views of the far-right. Therefore, the understanding of being ‘right’ is more deeper than objectivity in general, as objectivity can also be altered by the bias of the understanding of what we know.

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Service as Action Reflection


Evidence 1: Teaching children English in Cambodia (Grade 9)

  1. How did you become more aware of your own strengths and areas for growth?

Through our school’s CAS week trips to Cambodia (I went twice), I became more aware about my strengths and I realised that I was able to engage with people of different age groups and of a different culture. While working with Cambodian children for the first and second trip, I found out that I could fit very well with them (by doing something that made them laugh and talking to them) and this allowed me to have a pleasant time with them. However, I also found some weaknesses that I had and this was being silent during group discussions occasionally (preferring to listen instead of speaking). This is something that I wish to improve over time and in the last two CAS trips that I will have in this school. I have also realised that my team building skills are good, which was shown in my second Cambodia trip, when we went to build a house for a homeless Cambodian family. I was able to communicate with people that I didn’t know well on what tasks we had to do and to ask for help when we were stuck on something

2. How did you undertake challenges that developed new skills?

There were some challenges I had to undertake in both trips to Cambodia, but I also learned some new skills along the way. I had to teach the children in English for both trips and communication was a big problem, as they had their own language (known as Khmer) which we did not understand well. Although there was a language barrier, I learnt to stay patient and calm as I knew they were struggling as much as I was. This eventually allowed me to communicate my ideas in different ways, through verbal and non-verbal communication. In my second Cambodia trip, the service, as I mentioned in the previous question was to build a house for a homeless Cambodian family. I had never built a house before, so I had to pay attention very carefully to learn how to perform these tasks, like banging down nails on bamboo, holding the bamboo together etc. This allowed me to have hours of repetition and practice to eventually reach a stage where I was able to perform them efficiently and quickly.

3. How did you discuss, evaluate and plan student-initiated activities?

Discussion took part mostly in teaching Cambodian children English at a real school (for the second trip). We were split into different groups of 5 people and were required to come up with our own lesson plan (which mostly involved games to teach them vocabulary), which we had to teach to a group of loud but energetic Cambodian children. As a group, we were given a folder that we had to keep for a few days which included a list of the games that they taught and the instructions. We would plan at different times, which was mostly after we had got back to our hotel at night and we would sit together at a table sharing our ideas on what games that we could use to get them energised and commenting on each other’s suggestions, giving constructive criticism. After coming up with a draft of our lesson plan, we would do a mock trial to see whether it would work effectively. If we found some faults, we would change the plan again until it was perfect. These mock trials allowed us to make the sessions better and to make us feel confident when teaching it to the children.

4. How did you persevere in action?

One activity that required the most perseverance was building a house in Cambodia. As Southeast Asia has a hot climate, we had to work under the scorching sun for many hours. The work that we did was quite laborious, for example, using a hammer to hit nails down, which was physically challenging, as sometimes the hammer would hit my fingernails and also, the hammer was somewhat heavy, and moving it back and forth would hurt the wrist. But no matter what, I persevered all the way through understanding that many of my peers were experiencing the same thing and taking this as an enjoyable new experience instead of being snobbish and complaining about the task. I enjoyed these activities to a great extent and I wish that I could do all this again to help those in need once again.

5. How did you work collaboratively with others?

In my second Cambodia CAS trip, I worked with people that I knew and didn’t know collaboratively to be able to achieve progress in the house that we were building. We would often work together, splitting tasks so that tasks would be done quickly instead of just one person doing it all, such as hammering nails down into the bamboo, where we had 3 or 4 people work on different sections of a large bamboo frame. This effective collaboration helped create progress and we eventually was able to attach the bamboo frames to the house frame at the end of the service activity.

6. How did you develop international-mindedness through global engagement, multilingualism and intercultural understanding?

I have always been an open minded person, respecting the cultures of the people that are different than me and understanding their history by talking with the local Cambodian tour guides and also having some prior knowledge of the country before the trip so that I won’t make derogatory remarks and do something that is considered rude in the nation.

7. How did you consider the ethical implications of your actions?

The service events I participated in during CAS week has positively impacted a community. In Cambodia, by giving English lessons and building a house, hopefully we could have communicated the importance of English and intrigued them in the language and gave a poor Cambodian family a place where they can finally live safely and happily in.