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.