TOK #10: 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.

Firstly, it may seem quite obvious to state but Natural Science is unique from other AOKs in that it limited only to the natural world. This means mechanisms or concepts related to how our physical world works, and not the supernatural world (things that are unproven). Practical problems that can be solved through applying this AOK for example, could be answering how the digestive system works, or identifying how far away the earth is from the sun. It is important as discoveries in natural science has helped to shape the world we live in today, from the invention of planes to breakthroughs in prosthetic limbs. Science is not always fair, and one aspect of this is the question of ethics. Quite often, ethical considerations can limit the scope of inquiry into certain areas, such as research into stem cells. The use of stem cells is controversial because it involves the death of embryos, which some consider to be unjust.

Knowledge is gained through the formulation of a hypothesis or prediction, which is then verified by experiments. Natural sciences is also based on theories, which can be backed up by sold evidence. The more pieces of evidence from different lines there is to back up a theory, the stronger the credibility of said theory. This area of knowledge seeks to understand, but does not seek the truth – as scientists are always trying to disprove existing theories for further comprehension of the natural world. While scientists come up with laws and theories, none of them are final, as science is simply an attempt in finding the best explanation for how things work. Nothing is certain, and nothing can be proven or disproven indefinitely. Over the years, existing ideas has been built upon, refined, or debunked in the search for understanding. What the general public accepts as a widely known fact today can be proven wrong tomorrow.

The natural sciences is baised.  This statement refers to the subjective nature of scientists, in that as humans they are bound to be influenced by various factors, be it gender, culture, background, or interest. It is possible that scientists who expect a certain outcome in an investigation may unconsciously alter the data to achieve their desired results. Therefore, every scientist has the responsibility to minimize any type of subjectivity in order to present reliable and valid findings.

TOK #7: Memory + Imagination

Cheat Sheet

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.

One of the biggest drawbacks of relying on memory to recall knowledge is the unconscious tendency for the brain to use imagination to fill in gaps. This limitation makes solely using memory as a WOK to be quite unreliable, but History is able to overcome this imperfection. When collecting information about past events, without actually being there historians can only rely on written or verbal recollections of an event (ex. eyewitnesses). While it’s difficult to judge a source for being reliable, if historians find several of these sources corroborating with each other (i.e. saying the same thing), they can piece together a (somewhat) accurate idea of what happened. However, while sources from the same party/standpoint can all say the same thing, it does not necessarily mean that their idea of what happened is accurate, because of the next drawback of memory – the unremovable subjectivity. History can accept this imperfection because understanding and analyzing different point of views is actually of value – it’s important to be able to view the opinions from different parties from an objective standpoint. For example, opposing parties in a war will probably retell the same battles in different ways, each showing bias towards their own side. The difficulty is for historians to be able to pick apart what was fact and what was opinion.

Imagination works closely with creativity especially in the realm of science, building upon knowledge to come up with new theories, ideas, and technologies. The danger in using imagination is that it is highly unreliable, and may lead to misconceptions – without any other WOKs working with imagination, it is quite a bad source of knowledge. For the natural sciences, scientists constantly come up with new theories that may be false, but are used as a basis point to be built upon for newer, valid theories to be created.  In cases like how the atomic structure was created, imagination was invauable -how else would scientists in the past know what was going on inside an atom without actually being able to see it? Later on, Aristotle’s theories were changed as new experiments and evidence was found. Scientists continued to imagine new theories, but used technology to back up their reasoning. Similarly, in business, without using imagination no new innovations could really be made – the newest, most unbelievable gadgets were once just ideas in someone’s head.

TOK #6: Language

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

From the initial approach, I thought that there were several terms and restrictions that needed to be defined in this claim. Firstly, is all language vague and ambiguous? With “language” being a broad term in and of itself, it’s probably not fair to claim that all language is vague, as the statement implies. The next thing that caught my attention was the use of the word “always” – a strongly definitive term that disproves of any anomalies or exceptions. I think that the ambiguity of a language is not always a limitation for the production of knowledge, and not all languages are ambiguous.

An example of a language that is vague yet produces knowledge is music. It has often been said that music is a language and so is other forms of art that express thoughts, ideas, emotions without the restrictions of words. Music is in the ear of the beholder, in that everyone hears the same piece of music differently, and is entitled to their own opinions on the piece. Due to the unavoidable subjectivity of sense perception, a message that is conveyed through music can be received in various ways. This broadness in the interpretation of this language is not necessarily a limitation, as the use of creativity leads to the possibilities of several unique opinions. If everything was well defined and certain, then the whole beauty of the art form is lost – in art, the production of knowledge is enhanced by the lack of constrictions. Thus, music is a type of language that goes against the statement.

Not all languages are vague and ambiguous, and this can be clearly seen from the area of knowledge that is math. As a language, math is straightforward and precise, leaving pretty much no room for doubt. The specificity of math is why it is a language that can be understood by people from opposite sides of the world (as long as each has the necessary skills). In this case, the explicit quality of math is what allows the production of knowledge – it’s a very logic and reason based way of knowing, where specific numerical answers are required



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.

I agree with this claim, as logical arguments do not necessarily equate to a correct, or true assertion. Deductive reasoning is based upon the assumption that the first general statement is correct – so if you were given false information from the beginning, no matter how coherent or sensible the rest of your deductions are, they are all wrong because the original source (premise) of the information was invalid. While the reasoning may make sense, it can be entirely wrong. This claim highlights a weakness of relying on logic as a source of knowledge – that rational arguments can hide logical fallacies.

This claim can be applied to mathematical equations, the majority of which consists of taking several steps in order to calculate a final answer. For a specific example, in finding the midpoint of a parabola from standard equation form a certain approach would be to first determine the x-intercepts, and then from those values find the average (which is the midpoint). If you made a mistake in the first part and got incorrect x-intercepts, then found the midpoint from those values, then your answer would be wrong. Say that you decided to show the second part of your calculations to someone else (the step from x-intc to midpoint) –  they’d agree that the calculations are right. The midpoint of those values was found, but those values were not the x-intercepts of the given equation. While the deductive reasoning for that step was valid and logical, the end result was wrong because it was calculated from incorrect values.

Inductive reasoning can also be applied to this claim, especially applicable to the natural/human sciences. In any experiment, a hypothesis is formed, data is collected, analyzed, and then a conclusion or finding can be reached. Say that the researcher completes this entire process, but did not know that that the data was compromised by some outside factor. The analysis and the conclusions reached would all be logically sound, but entirely inaccurate as it was based upon invalid data. Not everything that makes sense is true.

TOK #4: Emotion

The sciences are all about using reason to understand the world, there is no place for emotion in science.

At first glance, I would agree with this statement – in such a reason based area of knowledge, emotions would only bring subjectivity into the mix. In the case of conducting experiments, scientists should try their best to not hope towards achieving a certain result, or conclusion. If they embark with a mindset to reach an outcome, then the entire reliability of the findings is compromised, as the scientist may have (subconsciously or not) influenced the results. For example, a famous case of confirmation bias in science is the “discovery” of N-rays. In the 19th century, a series of breakthroughs had occurred from major European nations.During that time period, national pride was a big deal. Scientific discoveries largely contributed to a nation’s “status” or reputation. Roentgen from Germany had just discovered X-rays, Maxwell from UK had formulated the theory of electromagnetic radiation. France was not famous for any recent scientific breakthroughs, at least until Blondot announced his discovery of N-rays. It quickly gained international interest, and many researchers tried to replicate the effects. Some remained unconvinced, and an American scientist visited the lab, where he secretly removed the prism that supposedly generated N-rays. After the source was removed, the French scientists still claimed to see the presence of N-rays. It was suggested that the entire discovery was a “purely subjective phenomenon” – an example of experimenter bias, as Blondot’s overwhelming desire to find a major breakthrough lead to false results.

On the other hand, the definition of “science” varies, as the field is broad and widespread. Sciences could refer to social sciences (economics, politics, geography), medical science, psychological science, and much more. In these cases, there are definitely exceptions where emotion is a necessary factor. For example, (ideal) doctors who work directly with patients should have a great deal of empathy in order to sympathize with different people’s situations. Especially in cases where a patient is diagnosed with a serious medical condition, a good doctor should be able to deliver the bad news in a gentle manner. Another branch of science is psychology, where people study the patterns of thinking as well as how emotions work.

Lastly, passion is a very important emotion for science. If scientists didn’t feel passion towards their work, then what is already accepted to be true will stay that way – unquestioned, with no one having the desire to challenge already established theories. The problem with that is that science is an ever-changing area of knowledge, what is accepted to be factually correct may be overthrown or refined by the next day. Every good scientist should to some extent, have passion to be excited and driven about their work. WIthout these emotions, the advancement of science would definetely be hindered.

In conclusion, I feel that while emotional bias is unwanted in the interference of scientific investigations, it is too impossible to say that there is absolutely no place for emotion in science  because of the aforementioned cases .

IB Retreat Reflection

Over the course of two days, the IB retreat was an enriching experience where we were introduced to new concepts, ideas, and revelations while still enjoying ourselves with friends. It was a great way to start off the school year and prepare us for the challenging two years of the diploma program ahead!

During the first day, we went to Crossroads to experience a poverty simulation. We were put into groups and was told that our goal was to make and sell paper bags, collecting enough money to buy food and rent at the end of every simulated day. There were unexpected obstacles – the buyers weren’t always fair, and sometimes wouldn’t accept the bags if they didn’t feel like it. What struck me was how desperate everyone became – the atmosphere turned hectic and everyone was working in a frenzy, every group for themselves. A scene that I still remember vividly is when many groups surrounded the buyer pleading him to take our paper bags, only for him to collect all of them and then turn around while throwing a few paper notes behind him. The result was a free for all grab at the paper on the ground, and once again I was reminded of how desperate we students became in a matter of a few minutes. As the rounds progressed, more decisions had to be made – do we attend the health care session, and lose a worker, or give away valuables in exchange for food and rent? While we chose without hesitation to give away our shoes and phones for the “game”, in reality people are actually considering giving away their organs in the hope of making some extra cash. While we wouldn’t hesitate to give a hug when the buyers asked, women around the world are giving up their bodies to landlords to keep her family alive for another day. It was disturbing to think about how easy it was for us to make those decisions, and how blissfully unaware I was of these problems that those in poverty had to face. At the end of the day, the most important point us international students took away was that any small action towards helping people in need means a lot. If everyone kept up the negative mindset that one person can’t really make any noticeable difference, then nothing would ever be changed.

On the second day, following our house groups we attended a variety of seminars. One of my favourites was one where we got the opportunity to talk to and ask questions of a CDNIS alumni, who had completed their IB journey. It was very useful for me to be able to ask questions freely on any topic that I was stressed or worried about and receive advice. One key piece of advice was that as students, we really need to take time off for ourselves. While it may seem reasonable to quit extracurricular activities to make time for more studying, she recommended that we continue with our normal routines, especially during exam period. The breathing room away from school work is very important, and by doing other activities we can take a pause, to release tension, stress, and to live a more balanced lifestyle. Other than this session, we were also introduced to the expectations for CAS, EE, and personal statements. These experiences helped to spur me on to think more about (and take action for) my future, leaving with a better mindset for tackling the challenges ahead.


TOK #3 – Sense Perception

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

Sense perception is selective, heavily influenced by external factors, and largely limited by our biological makeup. Despite these drawbacks, there are some instances where knowledge gained from our senses is not completely unreliable.

An example would be in the arts. Rather than being unreliable, every individual’s unique way of analyzing the input from their sense perception is what distinguishes everyone apart. For example, in music artists must rely on their senses to hear a piece and form their own judgment. In this area, the common problems with senses perception is not as applicable – perhaps the different interpretations as a result of influence from emotions/ideas is what makes music so captivating. The inability to separate emotion from sense perception is a detriment, for most of the time – for example when someone’s feeling insecure, they may get the false perception of everyone staring at them. The idea that we can hear different emotions being played on an instrument is a highly subjective skill that is only possible because of our ability of sense perception. Artists constantly need to rely on their senses to guide them in expressing their thoughts through music, and without our imperfect perceptual system, music wouldn’t be as significant to civilization as it is now.

Following on with the theme of music, our biological makeup means that some people’s sense perception is more accurate than others. Some people are born with perfect pitch, a phenomenon where individuals can identify a note by hearing it and can tell whether it was too flat or sharp. Following the class discussion, I wondered if the C note I heard was the same as the C notes other people hear (in the same way as how two people can look at one object and see different colors). The presence of those with perfect pitch and tuners tell us that we are hearing the same pitch. However, to the large majority of the population, our hearing abilities are not reliable in identifying note pitches.


TOK #2 – Intro to WOKs

ake a) Outline the role of 1 WOK in 1 AOK in the production of knowledge.
b)  Knowing that WOKs are double-edged swords: they are sources of knowledge and are also fallible, how do any disciplines in the AOK you chose above guard against the weaknesses of the WOK you chose?

History is an area of knowledge that primarily relies on memory, as the act of passing down information from generation to generation is how we can know about the past. Rather than memory being a production of knowledge, it is a process that recalls then transmits knowledge which was produced previously. Memory is also reliant on other WOKs, such as sense perception and language. For example, sense perception is how eyewitness accounts are created, producing valuable primary sources of information through the witnessing/experience of a historical event. Language is used to reconstruct memories of the past in a way that others can also understand, through diaries, letters, interviews, and books to name a few. 

Memories are an unreliable way of knowing, as they can be faulty and highly influenced by subjectivity. First-hand recounts will always in some way be subjective, as it is selective and interpretative in nature. There can be mistakes in remembering, misaccounts and imagined pasts. Memory can also be passed down through cave drawings, records, or books. It may be difficult to tell when a memory is reliable. History can attempt to guard against this weakness through compiling a collection of recounts from several different sources to see if a large majority agrees, and get a somewhat more accurate recount of past events. As a part of history is also understanding the sides/views that different parties take on a certain event, the idea of there being a correct or exact portrayal of the past is questionable. This unavoidable bias is both a pro and a con of this WOK, because contrasting opinions is an interesting aspect to explore.