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Archive for December, 2007



What are Thought Experiments?


 

Truck
It is not always necessary to conduct real-life experiments to reach a valid scientific conclusion. Thought experiments may in some cases also suffice. In this edition I will illustrate you a thought experiment from physics: In a vacuum, all objects accelerate the same way and they both have the same velocity. Heavy objects will not fall faster. But how can we test this? We do not have a large vacuum chamber to test this. A thought experiment can be useful in this case.

In this edition of TOK-Talk I will explain you what a thought experiment is. Is it always necessary to conduct real-life experimets to reach a valid scientific conclusion? Listen to find out!
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Why are Simpler Explanations Usually Better?


 

Old door and hinge
The purpose of science is to make things simpler and not more complicated. Scientists strive to discover theories and explanations that simplify the view of our world and not complicate them. According to Wiliam of Ockham (c. 1288 – c. 1347), if there are competing explanations for a phenomenon, the simpler explanation is to be preferred. The simpler explanation is often the correct one. It can be summarized as “With all other things being equal the simpler solution is the better one.” Simpler explanations rely on fewer assumptions which can not be proven or disproven.

In this edition of TOK-Talk I would like to explore the difference between a good and a bad explanation. Why are simpler explanations usually the better ones? Listen to find out! Continue reading »

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What is the Scientific Method?


 

Window with flowers
If we want to reach an objective description of our world, then we need to reduce these subjective influences. We need standardized procedures in gaining further knowledge of our world. The scientific method is such a standardized procedure in gaining further knowledge in the natural sciences.

One of the goals of science is to explain various phenomena of the natural world in an objective and unbiased manner. Different people perceive the world differently, due to different educational and cultural backgrounds. For some people a glass of water is half full, for others it is half empty, and still for others it is just a glass of water. Different people perceive and interpret reality differently. If we want to reach an objective description of our world, then we need to reduce these subjective influences. We need standardized procedures in gaining further knowledge of our world. The scientific method is such a standardized procedure in gaining further knowledge in the natural sciences.
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What is Falsification?


 

Firewood
In this edition of TOK-TALK we will talk about Karl Poppers contributions to the philosophy of science. Sir Reimund Karl Popper is considered to be one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century, and of course it is difficult, if not impossible to summarize his contributions in a few minutes (or a few lines). Where should you draw the line between the sciences and the pseudosciences? What characterizes scientific theories? In this edition we will have a look at the falsification principle which offers an answer to these questions.

In this edition of TOKTalk I will talk about Karl Poppers contributions to the philosophy of science. What makes a theory scientific and what is the principle of falsification? Listen to find out! Continue reading »

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What is the Observer Effect?


 

Lonely tree
Every measurement changes the object that we want to measure. This is called the Observer Effect. When we stick a thermometer into a glass of water to measure its temperature, then the thermometer will change the temperature of the water as well. Similar effects can be observed when measuring voltage or current in electrical circuits. Also in the social sciences we have a similar problem: people will not behave naturally when they feel that they are observed.

In this edition of TOK-TALK we will explore if it is in principle possible to measure anything accurately. How does a measurement change the value of that what you want to measure? Listen to find out!

Here in front of me, I have a cup of hot water, and over here we have a thermometer. Let’s put the thermometer into the glass, we have to wait a bit for the temperature reading to adjust. For our listeners, it’s a digital thermometer with a metallic probe. You use similar thermometers to measure the inside temperature of a cake to check if it is finished baking. Continue reading »

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What are Ethical Dilemmas?


 

A bee on a flower
In this edition we will have a look at ethical dilemmas. What are they? What are some different opinions in making an ethical choice? There are several schools of thought in finding a solution to an ethical dilemma. The consequentialist school maintains that actions are either moral or immoral depending on the outcome (the consequence) of the action. An action is morally right, if it results in an increase in the overall happiness for the people. The deontological school states that the outcome of an action is irrelevant. It is the action itself that is moral or immoral. Lying, according to this school, is always wrong, regardless of the outcome. There are arguments for and against each one of these schools of thought.

In this edition we will have a look at ethical dilemmas. What are they? What are some different opinions in making an ethical choice? Listen to find out! Continue reading »

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What is the Mpemba Effect?


 

A pathway
In this edition I would like to explain why hot water freezes faster than cold water, when put into the freezer. It is a very counter-intuitive observation, it’s a paradox. This is called the Mpemba Effect. The effect is named according to Tanzanian high-school student Erasto B. Mpemba who re-discovered the effect while making ice-cream, back in 1963. The Mpemba Effect is a nice example how the change of one variable, the temperature, can have unexpected side effects. Most people assume that the difference between a hot glass of water and a cold glass of water is only the temperature. But this is not the case. Just by heating the water we are introducing a range of other variables that have an unexpected effect on the outcome.

In this edition of TOK-Talk I would like to explain why hot water freezes faster than cold water, when put into the freezer. How is this possible? Listen to find out! Continue reading »

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The first step towards knowledge is to know that we are ignorant.

- Richard Cecil -
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