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The following episodes relate to the 'Areas of Knowledge' Category



Is the Word “scientific” Overused?


 

Tropical sunset
In this edition I want to give a little warning. Sometimes the words “science” or “scientific” are used to increase the value of certain claims, even if the use of these terms is not justified.

There are many claims out there that give the appearance of being scientific but they are not. Sometimes claims are shrouded in fancy language and sophisticated vocabulary – very serious sounding stuff. “It’s gotta be true, it sounds so scientific!” The media is full with claims that sound scientific but are not.
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What are Some Problems with Conspiracy Theories?


 

Pigeon
There are several problems with conspiracy theories, which are outlined in this episode.

I want to start this episode with a little example. Imagine that you are walking in the forest and that you see a burning tree. I give you two possible explanations:

  • Somebody dropped a burning cigarette and accidentally set the tree on fire.
  • The government tested a secret weapon, which accidentally set the tree on fire.

Which one of these two explanations is the better one, and why is it better? Many would probably say that the first explanation is the more reasonable one, but why is it more reasonable? The second explanation could be correct as well! Maybe there is a secret weapons program, and we don’t know about it! Could it be that the first explanation, with somebody dropping a burning cigarette, is too “normal” to be true? There just has to be more to it, right?
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On the Purpose of Life


 

Parrot
Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) and the purpose of life.

After a few months of idleness, I think it’s about time to add another short episode. Well, what am I going to talk about today? Today I’d like to talk about the purpose of life. Now, I know that this does not sound like one of the classical Theory of Knowledge topics, but who cares….. Why not do something different for a change. Why this topic?

A few weeks before the end of the school year a student came up to me and asked me, seriously, “What is the purpose of life”? We had a short conversation on the issue and I decided to pick this topic up during the last TOK lesson of the school year. I passed on this question to the rest of the class. Some of them looked back at me with surprised big eyes. In my view, one of the purposes of TOK is to make students ask questions that they normally would not ask, and by the response that I got many of my students really never asked themselves this question before, in that sense I reached my objective.
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Six Jokes in Seven Minutes


 

Pumpkins
Here is a collection of six (hopefully intelligent) jokes that count to my favorites. I don’t know if you consider them funny or not, in any case they should give you something to think as well.

This time, it is something different! Do you want to listen to a few jokes? Here is a collection of six (hopefully intelligent) jokes that count to my favorites. I don’t know if you consider them funny or not, in any case they should give you something to think as well.

Transcript:

OK, this time I’m going to try out something different, I want to tell you a few jokes. Yes, you heard correctly.

Now there is a small problem to that – I think that these jokes are funny, but maybe you don’t think that they are. Well….. tough luck for me. I any case I can’t year you not laughing, so it is not embarrassing for me if you don’t laugh.
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How Biased are History Books? Are They?


 

Vitamin C under the microscope
Are history books telling us the full story of the past? Can they tell us the full story at all? Why is it that so many history books focus on the “big players”, the kings and rulers, the big events, big politics? What about the “normal” people?

I recently read an interesting poem by the German poet and playwright Berthold Brecht – a poem which got me thinking. You see, this is one of the TOK illnesses, you start to see TOK everywhere, and also in poetry.
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What are Formal Systems?


 
Pink Flowers
Introduced here: the MIU puzzle as an example of a formal system. A formal system is composed of axioms, to which rules of inference are applied to produce theorems to which the rules can be applied again. Confused? Try to MIU puzzle yourself – it’s fun!

The MU Puzzle is an example of a formal system. The objective of the MU Puzzle is to try to reach the string MU starting from MI, using only these four rules:

  • Rule 1: xI ? xIU. If there is an I at the end of the string of letters, then you can add a U. For example if your string is MI then you can change it into MIU. You can only add a U if the last letter is an I.
  • Rule 2: Mx ? Mxx. You can double any string that follows the M. So if your string is MIU then you can double the IU after the M. You will then get MIUIU. We have doubled the IU.
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What is Determinism?


 

Lake, tree, hut and fence in spring - a classic
Determinism refers to the idea that the future is not up to chance, the future can be predicted. Determinists claim that if you had sufficient knowledge of the current situation, then you could in theory predict the behavior of a system into the future. Certain systems are indeed deterministic, many others are not.

In this edition we will have a look at the concept of determinism. In a deterministic system the initial conditions of the system determine the future behavior of the system. The behavior of both a falling apple and a rolling die depend on the initial conditions. Even the same laws of physics apply, namely classical mechanics. Both falling apple and the rolling dice are deterministic systems. But I am able to calculate the landing position of a falling apple, but I am not able to calculate the result of a die roll. Why? How are these two examples different? Why does the die seem to behave according to chance, but not a falling apple? A rolling die is chaotic and it is unpredictable, even though it is deterministic. Even if we know all the physical laws and the starting conditions of a system, it is still not possible to predict the future behavior of chaotic systems.
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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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Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.

- Plato -