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The following episodes relate to the 'Science' Category



Excellent TOK Videos (German)


Arch
Here is a recommendation of several 15 minute videos (in German) with direct TOK relevancy.

I would like to recommend the following videos for the TOK course. They are in German, and if you happen to understand this language, then I think you should watch them, because they directly address TOK topics, especially relating to the Area of Knowledge Science.

The videos (each one 15 min. long) can be seen online, but it is not possible to download them. You may need to install RealPlayer. The show alpha-Centauri was produced by the Bayrischer Rundfunk (Bavarian Broadcasting) and was also aired on television. The host of the show, Prof. Harald Lesch, is an Astrophysicist and Philosopher and works at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU). Continue reading »

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Reflections on a TOK Presentation that made me think


Old castle
A few days ago one of my students had her TOK presentation which sparked a thoughtful classroom discussion that filled nearly two periods. For me, as a TOK teacher, both the presentation and the follow-up discussion were a great enjoyment: both reflected the “TOK spirit” of a balanced insightful exploration of the topic.

It’s TOK presentation time. And this presentation started a thoughtful discussion in the classroom. The presentation analyzed different ethical approaches relating to the controversial Body Worlds Exhibition. There are several Youtube Videos online if you want to inform yourself a bit more (search for “Body Worlds”). As a matter of fact, I do recommend you to have a look at the exhibition’s Web site so that you know what I’m talking about. The exhibition shows preserved real human bodies, presented in an artistic way to the public. The corpses are “plastinated”. In this process the body liquids and fats are replaced by plastic. This is a way of preserving the body, and it is important to understand that they do not show plastic models. The specimens are displayed in a way that makes them appear very alive, engaged in various activities, such as sports. Continue reading »

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Of Science, Math and Beauty


Colorful Houses
In this post I’m pondering on the relationship between math and beauty. Can math be beautiful as well? And what is beauty in the first place?

I recently read an article about the mathematics of beauty. Researchers found out that beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, and that beauty can indeed be quantified. If you want to read the article, here is a link.

Now, if it is possible to describe what beauty is using mathematical formulas, maybe it is also possible to look at the issue the other way around. Can math itself be considered beautiful or ugly? I did find an answer to this question by the English mathematician G. H. Hardy (1877-1947):
Continue reading »

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What is Logical Positivism?


Office Windows
Logical Positivism was one of the most important schools of philosophy of science in the beginning 20th century. The “Vienna Circle”, a group of scientists, mathematicians and philosophers, contributed greatly in promoting this philosophical view.

When I was younger, in my teens, I started to discover my love for the sciences. I was fascinated by Biology and Physics and I think I must have driven my teachers crazy with my constant request for “proofs” and evidence. I liked science so much that I even included chemical formulas in my literature essays. Instead of saying “The water waves are gently moving in the sunset.” I’d write “Waves made of H2O are gently moving in the solar spectrum.” My English teacher then responded, “Don’t forget about the H2SO4 (sulfuric acid) which is dissolved as well!”. An then I didn’t feel as bad about the bad mark on the test anymore… Now I am teacher myself and occasionally I meet some students who remind me very much of myself. They are constantly confronting me with the words “How do you know that?” – always eager for empirical, scientific evidence. They want to see things before they believe it. They want formulas. They want cause and effect relationships. Without having been aware of it, I myself as well as my students, were followers of a certain philosophical school. We were “Positivists”. Continue reading »

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What is the Age of Enlightenment?


 

Fossils
Enlightenment is the courage to use your own brain. Sapre Aude! Dare to Know!

Enlightenment is the courage to use your own brain. It is the courage to think on your own.

  • What do you do if you want to make your lifestyle healthier? You talk to a doctor. He or she will advise you on what food to eat.
  • You have a financial issue? You talk to the bank. They will advise you how to invest your money.
  • Or maybe you have an emotional problem? Go to a psychologist! He/she will fix it.
  • You have problems making a moral or ethical decision? You talk to a religious authority or a philosopher.
  • You have problems settling a disagreement with somebody? What do you do? You talk to a lawyer, of course.
  • You don’t know what to study at university? You ask your parents or your friends. They know it better.
  • You don’t know the answer to question on an exam? You have look at what the person sitting next to you is writing.

Continue reading »

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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.
Continue reading »

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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?
Continue reading »

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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.
Continue reading »

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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!
Continue reading »

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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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These days people seek knowledge, not wisdom. Knowledge is of the past, wisdom is of the future.

- Vernon Cooper -
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