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The Egg of Columbus


 

Yellow flower
How do you balance an egg on its pointed side without any extra help? Many problems appear easy, once you know how to solve them. Often hidden assumptions prevent us from solving a particular problem, however.

Here in front of me, I’ve got a boiled egg. And the last 10 minutes I’ve been trying to balance the egg on its corner. No. Eggs don’t have corners, of course. I’ve tried to balance the egg on its pointed end. I think I don’t have to tell you that this is an impossible feat, the egg is always rolling over to its side. It’s possible to spin the egg, but after a few seconds the egg will roll again to its side, so this is not a good solution.

This egg balancing problem is not a new problem. It has been around for about 500 years now. Christoper Columbus, remember he was the one who discovered America in 1492, posed the very same problem to several Spanish nobles. And even 500 years ago they could not solve the problem. But Christoper Columbus knew a solution, one which is surprisingly simple. He took the egg and he smashed it on the table. And the egg was standing.
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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.

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Of Arts and Ethics


 

Wooden wheel
I’ll be exploring the relationship between arts and ethics. Is it necessary for art to go against moral and ethical conventions in order to be considered “good” art? Where are the limits to the freedom of expression of art? In this episode I’ll be asking questions, and not give answers!

In this episode, I’ll be exploring the relationship between arts and ethics. Some time ago, I read an interesting news report, one which links the two areas of knowledge Arts and Ethics. It’s about an unusual art exhibition. The artist placed 10 kitchen blenders on a long table. The blenders have sharp rotating knives and are normally used to smash vegetables or fruit. But in this case, each one of the blenders contained a live little gold fish swimming in some water. The visitors of the museum now had the choice of turning on the blenders – or not. The visitor, essentially, became the “rulers of the decision on life and death”, too use the words of the artist. According to news reports, some visitors indeed turned on the blenders, killing the fish, making fish soup. Animal rights activists complained, of course, and the police started to get involved as well.

When I first read about this art exhibition, I had to ask myself several questions.

  • Must art provoke? Is it necessary for good art to provoke emotions and a discussion?
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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.
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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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TOK Essay FAQ


 

Sea shells
This post addresses several Questions in relation to the TOK Essay.

Disclaimer: The following advice is my personal advice to my students and not approved by the IB (or by anybody else). TOK examiners may have a different opinion on these issues. Use the information at your own risk.

1. Can I use the word “I” in the essay? Can I write the essay in first person?
The TOK essay is a personal essay. Yes, you can use the word “I”, but you do not have to. As a matter of fact, this may even be useful if you give personal examples. Still, do not forget that the TOK essay is a formal essay. Do make sure that the essay uses a formal language nevertheless.

2. Do I have to do research? Do I need a bibliography?
No, research is not required according to the criteria, but it may be helpful. The TOK Essay is not a research essay, it is an argumentative essay. You will not get points for only summarizing other people’s ideas. You get points for analysis and for understanding of these ideas. If you do use quotes or other people’s ideas, then you must give a proper bibliography, of course (as a matter of fact, points will be taken off otherwise).
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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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On Relativism and Constructivism


 

Breaking waves
In this episode I’m going to explain the differences between the philosophical concepts of relativism and constructivism.

A student recently wrote me an email and asked me about the similarities and differences between relativism and constructivism. I already started to write an email to answer this question when I reconsidered and decided to take this opportunity to make another podcast episode out of it.

Now before I start off, I just want to say that we have to be a bit careful that we are not getting too theoretical about this. And if a “real” expert on this topic discovers some inaccuracies in my explanation, I kindly request some forgiveness….. I have not studied this particular aspect in much detail myself.
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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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TOK Essay Checklist


 

Door with a #1 sign
Here is a short checklist of points to watch out for when writing the TOK Essay.

Here is a short checklist of points to watch out for when writing the TOK Essay. Over the years I have proof-read uncountable essays, and there are often similar issues that appear. Many of these issues are addressed below:

  • Introduction: You must give it a clear introduction that allows the reader to understand in which direction the essay is going. The introduction must also contain your thesis statement (“knowledge issue”). What is the problem of knowledge? You must answer the essay title and not modify it. As there are several ways to answer the essay title, you must make it clear in the introduction which way you are going.
  • Terms: You must define the terms of the essay question, but do not simply give dictionary definitions! How do you interpret these terms? If you do use dictionary definitions, then you must critically reflect on them to get points.
  • Structure: The essay must be divided into separate paragraphs, each paragraph must relate to the point that you make. The paragraphs answer should directly answer your thesis and the title question.
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The good life is inspired by love and guided by knowledge.

- Bertrand Russell -