November 14, 2011
A few weeks ago in TOK we watched The Fog of War, an American Film directed by Robert McNamara. R. McNamara was educated at Berkely and Harvard who took part in the statistical analysis for the improvement of the bombing strategy in WWII, a high-level executive at Ford and served as Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and Johnson during the Vietnam War.
This film in short reminded me of the famous quote by Winston Churchil.
“History is written by the victors”
The film wasn’t an extended interview with McNamara but rather a culmination of edited interviews with him, TV news excerpts, news reports, still photos of the past with taped meetings playing in the background, footage of the bombing in WWII and air attacks in Vietnam and excerpts of recorded phone conversations. Furthermore it repetitively showed shots of reports, headlines, data in which the camera focused on specific words.
In all honesty, I think this film as made for McNamara to convince the masses of his innocence. It lacked authenticity because of the copious amount of editing and even during his interviews, his words did not seem to reach my heart.
He often mentioned
We see what we want to believe
I think through the film he tried to show what he wanted us to believe. The focuses on certain words throughout the film appealed to our senses as it was highlighted. Furthermore, the short excerpts of the interviews, phone calls and meetings was never fully played thus, we were only capable of understanding a little part of the situation. Also the footage from the wars appealed to our emotions as it provoked pathos and seeing McNamara in the same situation also provoked empathy. I think this was very much to his convenience.
Many times, he contradicted himself. Before when he worked as the Secretary of Defense he assisted the mass murder that was committed by the US. Now however, he claims that he is a pacifist. His actions and words do not correspond. Of course, people can change (or can they? this is off topic so I will hold off for now). However, he definitely made a mistake when he mentioned his friend who committed suicide after realizing the mistakes that he has made as we, the audience was more or less forced to compare him and McNamara. I think the fact that McNamara is still alive shows lack of determination on his part. (Although committing suicide does not help anyone…)
McNamara is definitely a victor in this situation. He is wealthy and he is capable of expressing his opinions and what is more convey that to the whole public (through his film). This film is merely one of the sides of a story with many more sides and to believe every single word, phrase, story from this film, in my opinion is wrong. Even in history, although it was in IGCSE, we were taught to appreciate multiple sources. One source can appear to be more convincing because when sources appeals to us emotionally it is difficult to forget. However, we must remember that when looking back to the past it is important to know many perspectives, whether or not it appeals to our senses or not.
September 14, 2011
Justice with Michael Sanders -basically this is a series of a harvard university professors lecture on morality and ethics based on certain situations he introduces to his students, in which they will be forced to make difficult decisions.
I watched the first episode: “What’s the right thing to do?”
In this episode, Professor Sanders introduces the following question:
If you had to choose between 1) killing one person and saving five others and 2) do nothing, even though you knew that five people would die right before your eyes if you did nothing -what would you do?
This is the situation that forces us to make that situation:
You have control over a trolley and notice that there are 5 workers working on end of the track. You try to stop but you can’t because your brakes are broken. Then you notice that there is a side track where one worker is working. You can either do nothing and kill the 5 workers or you can steer to the side and kill one. What would you do.
Obviously this is a very difficult decision to make, because either decision leads to death of others. First of all, this is the thing that came to my mind while i was watching the video… what would i do?
It took me a while to think about this because i truly believe no one in this world has the right to decide the fate of others. however, in this situation obviously you are forced to choose who will be dying and who will be saved. Personally, i think i would have to turn to side tracks… the fewer the victims the better, so i agree with the professor that ‘better to kill one so that 5 can live’. He called this moral reasoning. where you think of the consequences and choose the least worse option.
However, i thought… what if the one person on the side track was someone i knew. for example, my father or my mother, my friends or my boyfriend? then how can i sacrifice their lives to save five strangers. so although, the professor’s decision seems to be derived more through reasoning, when people related to you are involved, i feel that biases arise and your moral decisions can be heavily affected by emotion.
Furthermore, I would also like to comment on the way Professor Sanders phrases the question. He is saying that whatever decision we make, we would be killing the workers or the one person.
killing to me implies that the decision you make about the train is made in order to end someone’s life. However, in this situation, the decision you make, although will end up with you ending certain lives, is ultimately decided upon the fact that you are trying to save someone.
A complimentary question he proposed after this situation was:
‘You’re on the bridge over looking a trolley that is about to hit 5 workers. (again the brakes don’t work.) Then you notice a fat man standing next to you who could potentionally stop the trolley car and save the lives of the five workers. Would you push the man and kill him to save the other 5?’
Although the situation seems somewhat similar, this is completely different. First of all, pushing someone over a bridge is illegal. It is murder and although you may be saving 5 people and the fat man may be a stranger, you don’t have the right to use the fat man as an object to save others. although in the situation before, you are deliberately turning or not turning the train to save however many people it is that you think should be saved, here you would be using a complete stranger who is no involved in the situation to save the five workers. here, if you choose to push that fat person, the word ‘kill’ will fit perfectly.
So by not pushing the person, the five people die in front of your eyes and the guilt will be caused by the fact that you could not do anything. However, in such a situation, no one can do anything. the train is unstoppable and five workers are on the route unfortunately. I think that the guilt caused by the fact that you killed someone to save five people will be more severe, just because the decision made is comes from the fact that you decided to put that person’s life to end for your own sake to stop feeling guilty about the deaths of five people. this is, in a way selfish and very wrong, in my opinion. therefore, this situation is also highly affected by emotion.
These hard questions and decisions that Professor Sanders directs at us hugely impacts the student and the spectators. It tests your morals, which define you as a person. Therefore, studying about ethics and moral decisions, i think we will be able to come up with our own standards corresponding to those of others and will choose the least worse option that will be the closest to the safe-zone of your own standards.
September 6, 2011
Our version of the TOK diagram was a building. On one side is the HOW to know (ways of knowing) and the other side the WHAT we want to know (areas of knowledge). The person (the knower) is on the elevator which allows him/her to travel to any floor which represent an aspect in the HOW and the WHAT. This diminishes the boundaries created in the original diagram because elevators allow you to go to any floor through the buttons. The roof is a paradise because once the knower goes through her/his pursuit for knowledge through the building he/she will hopefully reach contentment.
May 30, 2011
Mr. McCrory gave us a presentation about Art.
I’m not an art student.. and I feel like art is (to be honest) a little bit over-rated. Art students will say ANYTHING is art. I mean, people praise toilet seats! This is crazy.. I get it that it’s original and nobody has ever done it before.. so its interesting, but the artist didn’t even draw stuff on it! Just a toilet seat on it’s own in an exhibition is a toilet seat misplaced.
But then, it was thought provoking. Can anything be art? I mean all the posters we see, the clothes we wear, the furniture at my house, the light posts… etc, everything we SEE is designed by somebody. So all the normal everyday objects are actually art? See this is where it gets really.. TOKish.
Also, art can be very interesting when we start talking about artists such as Leornardo Da Vinci. He was a GENIOUS! The golden ratio, the secret messages in his paintings… etc. He put Art and Maths together to create beautiful art work. He proved to the world that Art can be developed and made into something more beautiful with the help of Mathematic knowledge. This is just crazy.
When we think of art, I think we all think of paintings, sculptures, and etc. But it doesn’t always have to be visual. It can also be music, and theatre. I wish Mr. McCrory would have touched upon those areas of Art as well.
Overall, his presentation was though provoking and interesting and it definitely raised new questions about Art.
May 26, 2011
Science is an area of Knowledge.
Mr. Mejia came to our combined TOK class and gave us a presentation about science.
He began the presentation by providing us with various questions:
Is science universal?
- Is it a…
a product of the ‘west’?
a product of pre-Socratic rationalism?
What is an experimental science?
- What constitutes an experiment?
- What is the connection between theory and experiment?
- Are all natural sciences experimental?
Is science just the accumulation of knowledge?
- How do we acquire scientific knowledge?
- Is all knowledge scientific?
- How do scientists acquire knowledge?
Most of these were left unanswered, which in my opinion was very clever because it forces us to think about it. The basic questions brought about many more questions.. I think this shows what ‘thinking’ is. We start off with the general BIG question and seek into our minds for the specifics of the question and combine those answers in order to find the correct answer for the BIG question.
Now, the second part of his presentation was about ‘theories’. Theory is a word used often in science, which contrasts to the word ‘theorem’ in mathematics. (We went through the difference in Mr. Brown’s presentation!!) So Mr. Mejia taught us how theories relate to science:
Do scientists prove theories?
- Scientists do not prove theories
- Scientists CREATE myths.
- Scientist try to show the world that a theory is WRONG
Are all theories equally defendable?
- No this would lead to an anarchy of knowledge and would render truth a meaningless concept
- Anyone’s opinion will be valued equally
The essential difference between a myth and a scientific theory
- “This theory is so bad it is not even wrong” –Wolfgang Pauli
If a theory passes the test, does it prove the theory right?
- No, however, we gain more confidence in the theory.
- The more tests it passes, the more confidence we have in the theory
- A theory passing the test shows that the theory is not wrong thus far
“The rationality of a theory lies in the fact that we choose it because it is better than its predecessors; because it can be put to more severe tests; because it may have passed them; and because it may approach near to the truth.” –Sir Karl Popper
What kind of tests do we use on theories?
- A theory should be able to explain
- A theory should be able to generalize
- A theory should be able to predict
- A theory should be tested by experiment
- A theory should connect
Elegance and simplicity of a theory can make science beautiful. (counter argument to opinions that art and science are at the completely other side of the spectrum)
If a theory fails a test…
- It does not always mean that the theory is WRONG; it can be that the experiment was wrong or went wrong.
- Is there a better theory at hand???
Is not easy for scientists to let their brainchildren go…
Lecturer: Richard Dawkins (Student proved him wrong during his lecturer.)
“Scientist test theories, but not to falsify them but to put them on trial.” –Arne Næss
Fundamentals of science
- Skepticism (a person who doubts the truth of religious doctrines of who takes cynical views –Oxford Dictionary)
- The Greek word from which skeptic is derived means ‘to look out’ or ‘to inquire’
- Not accepting the truth a-priori
- Critical Rationalism
- The world is understood by reason à belief (Science vs. Religion)
- Critical pluralism
- Everybody’s opinion should be taken into account (Science vs. Ethics)
Do all disciplines follow the same principles?
- Other sciences?
- History, psychology, poli-sci, geography, economics, library science… etc.
These are more adapted to their own disciplines
Astrology, psychoanalysis, Marxism, creationism, UFOlogy, astrology
They tend to fake the sciences
How does society affect science?
- Galileo [his beliefs conflicted with the Catholic church]
- Monkey trials [teaching of evolution is censored, evolution: still a very controversial theory]
- Stalinism [Supported physics + chemistry, Biology was hindered, especially eugenics]
- 30 German scientist against Einstein [Einstein was Jewish: conflict during Nazi Germany]
How do scientists affect society?
Creation of military technology
Destruction of natural resources
Scientist playing ‘god’
Should scientist be held accountable?
Should we have public scrutiny of scientific findings?
The final part of his lecture involved us. He brought a black box in which he poured red liquid in it and then from the other side, a different colored liquid came out. When he first showed it to us, a blue colored liquid came out. At this point, he made us draw up a theory of what might be happening inside. After that, he made us ‘test’ our theories. It was pretty fun, but it was a bit annoying that he never told us what was actually happening inside the box…
But this teaches us one thing, that we cannot KNOW every little thing… TOK much?
May 20, 2011
This is kind of a random post because it is not related to class but anyways…
The picture on the right shows what I saw today through the telescope… YUP it’s Saturn.
It was actually pretty amazing. A planet so far away from us that looks like a simple shining dot in the sky with the naked eye is so beautiful through the telescope.
The image was really small as you can see in the photo but it was just so surreal that I was able to see a planet so clearly from where I was and all we used was a telescope. It wasn’t one of those professional, super expensive ones.. just a telescope of a friend’s.
So now I guess you’re wondering, how does this relate to TOK. Well there are actually many aspects!
First of all… before seeing this image, whatever William (owner of the telescope) told me about space and the planets, didn’t really interest me, to be honest. However, once I saw this image, everything he told me became interesting all of a sudden. Now I know that the ring around Saturn is about 1km wide, that the Earth rotates anti-clockwise, that Saturn is yellow because of sulfur… etc. So it would be interesting to investigate how the level of interest affects how much you take in information. Also how do we decide what is interesting and what isn’t? In this case, ‘Saturn’ became interesting to me because I was fascinated by the fact that I could see it.
Secondly… Now that I have actually seen Saturn, its existence seems more real to me. It’s not that I was denying its existence before, but now that I have actually seen it with my own eyes, ‘Saturn’ became not just a planet that I have once studied about but an actual planet that orbits the sun with the earth. So, I feel that empiricism convinces us of the truth in ‘facts’ that are presented to us.
Finally… While I was watching Saturn, it kept on moving out of my focus, always shifting to the right. So I had to fix the view of the telescope frequently. From just this fact, I was able to figure out that the Earth is turning anti-clockwise. This is reasoning.
YUP. that’s it.. I thought it was kind of interesting and also, I was just truly amazed by the fact that I actually saw Saturn so I wanted to share it.. the photo below is a zoomed in version of the image above.
May 9, 2011
Today Mr. Howe (History teacher at YIS, Psych teacher elsewhere) came to our TOK class and gave us a lecture about psychology.
Psychology is classified as a field in human science as an area of knowledge. His presentation was pretty interesting, and in my opinion the most interesting out of the other presentations. The reason why I think so is probably because psychology is something different, as it is not part of our curriculum and psychology is mysterious, as there is never just ONE answer. (Also, I have always been fascinated about psychology).
Today we learnt about (excuse my terminology, Mr. Howe did not allow us to take notes) Nature vs. Nurture, Operant Response, Cognitive Memorization, and Gender Schema.
Nature vs. Nurture
This is basically one of the biggest questions in psychology. Whether we are naturally the way we are since birth, or we grow into something else. According to Mr. Howe, we are all born with some kind of tendency to be good at something (sports, music, art, language… etc), however the way in which we actually DO get better depends on how we are raised, what
we do during growth and etc: the ‘nurture’.
I think a prime example of this concept would be the question: are we born evil or do we become evil? This is portrayed in Golding’s “Lord of the Flies”. The sypnosis basically demonstrates that ‘evil’ is not natural, but nurtured by the person’s environment. Dr. Phillip Zimbardo does an extensive study about this field in his book/presentation “The Lucifer Effect”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYre8SlOO_k
‘Operant response is a behavior that is modifiable by its consequences.’ What this means is that, a specific action of a person can be conditioned to occur more often by reinforcement or less frequently by punishment.
We did an experiment in class today where I was actually one of the ‘rats’. Daichi and I went outside while the others decided on a certain action that they wanted us to execute. Once they have decided, we went back into the room and they were not allowed to say anything regarding the action. All they did was either cheer if we were ‘HOT’ and boo when we were ‘COLD’. Yet we did not even know of this rule when we went in, so at first we were confused as they kept on booing. At one point, when daichi hit me in the arm, they began to cheer. So we thought that we were supposed to fight each other, however once we began hitting each other, they began to boo. Then, I touched his chest, and once again the class began to cheer… but this was too inappropriate so we did something else. This process continued until at one point we held hands and began going around in a circle. At this point the class was cheering very loud so we knew we were close, finally we figured out that we were supposed to ‘slow dance’, and the experiment ended.
Therefore, the cheering was the reinforcement in which we knew we had to ‘continue’ the action or an action similar to what we were doing while the class cheered and the booing was the punishment in which we knew that our action was ‘wrong’.
Mr. Howe spoke of this very little as far as I remember, but this was related to language. He said that, we can recall a memory much better and with more detail if the question about the memory is asked in the language in which the memory is encoded in.
For example, say someone’s first language is in spanish and their memories of elementary school is encoded in spanish. They will be able to recall their memory with more detail if the question is asked in spanish, not in english.
Gender schema from what I understood is the individual determination of what your classified gender should be like. This gender schema is affected by which gender you were born in and the society and how they perceive masculinity and femininity.
According to Mr. Howe, the male gender schema is more rigid than the female gender schema. That is why more men are homophobic and more proud of their sexuality. On the other hand, girls are more liberal and they accept any form of femininity, where the schema ranges from pink fluffy girly girls to sporty athletic boyish tomboys.
Classical respond is also a behavior that can be conditioned. A famous Russian physiologist: Ivan Pavlov conducted an experiments on dogs. He noticed that dogs salivated before their food came. Soon he found out that the salivation came from the previous actions of the humans bringing food, for example, their footsteps. Thus, he decided to pair ‘feeding time’ with a completely neutral action, the ‘bell’. He rang the bell before he fed the dog. Soon, the dog learnt that his food was coming after the ‘bell’ and thus, he began salivating after he heard the bell.
We did an experiment for this as well. Where Lucian was a ‘rat’. Mr. Howe blindfolded him and sat him down in front of the class. He suddenly dropped the book and made Lucian ‘react’. Now, after the first drop, he told Lucian to ‘relax’ before every drop, making the word ‘relax’ a signal for the drop after a while. Thus, classical response can link two completely different words/actions and mislead people.
Moreover, this concept is used by advertising companies. They often link ‘pretty girls’ with their products so the consumers will be reminded of the positive image depicted by the ‘pretty girls’ when seeing their product. This also works negatively, where whiny babies are linked with condoms.
May 4, 2011
My presentation was about the concept of ‘misleading information’.
To what extent are we capable of accepting facts that may be misleading.
My linking questions:
- To what extent is it possible to overcome vagueness and ambiguity in language?
- To what extent does emotion overpower your logic?
- How can you justify the authority misleading the public?
- How does religion affect what you believe?
The examples I used were:
Creationism vs Evolution and Propaganda
Obviously, my presentation lacked ‘personal connection’… I’m not religious and i don’t have interest in politics. So it was a bad decision for a topic. For my next presentation, I hope to find something more interesting and though-provoking for me, in other words, something that is more related to myself.
May 4, 2011
Mathematicians have the concept of rigorous proof, which leads to knowing something with complete certainty. Consider the extent to which complete certainty might be achievable in mathematics and at least one other area of knowledge.
I decided to compare Mathematics and Ethics.
- Complete certainty is derived from proofs
- Proofs derive from axioms, which are not proven, they are just self-evident
- Complete certainty is difficult to achieve
- Consistency can lead to complete certainty
- Moral certainty
- Individual decision can lead to complete certainty
- Globally, it is more difficult
May 4, 2011
new knowledge can be wrong in two ways.
1) wrong as in theoretically wrong (disproven)
2) wrong as in ethically wrong
We concluded that the ethicality of the knowledge is determined by its application. for example, Einstein’s discovery of E = mc^2, in itself was not necessarily wrong, however the way in which it was used as an atomic bomb was unethical as it killed 200 000 people with just two bombs. Yet, we can argue that Einstein’s request to the US to create the atomic bomb before the Germans was, for him, and maybe for many others, an ethical decision, as the German’s could have used the atomic bomb in a more horrific method, killing more people, being lead by Hitler.