Recent Posts by Theo Dombrowski

Pareidolia in Your Pocket

Virtually everyone who carries a cellphone with a vibrating mode in that handy pocket regularly experiences "phantom phone vibrations"(estimates are as high as 90%). Also called, a little frivolously, "ring-xiety", "hypovibrochondria", and "fauxcellarm", the phenomenon has been the subject of considerable speculation for several years.  Apparently, too, the syndrome is at its highest amongst the younger crowd–including IB students--and amongst those who have an emotional connection with the use of their cell phone. It is a striking reminder that pareidolia—the inclination ...

“Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change”

  On September 21, more than half a million people in 166 countries  (approximately 400, 000 in the New York flagship march alone) marched to demand that world leaders act to tackle climate change. Their demand was directed in large part to the leaders converging today for an emergency UN Climate Summit. Will their huge numbers have any effect on the attitudes--or beliefs--of those who have not already accepted the conclusions of 97% of the world's climate scientists? According to the author ...

TOK and The User’s Guide to Economics

Interviewed in the TOK Course Companion, economist Susan McDade (working with the United Nations) comments that "most economic theories" used in the West are based on "assumptions can be pointed out to be weak or not always true” and argues for a complex series of values that are typically ignored by economists. Economics, as we recognize in TOK, is very much a human science – inescapably human in its study and interpretation of aspects of human behaviour. In this ...

opinions on the child: raising knowledge questions through literature

On a day when TOK students seem hard to rouse to even a mild level of vehement engagement, they will almost certainly perk up when asked questions like the following: 1. If a parent coddles a child every time it cries will the child become manipulative, crying to get whatever it wants? 2. Should a child ever see its parents naked? 3. Should a baby be breast fed or bottle fed? Chances are, of course, you will discover some strong opinions. The tone of ...

TOK and mathematics: how not to be wrong?

"As it develops, mathematics moves both towards the abstractions of the mind, and also towards the connection with the world."  Thus begins the section on "Pure and Applied Mathematics" in the ToK Course Companion.  (p. 357).  The nature of the relationship between the abstract nature of mathematics and "the world" is one of several issues examined in a new book on mathematics by University of Wisconsin mathematician (and "maths journalist") Jordan Ellenberg.  In How Not to Be Wrong: The Power ...

TOK and Counterfactual History

"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Ho hum? Heard this before? In the first place, this famous "quotation" is apparently a distortion--albeit a slight distortion--from George Santayana's actual assertion, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. " More to the point, the statement raises important questions about the nature of historical knowledge. In fact, it doesn't really matter what a particular philosopher actually said (or even whether, as is often claimed, ...

Fashion, symbolism and perspectives

In the student lobe of these blogs, I’ve just posted on a recent controversy that could engage students in TOK discussions on symbolic representation and cultural perspectives.  What are they “saying” as they wear certain symbols, such as the tee-shirt design that juxtaposed a skull and triangles that could be interpreted as a star of David?  The department store H&M made a public apology as it withdrew the tee-shirt.  I won’t repeat here what I wrote for students, but you may ...

Fashion statements and what they “mean”

It's a weekend morning.  You're going shopping. You will be seen. You look at various T shirts in your cupboard.  Which one should you choose?. Be careful. After all, you are making a "fashion statement."  We're all familiar with the notion of the "fashion statement"--presumably that your deliberate choice of clothing is "saying" something--about your personality, your mood, your values, your self-image. Feeling in one of those moods, you reach for a T shirt with a skull design--the kind of thing that ...

Skepticism – a million dollar challenge

By Saturday, March 15, 2014 No tags 0

Many a TOK teacher has added spice to a discussion on the scientific method by tossing in, for critique, pseudoscientific knowledge claims made by astrologists, psychics, ghost hunters and the like.  Guaranteed to ratchet up interest even further is the fact that a cool million dollars awaits anyone who can demonstrate "paranormal" ability.  For many years, former magician James Randi has been working to counter the claims of pseudoscience and to spread scientific skepticism (or "scepticism" if you use British ...

Belief and bombs

Hardly a day goes by in the approach to the Sochi Winter Olympics without yet another news story about terrorist threat. The assumption underlying these stories seems to be that the terrorists in question are so strong in their unshakeable beliefs that they are willing to kill themselves and hundreds of others to achieve their political and/or religious goals.  (In this case, it seems to be both religious and political if there really are links to the Buynaksk terrorist group.) For ...

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