“What’s your favourite number?”

Mathematician Alex Bellos was intensely irritated by the question. Was that person in the audience mocking him, or possibly ridiculing what he’d been saying about mathematics, to ask such a bizarre and irrelevant question at the end of his lecture? The audience member had asked him, as others had done before, “What’s your favourite number?” In this podcast conversation from Radiolab, Bellos describes his abrupt shift of perspective as he realizes that the questioner is asking in sincerity. Quickly, he discovers ...

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 ...

Sensationalizing and distorting science: the media and “shared knowledge”

“Researchers Shocked To Discover Hidden DNA Code”!  Anyone even casually interested in the ever expanding pool of shared scientific knowledge is likely perk up at such a headline.  It takes a lot more than casual interest, of course, to keep track of scientific discoveries:  dozens of credible websites (let alone scientific journals) are crammed with articles about yet more discoveries about the human genome—or about yet another exoplanet  or species of bizarre beetle. Barraged with far more information than we ...

Quebec Charter of Values in TOK: perspectives, symbolism, fallacies

[youtuber youtube='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTlDcDYf-ao'] Today protesters march in the streets of Montreal, opposing the newly announced Quebec Charter of Values.  The government of the Canadian province of Quebec has declared that certain values define their society, which has often had a fractious relationship with the rest of Canada.  Among those values – valeurs québécois -- are ones that would broadly capture agreement from Canadians, such as the religious neutrality of the state.  It is the application of this principle that has provoked outrage ...