Natural Assumptions?

Arguably, every piece of knowledge that has ever been produced has been based on an assumption or a set of assumptions. No knowledge can be produced in a vacuum, which means that the search for knowledge always has a starting point that will generally provide the kind of questions being asked as well as the parameters of that search. One of the most important tasks for TOK students is to identify the assumptions which underpin the production of knowledge in ...

Scientific Morality?

Can Science provide a better basis for morality than other forms of human knowledge such as religion, psychology or philosophy? A look at the history of moral philosophy shows that by and large every significant contribution to ethics has come primarily from philosophers or theologians. It is not until the late twentieth/early twenty first century that some scientists have proposed that science can be a better basis for ethics, in other words that the answer to the question “how can ...

Electrocution and Marriage Rates: Correlation or Cause?

The comic charts on the website Spurious Correlations are already familiar to many TOK teachers. But if you’ve missed this resource till now, you won’t want to miss it any longer. Did you know that the number of people who died by becoming tangled in their bedsheets correlates with the total revenue generated by skiing facilities in the US – or that the number who were electrocuted by power lines correlates with the marriage rate in Alabama? Would you infer that one ...

“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 ...

breakthrough in science: gravitational waves

In my last post, I was captivated by the immediate impact on Andrei Linde himself of the recent breakthrough in astronomy, as recorded while Chao-Lin Kuo announced the big news that his theory concerning the Big Bang and inflation of the universe had been significantly borne out with evidence.  I was most interested in the humanity of science, and the people behind a major breakthrough. But what does this breakthrough illustrate for TOK about the nature of science?  What does it ...

big bang, big smile: happy moment in sharing knowledge

In TOK, we speak of the natural sciences as shared knowledge -- as knowledge built collectively as scientists publish their work and others use it toward their own.  But rarely is scientific knowledge shared with quite such a personal touch as in this video.  In it, Chao-Lin Kuo of Stanford delivers the news to Stanford physicist Andrei Linde, proponent of the theory of cosmic inflation, that his team of astronomers has just found evidence in support of Linde's theory.  Their ...

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 ...

TOK dinner guest: Pigliucci on pseudoscience

“Indulging in a bit of pseudoscience in some instances may be relatively innocuous, but the problem is that doing so lowers your defenses against more dangerous delusions that are based on similar confusions and fallacies.”  So write Massimo Pigliucci and Maarten Boudry in an article on the dangers of pseudoscience.  This article is a very good compact treatment of “the borderlines between genuine science and pseudoscience”, with attention to implications in our lives of what we accept in our minds. ...