About this site

This is a site where I post articles, videos, and various resources relevant to a Theory of Knowledge teacher or student. You can find handouts, activities, and day to day plans on the resources for the TOK class page.

You can follow my day to day lessons with my Year 1s here.

The folder linked above lists the daily lessons chronologically. For the individual articles and resources linked below, there is no particular order but you can search by relevant Area of Knowledge or Way of Knowing by navigating the tabs above.

This site is currently configured for the “old” TOK course whose last assessment is 2021. Here is what I have gathered about the new course.

Please contact me by email if you have any questions.

TOKTopics[at]gmail.com

 

Netflix Documentary: The Social Dilemma…and related articles

Here are a couple of posts around the theme of Knowledge and Technology. Netflix has recently put out a documentary called “The Social Dilemma” (trailer linked below). It touches upon some commonly discussed themes around the dangers of communications technologies and social media. 

What’s interesting is that despite what people agree are problematic outcomes, there are disagreements among root causes. 

This is just a great line from a NYTimes Article

The trouble with the internet, Mr. Williams says, is that it rewards extremes. Say you’re driving down the road and see a car crash. Of course you look. Everyone looks. The internet interprets behavior like this to mean everyone is asking for car crashes, so it tries to supply them. 

from: ‘The Internet Is Broken’: @ev Is Trying to Salvage It

 

From the “Social Dilemma Fails to Tackle the Real Issues in Tech”, which takes a critical view of the argument put forward in The Social Dilemma:

Focusing instead on how existing inequalities intersect with technology would have opened up space for a different and more productive conversation. These inequalities actually influence the design choices that the film so heavily focuses on—more specifically, who gets to make these choices.

https://slate.com/technology/2020/09/social-dilemma-netflix-technology.html

From “The Risk Makers: Viral hate, election interference, and hacked accounts: inside the tech industry’s decades-long failure to reckon with risk”

The internet’s “condition of harm” and its direct relation to risk is structural. The tech industry — from venture capitalists to engineers to creative visionaries — is known for its strike-it-rich Wild West individualistic ethos, swaggering risk-taking, and persistent homogeneity. Some of this may be a direct result of the industry’s whiteness and maleness. For more than two decades, studies have found that a specific subset of men, in the U.S. mostly white, with higher status and a strong belief in individual efficacy, are prone to accept new technologies with greater alacrity while minimizing their potential threats — a phenomenon researchers have called the “white-male effect,” a form of cognition that protects status. In the words of one study, the findings expose “a host of new practical and moral challenges for reconciling the rational regulation of risk with democratic decision making.”

https://onezero.medium.com/the-risk-makers-720093d41f01

 

“What is ‘truth’ in Economics?”

From pages 154-155 of Frank Knight’s 1940 review essay titled “‘What Is Truth’ in Economics?” as this essay is reprinted in Knight’s 1956 collection, On the History and Method of Economics:

Economics and other social sciences deal with knowledge and truth of a different category from that of the natural sciences, truth which is related to sense observation – and ultimately even to logic – in a very different way from that arrived at by the methodology of natural science. But it is still knowledge about reality.

The fact that economists, with relatively rare exception, cannot conduct controlled laboratory experiments which allow a focus on the behavior of a small handful of variables does not render the knowledge arrived at by economic scholarship – observation, research, and reasoning – unscientific…

To fancy that one can gain an adequate understanding of the workings of the economy merely by carefully observing and measuring the relatively few objective pieces of quantified data that are typically available to economic researchers – “the” unemployment rate, “the” four-digit concentration ratio of this and that industry, “the” Gini coefficient for this and that country…is foolish. All such observable empirical facts are the results of vast and complex plan formation and modification and human interactions. Observable facts about the economy have no meaning on their own, and they are not – or ought not to be – the subject-matter of economics.

From Cafe Hayek 9/22/2020

How “Indigenous Ways of Knowing” Works In Venezuela

The Bari belief in partible paternity may be functional, but it is not any closer to truth than the stork theory of conception. Some philosophers with pragmatist inclinations might believe that truths ought to be defined in terms of utility. By that standard, if a particular belief is useful for the Bari, then it is true. But, that is sloppy thinking. A statement is true if and only if it corresponds with facts.

The Bari belief is clearly false, and for that very reason, it cannot be called “knowledge.” This also applies to the wide array of beliefs that in North American academia, are beginning to be honored as “indigenous ways of knowing.” The word “knowledge” has a very specific philosophical definition…

 

https://newdiscourses.com/2020/08/how-indigenous-ways-knowing-works-venezuela/?

How do we know that math is real, and who came up with it in the first place?

Around 300 B.C., the Greek mathematician Euclid famously tried to construct the principles of geometry starting with axioms—basic truths that are taken as too fundamental to prove. He then asked what conclusions must follow. This is how a mathematical theory is built, and logic tells us that a theory has to be true whenever the axioms are true.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-viral-video-asks-a-deep-question-11599757497?mod=e2fb&fbclid=IwAR2HxVH1be67zjo_q-4VjV_2s-HHx4m3kvAKW9i8CNajrka2hilor15fzro

Here is another article that responded to the same video:

https://theconversation.com/is-mathematics-real-a-viral-tiktok-video-raises-a-legitimate-question-with-exciting-answers-145244

And one more:

This TikTok User Asked If Numbers Are Real, And Accidentally Started 2020’s Biggest Argument

AI ethics groups are repeating one of society’s classic mistakes

Too many councils and advisory boards still consist mostly of people based in Europe or the United States.

International organizations and corporations are racing to develop global guidelines for the ethical use of artificial intelligence. Declarations, manifestos, and recommendations are flooding the internet. But these efforts will be futile if they fail to account for the cultural and regional contexts in which AI operates…

This work is not easy or straightforward. “Fairness,” “privacy,” and “bias” mean different things (pdf) in different places. People also have disparate expectations of these concepts depending on their own political, social, and economic realities. The challenges and risks posed by AI also differ depending on one’s locale.

https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/09/14/1008323/ai-ethics-representation-artificial-intelligence-opinion/?truid=e0dd2cbe984961ceccec29c613c6f06f&utm_source=the_download&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=the_download.unpaid.engagement&utm_term=non-subs&utm_content=09-14-2020

Facebook is out of control. If it were a country it would be North Korea

This is a company that facilitated an attack on a US election by a foreign power, that live-streamed a massacre then broadcast it to millions around the world, and helped incite a genocide.

I’ll say that again. It helped incite a genocide. A United Nations report says the use of Facebook played a “determining role” in inciting hate and violence against Myanmar’s Rohingya, which has seen tens of thousands die and hundreds of thousands flee for their lives.

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/jul/05/facebook-is-out-of-control-if-it-were-a-country-it-would-be-north-korea

The evolution of psychiatry

Psychiatric therapies have never been atheoretical – psychiatrists have always justified their treatments with some school of thought: Freudian psychodynamic theories placed blaPsychiatric therapies have never been atheoretical – psychiatrists have always justified their treatments with some school of thought: Freudian psychodynamic theories placed blame on early childhood and subconscious urges; behaviourism justified the application of pain to try and train people out of wrongthink; and more recently, chemical imbalance theories were used to advertise pharmaceuticals, despite the narrative of simple dopamine and serotonin dysfunctions having been long dismissed in academic circles…Psychiatry today can be considered a discipline in crisis, surviving only because psychological and pharmaceutical treatments are effective for some people, some of the time, and so we still need them…

In 1973, after gay rights protestors had stormed an APA meeting…the APA called a vote to reconsider homosexuality’s status as a mental disorder. By a 58% majority, it was struck off.

Voting to decide whether a condition is a disease is not the sign of a mature science, yet to this day consensus alone is the deciding factor of whether a mind is deemed disorderly…

Nevertheless, this reference to evolutionary function is the only way to define function by an objective biological process rather than relying solely on subjective norms and cultural values – or indeed a vote.

https://www.worksinprogress.co/issue/the-evolution-of-psychiatry/

 

The man who built a spyware empire says it’s time to come out of the shadows

The business he leads, NSO Group, is the world’s most notorious spyware company. It’s at the center of a booming international industry in which high-tech firms find software vulnerabilities, develop exploits, and sell malware to governments. The Israeli-headquartered company has been linked to high-profile incidents including the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and spying against politicians in Spain…

We’ve gone full circle, arriving back in a thick tangle of secrecy. Money is flowing, abuses keep happening, and the hacking tools are proliferating: no one disputes that.

But who is accountable when brutal authoritarians get their hands on cutting-edge spyware to use against opponents? An already shadowy world is getting darker, and answers are becoming harder to come by.

 

When Choosing What To Believe, People Often Choose Morality Over Hard Evidence

What happens when moral beliefs collide with documented evidence? For many people, it means doubling down on whichever compliments their worldview.

The authors offer two models for this system of rationalization. In the first model, moral concerns shift the correct criteria for making judgmentsfor instance, by lowering the amount of hard evidence deemed sufficient to justify a particular belief. “Morality changes how much evidence [people] consider to be required to hold [a particular] belief in an evidentially-sound way,” the authors write.

Citizens need to know numbers

The episode demonstrates both the power and weakness of statistics: they can be used to amplify an entire worldview, and yet they often do not stand up to scrutiny. This is why statistical literacy is so important – in an age in which data plays an ever-more prominent role in society, the ability to spot ways in which numbers can be misused, and to be able to deconstruct claims based on statistics, should be a standard civic skill.

Statistics are not cold hard facts – as Nate Silver writes in The Signal and the Noise (2012): ‘The numbers have no way of speaking for themselves. We speak for them. We imbue them with meaning.’ Not only has someone used extensive judgment in choosing what to measure, how to define crucial ideas, and to analyse them, but the manner in which they are communicated can utterly change their emotional impact.

https://aeon.co/essays/good-citizenship-depends-on-basic-statistical-literacy