One of the powers of Western science that has brought us so much understanding and benefit is this separation of the observer and the observed; to say that we could be rational and objective and empirically know the truth of the world. Absolutely, but there are lots of truths. I like to say that there are multiple ways of knowing, and we could benefit by engaging more of them. I do recognize the slippery-slope argument, because people have said to me, Does that mean that you think that creation science is valid science? No, I don’t, because it is not empirically validatable. But sometimes what we call conventional Western science is in fact scientism. Scientism being this notion that Western science is the only way to truth. It’s a powerful way to truth, but there are other ways, too. Traditional ecological knowledge, Indigenous science, is a more holistic way of knowing. In Western science, for often very good reasons, we separate our values and our knowledge. In Indigenous science, knowledge and values are always coupled. It’s an ethically driven science.
Why the greatest scientific experiment in history failed, and why that’s a great thing
For the last 60 years or so, science has been running an experiment on itself. The experimental design wasn’t great; there was no randomization and no control group. Nobody was in charge, exactly, and nobody was really taking consistent measurements. And yet it was the most massive experiment ever run, and it included every scientist on Earth.
That experiment failed. Humanity does not want to be a global hive mind. We are not rational Bayesian updaters who will eventually reach agreement; when we receive the same information, it tends to polarize us rather than unite us. Getting screamed at and insulted by people who disagree with you doesn’t take you out of your filter bubble — it makes you retreat back inside your bubble and reject the ideas of whoever is screaming at you. No one ever changed their mind from being dunked on; instead they all just doubled down and dunked harder. The hatred and toxicity of Twitter at times felt like the dying screams of human individuality, being crushed to death by the hive mind’s constant demands for us to agree with more people than we ever evolved to agree with.
Great podcast episode discussing how disasters can happen when we get the math wrong. This particular story is about unit conversions but is followed by a great conversation about the nature of math.
“A metre is longer than a yard. An ounce is heavier than a gram. We harmlessly mix them up sometimes, but a “unit conversion error” when you’re filling up the fuel tanks of an airliner can be fatal. Which is exactly what happened to Air Canada Flight 143.”
The episode itself is fascinating but the conversation with the author upon whose work this story was based is equally fascinating. Below is a quote from that conversation that explains some of the utility and dangers of math.
“The underlying issue is that as humans we’re not naturally good at mathematics…the human brain doesn’t do maths natively…because we have maths we can do so much more than our brains could do intuitively. We don’t have to make a building by eyeballing it and superoverengineering it, we can do the mathematics and figure out exactly what we need and how it is going to work. Using maths we can do far more than the human brain was ever designed to do. The cost, however, is that we can we are beyond our intuition and have to do the maths and do it very carefully.”
I have the link below queued to the section quoted above.
The original “Hamilton” score includes a number of quotations from American hip-hop songs. Most of them were cut from the German version because the translations made them unrecognizable…The original language is packed with American metaphors and idioms that just don’t translate. So the translators were given license to come up with their own turns of phrase.
This is a link and lesson based on the popular series Finding Your Roots hosted by Henry Louis Gates. This provides a really interesting look at the methods of history and a great opportunity to discuss its relevance on a personal level. Thanks to my colleague for sharing her work with me on this.
I focused on Questlove’s story rather than play the whole episode through.
We watched the intro, 11:15-16:30, and 40:45 until the end of Questlove’s portion
The story of the laptop, what was on it, how the story was dealt with (and blocked) has been around for almost two years now but still worth exploring in a TOK context with connections to several themes (Knower, Technology, Politics). How do our prior beliefs affect how we interpret new information? How do we decide whether a claim is credible? What responsibility do social media companies have to decide what is true? What are the consequences of so few companies having so much power over the spread of information?
I like this topic because it pushes my students to confront their own discomfort with the potential weaponization of the concept of fake news but in a direction that suits their politics. The twitter video at the bottom of Sam Harris, ironically, communicates what many people actually believe.
Here are a few of articles that explain the controversy:
This was from a recent conversation with Sam Harris, whom I normally have great respect for. His defense of wide ranging conspiracies to generate politically desirable outcomes is interesting. This is a good example of consequentialist ethics.
Most people prefer experts, of course, especially when it comes to health care. As a surgeon myself, I can hardly object to that tendency. But a problem arises when some of those experts exert outsized influence over the opinions of other experts and thereby establish an orthodoxy enforced by a priesthood. If anyone, expert or otherwise, questions the orthodoxy, they commit heresy. The result is groupthink, which undermines the scientific process.
Experts warn this is blurring the line between activism and vigilantism.
This new form of online activism is making some people do things they wouldn’t normally do, she adds, and many of those involved may not realize in the moment of their anger that this behavior is not only unethical but illegal.
“What is the difference between public shaming and vigilantism?” she asks. “And what’s the difference between ‘good’ vigilantism and ‘bad’ vigilantism?”
Fascinating reflections on the power of imagery to change our consciousness about ourselves.
“Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from outside, is available…a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.“ — Astronomer Fred Hoyle, 01948
“A photograph would do it — a color photograph from space of the earth,” Brand said. “There it would be for all to see, the earth complete, tiny, adrift, and no one would ever perceive things the same way.” -Stewart Brand
“Here we came all this way to the Moon, and yet the most significant thing we’re seeing is our own home planet, the Earth. “— Astronaut Bill Anders
“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.’” — Astronaut Edgar Mitchell