Which Area of Knowledge Do You Find more Compelling and Why? Maths is obviously a field of knowledge where we are encouraged to feel certain about what we learn. I accept that if the axioms are correct then any solution derived from them must also be correct. I am not very good at maths but even I have occasionally experienced the feeling of suddenly "understanding" a proof. I feel compelled to accept that it must be true. An example was when we were asked to prove that an ODD + ODD number must add up to an EVEN number. I knew it was true (from personal experience, inductive reasoning) but I could not prove it. However, when we were shown two different proofs I recognised that I could now say that I really did know that two odd numbers added together make an even number. The proof made complete sense to me and I had a feeling of complete certainty that it was true.
(So here we have an area of knowledge that can compel me to believe totally that what is claimed is true, even if, more often than not, I cannot follow the proof and therefore have to have faith in the honesty of those who can.) I can see how many people would find maths to be a very compelling area of knowledge but as yet most of the proofs I have to take on trust.
For most of the TOK course we have discussed how we can ever be sure of the truth of what we claim to know. I have begun to realise that the important thing is to understand that all areas of knowledge have some problems attached to them but if we are aware of the limitations we can avoid many mistakes.
I had always thought that a scientific fact was certainly true. Now I realise that scientists should always be questioning their interpretations of how the world works and that although many laws of nature seem to be certain (that water boils at 100 degrees centigrade at sea level, for example) other descriptions of how our world works are just hypotheses or just models that do not really mirror reality (ways of explaining to us the structure of an atom, for example).
When we look at the history of science we see that many "certainties" of the past are no longer accepted. Obviously, we cannot think that we have got rid of all the errors and our generation is unique in that we know all the answers. However, science is open-minded and offers a very successful method to understanding reality, or at least a part of it.
We looked at an account of Mendel's work on green peas on a CD Rom and compared it to the account in ---------. If it is true, as many modern investigator's claim, that Mendel's carefully recorded observations are too good to be true then it makes me wonder what exactly convinced him that his idea about how genetics work was true. In other words, what compelled him to disregard all those observations that didn't fit in with his theory? It makes me think that many great discoveries are made from hunches, obstinate refusal to accept what seemed obvious to everyone else. That often scientists are compelled to believe something and then chose the evidence to support their theory.
It seems to me that some areas of knowledge deal with simpler situations. When I read in Man is the Measure (Abel) that a physicist can measure objectively the forces that make an object move but a social scientist must bring his own subjective feelings to understand why a man flees from an angry mob. When we discussed ethical problems or whether an altruistic act is actually possible I began to see that it is virtually impossible to be certain about which point of view is correct. However, this doesn't mean that science is superior but that it deals with less complicated problems. The important lesson to learn seems to be that when we discuss human behaviour we must be very careful not to be misled by our prejudices and preconceptions. We must always be determined to re-examine our beliefs and question exactly why we hold certain beliefs. I had always felt that our age was wiser, more knowledgeable and advanced than all others before. I had never really questioned why this should be so. It just seemed obvious. Now, after considering the methods that historians use to study periods in the past I have to face the fact that all ages fall into the same self-centred feeling. If we judge others by our standards then they will probably seem inferior to us but every age must be judged by their own standards and to do that means that we must make a serious effort to understand their point of view. Seeing the other point of view is the first and essential step to feeling surer about our final considered opinion about the truth of anything. I could say that I feel compelled to believe something only when I have had the chance to look at the situation from various points of view.
TOK has opened my eyes to the dangers of relying on common-sense and personal experience (seeing is believing) - in fact, any argument that does not critically question its own assumptions or insist upon clear evidence to back it up. My common-sense (despite what my parents keep telling me) is not a reliable tool to use to understand reality - my common-sense tells me that 20 Kilos falls a lot faster than 1 kilo and twin brothers remain the same age throughout life however fast they travel through the universe. What we experience personally can be very convincing but it can only fit into inductive reasoning which clearly cannot guarantee anything.
The idea of knowledge through revelation or through some form of intuition - of being one with the universe and looking inward for the truth about the meaning of life - is very difficult to assess. The whole basis of judging knowledge by evidence, verifying hypotheses through careful observation and logical, causal reasoning assumes that it is possible to step away from reality and observe objectively and that this type of observing gives good reliable results. If our rational approach is not a suitable tool for understanding nature then obviously such an approach is doomed to failure. Many people and many eastern religions stress the importance of looking inward to find the ultimate truth or that revelation from God is the only meaningful knowledge. Personally I do not find this very compelling although if I have learned anything from TOK I will try to keep an open mind.
History of Knowledge. Why was Adam punished for eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge? Why was Prometheus forbidden to take the knowledge of fire and metallurgy down to man and then punished so cruelly for doing so? These two myths suggest man has never felt totally at ease with knowledge - it is something foreign to his nature, more suitable for the gods.
In English we studied the Romantic poets and were introduced to the idea that they felt that the new scientific method was destroying one sort of truth replacing it with another. That Newton had destroyed the beauty of the rainbow by putting it in a prism. That whatever could be grasped by the imagination must be true. Obviously such claims cannot be verified or tested.