Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Slips of the Ear

'Slips of the ear' are problems of perception (or 'auditory illusions') relating to how the brain misinterprets aural information. If something we hear doesn't really make much sense, the brain tries to give it meaning and this frequently leads to misunderstandings of what was meant to be conveyed. Here is a (humorous) example:

These problems are especially prevalent in people who are learning a foreign language and have not developed a sufficient vocabulary or level of language use to spot differences between words with similar sounds. Here is an interesting academic paper on this subject: Slips of the Ear

Kusumarasdyati (2006) 'I'm orangeful' or 'I'm already awful': slips of the ear performed by learners of English as a foreign language. In Peter Jeffery (Eds) Creative Dissent: Constructive Solutions (pp.1-9) Australian Association for Research in Education, Parramatta, Sydney, Australia.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

What is Consciousness?

Saturday, June 23, 2012


This is a really nice document produced by the website information is beautiful to show the different types of fallacies split into categories.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Planet of Snail

Planet of Snail is an award-winning documentary about Young-Chan, a South Korean blind and deaf man. It follows his loving relationship with his partner Soon-Ho and shows how he communicates and perceives the world around him through only the sense of touch. It is a modern parallel of the life of Helen Keller.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Autism, Empathy and Ethics

I posted a video recently in an attempt to show the link between ethics and empathy. If you define ethics along the lines of the practical application of morals in society (as we have in the class), then it follows that without some form of empathy (to understand the effect of your actions on others) you are unable to employ a true ethical code.

A common (mis)conception is that people with autism lack the ability to empathise. I'll admit to being guilty of thinking like this in the past. If this is true then it could be argued that autistic people lack the ability to be ethical. In her blog existence is wonderful, Anne Corwin (who has herself been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome) shows this is a fallacy, and that while autistic people perhaps have a different take on empathy, they cannot be catagorised as non-ethical. She makes the point that the act of labelling and categorising people is, in itself, very harmful.

This makes me think that coming up with a useful and usable definition of ethics is much more difficult than you might think. Incidentally, if you are interested in seeing the autism-spectrum quotient test that she refers to in the article, I have found a copy of it here.
Autism and Empathy

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Harvard System

For your essay, it is vitally important to reference properly. This will help you to organise your essay properly and also avoid any accusations of plagerism. There are a few recognised styles you can use, but I would suggest the Harvard System. This is most commonly used in scientific writing. De Montfort University in the UK has produced the guide I have attached below to help you to reference correctly using the Harvard System: Harvard System

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Elephant 'Art'

In the class we spoke about three possible criteria used to define what makes a piece of art (Richard van de Lagemaat, Theory of Knowledge for the IB Diploma, Cambridge University Press, 2005):
  • The intention of the artist 
  • The quality of the work
  • The response of the spectators 
If you accept these criteria (and of course each of them has inherent problems), it's not easy to argue that the painting shown in the video below is not a piece of art, and that the painter is not a real artist.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Morality in Animals

I've posted some ideas about this subject previously (in particular the thoughts of Richard Dawkins on the origin of morality). In this TED Talk Frans de Waal, professor of Primate Behaviour at the Emory University Psychology Department in Atlanta, Georgia (famous for their work with Chantek the orangutan), gives his views on the existence of moral behaviour in animals.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Child with Three Biological Parents?

Recent IVF research in the UK has focused on the possibility of tackling rare genetic disorders by creating embryos from DNA obtained from three separate individuals. With the treatment now a distinct possibility, attention has turned to the ethical implications. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, a UK-based think-tank which meets up to six times per year to discuss current issues has given it a potential green light. However, as with all cases of this type, opinion is divided, with many seeing it as a slippery slope towards the legalisation of 'designer babies'.

In the clip from the BBC Today Programme a parent who lost her baby to a mitochondrial disease discusses her hopes that she could receive the treatment to help her through another pregnancy. She is joined by two health professionals with very differing views on the matter.

3 Person IVF

Monday, June 11, 2012

Presentation Advice

I think different TOK teachers have slightly different ideas about what makes an excellent presentation. I've made a document below to give some of mine. I'd welcome any questions about this in the comments section, or any suggestions about how this document could be improved:
Giving a Good TOK Presentation

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Teaching Evolution in South Korea

You might think that the fight of creationists to limit the teaching of evolution in public schools is restricted to the United States. However, it emerged this week (as reported in the article from Nature, below) that the South Korean Government has instructed publishers to consider removing references to evolution in high-school biology textbooks.

I was surprised to read that a sizable minority of biology teachers in South Korea are sceptical of the theory of evolution by natural selection, believing that 'much of the scientific community doubts if evolution occurs'.
Creationism in South Korea

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Sistine Chapel

The Vatican has produced an interactive flash animation which allows you to take a virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Man Regrows Finger Using Pixie Dust

In 2008, an apparently astonishing science story appeared on news programmes around the world. Lee Spievak of Cincinnati, Ohio, lost the end of the middle finger of his right hand when it was sliced off by the propeller of a model aeroplane. Over a four week period his finger regrew. The 'miraculous' regrowth was attributed to the use of a powder developed by the biotech firm Acell, which Mr. Spievak has dubbed 'pixie dust'. This is how BBC News reported it:

The story received considerable criticism. On his bad science blog, Dr. Ben Goldacre pointed out that on the pictures broadcast by the BBC, Mr. Spievak's nail bed appears to be intact and, although the injury seems quite severe, it is by no means unusual for spontaneous healing to occur in cases like this. He quotes Simon Kay, professor of hand surgery at the University of Leeds, UK: “It looked to have been an ordinary fingertip injury with quite unremarkable healing. This is junk science.”

The graphics used to explain the healing process in the story appear to be misleading as they show virtually a whole finger regrowing, rather than the tip. Furthermore, it later transpired that the accident occurred in 2005, three years before, and Mr. Spievak's brother is, in fact, the founder of Acell (which did of course gain considerable positive publicity). No proper (double-blind) medical tests had been carried out at the time to determine the efficacy of the 'pixie dust' and there was no evidence it played any part in the healing process.

Ben Goldacre maintains that this is a prime case of a false science story being misreported by being assigned not to health or science correspondents (who would have been expected to recognise its flaws) but to non-specialist, generalist journalists. This is one of his great bug-bears and something you could argue is a major barrier to the public understanding of science.

To its credit, the BBC took some steps to retract the story, and allowed Goldacre to give an interview on its flagship radio news broadcast, The Today Programme:

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Using Statistics

Hans Rosling is professor of global health at Sweden's Karolinska Institute. He began his career as a physician, spending many years in Africa tracking a rare paralytic disease (konzo) and discovering its cause: hunger and badly processed cassava. He co-founded Medecins sans Frontiers (Sweden), and has written a respected textbook (Global Health: An Introductory Textbook, Studentlitteratur AB, Sweden, 2006).

His work is grounded in solid statistics (often drawn from United Nations data), and he has developed interesting and innovative methods of displaying his data through which he is able to appeal even to the most hardened statistic-phobes. He is able to clearly show the importance of collecting and understanding real data (in the mathematical sense) in order to understand the current situation and properly plan for the future.

Much of his current work focuses on the developing world, which he shows is no longer worlds away from the west. In this TED talk he shows that the First and Third Worlds are on the same trajectory toward health, prosperity and longer life, and many countries are moving towards this goal twice as quickly as the west once did. He feels the obstacles to true understanding of the situation are merely problems of perception and our preconceived ideas.