ToK Midterm

I. Quotes About Knowledge

“There are two ways to slide easily through life: believe everything, or to doubt everything; both ways save us from thinking.” –Alfred Korzybski

I agree with the idea and concept of this quote, that it is unwise to both believe everything you hear and to question every single thing and fail to believe anything. I think that I tend to favor towards skepticism, but I have realized that too much is a fault as well. For example, after reading this article about the uncertainty of knowledge, I posted on my blog about how while his ideas are sound and his concept intelligent, it’s practice is practically impossible. Doubting everything and believing that everything will be disproved is not something I necessarily agree with. However, I do take some issues with the wording of the quote and its implications.

Firstly, I don’t think that doubting everything or believing everything is an easy way to make it through life. Intellectually, perhaps, it may be less strenuous to fall to one extreme instead of thinking critically and distinguishing between what is credible and what is not. However, in actually practice, neither would be an easy way to live by any means. To believe everything would be to live in a constant state of fear and surprise: the world is ending in a few weeks, every conspiracy theory you have heard is true, and every product really is the best in the entire world and you must buy it RIGHT NOW. This can’t be sliding through life. And to doubt everything is difficult as well. You can’t trust anyone and doing anything is pointless because it may well be wrong. This is not an easy way to live either. The other issue I take is that the quote implies that doubt and blind belief are equally wrong, which I do not agree with. I think that a certain amount of doubt is healthy and necessary in life, whereas blind belief is nearly always something to be avoided.

II. Questions About Knowledge

Why does man have an insatiable need for information and a drive to “share”? Is it true to say “We think because we share” (a parody of Descartes’ “I think therefore I am”)?

Though we live in a world where everyone and their mother has a Facebook, an Instagram, a Youtube, a Twitter, a Tumblr, and more, it’s easy to assume that everyone wants to share everything about their lives with everyone. But I don’t think this is exactly true. It may be different for others, in fact, I know it is because I see people doing it, but I personally don’t see the appeal in sharing everything with a wide audience. Perhaps it’s just a facet of personality that hasn’t really been examined before, as the average person has never previously had the opportunity to post whatever they like so that millions have the potential to aspect it. In addition, maybe it’s easy to assume that everyone wants to share because the people who don’t aren’t telling us about it. Maybe it’s just a difference between introverts and extroverts, but I don’t believe we think because we share. I think the insatiable desire for knowledge and the insatiable drive to share are two very separate things that are connected, but in a much more complicated way.

As Knowing Knowledge puts it, “The pursuit of knowledge is ongoing. Unlike most desires, this desire is insatiable”. I believe that this thirst for information is a universally human trait that we all experience. It has been a propelling force in much of human innovation, a march that has undeniably been influenced by sharing. The video Where Good Ideas Come From speaks about this technological path forward and how much our increased interconnectedness has allowed us to make these innovations, as interconnectedness leads to the important sharing of ideas, which leads to the formation of new and better ideas. It is important to remember that sharing can be more than just updating your Facebook status. It can be taking some great idea you’ve had and that you’ve worked tirelessly on and displaying it for the world. It can be combining your hunch with someone else’s hunch and walking about with a fully formed idea. It can be very, very important. And in that regard, I think it’s more accurate to say “I think, therefore I share (which allows me to think in new and different ways, which I can then share, etc, etc)”.

III. Readings

Knowing Knowledge

“The pursuit of knowledge is ongoing. Unlike most desires, this desire is insatiable.” (pg 3)

I definitely agreed with this quote, that we, as humans, have this insatiable and ongoing desire of knowledge, that it is built into our species just as the desire for food, water, shelter, and companionship are. It is a sound answer, at least to me, when people question why we must experiment and research and create and discover things that may not actually have a practical application. Even if by understanding we cannot improve, we still wish to understand. I like the word choice of the author here- “insatiable”. We can cease to be hungry by eating. We can cease to be thirsting by drinking. But do we cease to be curious by learning? In fact, by learning, we simply open up more doors and more questions and perhaps even further our desire to learn.

“The power to speak exists for everyone. The power to be heard still pools. Who are the new oppressed? The oppressed in the digital divide: 1. Those without access to tools of global conversation. 2. Those without skills to contribute to global conversations.” (pg 64)

I think this quote is very out-of-touch, idealistic, and almost offensive with its blatant failure to acknowledge real oppression and problems in today’s world. The power to speak does not exist for everyone. Just because every suburban teenager in America can now take their webcam and post their thoughts to YouTube doesn’t mean that we all have this equal power to speak. There are places were the populace holds very little power. Where trying to exercise this apparently universal “power to speak” can have them killed. The standard for oppression has not suddenly changed and become everyone whose Wi-fi is down or who didn’t take a basic computer skills course.

How the Internet is Changing What We Think We Know

“My point here is that the superabundance of information devalues knowledge, because the means of solid knowledge are decidedly more difficult and less sexy than the Info Lite that it is so easy to find online.”

Never having really lived without the internet, I can’t say I’m extremely qualified to answer to this, but I don’t think that the laziness and lack of desire for solid knowledge is something that the internet invented. I think that there are people who will not search for solid knowledge know when they can have Info Lite, and they would not have searched for solid knowledge when it meant doing hours of research in the library. Isn’t it better that they at least have some level of knowledge now? In addition, while “true” knowledge may still be difficult to find, I still believe it is easy than it used to be, with this superabundance of information that we can sift through. For this reason, perhaps more people will take this time to find true knowledge. I can see some people ignoring deep knowledge for “Info Lite”, but it isn’t fair to make that assumption about all people.

“Well, I think many of us would actually trust an anonymous person more than we would trust our more eccentric acquaintances.”

I think that at some point, when the internet was newer, there was a tendency to accept it as an undisputed expert. The internet was an unknown, something new and technological and the people that were posting on it must know what they’re talking about. But as we have started using the internet more and more in our everyday lives, as we have realized that we can post absolutely whatever we want on the internet with little to no repercussions, other people can do the same as well. We have learned to be discerning in our acceptance of the facts we find on the internet. “If it’s on the internet, it must be true” is said sarcastically every time someone collects an unbelievable fact from the internet.

IV. Themed Playlists/Articles

Thinking

The main theme I took away from these videos and articles was the importance of the intersection between technology and thinking, and the way that this intersection grows or  changes as technology marches forward and thinking-well, it’s a little bit unclear what exactly thinking is doing. Articles like “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” fear that perhaps as technology goes forward, thinking must recede to maintain some sort of balance. That as our computers stores more and more information, our brains store less. We can’t sit down and read for long periods of time and think deeply; instead, we can only skim. I believe there is truth in this as it is something that I’ve noticed in myself. However, as the article “Google Is Not Making You Stupid” points out, perhaps this new internet age is just another step in our thinking process. I really liked the analogy of dog-earing a page. Because the writer does this, he doesn’t have to remember the otherwise useless fact of what page he is on. Is the same true for information we can simply just Google? Is that rote memorization know as useless to us as memorizing the details of a room when we can simply use our eyes to see it? Is there danger in relying on something like the Internet as heavily as we do our eyes? How can and how will education adapt to this change in thinking style? If this is, as that article puts it, “merely the latest expression of a cognitive strategy that is almost certainly as ancient as our species”, what is the next expression? I think that perhaps the answer to that question cannot be answered for some time (like the video Where Good Ideas Come From states, most ideas are slow and gradual processes rather than a “eureka!” moment). The interesting thought that this video proposed was that many good ideas are the collisions are multiple ideas or hunches, sometimes between multiple people. He speaks of the places where famous thinkers met to discuss and trade ideas. But perhaps now the internet is our coffee house, our Parisian salon. This new interconnectedness only makes it easier to share ideas, which (theoretically) should only make it easier to make good ideas.

Besides technology, the other really interesting concept that I discovered and wanted to talk about was that of time. This thought was chiefly inspired by “The Secret Powers of Time”, a video. One of the things that I think is very important when we are talking about thinking is the recognition that not all people do it the same. Making generalizations, though very easy, is pretty much always wrong. We have a tendency to assume that everyone else either thinks exactly like us or doesn’t think at all. If they are allowed to hold a different opinions, it’s because they belong to some different sort of group: “oh, he’s a man, of course he thinks that”, “oh, she’s a grandmother, obviously she’s different than me”, etc. This video proposes that there are six different styles of thinking, which can be divided into three main groups of past, present, and future thinkers. If we are future thinkers, and assume everyone else is a future thinker, we have a problem (such as the problem of attempting to send messages to all teenagers in a future thinking way, which helps no one). If we assume (as the video does somewhat) that all people of a certain culture or religion or nationality are a certain type of thinker, we once again have a problem. I think that the intersection between these two themes (how technology changes thinking and how individuality, including time perception, changes thinking) is important, because the way that Google affects me is probably very different than the way that Google affects you.

Encyclopedias

When I read the encyclopedia articles and watched the videos, a lot of it seemed to be a subset of the thinking theme, in particular, the way that changing technology is changing thinking. Of course, as technology marches on, so must the encyclopedia, a traditional symbol of knowledge. As Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia puts it, the traditional, physical encyclopedia is not dead yet, but it is certainly ailing. And I don’t see this as being a problem. I do understand the fondness that people have for reading physical books, the argument that the pleasure in reading comes from more than just the words on the page, but encyclopedias are hardly built for pleasure. They are meant to be efficient at imparting knowledge, and the truth is that digital encyclopedias (the best example being Wikipedia) are simply much more efficient. They aren’t bound by the same constraints that bind physical books. I personally put a lot of faith into online encyclopedias such as the Encyclopedia of Life and Wikipedia. The arguments against the validity of Wikipedia are founded in reason, but in practice, Wikipedia is extremely reliable, as they do an excellent job policing, revising, and editing articles constantly (especially ones which are popular/important, for minutiae, you may have better luck on other sites). It cites its sources and links them to you for convenience. It links to other related articles within itself. Though I am not as familiar with the Encyclopedia of Life, it has similar features. One of the features that I really liked about that site was the customizable level of expertise, to change your viewing experience based on how much you already know. These are things a traditional encyclopedia simply cannot do. The article about how Wikipedia is important as the pyramids was really interesting to me in that it juxtaposes some older, more traditional thoughts about what is valuable with newer, often more practical thoughts. I think this is why we need a general attitude change about Wikipedia. It deserves more respect, just as much respect as any bulky encyclopedia you can haul out of the library does. Just because someone has vandalized the margins doesn’t mean the entire thing is no longer factual. And just as important: kids trust Wikipedia already. They use it when they need to do research. Teachers refusing to acknowledge that will not make it go away.

Libraries

Like the reading and watching I did regarding encyclopedias, the section on libraries focused a lot on the transition of the library, mostly in regards to digitization and the transition away from physical objects. This idea can be seen in the World Digital Library and the move of the Harvard library online. Like the encyclopedias, I can’t help but support this. Not only is it preventing disasters like that of the Great Library of Alexandria, but it makes it much more accessible. People around the world can look at these great documents or pieces of art with just a click. Is the experience of being actually in the presence of these things different than seeing it online? Undoubtedly. However, does the addition of all the resources that the internet can provide make up for this? For example, the World Digital Library has historical context, information, translations, readings, personal interviews, and more. Are all these excess features, along with accessibility and portability that it provides, worth less than the experience of seeing something in person? Are they simply useful for different things? Is there a happy medium we can find between the two?

When I found a video about the “new Alexandra library” that is supposed to replace the one lost in a fire so many years ago, I was actually somewhat disappointed by what I found. It was basically a museum, and not even a very impressive one at that. I imagine that the Great Library of Alexandra must have been impressive because it existed at a time when it was possible to have only one copy of an important manuscript in the entire world; its contents were rare. Nowadays, we can access documents on our computers all over the world. In fact, I might argue that the internet is the new Alexandra Library. It holds the most important things to our society and enormous pieces of culture would be lost were we to lose it.

The last video I watched was the Medieval Helpdesk video, and at first, I almost exited out because it seemed silly and not entirely relevant and I had already watched a lot of videos. But I watched it anyways, and its idea seemed to sum up almost what I had been finding within all three of these themes. The man can’t figure out how to use a book, and it seems the simplest thing to us, and so of course it’s funny. But in the application of technology and learning, it’s really about making the switch from scroll to book. It’s about making a big leap in technology and the fear that naturally comes with change. It’s the distrust we have for the new. That doesn’t mean we should just accept all things that come at us, that doesn’t mean that skepticism isn’t healthy, it’s just that acceptance and adaptation are very important.

V. Rethinking Education Vlog