• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Tok Essay - Question 5 2010

Extracts from this document...


Theory of Knowledge Essay Word Count: 1600 "What separates science from all other human activities is its belief in the provisional nature of all conclusions" (Michael Shermer, www.edge.com). Critically evaluate this way of distinguishing the sciences from other areas of knowledge? IB candidate number: 000834 - 027 Andrew Pelly The American School in Switzerland (TASIS) Instructor: Laurence Koppe May 2010 "...for it is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits: it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician scientific proofs." - Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics1 I. Shermer's idealistic claims about science Shermer's account of science as deeply "provisionalist" in its approach to its own knowledge claims is a misleading exaggeration - one that underplays the role of consensus and co-operation in scientific inquiry, and that fails to do justice to the intellectual-historical record of most of the natural sciences. However, it does contain a grain of truth, insofar as most scientists are ready to admit that none of their scientific beliefs are 100% certain. Conclusions in the natural sciences are arguably always provisional, as no theory within this area of knowledge is ever deductively proven. ...read more.


Scientists are liable to ignore, suppress and discredit experimental results that disprove or throw into doubt a key theory of that paradigm. Exhibiting something similar to "confirmation bias", a scientist who was trained under a certain scientific paradigm is highly unlikely to abandon that paradigm even when presented with anomalous data. The perihelion of Mercury, the time at which Mercury is closest to the sun during its orbit, was inconsistent with Newtonian mechanics for many years. Despite several ad-hoc solutions that were consistent with Newtonian mechanics (e.g. a hypothesized unseen planet called "Vulcan"), it became clear that science did not truly have an answer for this discrepancy. Einstein's general theory of relativity proposed instead that the bending of light around the sun was responsible for this anomaly7. Does this indicate that the natural sciences are in fact not provisional? Einstein appears to have "proven" Newton wrong, yet Newtonian mechanics still plays an important role in physics today. The reason Newtonian mechanics is still used is because Newton was not wrong. Newton's equations simply did not hold true for situations that he had not even considered, such as objects approaching the speed of light, and objects with a very large mass, such as planets, stars or black holes. ...read more.


As younger students of mathematics know well, assuming that integers exist conceptually is much easier than proving their existence before learning addition. V. Conclusion At face value, Shermer's claim would seem implausible. His statement that the "provisional nature of all conclusions in science" differentiates it from "all other human activity" is an absolute statement that is hard to take seriously, as it is almost certain that other human activities do hold at least some knowledge provisionally, reducing the effectiveness of the logical-positivist statement that Shermer is trying to make. Shermer's claim also fails to recognize the extensive communication and cooperation network that has characterized scientific endeavour since it has been recorded. A modern scientist depends on his forbears for the principles from which he creates a hypothesis, and if these principles of science were constantly questioned as provisional conclusions, scientific discoveries would grind to a halt in a storm of attempted falsification. Furthermore Shermer's claim contains an implicit value judgement, one open to challenge. "Provisionality" is not necessarily always a value in all areas of knowledge. "Certainty" would seem to be a more important value, at least in Mathematics. Other disciplines may or may not be more or less provisional in character. But if Mathematics is any guide, just because other disciplines hold their conclusions non-provisionally should not alone incline us to think they are incapable of producing knowledge worthy of the name. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge essays

  1. tok essay 6

    But on the objective knowledge there are less convention can be change, only when there are have some mistakes. In this case the mistakes of scientific knowledge are very broad implications, because many of knowledge depend on other knowledge. The bottom of this changed that will change in whole system of the knowledge.

  2. Meditations on First Philosophy

    Descartes initially thought that he had a soul, by means of which he was nourished, moved, could sense and think; and also that he have a body. All these attributes have been cast into doubt, except one: he cannot doubt that he thinks.

  1. ToK Essay What similarities and differences are there between historical and scientific explanations?

    Because of steroids, a scientific innovation, a man was able to break, what at the time was still (because history changed), a world record, even though he did it in a sleazy way. As time goes on, new historical evidence might be found related to an event in history.

  2. The Law of the Universe: Entropy

    If I were to ask you to define time, you would most likely say that it was simple before realising that it was in fact an incredibly difficult question to answer. This suggests that it is somthing that is so fundamental that we hardly realise its existence and find it extremely difficult to quantify.

  1. TOk Discussion - Do we impose mathematics upon nature or is it naturally inherent ...

    Show Tau video: (0:43 - 2:18) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jG7vhMMXagQ A: In this video, simplifying pi into less confusing and arguably more useful tau is discussed. Later in the video, Vi Hart shows how tau can replace pi in Euler's identity, e to the i pi plus one equals zero, making it e to the i tau equals one.

  2. Describe the development of a scientific theory, highlighting the process involved. Differentiate between ...

    A non-scientific question is based only on an opinion, you cannotprove it to be true as no data or experiment can be gathered from it. It cannot be addressed by physical evidence. One example of a non-scientific question is Did Abraham Lincoln think blue was a terrible Colour?

  1. Extended Essay. How do social class and gender affect the pursuit of happiness ...

    Both of these responses were derived from who they were. Heathcliff, the orphan boy not born into a wealthy family couldn?t change the way Catherine felt. Jane, who was pretty much an orphan as well couldn?t oppose Rochester?s marriage because she knew she didn?t have a place to do so.

  2. Deconstructive Essay - Creationism Should not be Taught in School Science Classes as an ...

    As though if I show that your football team is not the best it automatically makes mine the best?.[10] One of the common arguments against this from creationists is that scientists are engaged in a conspiracy to protect their jobs and their status by denying the ?obvious? fact of creationism and deliberately misinterpreting data.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work