ToK essay graded A (IB May 2015)

Prescribed Title Number 2:
“There are only two ways in which humankind can produce knowledge: through passive observation or through active experiment.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

Passive observation is when the observer does not take part in the research; the result is fully dependent on the respondent. Meanwhile active experiment is an experiment done by the experimenter influencing the sample to produce a result of research. To some extent, it is agreeable that these methods can produce knowledge. But, to what extent does the knowledge produced is certain in justifying the truth? The word ‘produce’ here means we create something new. And Plato defined knowledge as Justified True Belief[1]. And according to Plato, the knowledge must obey three characteristics: First, truth is public. Second, truth is independent. And third, truth is eternal[2]. The knowledge in this context is shared knowledge, which everyone justifies it as true. This is because truth of personal knowledge could vary from knower to knower, but not for shared knowledge. Shared knowledge is true for all knowers. To see whether or not passive observation and active experiment could produce knowledge, the outcome must be tested in three tests, which are to believe the statement, to consider the statement as true, and to justify the true belief by the knowers[3]. Passive observation in natural science and human science use inductive and deductive reasoning, but the complication of perception and problem with inductive reasoning makes the knowledge produced is questionable.
To justify result from passive observation and active experiment to be true, it must be justified by evidence[4]. Passive observation and active experiment use numerical evidence to give objectivity in order to give high certainty to the knowledge produced. It is common for them to have formula or calculations to deduce conclusions from production of knowledge. This is because, they have too many factors to be taken into account. Because of unlimited factors that possibly affect the production of knowledge, the knowledge producer has to select measurable variables to make the production of knowledge becomes certain with objective evidences. For example, passive observation is the study of Income Elasticity of Demand (YED). Based on the formula, it is shown that only change in income can change the quantity demanded of normal good. Even though in reality, there are so many factors may affect quantity demanded of a good. But because the knowledge is dependent on justification made from calculation, therefore it is assumed that the only factor affect the quantity demanded is income of the consumer. Meanwhile for active experiment in human science, independent and dependent variables must be measurable to represent the data analysis. My classmates and I have to design an experiment to investigate the rate of reaction of enzyme activity for Year 1 Biology syllabus. The dependant variable was the time taken for iodine to change colour from yellow to blue black and independent variables was temperature of mixture of starch and amylase. Both variables are measurable by using measuring instruments. For both demand law and experiment of enzyme activity, deductive reasoning is the way of knowing. After recognizing the variables, the next stage is to use deductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning consists of statements that will be combined to be compound statements[5]. Deductive reasoning has major and minor premises which are the statements from variables to construct a compound statement which is the knowledge claim. Knowledge claim is defined as stating something that is believed to be true[6]. Therefore, both passive observation and active experiment use numerical evidence to pass the third test of truth, which to justify the true belief of the knowledge.
            However, there is a doubt whether or not the knowledge produced by passive observation or active experiment could justify the truth because during the production of knowledge, omitting immeasurable variables could hinder the truth of knowledge. Passive observation and active experiment are attention dependent[7]. This means that we only see what we want to see. Our senses give perception to our minds. The problem with sense perception is change blindness and inattentional blindness or changes occur in the visual field but outside the scope of attention which go unnoticed by the perceiver[8]. For example, a famous terms in Economics, ‘Ceteris Paribus’ which means ‘all other things are being equal’[9]. When all other things are assumed equal, even though there are another factors affect the result of passive observation or active experiment in Economics, it will not be acknowledged in the knowledge produced. For example, demand law, it only takes price as the factor affecting demand. It could be other factors that are not acknowledged, such as quality of the product. Because the production of knowledge is based on the assumption, the outcome of passive observation or active experiment is not certain to be justified as true. Professor Muhd Yunus also criticized in his book ‘Creating a World without Poverty’ about how economics is made too simple by assumption until the knowledge produced may not benefit the mankind[10]. The justification of knowledge is full of scepticism and therefore it has failed the first test; to believe the statement is true.
            Passive observation and active experiment can also produce knowledge when they use inductive reasoning to justify the knowledge claim produced. Inductive reasoning is a way of knowing for human science and natural science that allow generalization upon a pool of evidences[11]. To make a pool of evidences, passive observation and active experiment need to repeat its processes or to repeat others observers’ or experimenters’ production of knowledge, to justify the generalization, which is the knowledge produced. Inductive reasoning makes the knowledge produced obeys the first characteristics of knowledge stated by Plato, truth is public. The publication of production of knowledge by active experiment and passive observation allows the repetition, therefore the procedures are disclosed. The disclosure of scientific work, be it active experiment or passive observation, is known as communalism[12]. Scientists that do active experiment must not conceal any truth about his science work, so that the statement produced is public and justified true. For active experiment, biology study has set the same procedures of experiment of rate of photosynthesis and the procedures must not be changed in any circumstances. Everyone that repeats this experiment will then add the evidences for generalization. Meanwhile for passive observation, the collection of evidences is made by having large number of sample. For example, for my World Studies Extended Essay, I have to do a survey on the effect of smartphone towards users’ eyes. I have to at least have 60 respondents to make a claim, whether or not the smartphone has affected users’ eyes. Passive observation here works with human, which attitudes are different. So, setting standardized circumstances like active experiment is not possible. What an observer can do is setting standardized criteria to observe all the samples. Therefore, it can be concluded that inductive reasoning is a way of passive observation and active experiment making their knowledge claim.
            However, the repetition of processes in active experiment and passive observation makes the knowledge is not being produced but reinvented to correct mistake in previous knowledge claim. The words produce here means to create new information. However, as just said, passive observation and active experiment must repeat the same circumstances or the same criteria, as the past observation or experiment has been made. This means that, actually there is no knowledge is actually purely produced, but knowledge is reinvented, or is brought back to the existence with new truth. The contribution of science work is expected to offer something new to the existing body of the knowledge, which is known as originality[13]. Also, the need of past inductive argument to justify inductive argument in making suggests it is not a production of knowledge but reinvention of knowledge[14]. The knowledge is reinvented because the previous knowledge was not true, or disregard as a knowledge. This idea is then extended by Thomas Kuhn, he suggested the period of revolutionary science[15]. Revolutionary science is a scientific activity to shift a disintegrating old paradigm of science to another one[16]. The disintegrating paradigm is because as time passed, people realized their previous knowledge was false. Revolutionary science is rarely happened, but when it does, the changes are major and world-wide, example for active experiment is atomic theory in chemistry and passive observation is the solar system of planet[17]. However, this idea is restricted to natural science only. It can be concluded that knowledge produced by passive observation and active experiment is not being produced but reinvented to fix the mistake in past knowledge claim because it is no longer true.
            In a conclusion, passive observation and active experiment objectify the outcome by selecting measurable variables. The formulas used in calculations make the knowledge produced are certain in justifying the truth. The formula and calculation use deductive reasoning to support the knowledge produced by making premises from the production of knowledge. Inductive reasoning makes the knowledge produced is justified with a pool of evidences and is known by whole public. However, the selection of measurable factors made another factor that may affect the result becomes omitted. This gives doubt to the knowledge produced if the knowledge claim is made without the complications of perception. Also, the word of ‘production’ is questionable. The knowledge is not actually produced, but it is reinvented, which means it re-establishes the knowledge claim with new truth.
(1550 WORDS)

Bibliography

Baird, Davis. Inductive Logic: Probability and Statistics. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1992.
Bastian, Sue, et al. Theory of Knowledge. United Kingdom: Pearson Education Limited, 2008.
Blink, Jocelyn. Economics Course Companion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Davies, W. Martin and Sievers H. Keeneth. The Nature of Knowing. Victoria: IBID Press, 2006.
Woolman, Micheal. Ways of Knowing. Victoria: IBID Press, 2000.
Yunus, Muhammad. Creating A World Without Poverty. United States of America: PublicAffairs, 2007.




[1] Davies, W. Martin and Sievers H. Keeneth. The Nature of Knowing. Victoria: IBID Press, 2006.
[2] Woolman, Micheal. Ways of Knowing. Victoria: IBID Press, 2000.
[3] Woolman, Micheal. Ways of Knowing. Victoria: IBID Press, 2000.
[4] Davies, W. Martin and Sievers H. Keeneth. The Nature of Knowing. Victoria: IBID Press, 2006.
[5] Bastian, Sue, et al. Theory of Knowledge. United Kingdom: Pearson Education Limited, 2008.
[6] Bastian, Sue, et al. Theory of Knowledge. United Kingdom: Pearson Education Limited, 2008.
[7] Bastian, Sue, et al. Theory of Knowledge. United Kingdom: Pearson Education Limited, 2008.
[8] Bastian, Sue, et al. Theory of Knowledge. United Kingdom: Pearson Education Limited, 2008.
[9] Blink, Jocelyn. Economics Course Companion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
[10] Yunus, Muhammad. Creating A World Without Poverty. United States of America: PublicAffairs, 2007.
[11] Bastian, Sue, et al. Theory of Knowledge. United Kingdom: Pearson Education Limited, 2008.
[12] Bastian, Sue, et al. Theory of Knowledge. United Kingdom: Pearson Education Limited, 2008.
[13] Bastian, Sue, et al. Theory of Knowledge. United Kingdom: Pearson Education Limited, 2008.
[14] Baird, Davis. Inductive Logic: Probability and Statistics. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1992.
[15] Bastian, Sue, et al. Theory of Knowledge. United Kingdom: Pearson Education Limited, 2008.
[16] Bastian, Sue, et al. Theory of Knowledge. United Kingdom: Pearson Education Limited, 2008.
[17] Bastian, Sue, et al. Theory of Knowledge. United Kingdom: Pearson Education Limited, 2008.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm currently writing a mock TOK essay on this topic, this was extremely useful! Thanks.