Saturday, September 9, 2017

TOK Essay Attempt #2

"Some areas of knowledge seek to describe the world, whereas others seek to transform it."

Explore this claim with reference to history and one other area of knowledge.


To say that some areas of knowledge seek to describe the world, it is first necessary to make the assumption that knowledge is a tool that can be wielded in favor of a set of motives: in this case, describing or transforming the world. To set up these two motives as independent from one another is problematic because knowledge, especially as it is used in the areas of history and natural sciences, is an ebb and flow of describing and transforming, not completely without one or the other.

another example of dominant narrative
In the area of history, knowledge is most easily understood as being used for descriptive purposes: history textbooks, for instance, seem to accomplish little more than the task of explaining events. However, history displays the most crucial loophole that is encountered when description and transformation are separated: bits and pieces of history can be aligned to create a narrative, a dominant narrative.

These dominant narratives tend to be overly romanticized or embellished rearrangements of facts, or complete falsehoods, in a way that is orchestrated to form or guide the perspective of the present audience.

A simple example of the creation of a dominant narrative is the story of the Founding Fathers: young Americans are taught that they were rugged, moral-driven revolutionaries who stood up against Great Britain, a power who mistreated and oppressed the colonies, and won freedom and liberty. This narrative, constructed to propagate patriotism in America, uses both the describing and transforming powers of knowledge. Not one or the other. This narrative is also problematic in that it ignores the uglier sides of America's Founding Fathers, for the motive of forming the perspective of young impressionable minds.

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The numerous cases of dominant narratives created with the motive of describing and transforming discounts the idea that either motive can be clearly separated from the other. However, it could be argued that each area of knowledge has a different ratio of description to transformation. In the case of natural sciences, the purpose is more to describe and understand the world and universe than to transform it. However there are, yet again, both factors at play. When Heisenberg discovered and coined the Principle of Indeterminacy, the entire dialogue of quantum mechanics was transformed. Stating that it is impossible to calculate both the velocity and position of a particle at exactly the same time shifted quantum mechanics completely, and when a whole body of science is turned right side over, there are subtle implications. Annie Dillard argues in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek that the Principle of Indeterminacy went as far as to ruin all of science: "Suddenly determinism goes, causality goes, and we are left with a universe full of what Eddington calls, 'mind-stuff'" (Dillard 233). Even an area of knowledge where simple, straight-forward, quantitative description is the one clear motive, there are transformative implications of everything discovered.

Take for example the earth-shattering discovery that the world is round, not flat. Inherently, to say the world is round is to describe it. However, the implications of said description are, or were, hefty, even transformational. This, the connection between describing and transforming implications, is the nature of knowledge. To describe, to say this is that and that is this, to put together a string of words in the effort of communicating an idea, is integral to knowledge. In its basest form, to describe is also to transform.

By painting the Founding Fathers in almost mythic proportions or discovering one new thing about electrons spinning around nuclei, knowledge is ever-growing in its ability to describe, and consequently, its subtle transformations to the world around us and how we perceive it.

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