Connecting Thursdays

Fundamental or Accidental?

To what extent can we determine if what we observe is an inevitable consequence of a fundamental law or simply happenstance?

For those who are scratching their heads trying to imagine how principles of TOK can relate to a subject like physics, it’s hard to think of a more illustrative example than Darwin and the Butterfly featuring astrophysicist Scott Tremaine, Institute for Advanced Study. 

Professor Tremaine confronts us with a problem that arises with remarkable frequency in his discipline: how can we be certain that what we detect in a given system is fundamental or accidental? 

He describes how, in our solar system, all the large planets – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune – are all considerably further away from the sun than the small planets like Earth, prompting the key question, “Is that an accident? Do giant planets somehow have to form at large distances away from their star? Or is it just a peculiar feature of the solar system?”    

For those of you who might be thinking that this is just of “academic interest”, in a related Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP clip – Hunting Exoplanets – Professor Tremaine describes how the current search for exoplanets which is garnering widespread interest among scientists and non-scientists alike could, actually, have been successfully conducted decades earlier, but astronomers simply assumed that all solar systems had to be structured similarly to our own.  And it turns out that they don’t. How’s that for TOK in action?

A sample of related Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP resources to integrate TOK across the DP curriculum:  TOK Connections Guide for Physics, TOK Connections Guide for Biology, TOK Connections Guide for Philosophy, Darwin and the Butterfly (TOK), Hunting Exoplanets (TOK), Sherlock Holmes vs. Stamp Collecting (TOK), Deducing Black Holes (TOK), Natural Sciences TOK Sampler.

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