TOK Tuesdays

Knowledge and Technology

Under what circumstances can technology be used to provide evidence for NS theories?

Today’s TOK Tuesdays topic comes from our new TOK Sampler called Knowledge & Technology to give teachers a tangible sense of how our TOK resources can directly assist with the optional themes that are part of the new TOK syllabus, while providing stimulating material for in-class use or for online teaching that they can use straight away while transitioning to the new course. 

In the following clip from this innovative TOK video resource neuroscientist Jennifer Groh, Duke University, describes how the technological development of cochlear implants had a direct bearing on validating a range of scientific claims regarding the degree, relevance and general pervasiveness of the phenomenon of neuroplasticity. 

(Excerpt from Knowledge & Technology)

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Connecting Thursdays

Narrowing Differences

To what extent can we objectively measure our moral beliefs?

Emory University primatologist Frans de Waal is a highly established researcher on the behaviour of chimpanzees and bonobos, but most people know him as a prolific award-winning popularizer of his research, with over 35 years of bestselling books beginning with Chimpanzee Politics in the early 1980s.

The fact that he has so consistently documented his thoughts for both a specialized and popular audience made him, I thought, the perfect test case to measure how, and why, our beliefs change. Sure enough, when I asked him how his opinions on animal morality have evolved throughout the course of his research career he was able to respond straight away.

(Excerpt from Testing Morality featuring Prof. Frans de Waal)

The “ultimatum game” that Prof. de Waal mentions in this clip is explained in detail in the video Testing Morality.  Essentially, he applies and extends the famous behavioural test pioneered by economists to measure people’s sense of fairness to other primates, en route illustrating not just that chimpanzees have a similar sense of fairness to humans, but – equally intriguingly – that moral understanding, at times at least, can be derived from the same objective experimental process that gives rise to so much of our natural and human science knowledge.  

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Extending Wednesdays

Phantom Limb Pain

Today’s Extending Wednesdays topic comes from the Biology section of Ideas Roadshow’s Extended Essay Guide which you can find in the EE section of Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal, where Duke University neuroscientists Jennifer Groh and Miguel Nicolelis highlight how the intriguing phenomenon of “phantom limb pain” can be used to probe a wealth of issues related to the structure of our brains. 

Excerpt from the clip Suddenly Painful featuring Prof. Jennifer Groh


While Professor Groh focuses on the mysteries underlying what “spontaneous neural firing” really means, her fellow neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis invokes phantom limb pain as direct support for his belief that the brain actively constructs our representation of the world around us rather than simply recording sensory inputs, as biologists long believed:

“Interestingly enough, if you now change the framework and you put the brain in the centre of the picture, you find a completely different explanation for phantom limb pain. If you appreciate that the brain has an internal model of the body, which it has developed over the years, now what happens when you lose part of it? Suddenly, the brain has an internal model that is mismatched to the body and it is this mismatch that generates the illusion that you still have a part of yourself that has disappeared.”

Possible areas of investigation for an extended essay include an analysis of the history of phantom limb pain, competing scientific explanations, current and future experiments and implications for our general understanding of brain structure. 

Related Ideas Roadshow content includes the clips Suddenly Painful, Constantly Testing, the compilation video Examining the Brain and the enhanced eBooks and hour-long videos Knowing One’s Place: Spatial Processing and the Brain and Minds and Machines.

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