Monday, March 27, 2006

Game Theory

Hello Everyone,

I hope you enjoyed the lesson on Game Theory! I certainly enjoyed putting it together and getting your responses. We will be doing some more on this theme in the next lesson, as well as getting down to some seriously interesting mathematics, but it would also be good to do some background reading on the subject, to see how the role plays we tried actually fit in with the theory. Click
here for a downloadable, printable paper on Game Theory. There is quite a lot of it (!), but I particularly draw your attention to the main theoretical points we discussed in the last lesson. Bearing in mind what we already know about Ways of Knowing and different forms of reasoning, you can see that inductive reasoning plays an important role here.

You may also remember we talked about the Nash Equilibrium (remember that "blonde" scene in A Beautiful Mind?, i.e. the theory that the optimum strategy is the one that is best for the individual and the group. For an in-depth, economist's analysis of The Prisoner's Dilemma game, click here.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Emotional Intelligence

Dear TOK fans,

Click here for some very interesting articles on topics related to emotions from the Berkeley Peace Center! There is some very good background reading here. Also, don't forget to check out the IB TOK site for the other reference material we were talking about in class.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Boy Who Heard Music

For anyone interested in art and TOK and would to read something from the horse's mouth, try Pete Townshend's (The Who) blog. I have put a link in the margin!
Have fun!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Truth and Values in Art: 2

Tolstoy believed there was a close relationship between art and religious experience, because both are ultimately about "connection" and about losing the ego, the small "self" in the greater Self. This understanding of art is not easy for everyone to accept in a more secular age, but it is helpful to remember this connection, if only to help us understand how art has been influenced by religious motifs historically.

Tolstoy said that true art was "infectious", meaning that through art the artist reached the innermost being of the audience to such an extent that the audience experienced the artist's perceptions as if they were their own.

The three preconditions for this "infectiousness" were, according to Tolstoy:
* individuality
* clearness
* sincerity

In a culture as ego-focussed as our own, the precondition of "individuality" in art might appear to be a contradiction in terms or a stumbling block to connectedness. However, Tolstoy explains this individuality as a typical characteristic of "authenticity" in the artist. This relates closely to his other precondition of sincerity. It is sincerity, said Tolstoy, that gives folk art its power, for example. The condition of clearness also relates to authenticity and sincerity, because the artist who is concerned with conveying the message of his or her art will put ego in the background and just allow the art to speak for itself.

Apollonius, as we saw in the lecture, saw art as involving a two-way process of imitation:
* The artist imitates reality with his or her hands (in this case painting is the example) while actually creating the work of art
* the audience imitates reality in their minds while interpreting the work.

This idea of connectedness and mutual exchange between artist and audience in the creative process is a central one in understanding what art is. In TOK this sphere of knowledge poses a crucial POK: where is the knower in relation to what is known? Is the knower "outside",detached, from what is known, as, for example, in classic scientific method? Or is the knower part of what is known?

Here are some of the textual quotations mentioned in the lecture:

"In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God". (John: 1:1)

As we saw during the lecture, in pre-literate cultures, the oral tradition - poetry, songs, myths, folktales and folk epics - was understood not merely to depict creation, but also to be an integral part of the creative process as such. Oral literature was seen not merely to describe reality, in other words, but also to shape it. We saw, for example, how even today Australian aborigines use the oral tradition of the songline as a map for their walkabouts in the outback.

Closer to home, we saw how the poet in ancient Ireland was even more important than the King, because a king was replaceable, but the death of the poet would have meant the death of reality and culture as the community knew it.

Here is a quotation from "The Sufi Message" by Hazrat Inayat Khan:
"A study of ancient traditions reveals that the first divine messages were given in song, as were the Psalms of David, the Song of Solomon, the Gathas of Zoroaster and the Gita of Krishna..... In the beginning of human creation, no language such as we now have existed, but only music. Man first expressed his thoughts and feelings by low and high, short and prolonged sonds. Man conveyed his sincerity, insincerity, disinclination, pleasure or displeasure by the variety of his musical expressions."

The jazz musician Kenny Werner elaborates on this idea:

"Language is the retention of rhythm without pitch. In this way, poetry was born of music. Ancient spiritual texts were expressed in poetry such as the Vedas, Ramayana, Mahabaharata and the Bible.

Distilling poetry of its rhythm, we have prose. So it can be said that all language is derived from music. Music can put a baby to sleep or inspire a soldier in war" ("The Effortless Mastery", p. 32).

From the point of view of POKs music, literature and art generally pose interesting questions about the relationship between the knower and his or her art: the painter Degas, for instance, said: "Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things". In his book "Free Play", the violinist Stephen Nachmanovich wrote: "The easiest way to do art is to dispense with success and failure altogether and just get on with it." This "going with the flow" approach is closely associated with the sense of religious connection described by Tolstoy. The boundary between the individual and reality is somehow dissolved. As the essayist William Hazlitt said of the great nature poet, William Wordsworth:

“he may be said to take
a personal interest in the universe“

Wordsworth himself described this experience:

"And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things."

From “Tintern Abbey”

“Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows
Like harmony in music, there is a dark
Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles
Discordant elements, makes them cling together
In one society.”

“Wordsworth’s genius… was in his strangeness, his startling originality.” (Harold Bloom, Genius, p. 379)

“Though his friend Coleridge tried to give Wordsworth a metaphysics, these passages are part of the long war of poetry against philosophy” (ibid., p.381)

The "war between poetry and philosophy" described by Bloom concerns to some extent this POK issue of the place of the knower in relation to what is known. Whereas Wordsworth was part of his own poetic reality, philosophers such as Plato have been concerned to express universal truths that are beyond the individual. More than this, Bloom suggests, philosophers such as Plato, who was a gifted writer of dialogues, were ambivalent about the sheer power of words to move an audience. The power of poetry and theatre to shape the creative process and inspire emotions and responses did not fit comfortably with the philosopher's ideal of analytical, impersonal detachment. Plato lived in an age that was much closer than our own to the powerful oral tradition represented in ancient Greece by Homer. There is also the suggestion from Bloom that philosophers tend to take themselves very seriously, whereas much successful poetry and theatre makes fun of serious topics. In Plato's own day, the playwright Aristophanes made fun of Socrates' poverty in his play "The Frogs".

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Truth and Values in Literature

Welcome to the online notes to the TOK lectures at Salem International College!

In this lecture we will be looking at truth and values in literature, and trying to place these concepts within the overall TOK framework:
Ways of Knowing
Way of acquiring knowledge
Belief and Knowledge

"All Art is either plagiarism or revolution" (Paul Gauguin).

Last year in IB we looked at how concepts of knowledge have been shaped by ancient ways of knowing. Although belief played an enormous role in the knowledge of the Middle Ages in Europe, for example, Aristotle introduced the ideas of observation and method as means of acquiring and testing knowledge. These ideas then went on to form the basis of the empirical, scientific approach to knowledge. This approach became even more important in the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment, when belief came to be seen as something which needed to be tested and verified, and even as an impediment to knowing, rather than the foundation for knowing that it had formerly been understood to be.

This brings us to one of the key ideas behind an understanding of knowing, and that is: what is the relationship between the knower and what is known? am I myself a part of what is known, or do I understand myself to be standing outside knowedge, looking in, so to speak?
Uuntil recently, the assumption underlying the "scientific" approach to knowledge,was an understanding, rarely overtly stated, that the "knower", such as the scientist, was a separate entity from what was "known", or becoming known. The idea of objectivity was therefore central, and was demonstrable in the form of facts which could be verified, or modified, using such procedures as measurement and repeatable experiments. To risk a generalization, modern scientific enquiry prior to quantum mechanics understood the knower as someone moving out into an objectively verifiable, discoverable, world "out there", i.e. outside the knower (rather like the X Files: The Truth is Out There!)

There are two possible ways to pick holes in this assumption. First, if I want to work on the assumption that I stand outside what I know, and that I as the knower have no influence on the outcome of the process of acquiring knowledge, I must first prove the hypothesis that I do in fact stand outside what I know. Much scientific enquiry, however, has taken this separation of the knower from the known as a given. Second, although a "fact" may on the face of it seem an objective reality, we need to look more closely at how we define a "fact", which may, after all, be nothing more than something which we have subjectively decided is worth knowing. So in fact our "scientific" knowledge may not be as "objective" as we think it is. The recent appearance on the scientific scene of quantum mechanics, game theory and chaos theory pose a serious challenge to such previously unchallenged assumptions of objectivity. From our present perspective in the history of knowledge, some form of relationship, based on values, between the knower and the known is becoming increasingly difficult ot deny or avoid.
I, the knower, am part of the known universe, whether I like it or not!

Over the last couple of weeks we have been looking at Art as a different way of knowing. In the last lecture, which used your own drawings as evidence, we saw how personal selection of what is important, and subjectivity as such, are important aspects of knowing in art, and that the creative process is almost unthinkable without a sense of originality and uniqueness in the artist and his or her perspective. We can say, therefore, that subjectivity and inwardness, i.e. the inner world of the artist, are central to Art as a phenomenon. The creative artist is also concerned with universal truths, but moves towards these truths from the inside out.

Tolstoy asserts that Art consists primarily of the communication of experience by the artist to the audience, in his case his readership. What is being communicated is highly individual and selective, and yet is recognized by the audience as relating to their own experience. This process of recognition, however, is as selective as the artist's process of choosing what to express.
In other words, it is open to interpretation. We might say that interpretation is to art what measurement and verification are to science. It is the process by which artistic "truth" is communicated, and the process by which values are perceived, and indeed created.

Through interpretation, we arrive at ideas about what is good and what is bad, both in art and in life. As we shall be seeing later, the interpretation of good and bad goes beyond the sphere of art into the realm of ethics, which will be one of our later topics.

It should be clear from this that the process of interpretation is far from simple, straightforward or conclusive. It is a process that calls for many different levels of understanding, including factual knowledge as well as aesthetic appreciation, and which involves constant challenges to our preconceived assumptions.

The process of interpretation is fraught with ambivalence, contradictions and paradoxes. This derives partly as a response to the creative process itself, which is unthinkable without some form of tension between the originality of the artist and the artistic and social conventions which form the context of his or her creative work. Sometimes this tension is expressed in the form of a conflict between the artist and society in general, for example in a rejection of the work, sometimes it is lived out in the personal life of the artist, for example in eccentric lifestyle or mental instability. Many artists and writers are more than a little mad! Both elements may be present.

In the lecture we will be looking at some poetry by Wordsworth to understand Harold Bloom's assertion that Wordsworth's poetry was part of a "war against philosophy", and to understand how we can arrive at completely different, but not necessarily mutually contradictory (!) interpretations of a work, depending on the values and assumptions we start with.

Let us also not forget that Art is not something completely separate from other forms of thinking. It is subject to the same processes and constraints as other, quite ordinary everyday thinking processes. Writers such as Wordsworth and Hazlitt knew this. We the readers can sometimes get carried away by the effects of their thought processes. To put these into some sort of perspective, we will also attempt in the lecture to look "behind the scenes", as it were, of the creative process itself.

Last but not least, we will try to dip into the very difficult, but also very worthwhile question of how art relates to ethics, through the medium of values (what is good, what is bad) to prepare us for what is to come later in the term.

For a little more depth and challenge, take a look at the IB TOK website. Specifically on problems of knowledge relating to art, there are some challenging but fascinating articles on Poetics here. Enjoy!