Natural Sciences vs. Human Sciences

First off, the major difference between the natural sciences and the human sciences is that the natural sciences study the natural world and the natural things in it, like atoms in chemistry, living beings in biology and forces etc. in physics, whereas human sciences study humans and how they are affected, like how psychology studies the mind, political science studying the political world and sociology studying the different societies. The reason that they are all ‘sciences’ is because the methods and ideas behind studying them are either the same or very similar, with some being more ‘sciency’ than others. For example, the natural sciences are very experimentally based, however so is psychology, but something like anthropology is not as experiment based, although it make occasionally use experiments and data.

At Oxford, there is a course called ‘Human Sciences’. According to the course page, it focuses on ‘ the evolution of humans and their behaviour, molecular and population genetics, population growth and ageing, ethnic and cultural diversity and human interaction with the environment, including: conservation, disease and nutrition’. Personally I find the course very interesting, and I think it sums up almost all of the human sciences by encompassing them all into one course. However, (as far as I know) there are not many (or any degrees) offering the same kind of initiative for the natural sciences. Is this because they are not as interlinked, or is there too much material to cover? After some (a good 2 minutes) consideration, I think (although there is a lot more actual knowledge and facts to cover) that the core reason is because the natural sciences are more separate, or ‘purer’ than the human sciences. For example, anthropology – it covers so much, from ancient cultures to current human behaviour and linguistics, and crosses over into so many other human sciences (sociology, criminology, even law) and other subjects like history. In contrast, lets take physics – it focuses on matter, motion, energy and force, and while it applies to many other aspects of life and other subjects, it does not have nearly as much coverage of other subjects like any of the human sciences do.

To sum up, the natural sciences and the human sciences are equally sciences, but the natural sciences are more scientific in their methods, and the natural sciences study the natural world whilst the human sciences study humans themselves.

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The Natural Sciences: What makes something a science?

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When first looked at, one would assume that the natural sciences consist of primarily biology, chemistry and physics. However, how did we come to have these three subjects as so clearly ‘sciences’, and what is it that stops other subjects and areas of learning from being science?

As the dictionary puts it, science is ‘the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment’ (my laptop crashed when searching this so I feel like that says something about trying to define ‘science’). This seems like a fair definition, that science is observing and experimenting the natural world (generally leading to some sort of explanation for why things are the way that they are).

Now we move on to what categorises something within science as biology, chemistry or physics. While the three can often overlap, I find that this is a fair way of categorising the three:

  • Biology – studying living organisms
  • Chemistry – studying atoms, what matter is made of, their physical properties and how they react with other substances
  • Physics – studying matter and energy, and how that affects (or has previously affected) the world around us

However, with biochemistry, for example, do we put it in biology or chemistry, or a whole new category of its own? This is a problem that we encounter with science: the grey area where we put things that are not placed into a clear category, or things that we are not quite sure if they are ‘science’ or not. For example, something like astrology – it is technically the study of the natural world around us, but astrologers are not considered scientists at all – far from it. In my eyes, something is constituted as a natural science is it is the study of the natural/physical world and experiments can be carried out in it. As much as some would like to think so, experiments cannot really be carried out in astrology – if they were, it would probably be more of a human science than a natural science.

So the world of natural science is a vast one, and not being a scientist myself, it looks like a maze to try and explore (but with much difficulty). Its purpose is to help understand our world and the beings in it, and it can pretty much never be ‘finished’ – there is always more to discover.

Rationality vs. Emotion

Rationality and emotion are the two major factors that take part in our decisions and choices, but are they mutually exclusive? It is similar to the ‘head vs. heart’ debate, but can we make a choice using just one of these things?

A rational decision is often seen as the correct one; it may be the most appropriate in the situation, cause the least harm or be the honest thing etc. However, if we all made decisions using only rationality, there is not much to distinguish us from robots, really, whereas emotion is much more impulsive and harder to predict. Many argue that emotion is what makes us human, but when decisions are based mainly on emotion, they can have undesirable, unpredictable or harmful consequences. For example: someone is being rude and taunting you, but they are in a position of authority so doing anything back to them would definitely have neg

Logical Fallacies

 

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By definition, a logical fallacy is a flaw in reasoning, for example a ‘slippery slope’, a middle ground. I will be looking at appeal to (improper) authority – saying that because an authority thinks something, it must be true. For example, using a celebrity to endorse a product; someone who many people see as an authority will encourage or convince them to buy a product, which allows the company to capitalise from logical fallacies. This can also be applied to expert endorsement, e.g. ‘9 out of 10 dentists recommend…’ and so on.

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Red Pill vs. Blue Pill

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What would I choose? That’s the question going through everybody’s heads as they watch that iconic scene. Of course Neo chooses the red pill, we’d have no film without it, but when it comes down to it, what would we really choose? On the one hand, you can go back to your mundane life, with the little inconveniences counteracted by the pleasantries and people that make it worth getting out of bed everyday, but on the other hand you have the truth – whatever it is. For the conspiracy theorists among us, it would be like a dream come true – finding out the ultimate truth about the lives we’re living, but for others – is that what we really want? To be plucked from our regular lives into the unknown, taking the biggest risk that we would ever take? And the arises the question – does the truth matter? If everyone believes in something false, does it really matter what the truth is? Whilst I believe it depends on the situation at hand, in this one, I think I would take the blue pill. As much as I’d like to believe that I would be reckless and adventurous enough to find out the truth about the universe and life, I’m fine just questioning every once in a while and falling into a hole of conspiracy theory videos on YouTube. I’d rather live my comfortable little life the way I want to, and experience what our world has to offer – fake or not. I know myself, and would probably end up having an endless panic attack if I found out the truth about life, and would probably either kill myself or get someone to kill me just to end it, ans that’s why I would choose the blue pill.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

The message of this song is pretty clear (I mean, it says it in the title) – you can’t and aren’t always going to get what you want, which is why I chose it as the song that I think represents ToK. For me personally, and a lot of people, their aim in life is to be happy, which is often seen as synonymous with getting what you want, but it’s not. Happiness comes from having what is best for you, for example just because a drug addict wants more drugs, it doesn’t mean it’s making them happy. I think wisdom and knowledge of yourself is learning to find that balance of what you want and what you need – like the song says, sometimes you might just find you get what you need.

First Impressions of ToK

Going into the first lesson of ToK, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Even after all of the talks and inductions (which I think most people were only half-listening to, anyway), I still wasn’t completely sure what we were going to be doing, so I tried to go in with an open mind. I only had two questions in my mind before I had that first lesson: ‘how do I pass this?’ and ‘what is that minimum effort I have to put in?’ I wasn’t dreading ToK, but I didn’t really think much of it. I really just thought that it was just another part of IB that I have to do to get my diploma – oh, and universities like the look of it. However, I don’t want ToK to be something I’m doing the bare minimum in just because I have to; I want to use it to open my mind into questions and ideas that I haven’t even begun to think about before. Even if currently ToK just feels like another hour of philosophy a week, I think that the deeper we get into the course, the more questions we will discover and the more importance and relevance I will see in it.