Altruism – Do you believe in helping others?

Before beginning this exploration, think about the following questions and be prepared to discuss them.

  • How important is it to help others?
  • Do you think that most people think it is important to help others?
  • What value does our society place on helping others?

Watch this video which looks at the nature human altruism?

Please contribute to the conversation by answering the following questions.

  1. Did anything stand-out about the nature of human beings helping one another?
  2. Do  you agree with the main point of this video?
  3. What are some counter-claims that might be made to the position taken in the video?

Would you cheat

So I found the last video of Dan Ariely that I put up to be very interesting. The science of choice is of course a marketer’s dream, and it made me look completely differently at the way things were placed in the grocery store, an interesting side effect of that little video.

Having found a second video from Dan Ariely, the next question is what would cause you to cheat. Are your ethics impermeable to peer pressure, to our instincts? Watch this video and think about how you might have seen this play out in your own life. Would you, could you be swayed by some of the examples that are laid out here? It’s interesting to postulate our answers.

Can science go too far?

Today while I was reading the newspaper I across this story about the scientists who have created a deadly form of avian flu in the lab. In the article it describes how a debate has been sparked about whether or not the scientists who developed this potentially lethal variant should keep their information secret or whether it should be published in order to aid in finding a potential solution to this disease. The article succinctly describes this question as: ‘At what point does potentially life-saving data become reckless bait for would-be bioterrorists?

Ultimately this is a great debate in scientist one that emerges often in world that deals with national security and patents among other reasons that prevent the free flow of information.

Famously J. Robert Oppenheimer, known as the father of the atomic bomb for his role in the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb in WWII, came to feel that his actions in developing the super weapon, that the world was not ready for an arms race which, ironically, he helped initiate. He hoped a world body that would help ‘stifle the arms race.’ Yet despite the incredible destructive power of the Atom bomb many other developments that have furthered scientific development have been linked to the work initiated by Dr. Oppenheimer and his colleagues.

  • So what do you think, how should scientific developments that are potentially harmful to human beings be treated. Should they be shrouded in secrecy, or should the light of day shine on them?

Here’s what some scientists think about the concept of ‘Open Science’, do their arguments make a difference?

Another look at the way statistics are gathered

And now for some good news, well not entirely, but a lot of it!  In the world of development, hope and statistics!

Now take a look at this YouTube video, what thoughts do you get after watching it?

Now go to this website and pick a few different sets of data and find one that has an interesting correlation.  Something which you might never have thought of before. You will need to click the ‘visualize’ icon so that the data is shown in the same way as in the video. Grab the link for your graph from the ‘share’ tab at the top of the graph and answer the following questions.

  1. Did you discover some data that seemed incomplete?
  2. What did you discover why do you think it’s interesting?
  3. Why do you think seeing data in this fashion is better than just looking at statistics (because that is, in fact, what they are based on)?

An interesting look at … ‘Bad Science’

Ben Goldacre is one of the more thought provoking writers/bloggers that I’ve recently discovered.  To be sure it was because he was flogging his book, but having said that I have found what he has written in his posts for the Guardian newspaper in the UK and cross-posted on his blog to be interesting and eye-opening (and I’ve only read a few).

I challenge you to look into his blog and find a posting or two that interests you and then respond to it, either positively, negatively or however you feel after reading it using your blog.

This is his TEDTalk where he challenges all of us to critically appraise the information that often comes across our radar. He very importantly analyzes the different types of way that science information is presented to us. Challenge yourself to think of these problems when you are presented with information through popular media, social media, or in your classroom (especially from Social Studies teachers – they’re the dodgiest of all!)

While you certainly don’t have to watch another of his talks, there is one, and it has some more and very specific cases (some of which are the same) that where he challenges perceived wisdom.

To what extent should we trust others?

I came across this very interesting YouTube video today while I was surfing around the Internet today. It speaks to what the nature of people is. This is a brief clip from a talk by Viktor Frankl who survived 3 years in concentration camps in World War II and yet still has a remarkably positive outlook on humans as individuals.

I ask you to consider this simple question as you watch him: Is he right?

The Truth? You can’t handle the truth!!!

Happy New Year! Things were definitely slow in December so to being with let’s look at some fun facts. Here are some interesting stories from the ether, and they things that we often see, but do we really think about what we’re seeing? Are we really conscious of the details. As you read these stories think about the truth that lie behind them.

Please read the following (sometimes fun news stories):

Answer the following by creating a list for each of the stories:

  • Identify which facts are likely true
  • Identify which facts could be true, but there is reason to doubt
  • Identify which facts are likely untrue – those doubted out of hand

Write about these in your blog and defend your choices. When you are done with everything find your own news story (whether video, print or other) and consider the answers to the questions here (if you want this could easily be split into two blog entries).

You might be very interested in watching this as well. Consider the following – are we really interested in the truth – or only what we want to know? Do we create our own bubble and take the knowledge that we find and fit it into what we already know for fear that it might really cause us to rethink what we are doing (think of our society’s approach to environmental issues for instance).


Is this art?

On Wednesday one of Edmonton’s popular newspapers asked the question: “Is this Art?” in Reference to particular construction that has appeared near the Whitemud and Fox Drive. Considering our discussion Wednesday afternoon about the nature of art (revolving around the Hallucinogenic Toreador – see the video below) I thought the question was worth asking with reference to out local art. So what do you think? Is this art? Is this something that governments should be finding? Is there something you’ve seen recently which has caused you to question ‘art’? I’m curious to see your opinions.

Language and its importance

Consider the following two questions.  Think about the language (or languages) that you know.

  • To what extent does language determine how we know things?
  • In what ways do you think the language we know influences how we perceive things?

The importance of languange is something that can be easily overlooked (witness the fact that we have spent a long time talking about a lot of things but never the role of language in their transmission).

Consider this article.  Do you agree with what it is suggesting?  What does the thesis of this article mean for the basis of knowing?

Watch this video, I have discussed the Académie Française before, considering the importance of language in what we know it could prove an important discussion point for a blog (remember that you have to do at least one on language as ‘way of knowing.’


Theory of Knowledge presents language as one of the key ways of learning. This look at the importance of language in our learning tries to put it all into perspective. Essentially language allows humans to be ‘social learners’. It is also, interestingly, visual theft, which is a very different way to look this important trait. Dr. Mark Pagel presents an interesting TED talk about the evolution of our one of our most defining traits. Perhaps – ‘We talk, therefore we are.’

His look into the the future of language and the dilemma of our plethora of languages provides a very powerful question about our future. Do you agree is our future really that of standardization? As an interesting aside that was sparked by his picture of the man with the blackboard, and if this has not happened already, it will be very soon, there are now more people studying English in China than live in North America (there were 300 million in 2007 although the quality may be in some dispute).