Precepts to use in everyday life

1. Think for yourself, 2. Be yourself, 3. Speak up, 4. Feel free to agree and disagree, 5. Be honest with yourself and others, 6. Be open-minded, 7. Avoid being judgmental and 8. Question everything - even your own thinking.

TOK Essay Titles May 2019

Thursday, November 20, 2014

ToK Prescribed Essay Titles (May 2015): Question 6

“The whole point of knowledge is to produce both meaning and purpose in our personal lives.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?
This post considers three areas of knowledge that attempt to produce ‘meaning and purpose’ in our lives.
Religious Knowledge Systems: religions, especially the monotheistic ones, promote the idea that the universe has a specific design which is conceived and executed by a higher power.  It is this design that gives ‘meaning and purpose’ to our lives.  Meaning comes from the dualistic conception of the self – we are both flesh and soul, but it is the soul which must be nurtured while the flesh is merely functional and houses the soul for a short while.  In this life, the soul is to be made ready for the after-life in which it can exist either in God’s paradise or Satan’s hell.  This brings us to the purpose of life: while each individual is given a personal will, it’s up to us to merge this will with the higher Will of God.  This is what prepares the soul for the after-life.  Those who deviate from God’s Will take the path of evil; those who conform, take the path of good.  See how this religious narrative carries within it a wide range of moral values and ritualistic elements that shape our day to day lives from the moment we are born.  Out of this narrative are born ethical systems such as deontology (eg ‘The Ten Commandments’) and artistic traditions (eg. medieval iconography), as well as culturally evolved groups based around different faiths.  What happens when one group’s perception of the meaning and purpose of life clashes with another groups perception of meaning and purpose?  Is there a meaning and purpose we can all share? (Some would argue that ‘science’ gives us such a meaning and purpose…)
Indigenous Knowledge Systems: indigenous tribes gave us creation myths to shape our day to day lives with meaning and purpose.  These narratives accounted for the origins of the universe and many of them reveal a deep connection between man, animals and the environment.  The thread running through these creation stories is the idea of ‘interconnectedness’: the fates of every living creature are linked in an unpredictable environment.  Meaning comes from imposing a coherent story to make sense of the apparently random cycles of life and death; purpose comes from devising rituals to create balance between harmony or chaos in the environment. Much of this knowledge is handed down the generations through the oral tradition and guarded by individuals specially raised and trained to minister it to other members of the community.  In this sense, indigenous knowledge and religious knowledge seem to be the same thing: a way of organising society according to a set of, what many scientists would now call, superstitious beliefs.  A potential problem of this approach to knowledge is, of course, how do we know that the ministers of this knowledge aren’t abusing it…?
Science & technology: Those of you who are hooked to your computer games will know how sometimes you get so involved in the game that the distinction between virtual reality and reality itself becomes blurred.  Just reflect on how sometimes your dreams are so powerful that when you initially wake up, you still feel as though you’re in the dream. Now what would happen if we could harness this power of imaginative engagement with virtual or dream worlds and use it to shape our personal lives in a purposeful and meaningful way.  Well, scientists have developed virtual reality technologies to such an extent that it can be used in such a way.  The military have been doing this for years with flight simulators and now chicken farmers can use technology to give their birds the illusion of wandering happily in a field, when in fact they continue to be caged.  Why?  In an attempt to use a cost effective method of producing ‘free range’ yet factory farmed eggs…Think ‘The Matrix’ (gone mad!).  And yet, is this so farfetched?  Star Trek’s idea of a ‘holodeck’ showed us the vast possibilities of virtual reality for entertainment purposes; today, the proliferation of online roleplaying games suggests that many people find more meaning and purpose in their simulations and simulated universe than in the physical universe of their day to day lives.  In fact, Bob the builder feels he is more himself in the sim version of Bob the dragonslayer, than he is in his mundane, poorly paid job of fixing the plumbing for a living.  What does this tell us about the nature of technological knowledge through which such games are constructed…?

1 comment: said...

This is something that I have considered many times. It seems that humans generally have the tendency to search for some sort of meaning in life, even thought it is impossible to find. I personally relate to the third point, where virtual reality is more meaningful and entertaining than real life. Perhaps this is because games and stories always have a clear goal. Bob the dragonslayer's purpose is to slay dragons, and most likely win the adoration of a princess or prince of some sort. If one is working towards something obvious, such as a child saving their allowance for a new book, then the work is easy and there is an assurance that there will be a reward at the end. The quest will be completed, and satisfaction will be gained in a job well done. With more abstract goals in mind, such as "live happily" or "be successful," then there is no concept of reward and no specific end in sight. This is why many people never meet even their short-term goals, and why New Years' Resolutions are famously never fulfilled. Abstract goals like "live healthier," "pass my classes," and "get a job" are far too difficult to fulfill. If instead these goals were more specific, such as "only eat out once a week," "maintain a B average in class," and "apply for three interviews this month," with the promise of a reward at the end (treat yourself to a slice of cake, go out with your friends to celebrate a job well done, and spend a day just laying in bed, respectively) then people will be more motivated and less likely to lose heart before reaching their goals. This is one reason why the digital world is much easier to handle. If all you need to do is kill a troll to earn a pile of gold, then what reason is there not to keep trying to kill the troll until you've finally done it?