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Political Politics

Here are my results for the three political tests:

The first test (Political Compass) shows that I am slightly left-leaning in terms of my views on the economy and personal freedom. The “economic left” is associated with having the economy run by a cooperative collective group (such as in communism and socialism) rather than individuals and organizations competing with each other. The libertarian side of the political spectrum is associated with the idea that people should have more freedom over their choices, rather than having more authority from the government.

The second test (Nolan Test) shows I am slightly left-leaning in terms of personal freedom, but right-leaning in terms of economic freedom. This puts me on the very edge of the “moderate” square. The two tests clash with each other in that one shows me as more economic left-leaning and one shows me as more economic right-leaning.

The third test (Political Knowledge) is more of a ‘quiz’ test than a ‘personality’ test. It shows that I have a pretty large political bias when it comes to knowledge related to politics. I honestly believe this is due to my lack of knowledge of U.S. politics and the United States in general rather than my actual political bias, so I think this one is less representative of me politically.

Regardless, I don’t consider myself a political person. In fact, I often avoid looking at political media (especially the articles that have comments on them) because I like to learn about factual world news and not worry that what I read is untrue and just political propaganda. I also dislike listening/watching political debates of any kind because I tend to get sucked into both sides of the argument and waste too much time on fact-checking, research, etc. I generally don’t like political disagreements (on the internet) either, because people tend to be more disrespectful when they are in front of a screen, so I stay away from those kinds of things.

What I believe being ‘political’ means is to be outspoken about one’s political opinion and to take action to promote that opinion. This is not possible in some places, but being political is to own your political identity and demonstrate it without shame (no hiding behind a pen name/secret identity). As such, I don’t consider myself a political person at all, because I dislike expressing my opinions on politics. I know some people who may fit my description of being ‘political’.

Is everything political? I don’t think so. While nowadays many things can be surprisingly associated with being political, such as wearing a mask, climate change, and thinking the earth is round, they are simply associated with politics and not actually political themselves. For example, wearing a mask is the mere act of wearing a mask to avoid spreading disease through the nose and mouth. What people have claimed about mask-wearing and coronavirus being a means of the government to control the population and whatnot are claims that, in the end, accomplish nothing. I feel strange for writing that because it sounded political, even though it wasn’t.

Nonetheless, even though I distance myself from politics, I believe it is very helpful to have knowledge of politics and global events in general. It gives you global awareness, a better understanding of society as a whole, and most importantly, the ability to know whether to stay away from politics or not. The best wisdom is from experience.

There are many global issues related to politics that I think deserve attention – climate change (which is real), unbalanced distribution of wealth and power, lack of basic needs, human rights to name a few. Some specific political events that have or deserve huge media coverage include the unstable political situation in the U.S. (Trump-Biden election, impeachment, storming of the Capitol, etc.), many civil wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria), global terrorism, and several issues in China that I cannot speak about (including that issue itself).

Politics as a whole is a complex matter and is important for understanding our power systems in human society. It is definitely an interesting topic to study.

A Social Dilemma

The 2020 documentary The Social Dilemma goes over many problems that arise from the widespread usage of social media and technology in general.  Here are a few interesting things that I noticed and discussed:

  • Because social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) is so widespread, a lot of false information exists online. The reason why misinformation isn’t suppressed is that it draws attention and keeps users on the site, which helps the companies earn money and maintain their steady source of income.  It also stood out to me how all of the problems with social media can be attributed to a capitalist business model, where companies are solely focused on getting as much exposure and money as possible. The examples of this go on and on.
  • Algorithms trace your online activity to find out and choose what would attract your attention the most on your home page.  For example, watching several YouTube videos on cats will cause the algorithm to recommend more videos related to cats. This is designed to keep someone on the application/website as long as possible.
  • The implications of such algorithms that give a constant feed of the same content are that you will not see different perspectives on a multi-faceted topic, because recommending arguments that disagree with yours would discourage you from using that social media. The problem is that this easily leads to a rabbit hole of confirmation bias – where people are continuously lead, by selective filtering, into completely believing one side’s perspective – and causes people to experience a lack of diverse perspectives.
  • Political knowledge and opinions are some of the most widely covered stories on the general media because the decisions of powerful people will affect a large population, and knowledge of these perspectives is critical in forming one’s own political train of thought. Unfortunately, due to the polarizing nature of social media, one’s own opinion tends to receive a lot of support and very little opposition, leading to the ‘rabbit hole’ phenomenon discussed above.
  • Data collection without consent is one of the core hidden aspects of social media that make them so addictive. Because we can’t be bothered to read a website’s License Agreement/Terms of Service or research the potential ramifications of unintentionally giving data to a company for use, many of us unknowingly allow social media websites to build an online profile of ourselves for the company’s purpose of milking more money out of us. This may not be considered illegal but many have considered it to be morally wrong and highly dangerous for users of social media, due to the lack of transparency between a company and its consumers. Data can be sold, and it can be leaked as well, which is a huge privacy breach.
  • Companies should be held responsible for their creations and the effects on society of their creations. Individual employees should not be held responsible, however, as they are employed by the company for a specific purpose (such as marketing), not to question whether their job is morally right. The capitalist business model is hugely beneficial for the companies but exploits and creates false beliefs in social media users while creating a large divide between opposing knowledge groups in society. As such, it is flawed and hugely detrimental to people in general, and social media may be responsible for slowing human development in the present and future due to creating such problems.

The documentary poses many unanswered questions about the future of social media, citing these massive problems that still need to be fully addressed for the well-being of our society.

School but it’s 30 years ago

I interviewed my parents on the ‘technology’ they used when they went to school and their experiences in public schools in Malaysia.

In primary and secondary school, my parents did not use any form of technology in their normal studies. In class, the teacher would teach on a blackboard (chalkboard) using textbooks and exercise books (the ones with question prompts and lines and boxes for writing). For studying, my parents would have many course books like the IB textbooks we have today and would take notes in a notebook. Large reference books were common such as dictionaries and encyclopedias – their heavy-duty physical version of the internet. When I asked about using any computers or calculators, my mother noted that she did not use technology like that until she was in university, and before that, all math functions had to be carried out by hand. My mom used computers for learning to program in C (as an extracurricular activity in school), but otherwise, neither of my parents utilized computers for their learning.

My parents also had fairly different learning experiences in school compared to mine. All of their classes consisted of a teacher spoon-feeding information to a large class, while the students had to memorize the information for exams. The students did a lot of exercises like in the exercise books mentioned above. This teaching method is still prevalent in many public institutions but is commonly criticized for being ineffective and unengaging. As for myself, I did not experience this teaching method that often, given that I have mostly attended private schools. However, it has been much more common for me in high school. It seems that in the modern-day, the emphasis has been placed on making elementary learning more engaging, while the curriculum and teaching style for higher-level courses has not changed much. My parents’ schools had ‘class rankings’ for exam results, showing which students scored the highest on exams. Nowadays, this practice is becoming more obsolete, as many schools now discourage comparing students to one another and instead value the individual. My parents also experienced much more strict discipline, where teachers would often scold students for their behavior or doing poorly on an exam, and were allowed to hit students with rotan – a thin wooden cane (although it was becoming much less common at that time). This included a strict dress code and uniform policy, which still exist to this day in many schools (although the schools I attended were more lenient with uniforms).

I feel that the school system my parents experienced was more rigid and institutional, in that it expected students to fully comply with the school’s standards, and focused on ‘fixing’ students who did not follow the rules or failed in class. For students that did not adapt to this harsh system, the development of their personal knowledge was heavily impaired, as they would be portrayed as stupid and lose their self-esteem. Nowadays, some schools are shifting to accommodate students’ personal knowledge and skills instead of forcing them to ‘fit in’, because the development of the internet has caused the online form of shared knowledge to be vastly widespread. The internet, in turn, has made knowledge to be easily available, which means the need for schools to force-feed information to students has diminished. As technology continues to be enhanced and new forms of technology arise, schools will put less emphasis on the acquiring of knowledge and more on the individual applications of knowledge, a trend that has already become visible in the short span of 30 years.

Ignorance Isn’t Bliss

I was a speaker for the debate on whether “ignorance is bliss” or not. I was on the side of arguing against that claim, and I have to say I agree with disagreeing with that statement. Here were our main points:

  1. Ignorance causes more trouble than bliss – ignorance causes one to be ostracized from society (social isolation causes humans – biologically social creatures – to feel the opposite of bliss) 
  2. Ignorance can cause us pain and danger
  3. Simply the knowledge that one is ignorant about something is enough to make someone who seeks knowledge to be dissatisfied – the opposite of being happy or “blissful”
  4. Being informed and not ignorant can allow us to find what makes us happy, as opposed to only prolonging a single, dull form of bliss

The affirmative side defined ignorance (situational ignorance of certain events) and bliss, and made a few key points as well:

  1. The more we know, the more we suffer (less ignorance = less bliss). We aren’t crying about the loss of life somewhere distant in the world, because we aren’t fully aware and immersed in those experiences. The more we know about them, the less happy we get
  2. Happiness is instinctual and doesn’t rely on knowledge of happiness to achieve. Even if we don’t have sufficient knowledge (basically being ignorant), we can still experience bliss; likewise, too much knowledge can drive you to unhappiness

I believe our side won based on the points we made and my general bias towards the side I participated in. We were able to come up with many argument counter-claims, despite the affirmative side being able to define the terms and use their definitions to their advantage (e.g. “situational ignorance”). Otherwise, I don’t really have an objective reason, since I spoke so much for the negative side that I led myself to believe that we would win regardless (obvious ignorance). I felt that the other side had some good points as well, and their crossfire rounds specifically were very strong.

I believe that humans are obliged to acquire more knowledge constantly throughout our lives, as it seems that only when we are “enlightened” by knowing everything will we finally satiate our hunger for knowledge and our search for bliss. Otherwise, is it really bliss?

This wasn’t mentioned in detail in the debate, but the general basis of ignorance stems from not knowing that a certain thing exists, even though it very well exists. It is basically denying the existence of something without any self-awareness or self-control (you can’t choose to be ignorant). I believe this is what makes the argument that “ignorance is bliss” fundamentally flawed because human development and education are based on learning to accept the existence of something and potentially having enjoyment from newly acquired knowledge. Being ignorant about an important subject can be seen as detrimental to society (which is why it is seen as a bad trait), and if a society becomes ignorant as a whole, what contributions is it making for human progress?

Therefore, I argue that ignorance isn’t bliss. Nevermind, the debate’s already over

Are some ways of knowing more effective at leading to truth?

The Theory of Knowledge course highlights eight different ways of knowing, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, and each potentially leading to truth.  In this sense, it seems plausible that every way of knowing is equally likely to lead to truth; however, that is not the case.

Truth comes in two main forms: absolute truth and relative (coherent) truth. The absolute truth pertains to propositions that are inherently true and cannot be proven otherwise, such as “IQ stands for Intelligence Quotient”. On the other hand, the relative truth deals with statements that are true because another statement is true, such as “objects fall due to gravity” — this statement is true because gravity is generally accepted to exist, not because gravity exists for sure. Knowledge of the different types of truth is important for determining how effective the ways of knowledge are for both types.

The main ways of knowledge in finding the absolute truth are deductive reasoning and language. The absolute truth is based on fundamental human knowledge and constructs (such as mathematics and language), of which there are no exceptions, and validity based on deductive premises are proven to be true based on our unified understanding of the world. Because humans do not have a complete understanding of others’ emotions, imaginations, and intuition, they are considered “relative”, not “absolute”. Conversely, logic does not require abstract reasoning and is communicated with straightforward language, leading to the absolute truth if used correctly.

If finding the relative truth is the goal, helping factors vary situationally, but they still result in several ways of knowledge being more significant than others. Given a prompt to determine whether all birds can fly, one would likely observe different species of birds to provide a conclusion using observation (sense perception) and reasoning. While their first instinct would be to recall they seeing a bird that cannot fly to draw conclusions, the subjectiveness and limitation of human memory/intuition cause the evidence to be unreliable, regardless of one’s degree of certainty. Additionally, given the definite nature of the statement “all birds can fly”, one would have to utilize their knowledge of language to define relative parameters for the exact meaning of the words “bird” and “fly”. In different cases, several ways of knowledge are prevalent in leading to the relative truth, while others are obsolete, like memory in this example.

A counterargument might state that while some ways of knowing are superior in specific situations, others prevail in separate, equally important circumstances. For example, faith (disregarded in maths and science for the sake of precision) is used for explaining unknown phenomena, which is equally important as finding the absolute truth. However, while these situations can be perceived as equal, this argument fails to acknowledge that many of the ways of knowledge are used interchangeably, and how reasoning is prevalent in all ways of seeking truth to connect the relative and the absolute. It is with this knowledge that allows me to conclude that some ways of knowing, particularly reasoning and language, are more effective than others at leading to the general truth.

Theory of Knowledge – What Do I Know?

My name’s Alex, I’m 16, from Malaysia, and I like knowing the truth.

I am a human.

I wasn’t explicitly told that, but I think everyone assumes they are a human from a young age. I live on Earth in the politically designated country of China on the continental landmass of Afro-Eurasia. I know all of this from Social Studies and Science in school. On a smaller scale, I know for sure that my body is mostly carbon-based and requires basic needs such as food and water to survive. My brain’s genetic structure, developed from thousands of years of human evolution,  allows me to critically think about questions such as “how do you know what you know for sure?” I definitely know that for sure because I am conscious and sentient and able to communicate my thoughts through speaking or writing. In general, things I know for sure are either things that I have observed, or things that I have been told and I have confirmed myself. A general consensus on something does not necessarily serve as evidence that something is true since our society is based on working together and agreeing with each other, meaning that even if one person makes a statement, a whole group might agree without questioning whether they are right. Of course, whether I know that fact for sure is questionable. Actually, I learned most of that online, which is unreliable, albeit very convenient. With misleading information all around, there really is only one thing I know for sure: that I exist. And my knowledge of that requires no explanation.

#4 Reflect and Share

IMG_7419

This is my final product. The picture and the video already appeared in the previous blog post, but they are presented again for convenience. This model is able to adequately convert elastic potential energy into kinetic energy to power a propeller. However, it does not work due to the high mass of the whole model. The kinetic energy generated from the rubber band releasing its elastic tension was not enough to power this model. Occasionally, with the right conditions, the propeller will move the car a few centimeters forward, but this process is not stable and makes this rubber band-powered car nowhere near its optimal functionality.

Of course, when building this model, some risks had to be taken, as the original design (idea taken from a YouTube video) was built out of a lightweight plastic bottle and a bottle cap to hold the propeller in place. Some creativity was required to find a way to hold the propeller in place, determine an optimal length and width to accommodate the wheel axles and rubber band length, etc. In this case, the risks did not resolve as they should have, making the design not work. However, I spent a good amount of effort into this project and I was still able to explain the conversion of energy by explaining the balance between mass and kinetic energy.

#3 Create and Improve

These are the materials that I gathered (from the first class). I will be using these materials to create my prototype. My original work plan was to use wood, but I believed that wood would be too heavy and time-consuming to work with, so I substituted cardboard for it instead.

As this is from the first work period, I do not have much to reflect on, but even if my design does not work, I hope that I can learn something from this project.

Using the materials that I cut and picked up from the first class, I started to build my prototype car. I met some problems, e.g. the propeller was situated too low to spin without hitting the ground, so I had to come up with creative solutions that changed my plan a little as I was not expecting these problems when I created the plan. Unfortunately, I do not have a test video of my final prototype, but the car worked – except that it was too heavy to be moved by the propeller.

Here is a photo of the finished prototype design. More rubber bands can be hooked onto the paper clip if necessary. I did not pay much attention to aesthetics, as this is a prototype and I had to see if my design worked.

The third and fourth classes were dedicated to building my final project. Because the propeller seemed to be too weak to push such a heavy object forward, I attempted to counter this problem by using a bigger propeller. I also used a smaller and more compact design to reduce weight. Some of the materials from the prototype were recycled for this design, some were given away to other people, and some were scrapped to be used again. I used white cardboard, as it looks brighter and complements the black wheels + propeller better.

IMG_7419

This is a downloadable video of the final prototype in action (spoiler alert: it doesn’t work). The final prototype is quite unstable, but at least sometimes it moves a little. The last blog post will cover more of the reflection on this final design.

Science Design and Engineering Project – #1 Define and Inquire & #2 Develop and Plan

What is this engineering task?
Design and build a device/machine that shows the transfer of energy.

Here are some interesting ideas that I may be thinking of:
Solar Powered Car
Pros: fun, works well, simple
Cons: very common, hard to modify

Solar Powered Charging Bank (No.3)
Pros: very useful, simple, effective
Cons: possibly dangerous, could be more aesthetically pleasing

Solar Powered Fan (No.4)
Pros: simple, easy to make
Cons: hard to modify, situational, unoriginal

Solar Powered Air Heater
Pros: useful in the winter
Cons: requires many materials, may take a long time to make

Electricity Generator (Alternative Video)
Pros: simple mechanism, generates electricity
Cons: possibly not durable, quite complicated

 

Design Sketch

Plan –

Wednesday: Begin creating the prototype (cut wood, gather materials, etc.)

Friday: Continue and hopefully finish the prototype for testing

Tuesday: Begin final project

Thursday:  Finish and test project

Concert Band Goal 2018-19 S1

My goal for the end of the semester is to improve my dexterity (i.e. playing speed and tonguing). The excerpt is from the piece that I believe is the most useful for improving on, Minimalist Dances (bars 194-204).

There are plenty of exercises online that can help me practice my playing speed – I will practice every day optimally, and switch exercises/etudes every week or every few days.

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