“DAMN.” the album

 

Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.” is considered by many to be a modern classic, cementing Lamar’s place as a giant in the hip-hop industry.  Personally, I had only lightly listen to “DAMN.” after its 2017 release and could only identify a few of the “hotter” songs on the album. I knew of Lamar’s lyricism and had always assumed, based of “Humble” and “DNA,” that thematically Lamar did not fundamentally differ from main-stream rap music.

Nearly 3 years later, our school’s project on the album restructured my views on Lamar’s work. There was so much to the album that I did not fully understand  – the thematic division between wickedness and weakness, the relevance of the order, the significance of the features…etc. Critics claim that Lamar pioneered “critical rap” and brought political critical hip-hop to the mainstream. I found many songs on the album to be extremely insightful and a reflection of many of the social problems faced by Black Americans today. Despite being written more than 3 years ago, Lamar’s calls to black empowerment and self determination are equally relevant todays with the re-ignition of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Political Alignments

 

Political Compass:

 

Nolan Chart:

 

Political Bias:

As one can see from my test results above, I am a left-leaning centrist (at least I consider myself to be one) and can generally be grouped into the “moderates.” My political bias test is exactly the average, which worries me because I previously considered myself to be less biased than the average person – I guess I was wrong.  Despite that, I think that I posses adequate self-awareness about my political alignment and was not surprised by the results of these tests. Socially, I lean to the left. Economically, I am more to the center. Not too surprising. Interestingly, according to the Political Compass’ website, my results were extremely similar to Gandhi’s political alignments – I’ll definitely look more into that. I am not too informed on Gandhi’s economic policies and would love to know more about them.

I do not consider myself to be a “political” person. To me, being “political” implies active participation and a personal stake in the political process. If I were to actively campaign for an individual/movement – or even donate a substantial amount of money to that movement – I could consider myself to be “political.” However, I am doing neither of those things and, although following the news, am not proactively seeking political involvement. Maybe in the future… hahaha.

Although not being “political,” per se, I think it is extremely important to follow the world around you.  In doing so, you are gaining knowledge and understanding of the world around you which may benefit you economically and physically in the future. Politics plays an integral part in all of our lives and knowing how that may effect you is crucial to leading an educated existence. I consider following to news to be the “duty” of any global citizen – one must understand their environment in order to contribute to it.

An understanding of politics allows one to better integrate themselves into society and become more socially aware in their personal lives. As different subject matters are brought into the spotlight (such as #BLM or #metoo), one is able to constantly revise and update their belief in respond to new knowledge and a deeper understanding of problems. As a result, one may become more sensitive to the problems of other, leading to compassion – and for politicians – the creation of better policy.

 

We Shall Fight On The Beaches

Churchill’s decision to not surrender in the face of Nazi aggression, despite of the French defeat, would go down as one of the most momentous decisions in History . In his speech “We Shall Fight On The Beaches,” Churchill’s extensive use of repetition, actions verbs, and climatic buildup inspired and motivated his listeners.

By continuously repeating the words “we shall fight…” Churchill adds power and structure to his speech. By continuously reinforcing a specific idea, Churchill takes a clear stance on the issue at hand and projects an image of strength and determination. By cutting every sentence with “we shall fight..”, Churchill also adds structure to his speech and give clear signposting of the next “idea.” In doing so, Churchill is able to use repetition as his primary technique to inspire a entire nation to hold steady in facing a powerful Nazi Germany.

Churchill also extensively uses action verbs during his speech – words like “fight,” “defend,” and “believe. These words serve to remind the reader of the momentous task that is at hand and the subsequent steps needed to overcome this challenge. They are extremely motivational and inspiring, lighting a fire in the hearts of Churchill’s listeners.

Finally, Churchill uses a long climatic buildup to emphasize his final message. In the speech , Churchill starts off describing Napoleon’s flat-bottom boats and the British expeditionary force. He slowly builds up the speech, using phrases like: “I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home…” By using this climatic buildup, Churchill is able to emphasize his final message, which in this case was a resolve in Britain’s ability to “defend their island home.”

Takeaways from The Social Dilemma

Knowledge Question/Concept My Notes
Given modern advances in technology, how can we distinguish between information and disinformation, deliberate misinformation, and manipulation? –       This is the age of misinformation: we cannot trust these companies to regulate truth and falsehood.

–       By its very nature, misinformation is more sensational and surprising than the truth. Therefore, it may spread faster.

–       The “Feedback loop” created by social media algorithms largely exacerbate this network of manipulation and disinformation.

To what extent do social networks reinforce our existing perspective rather than boosting our engagement with diverse perspectives? –       They create these “feedback loops” in which individuals only see pages that support their existing values

–       They create “suggestion/recommendations” to steer users to a specific viewpoint.

How has technology had an impact on how we browse, search and filter data and information? Can algorithms be biased? –       We have switched from using a tool to creating a distraction. A tool waits to be used, but social media always wants your attention. Instead of searching, we now allow these algorithms to direction our attention.

–       Algorithms can be biased. They are biased in the sense that they only want your attention, no matter the cost. Algorithms are biased to profit the tech companies.

To what extent have technological developments led to an increase in data being collected without people’s consent or when they are unaware that it is being collected? –       The vast majority of data collected without one’s consent is done online.

–       There are certain technical techniques big tech companies use to track and obtain one’s data. I.E Cookies.

–       These tech companies track your interest’s long term. That is to say that they create these profiles that are designed to keep your attention. By keeping your attention, they are able to show more ads.

Should we hold people responsible for the applications of technologies they develop/create? –       Yes. To a certain extent. The company itself must be held accountable.

–       The “whole” of the tech companies are greater than the “parts” that make them up. It is not right to hold “well-intentioned” people to the consequences they have caused. However, if we do not hold them accountable, who is responsible?

What impact has social media had on how we acquire and share political

knowledge?

–       Social media, specifically the feedback loop, creates extremist ideas. By only showing coinciding opinions, they pull individuals down a rabbit hole and they become to invested to backdown – Dogmatism.

–       There is now a greater problem of slander and misinformation online than ever. This can negatively affect political discourse.

Are new ethical challenges emerging from the increased use of data analytics in political activity and decision-making? –       Yes, they are emerging every day.

–       We need to consider the ethics of creating tech that manipulates and spreads disinformation faster than truth.

–       By regulating what exactly we are exposed to online, we are able to create positive change.

 

When I was watching “The Social Dilemma” I was continuously congratulating myself on not downloading any form of social media other than WeChat. Not to brag, buuuuuut … I am not on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or any other similar social media platform (yay!). Even for WeChat, I have set the time limit for usage to 1 hour every day. Now that I’ve watched “The Social Dilemma” I am definitely not going to be downloading any of these apps. I do not want to be turned into another data-point for Facebook’s algorithm. It just creepy to think that these big tech companies are able to manipulate and misdirect your attention to create profit.

 

That being said, it was still frightening to realize how much tech companies really do know about individuals, and the subsequent techniques they employ to trap user’s attention. Something mentioned in the documentary that I really related to on a personal level was the addictiveness of algorithm’s suggestions – especially on YouTube. Somedays I could start off on YouTube by watching a school-related crash-course video and find myself, two hours later, still on the platform. It is an immense waste of time, yet I can’t seem to stop. I realize that the creators of YouTube probably did not intend to create such a destructive website and most likely created the “recommendation section” to allow users to diversity their interests. Nevertheless, YouTube recommendations has created, for me, the perfect “procrastination” outlet.

In the future, I will try to refrain from binging YouTube by setting a time limit on the number of hours I will spend on the site.

The Three Body Problem

What really amazes me about Cixin Liu’s The Three Body Problem is the extent to which is it able to synthesize complex social contexts and scientific literature into one coherent novel. Taking it back to the syllabus, Liu is able to blend a multitude of global issues into her novel and create literary environments rich enough for the reader to understand the real world implications of said issues. For example, much of her novel pertains to the scientific advanced of technology – nano-tech in particular. This is a real-world issue: nano-technology is reshaping the way humanity thinks about it’s problems and is a tool that humanity has yet to fully exploit.  From the medical lab to military test-zones, nano-tech is advancing at light speed.

I suggest (if you haven’t already) to go watch the movie Big Hero 6. Although substantially more light-hearted than The Three Body Problem, it explores much of the same theme. It is an interesting parallel one can draw here when it comes to technological usage: both media’s express the dangers of a new technology and the moral implications of using it. In Big Hero 6, what is supposed to be a robot doctor learns destructive kung-fu and wreak havoc onto it’s enemies. In the Operation Guzheng chapter of The Three Body Problem, Wang and Da shi slices up a hundred in half using nano-tech strings.

These implications leads to a more profound analysis the text:  what are the moral implications of new technology? Humanity has always developed new “stuff” –  from the wheel to designer babies. However, is it rare that we, as a society, put limits and restrictions onto these new technological advancements. In 2018,  a Chinese Doctor recently engineered two babies to be HIV resistant, was this the right thing to do? Was he in a moral position to manipulate the direction of two lives?

There are never a good answer to these questions, and needs continues exploration. To me, The Three Body Problem is a continuation of this exploration and serves as a stepping stone in guiding humanity to the ethical use of technology.

How my parents acquired their Knowledge

When I asked my parents what tools they employed to obtain and product knowledge during their school days, I received mixed responses.

They definitely did not have access to the technology that we currently possess. However, that doesn’t mean that their method of synthesizing knowledge was any less effective. They didn’t have iPads or computers during their teenage years and, instead, relied on memory, numerous pages of notes, and collaboration among friends to obtain knowledge effectively. In tandem to in-school experiences, my parents also heavily relied on family – brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents – to obtain knowledge: my father told me some of the most useful lessons he learned (both in life and academically) was through interactions with his six older siblings – they would spend hours each day doing their homework together. My mom echoed much of the same sentiment as she described the hours spent practicing handwriting – “your generation doesn’t even need to do that anymore! You kids can just type it!”

Interestingly, halfway through my “interview,” they began to lament the effects of technology on teenagers today and conveyed something along the lines of: “technology ruins the experience of education!! When you’re sucked into a screen, there is no room for independent thought.”

From their experiences, I can see that their methods of obtaining and creating knowledge were just as, if not more, effective than modern practices. Although writing an essay took twice and long, my parents were better able to understand the importance of each individual word. Personally, I can’t even imagine going to school armed only with a pencil and paper and consider my laptop to be one of the best outlets for academic creativity. To be fair, I have attended a local Chinese school for two years (without a laptop), but even then, I was still able to access library databases and extracurricular support in a way that my parents would not have even dreamed of receiving.

I guess that even as time moves forward and learning techniques adapt and change, the determining factor isn’t really the different ways in which one can synthesize information, but rather the amount of dedication and interest one shows in the pursuit of knowledge.

 

 

Is Ignorance Bliss?

In class, we held a debate on whether “ignorance is bliss” or not. I was assigned to argue for the claim and attempt to convince the adjudicators that ignorance was really bliss. Although both sides had valid and effective points, it was a “wash” because neither side fully engaged the other.

From a technical standpoint, the debate was extremely hard to judge. I say that because none of the speakers “weighed” during their speeches. “Weighing” is the process of convincing the adjudicator that the arguments brought up by one’s own sides overweighs the arguments brought up by the other side. This can be prompted through three essential questions: why is my argument more important, more impactful, or more likely to occur than all other arguments?

When both sides have valid and effective offensive arguments, weighing is essential to a debate – without it, the adjudicator simply cannot how they should judge the debate. To give an oversimplified example, in the debate “which is better, cats or dogs?” If one side’s argument is that “dogs are generally more playful, ” and the other side’s argument is that “cat are generally more self-reliant,” it is almost impossible for the adjudicator to tell which side has won because neither side proved that “playfulness” is more important than “self-reliance” (or vice versa) as qualities in a pet.

This “lack of weighing” manifested itself in our classroom debate. While both sides had effective offensive arguments, neither side proved that their arguments were more important, more impactful, or more true than the other side. Both sides mounted valid offensive arguments, but failed to fully engage the other sides arguments.

If I was the adjudicator, I would have no idea , from a technical standpoint, which side to give the win to. Neither side was able to prove to me that I should value their argument over any other arguments. Therefore, I would see this debate as a giant “wash” (with both sides scored equally) and rely on my own biases to give the win. It must be noted, however, that I am a BP debater, and generally we are seen as pretentious pomps when it comes to debate adjudication.

Regarding this prompt, my personal opinion is  that each individual scenario must be judged on it’s own. To claim that in all possible scenarios “ignorance is bliss” is definitely not true: ignorance of a shark in the bay would probably lead to my death. However, ignorance of the horrible atrocities conducted in the middle-ages would, and probably is, is contributing to my happiness. If I had to choose one side of the argument though, I would prefer knowledge over ignorance solely because the advancement of knowledge is the basis of human advancement, and I would trade large-portions of my happiness to create significant human advancement: If each one of us could fully understand the horrors of war, we would all suffer through different levels of depression, but probably won’t start another war.

To that extent, there are no set responsibilities one has in the process of acquiring knowledge. All knowledge may advance one’s understanding of the world in some shape or form, and the information in and of itself is not condemnable. However, it is what one does with this information that is subject to judgment. For example, reading a serial killer’s book on “how to murder” may help the police force better deter and catch future killers. On the other hand, the book may also incentive potential killers to murder because they have learned techniques that might increase their chances of “getting away with it.”

 

 

Are some “Ways of Knowing” more likely than others to lead to the Truth?

“Truth” is rarely a binary concept ­– more often, it exists on a subjective scale, formed by clashing thoughts and conflicting opinions. Although it is impossible to represent truth in all its nuance, the word can be broadly defined as the property of being in accordance to fact or reality. Only through the acquirement of knowledge, can one better understand their reality, and, subsequently, arrive at the truth. In ToK (and life in general), one is armed with the eight distinctive modes of perception on their quest for understanding. However, because truths can exist in multiple realities, there isn’t specific “ways of knowing” that may better lead to the truth. Instead, only through using a combination of these “ways of knowing” can an individual arrive at the truth.

Although some might say that certain ways of knowing are more likely to lead one to the truth, this post would like to argue that each individual way of knowing is severely limited when used alone, and only when one uses the “the ways of knowing” in conjunction to one another, can the full truth be glimpsed. Take sense perception for example. Although in real life, sense perception is often an effective means of learning the truth – I saw you talking with so and so  ­– , it can still be crippled by the trained technique. In the optical illusion of figure 1, only sense perception is used to determine an outcome. Evidently, viewers are misled, and only through the use of reasoning can they determine that the lines aren’t actually moving. In a more complex manner, magicians operate under nearly the same framework – by controlling multiple aspects of one’s sense perception, they are able to form the illusion of impossibility. 

Similarly, all the “ways of knowing” are prone to similar crippling shortcomings: emotions can be manipulated, memories gaslit, imaginations inflamed, reasons misdirected, intuitions mislead, faiths misplaced, and language distorted. It is quite evident that every single mode of perception is fallible in some way, and, therefore there is no perfect combination.

So how does one actually arrive at the truth?

Individuals need to employ their arsenal of techniques in unison to arrive at the truth. All the “ways of knowing” acts as checks and balances to one another and are all crucial to forming one’s own understanding of reality: although our sense perception tells us that the lines in figure 1 are moving, our reason tells us otherwise. Although, our reason tells us of a high likelihood of rejection, our emotions say otherwise… etc. The human mind is able to juggle and resolve these conflicting “ways of knowing” to form a coherent conclusion, and in different scenarios, the brain values different modes of perception different. In a combat situation, soldiers may rely more on intuition. While, during tests, students may rely more on memories. Therefore, all the “ways of knowing” hold equal value on the quest for truth – without one, and the mind in unable to form a complete perception and the truth is lost.

 

 

 

The Three Body Problem – Part 1

Part One of the “Three Body Problem” serves to set the historical context of Cixin Liu’s extraordinary novel.  Within the first few pages, Liu dives into the social chaos created during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. As prominent physicist Ye Zhetai is killed during a struggle session, his daughter, Ye Wenjie, is exposed to the horrendous persecution intellectuals faced at that time. These childhood experiences would deeply influence her, and drive her to the belief that only an outside “supernatural” force could enforce moral justice onto this world. Years later, Ye Wenjie is sent to a classified military base which, apparently, conducts scientific experiments  – an act that was directly against the political principles of the state.

The first impression I had while reading the Three Body Problem was that Liu is amazingly imaginative. To set a sci-fi during the Chinese Cultural Revolution was no small feat of creativity. Although Part One is comparatively shorter, it does not make it any less important, and, at the end of page 48, the reader is left with an riddle to solve: what is the significance of the experiments conducted in military base?

 

Starting on my Journey towards Knowledge

One of the primary questions that the Theory of Knowledge course tries to explore is: “What do you know for sure, and how do you know it?”

I believe that we, as humans, are able know something “for sure,” only if we can corroborate it. Furthermore, It is impossible to know “for sure” social constructs simply because it is impossible to corroborate them.

My initial reaction to the question was quite simplistic and primarily focused on first part of the question:

“I know my name is Jerry, I know the Earth is round, I know that I have five fingers on each hand, I know I currently live in Beijing, China, I know… I know…. ”

These tidbits of knowledge seemed quite obvious and generally self-explanatory. However, upon further inspection, I realized that I have never even attempted to confirm most of this information, and for some of the answers, I didn’t even know how to confirm them. How do I know my name is Jerry? Well… I guess it’s because that’s the series of vocal sounds that everyone uses when referring to me. It’s the series of vocal sounds I use to refer to myself. How am I supposed to “confirm” that?

Maybe the scope of this question wasn’t intended to encompass collective social constructs because… quite simply, there is no way to corroborate them. How do I know that winged mammal is called a bird? Everyone calls it a birds. Is that enough to justify the “truthfulness” of that piece of information?

On the other hand, when I stand on a beach and look out towards the horizon, I can see the curve of the earth. When i have a pencil in my hand, I can physically feel the shape in my hands.  As humans, it is only possible to know information that one can corroborate themselves.

 

 

 

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