Knowledge and Our Sense of Self: An Essay by Karen Rodas

A child who burns his hand on a stove after challenging his mother’s advice will not make the mistake again because he has proved for himself that the action is indeed dangerous and painful. Our lives consist of learning, not only in school but in the daily experiences which teach us how to conduct our lives. We are constantly gaining new knowledge, however not all of it shapes who we are as individuals and it is not the knowledge itself that gives us a sense of who we are, but the way we respond to it. Knowing that fire burns you will not create uniqueness in a person. However, if a person continues to play with fire, even after being burned by it, something about that person’s character is most certainly reflected. What we take to be true is what we will most often give value and practicality to our lives, therefore an important question to address is how knowledge is acquired and what is to be considered knowledge. Knowledge is acquired very differently in the human sciences and indigenous knowledge systems, so how they create a sense of self varies greatly.

Knowledge is often regarded as truth, and this truth will instill a need for action or responsiveness in a person. For example, a Christian has taken as knowledge that Jesus descended from heaven in the form of a baby and died for our sins. The knowledge to a Christian that Jesus died for them will give them a sense of unworthiness, value, peace, wholeness, etc. However for an atheist, Jesus being the Son of God is not knowledge. It is knowledge to them that it is knowledge to others. Therefore, it could be argued that what is not true to someone cannot be considered knowledge. Knowledge, then, can be subjective. In the natural sciences, knowledge is more objective, because the fact that someone doesn’t believe in a principle doesn’t stop it from being true. However, the ability that we have to find patterns and make something out of it makes us feel capable and powerful, while at the same time discovering the greatness of the earth makes us feel humble and small. So, all knowledge, whether it is objective or subjective, will give us a sense of who we are as either individuals or as a whole.

In the human sciences, there are two approaches for studying human behavior: the ‘naturalist’ approach, which is allegedly objective, and the ‘interpretivist’ approach, which is the subjective approach. The naturalist focuses primarily on social facts rather than individual decisions, which can be very unpredictable in comparison. The case of two famous human scientists embody these different approaches. Durkheim studied the causes of suicide and believed them to be completely separate from the personal experiences in the victims’ lives. While Durkheim focused on quantitative data, such as gender, age, religion, marital status, number of children, and other such figures, Weber would have tried to understand the reason for suicide from the victim’s point of view. The reason for such different approaches is that naturalists looks at human behavior as dependent on society, while the interpretivist looks at human behavior as a block of individuals. These two approaches to acquiring knowledge in the human sciences make an important point: different perspectives will determine what different people consider to be knowledge. Durkheim argued that moving from an urban to rural setting often caused depression, while Weber would have claimed that personal experiences within a specific culture cause depression. Which one is true? They both may be true, but a person’s response will lean more towards one approach than another, and that response will reveal how that person sees humanity. A person could see humanity through the lense of a naturalist, believing people are  predictable and more mechanized, or through the lense of an interpretivist, believing people are complex and unpredictable due to differences in cultural and emotional experiences. So it comes to be that a person’s interaction with the acquisition of knowledge provides a sense of self.

Knowledge in indigenous knowledge systems is also extremely important to the identity of the indigenous population. Knowledge comes in the form of stories, songs, or dances, and all these ways of knowing are central to the culture of indigenous people. Most importantly indigenous societies approach knowledge acquisition through first hand experience and through the use of the sense perception and language. In Science, Colonialism, and Indigenous Peoples Marlene Brant Catellano is quoted saying, “The need to walk on the land in order to know, it is a different approach than the one-dimensional, literate approach to knowing [we are used to]… Persons taught to use all their senses – to absorb every clue to interpreting a complex dynamic reality – may well smile at the illusion that words alone, stripped of complementary sound and colour and texture, can convey meaning adequately.” For this reason, indigenous groups also form strong bonds to the places where they live. They have formed physical and mental connections to the land and have drawn knowledge from it. To most of the modern world, knowledge is easily accessible through internet, libraries, and databases. This easy access is what makes this period in time so significant and marks us as the age of technology and modernization. The same goes with indigenous knowledge systems: their land and culture define who they are because it gives them access to all the knowledge built up over generations.

What is knowledge to one person may not be knowledge to another, and that is fine. It is what makes us all individuals. Whether the knowledge is more subjective, as is the case with religion and indigenous knowledge systems, or objective, as in the natural sciences, it will create a sense of who we are in the world. It is often that we say, “I don’t know,” and this phrase always leaves us in confusion as to what we are to do next. Not knowing impedes us from taking actions which will allow us to grow as individuals and solve problems. We can’t take action, and that prevents us from achieving a sense of self. Therefore, our interactions with knowledge and how we acquire it will always give significance to our lives.  



Relationships: Validation?

This week I watched a video of a couple discussing lies that young women tend to believe. One of the discussion points were relationships and how they often serve as validation. This reminded me of Asch’s experiment, in which 9 out of 10 participants were in on the experiment. They were all shown pictures of 4 lines and had to decide which two were the same length. Initially, they all gave the same and correct answer, but when the participants started giving the wrong answer, the excluded participant would also give the wrong answer. They gave different reasons for doing this. One explained that they knew they were right, but didn’t want to contradict the group. Another seriously believed they were wrong and that the group must be right, since they were all giving the same answer. I wondered what I would do in this situation, and concluded that I’m the type of person who would believe I was wrong and go along with the answer the rest of the group gave.  I don’t like it, but that’s what would happen. It is known that group pressure will push an individual to do things which they would not do if left to decide alone. We do this, because we are designed to form connections with people. Being around people is often where we feel the most joy. Interaction is essential, but what about individuality? Where do we draw the line deciding who and what will affect the decisions we make, and at what point does being around other people become exhausting and depressing?


The couple I previously mentioned based their discussion on the book Lies Young Women Believe. One of the lies mentioned in the video had to do with a female’s relationship  with a male, and the validation that the relationship created or didn’t create. It reminded me of how much we depend on our society’s norms to decide what we will accept as true or false. Much of what we know comes from these preconceived ideas. Take as an example the typical male and female roles stereotype. A man is the independent figure, which leaves the woman as the dependent, weak, and frail figure. Of course, these stereotypes aren’t true and are combated, but even then they’re so ingrained that if we really stop to think about what we say and do,  the implications that come with come with them give away that we, too, fall into their grip.

The first lie women tend to believe is that they will feel better about their life if they had a boyfriend. Something I noted and thought to be very important was that when the woman told her husband she used to believe that lie herself, he said that as a male he couldn’t understand. He could only imagine. So females and males definitely know the world differently, and that’s not a surprise because we are different. However, often we grow up believing such different things because of our society. I’ve no doubt that males, although not as a result of their own security, will often feel more confident in situations than a female, and not only that but even in regards to females. I realize that this is not always the case, but once again, it’s more often implicit than explicit. It’s important to realize that our status in a society will impact the way we know things.

I’ve definitely had that thought before, but I quickly correct it. The wife in the video started talking about how she had begun dating her now husband because a part of her wanted to feel wanted, however she further explained, it didn’t really change anything because at times she would feel the opposite of validation. Of course, this is because what society tells us is not true. We can only find fulfillment within ourselves. However, like in Asch’s experiment, not being alone and being of the same mind as someone else makes us feel validated. Sure, we were made for interacting with others. We cannot live without it, but we are also individuals.

It’s important to ask what we want from a relationship? To feel validated, to have companion, to assert our value? Are we getting into relationships based on what we know is a symbol of being desired. We must be cautious of the decisions we make and not allow societal norms to determine the way we make decisions and empathize with others, as was the case with this husband not being able to completely understand  why a woman would feel like she needs to be with a man in order to feel worthy. We must be more comfortable with ourselves, because only then will we be truly content, and close the gap that society places between different people.





The Problem We Tend To Face: siding with an argument because we are lazy and don’t want to formulate our own conclusions


Previously, I hadn’t stopped to consider that even though psychology, economics, politics, and other soft sciences aren’t as evidently concrete as the hard sciences such as physics, chemistry, and mathematics, all science is based on testing hypotheses using evidence. All scientists have some way to back up their claims, regardless of the methods used to reach reliable data. Good science can be falsified, according to Karl Popper, and this applies to both soft and hard sciences, making them both reliable and useful.

In the article “Soft sciences are often harder than hard sciences” by Jared Diamond, talks about the debate between Lang and Huntington regarding whether Huntington should be accepted into the National Academy of Sciences because of his work in the political science field and his making statements such as “The  overall correlation between frustration and instability… was 0.50.” To Lang this usage of mathematics was really not appropriate at all. As he saw it, it was “pseudo mathematics” because it was an opinion. However, this was an ignorant way to view Huntington’s work because in soft sciences mathematics is used to make a concept more tangible, it is not the other way around, in which case the usage of math in a concept would detract from its reliability. Diamond  defend the integrity of the soft sciences, stating that these, in fact, are in many cases more rigorous than the hard sciences, since the scientist must find a way to “operationalize” a concept to be able to build a theory. In this process of operationalizing the scientific method takes place. This happens as the scientist forms a hypothesis as to what method he could use to extract a measure from a concept. He then tests it and refines it.

Diamond makes a clear and effective argument, however one of the things I want to explore is his own swaying the readers to agree with him from an obviously unneutral stance. Near the beginning of the article, Diamond talks about the way that Lang attacked Huntington by pointing out his political  views. He states that this should not have affected the turnout of his candidacy, but unfortunately it became a considerable portion of the debates. Diamond does something similar in his argument by making statements saying that the hard sciences should be renamed to be called easy sciences, and in turn the soft sciences should be called the hard sciences. In addition, in the closing paragraph of the article, he implied that Lang’s Diophantine approximation is of little importance compared to Huntington’s measure of political instability when faced with real and emergent problems.

Although I agree with him , I also realize that Diamond went beyond the boundaries of solely making his argument valid ( the argument being that soft sciences can be harder than hard sciences). Soft sciences and hard sciences are both science so they are both seeking to find new information through reliable methods. In the process of countering Lang’s pejorative claims against Huntington, Lang also belittled the hard sciences, and the reality is that both hard sciences and soft sciences have been key to developing civilization. Where would we be without all the medical advancements made? Likewise, if there weren’t economists and political scientists to study people’s behaviors, we would never learn from mistakes.

My question here is: to what extent do we blindly side with a view to oppose another? Diamond began his career “at the hard pole of chemistry and physics” and transitioned into the softer sciences as time went by. He is a smart man, so surely he knows the importance of the hard sciences, however he didn’t acknowledge it in the article. He strictly defended the soft sciences, but by doing so fell into the same trap that Lang did.

What I can learn from this is that we all have some control over what we know. We don’t have to be ignorant, and we should always look at both sides of an argument, striving to understand what paradigms are influencing a person’s claims. For a moment, Diamond had me convinced that soft sciences were much more important than hard sciences, but after discussing the article in class and a classmate calling Diamond out, I got to thinking about the way we can be so easily convinced if we don’t push further and draw our own conclusions, taking into consideration why each individual thinks the way they do. Lang faced the problem, Diamond faced the problem, and so did I.

Fulfillment Beyond Grades

I personally feel very validated when I get a good grade, but I also have learned through my experiences during the first semester of being in the ib diploma program that grades aren’t everything.

I like grades because I feel they are a relatively honest reflection of my performance, but such was not the case for ToK this year. I got a 100 on everything, and I know for a fact that those grades don’t reflect on my writing or the amount of thought and refining that goes into my assignments. However, I understand where my teacher is coming from with the grades. He wants to see the ib learner profile traits at play and of course some always are.

I think that assessing a student’s performance based on the learner profile won’t necessarily get rid of any stress or feeling of having to “get something done”, because assignments are responsibilities no matter what way performance is being assessed.  For this reason, a drawback might be students being so used to the number game,  that it becomes difficult to see an assignment as much more than something to get over with. However, I definitely see the benefits in this practice, because it could help redirect the mindset of tasks being a burden, to tasks being a personal exploration and opportunity for growth.

This applies more directly to academic classes, and especially to math. I despise learning what to do and how to do it, but not why. When this happens, I become awfully frustrated, but somehow the grade is still good, and of course it’s all because of the focus of the class.   I hate the fact that my grades are good, but that in the effort of getting them to be so, I don’t feel the passion I should about learning. I am in a way forced to leave that behing. That’s why I think a different grading system is ideal for ib classes, because the focus is now not on understanding material at a surface level, but about being invested and fascinated with learning things deeply.

It’s a million times better to focus on becoming a better learner than to focus on accomplishing a task, retrieving information on how things occur, that leaves not fulfillment or meaning in students and will be forgotten as soon as is turned in. I think we, as students, would complete assignments more willingly and devotedly , having that there is a more lasting significance to it. Bonds, family sentiment, and interaction would also grow as we learn that learning isn’t a competition of numbers but one of growing together.

Reflection on my “Plato’s Cave” Essay

The first major writing assignment we were given in ToK was in response to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and the role that the ways of knowing play in it. Since the ways of knowing are the same to the men in the cave in the allegory as they are to the readers, who’s to say we aren’t in a cave ourselves? This is the idea I explored in my essay, by directing my attention to sense perception and faith as two ways of knowing that act as caves, or barriers to having a whole understanding of existence in this universe.

I approached this essay with pretty unclear ideas, and when I tried to make sense of them in my paper, the results weren’t so good. The fact that I lacked a concrete example for my idea of sense perception as a cave is what impeded my complete understanding and undermined my ability to convey the fully developed idea comprehensibly.  I see where my mind was headed when I used the red cup example as a way to establish that through observation, which can only be done through our senses, we build our knowledge, but are restricted because we only have 5 senses and we aren’t the creator/giver who understands, but the observer who tries to. I only fully understood what I was trying to do with this example when I applied it to Leonardo Da Vinci’s Law of Continuity, and the process of him unearthing it.

The paragraph following my example of the red cup is a failed attempt at providing the concrete example to better my understanding and that of the reader in the role that sense perception plays as a cave, impediment, to human understanding. For example, I say, “We’ve sent aircraft into space and have been to the moon, things which wouldn’t have been possible had someone not noted that apples fall to the ground from trees,” showing my very, very small understanding. Seeing does not equal understanding, as I imply in that sentence. On the other hand, as I reread my essay, I realized that was constitutes our knowledge is reasoning and observation. In other words, we form conclusions out of our observations through reasoning. Da Vinci sketched the flow of seeds he threw into a river and reasoned that if his drawing were accurate then water would always flow faster at the narrower parts of a river of even depth.

My last body paragraph talked about faith as a cave, and although it was underdeveloped it was still easier to follow in its connection with Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

My thoughts on whether knowing that we’re in a cave will allow us to escape it has also changed after understanding my initial ideas better. When applying the cave concept to faith in a religious doctrine, the pastor or minister of the church behaves as the strange beings that decide what the men in the cave see on their wall of shadows. Regardless of the shadows they see only being reflections of reality, the men in the cave, like believers, are still given the substance from which they must form conclusions, deciding what is true or false. Doubt arises in believers of Christ, like in believers of other faiths, and this doubt either leads to confirmation or discarding of the original belief. Either one, in a sense, is like emerging from a cave for the person experiencing the doubt. So, freedom from the cave is relative to each person. Recognizing that you may be in error, will lead to observation and reasoning, which lead to knowledge and freedom.

Like humans are capable of considering the fact that they are in a sort of cave (as we are doing at the moment), the men in the cave must have also been capable of considering this, and only then does the possibility of leaving the cave open up. Plato emphasized just that: intense reasoning through observation (aka philosophy) is the way out of the cave.

A Cultural Link- Tamales

A lot of Hispanics only make tamales on special occasions such as Christmas and birthdays. My mom’s friend actually just told her how excited she was for tamales since Christmas is getting closer, so it’s definitely not a food that’s eaten regularly. However, in my family we make them about once a month, and even more often around the holidays, so to us it’s not anything particularly special, but that doesn’t mean we’ve gotten tired of them or don’t enjoy them.

Although they do take a few hours cooking in the steamer, tamales aren’t very difficult to make. The most common kinds that my mom makes are chicken, which can be cooked with Ancho chile pepper to make it red or with green tomatoes and jalapeno peppers to make it green, cheese, and squash. I mainly eat the chicken ones, my dad’s favorite are the cheese kind, which come with a slice of pickled jalapeno pepper, and since my mom doesn’t eat chicken, the squash kind are for her. Tamales can be filled with a variety of things, such as beans, spinach, rice, and even ones with prunes and coconut are made.

As my mom and I were making the tamales, I asked her if they were any harder to make back when she lived in Mexico. Here all we need is corn flour, corn oil, water, and salt to make the dough, and chicken breast, Ancho chile peppers, and seasonings to make the filling. Everything is store bought. For my mom though, it wasn’t as easy, and tamales weren’t something that was eaten often. My mom lived on a farm, so pretty much everything they used for the tamales they grew at home. They grew corn, and to make the flour they would break the base and let the corn dry up. They would then grind the corn, and from this make the tamales.

Now, there are two kinds of tamales. Those wrapped in corn leaves and those wrapped in banana leaves. The banana leaf kind is more work intensive, since the dough is more saucy, the chicken isn’t pulled apart and also more saucy, and you have to make careful folds so no sauce spills out. My brothers prefer these, but my favorite are the corn leaf kind. Every time we make them, we make quite a bit, so they’ll last for a couple of days, and this is why my mom enjoys making them. It means less cooking for her. But further, the best part about tamales is that they mean bringing the family together one way or another. My mom gets a break from the kitchen, so she’s spending more time laughing and conversing with us, I typically help her make the tamales and this results in much joy and understanding between us, we invite the rest of the family over to eat, and we share it with others.

Invisibilia “Future Self” Response

In their “Future Self” podcast, invisibilia explores the idea that one of the major forces that shape our lives is the vision of ourselves in the future. Faith in that vision can lead us to great successes, but could that faith in a bright and positive dream for ourselves go too far? This is the question that the podcast seeks to answer by telling us the stories of several students from North Port Highschool.

North Port, Florida wasn’t exactly a community which produced students who invested serious efforts in their dreams. There were certainly dreams, but this was a working-class town and students weren’t really sure how to obtain them, so the dreams were left untouched. That is until George Kenny became principal. He introduced AP classes, opened an art center, started numerous after school programs, and held job fairs, however he felt the need for something greater to bring the students’ potential to reality. He found out about hypnosis and began using it on the students. He hypnotized teachers who wanted to pass exams, parents who wanted to quit addictions, and students who wanted to get better grades or be better athletes, and all these improvements shone through almost over night. Everything seemed to be going perfect, until it didn’t.

Wesley McKinley was an aspiring musician.  Everything seemed to be heading in the right direction for him, but one day he began acting strange. He counted every parking light he saw from the bus on the ride home, asked his friends repeatedly to punch him and to call him Tyler, not only his middle name, but also the one Kenny used to make sure Wesley was under when hypnotizing him. Later, his girlfriend texted him telling him that she had kissed someone and didn’t want him to call or text her anymore.

Britanny Palumbo wanted to go to UCF, and all she did was with that goal in mind. Her mom would tell her to imagine how terrible her life would become if she didn’t get a college degree as a way to get her to focus more. As a result Brittany developed high, high ideals. However, she got into an argument with the friend she was going to room with, the boyfriend who was waiting for her at UCF broke up with her, and she couldn’t get her SAT scores up.

Wesley and Britanny committed suicide. Life wasn’t worth living anymore after the picture perfect scenes of their futures shattered. Provisions had not been made for this deviation.

What is one to make of this? Should we not aim too high, because we’ll face certain disappointment?  If we don’t reach our ideals, is there no option but to strive for something lower and be regretful forever?

I relate this back to my own dream of becoming a surgeon and an admirable student. As I began this school year I had a vision of all that I wanted to be.  I was determined not to let anything undermine my efforts, even if it meant sacrificing time with my family, part of my happiness, or health. I did sacrifice all of these things for some time, and I got my priorities really mixed up.

The week of Thanksgiving break was tumultuous and it taught me a lot. I had fallen super far behind in History of the Americas and that week was my chance to catch up, but I didn’t at all. I hadn’t planned for my dog getting sick and having to take care of him to the point of no rest. The time I did have free, I certainly did not want to spend reading and studying for history, so I did nothing having to do with school.  I turned three assignments in late, and my grades have certainly paid the price. Even so, I don’t regret it, and I would do it again, because I feel that up to this point I had tried as hard as I could, and honestly, I deserved that break. Of course, persevering will pay off in the future as I head on to college, but I think my well-being was more important at the moment.

Regardless, I can’t help but feel disappointed because I was supposed to be near the very top of my class in my vision and I’m not. I feel stuck, because I feel like I’m not growing, but dwindling. However, I feel happier coming out of that week, and stronger too. Life will keep on going, and it’s not the school workload that makes it so hard, but all the other problems. Some of these are too much sometimes, and it’s okay to take a break. It’s more important, I learned, to put my family, health, God, and happiness first. Being a good student isn’t all about the grades, but about being happy and present while learning and creating good work.

A bright vision for the future is great, so long as you take into account that life will not bend its rules for your own gain. You have to bend your vision and realize that life won’t go exactly the way you want it to, but you’ll be happier in the end if you learn to accept it and improvise when the going gets tough.