It’s only with the assumption of uniformities that science continues to undergo new discoveries and in the past has helped to prove important theories and hypotheses – such as Einstein’s theory of gravitational waves. Scientists and historians rely on such assumptions as a basis for their knowledge, they can also challenge these assumptions by trying to prove or disprove them. More so, in the field of science, new discoveries have been unmasked thanks to these assumptions. To assume some knowledge is true is to say that that certain knowledge doesn’t have strong foundation and perhaps there is a lack of evidence. Once knowledge becomes reinforced with uniformity, however, the drawback is that assumptions tend to become uniform knowledge. This is what I aim to tackle in my essay, to distinguish uniformity in my chosen AOKs from assumption and whether or not knowledge can still thrive regardless. Assumptions of uniformities does help for new knowledge to be discovered or for past knowledge to be further rationalized, however, these uniformities are derived from some other form of knowledge. Therefore, knowledge will exist and continue regardless of uniformities or assumptions. In natural science, popular hypotheses started as very educated guesses or personal opinion, some were later proved or expanded upon whilst others were disproved. As for uniformities in history it tends to not be so precise which is why it’s more unreliable as compared to natural science. Therefore, the questions arises. To what extent do uniformities affect the knowledge in history and natural sciences?
Uniformities are required to develop existing knowledge. If scientists aren’t able to compare their ongoing research on some kind of prior knowledge how can they hope to know whether their own discoveries disprove, prove or expand upon past knowledge. Theories or hypotheses like uniformities and assumptions give scientists a foundation to conduct future experiments and aid them in understanding their findings. Einstein proposed the idea of the existence of gravitational waves1; it essentially means that celestial bodies warp space-time. Einstein could not convince enough members of the scientific community of the existence of gravitational waves possibly due to lack of equipment at the time needed to prove their existence. However, no one had denied his theory hence it developed its own uniformity until 2016 his theory had never been proved or disproved. In 2016, LIGO had successfully detected gravitational waves with the help of mirrors and vacuum-sealed tubes. Hence, Einstein’s theory has been proved and can be completely justified as uniform knowledge. If Einstein had never assumed the existence of gravitational waves, modern scientists at LIGO wouldn’t have been able to conduct their experiments and such a breakthrough in physics would never have been discovered. Therefore, if Einstein had never voiced his assumption about the existence of gravitational waves, no new knowledge in this field would have been discovered. Einstein’s theory was considered as a uniformity but there was a lack of evidence therefore, it shows that uniformities are required to ascertain prior knowledge and to develop existing knowledge.
Both Darwin and Mendel had their own understanding of how genetics worked; however, Darwin’s viewpoint was restricted to the uniformities he had formed2. Darwin believed that evolution was caused by natural selection; he so fervently believed in this that he didn’t understand that traits affected by the environment could also be inherited by the offspring. Therefore, his idea was more of “the strongest survive”. This leads to the counter-claim: Uniformities restrict knowledge and there are no new discoveries. Darwin believed in the randomness of traits, but Mendel had a different theory. One that was much more concrete and which is why he is coined The Father of Genetics today. With the same amount of technology, Mendel demonstrated with the help of pea plants that there was a mathematical pattern to the inheritance of genes of the offspring. Mendel proved that offspring inherit an allele from each of its parents, what is inherited can be quite random due to the nature of sexual reproduction3. Therefore, Darwin’s assumption of randomness was not wholly wrong, but he failed to establish a uniformity about the knowledge that he propounded. Conclusively it’s fair to say that although uniformities help scientists, it does also tend to restrict knowledge as some scientists cannot see past these uniformities and therefore no new knowledge can be ascertained. We have seen the extent of the importance of uniformities in natural sciences, how it helps in the discovery of new knowledge or in the establishment of assumptions but we have also seen how it can restrict perspectives and hinder new discoveries.
“History is always subject to uniformity bias therefore truth cannot be obtained.” History is a vast ocean of ever-changing knowledge hence its fickle nature4. The biggest problem is that researchers tend to find records that contradict each other when concerning the same historical event. Memory is of paramount importance as a way of knowing in history. Many if not all historical accounts are documented based on memory. Be it through the notes and observations of past scholars or through an interview of a bystander or a witness. Assumptions of uniformities tend to be based on bias and ability to recount historical events. The failure to accurately recount events is also a hindrance in the formulation of historical accuracy. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries when Europe was busy colonizing the world, a Eurocentric bias emerged. This is not surprising as at the time, Europeans would consider themselves racially superior and it was they, which possessed the advantage of documenting their expeditions and feats. This bias affected world history as it followed a western world point of view. This Western Eurocentric bias is prevalent in The Historians’ History of the World, an encyclopedia published near the beginning of the 20th century. Four volumes described in detail the history of England whereas only one volume was dedicated to Asian countries such as China and Japan alongside Poland, the Balkans, Turkey and some minor Eastern states. Although there would be truth in this encyclopedia, it only follows one uniformity in history, which is biased; hence, true historical accuracy has not been achieved.
“By sharing knowledge historical accuracy can be achieved”. Historical evidence is always a culmination of ideas and beliefs and is dependent on what kind of dominant ideas were present at the time of the event. Even though there will be different views on historical events, historical accuracy can in fact be achieved, if historians team up to root out any inconsistencies in sources and observe all of the perspectives linked to an event. Historical accuracy is possible if these perspectives can be combined in order to present an event from all points of view, this would be extensive research but it would lead to historical accuracy. People will always be subject to some bias but if all the perspectives were presented then at least history itself would not be biased. For example5, after 1980 world history has become more important, even requiring some students to take courses in non-western cultures. This promotes the concept of world history and will eventually lessen Eurocentrism.
In conclusion, uniformities play a major role in natural sciences because the uniformities in science are always present. Assumed uniformities may not be accepted at first but can always be proved later on, even uniformities in science are never discovered it doesn’t make them any less true. Meaning, they are always present it is only when a scientist will assume its existence that we start to question whether it’s reliable or not. Whereas uniformities in history are dependent on memory and perspective, theoretically, we can change past but we cannot change the laws of nature. That is to say, uniformities in natural science remain true regardless of acceptance but can be proved with reason and experimentation. Historical records can be tweaked to the authors’ preference, hence ‘uniformities’ in history rest on a shaky foundation.
It’s important to be aware of such uniformities because it allows us to question them in hopes to either prove or disprove them. In my physics course, there are many theories and hypotheses that I have learned about but I have never truly questioned them because they have become uniform knowledge. However, through this TOK essay I have realized that although I completely accept these theories I will still think about how these theories could be wrong in some ways. Perhaps there are still ways to improve upon them. It matters that we know about this because it gives us a more critical view on what we learn, the more we question, the more we learn and established knowledge can strengthen as a result. I believe that that is the true importance, is that we start to question more because we never know what we might discover next.
1 Grush, Loren. “Scientists Have Finally Proven Einstein’s Century-Old Theory about Gravitational Waves.” The Verge, The Verge, 11 Feb. 2016, www.theverge.com/2016/2/11/10965312/einstein-gravitational-waves-discovered-announced-video.
2 News Staff. “Darwin Versus Mendel – Why Darwin Couldn’t Discover Genetics.” Science 2.0, 26 Aug. 2014, www.science20.com/news_releases/darwin_versus_mendel_why_darwin_couldnt_discover_genetics.
3 “Concept 1Children Resemble Their Parents.” Mendel as the Father of Genetics :: DNA from the Beginning, www.dnaftb.org/1/bio.html.
4 This source has been used for the claim and counter claim as the information is very extensive: Boundless. “The Study of History.” The Study of History | Boundless World History, courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-worldhistory/chapter/the-study-of-history/.
5 Same citation as before but this example was taken from the very end of the article: Boundless. “The Study of History.” The Study of History | Boundless World History, courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-worldhistory/chapter/the-study-of-history/.