A mathematician looked at when society is likely to collapse and the answer is sooner than you’d think

Happy new year, not to start the year on a negative note, but this is an interesting examination of the effect of mathematics on knowledge (a Theory of Knowledge topic). It may not have been your favourite subject in school – but we highly recommend paying attention to mathematics, just this once.  Trump’s presidency marks the beginning of a peak in political violence, according to one expert.  Peter Turchin, professor of Ecology and Mathematics from the University of Connecticut, uses a maths equation to predict the rise and fall of civilisations and human behaviour. The new discipline, called cliodynamics, treats history like a science. And what he’s found using this process is terrifying. He writes on Phys.org:

Ten years ago I started applying its tools to the society I live in: the United States. What I discovered alarmed me.

So we’re off to a good start then. It looks like you’ve got around three years to build that underground bunker in your back garden, because Turchin predicts that social instability and political violence will peak in the 2020s. He also states that the 2016 US election ‘confirms his forecast’. His predictions are informed by trends such as income inequality, declining wellbeing, and growing political dysfunction. He says he also tracks the role of “Elite overproduction”. This term is used to describe increasing inequality propping up the most wealthy, so the “one per cent” becomes the “two per cent, which increases competition between the elite and polarises political parties. He says this is a big driver of social instability, and it looks like Trump might make it worse – although the jury is still out on whether we needed a mathematician to tell us that (source).

Theory of Knowledge for the 2015-2016 School year…

Well, the new school year is upon us, and with it the challenges of TOK for this year. The course for grade 12 students was scheduled outside the regular school day, so it is a challenge for the students to give up their lunch hour every second day. This year’s group will be the second group to use the new I.B. TOK curriculum and new I.B. TOK assessment rubrics on their internal and external grades. Below is a picture of this year’s class doing our annual “mask” activity for our study on the Arts!


Theory of Knowledge, Area of Knowledge – Mathematics: Are calculators killing our ability to work it out in our head?

Since the 1980s we have had access to calculators of various types. Today, we can include computers and smartphones which are attached to our hip 24/7. So does this ubiquitous access to calculators affect our ability to do maths in our heads like we used to? Thirty years ago calculators promised immense opportunity – opportunity, alas, that brought considerable controversy. The sceptics predicted students would not be able to compute even simple calculations mentally or on paper. Multiplication, basic facts, knowledge would disappear. Calculators would become a crutch. The controversy has not dissipated over time. As recently as 2012, the UK government announced it intended to ban calculators from primary classrooms on the grounds that students used them too much and too soon. Research conducted in response to this found little difference in performance tests whether students used calculators or not. An earlier US study had found the same: the calculator had no positive or negative effects on the attainment of basic maths skills. Researchers recommended moving the conversation on. What types of tasks and activities suit calculators? How can calculators complement and reinforce mental and written methods of arithmetic in maths? Does the ubiquitous access to calculators affect our ability to do maths in our heads like we used to? Read the entiree article here!