I am exploring here the second element of an ideal GAMSAT S2 Task A body paragraph – the provision of evidence and examples.
This is an except from the unreleased ‘Task A Bible.’
by Michael John Sunderland, 90plusgamsat.com
Firstly let me point out, while argumentation and logic is front of mind, that giving an example of something is not a rigorous logical proof of a point. If my point is that Big Data companies have rising influence, and then I say that Cambridge Analytica used Facebook to target voters most likely to turn and fed them fake news, ultimately influencing the Brexit and Trump votes in 2016, I haven’t proven the rising influence of Facebook. It could be that companies like Cambridge Analytica are the influential ones, or that these were exceptional circumstances, or that the vote wasn’t ultimately turned and that that is speculation. I don’t say this because you are necessarily required to rigorously prove each point with faultless logic – that is beyond the scope of the GAMSAT – but I say this so you can be aware, or at least more critical, or evaluating the strengths of your own argument. You will be required later in the conclusion to acknowledge the limitations to an opposing view as well as your own, so it would be an error to relate to what you have said as if it were the objective truth just because it was true in one instance.
Providing evidence performs multiple functions. An essay without evidence is going to either fail to say anything definitively at all (and score poorly), or say a lot of things which are baseless and unsubstantiated (and score poorly). So, the first function of evidence is to give an essay credibility and designate where and when what you are saying is valid (or partially true). Again, I am being particular about saying valid instead of true. An example or even evidence does not make something true. Even scientists with what seems like hard evidence or something express confidence intervals about their findings. Evidence simply gives you credibility, and permission to give an opinion forcefully. I am reminded here of a quote by Harlan Ellison: “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.”
The second function of evidence / examples is to ground what you are saying in something tangible that the reader can wrap their heads around or ‘grab onto.’ Recall the earlier part on the connotative and denotative space around what you say. The Topic Sentence, being that it functionally requires a paragraph of proof, can be conceptually difficult to grasp at first pass or really feel like you have a handle on. A good way to offset that and improve cohesion is to link what you’ve said to an idea or example that is already known. The marker then can the sense of “oh yes, I’m with you now.. go on.” Failing this, they can often feel a mental burden which limits their comprehension of your writing. You give them something from your world (an opinion/premise requiring proof); and then you give them something from ‘the’ world (an example you are both familiar with).
Functions of evidence:
1. Credibility, the right to have an opinion
2. Grounding what you say in something the marker can easily understand and relate to.
Where to get evidence / what evidence do I use?
Broadly you can use either events or ideas. Both is ideal, however I would recommend highly not to use only ideas without any events. Task A, ideally, should be made relevant to a contemporary audience; or written with respect to historical events and then made explicitly relevant to people either now or in the future. So I would first use events, and then ideas as further support.
Current affairs are a particularly effective use of evidence in a Task A, as well as historical events. By events, I don’t mean like an actual thing happening necessarily. I am designating a period in time where your example exists in physical, rather than abstract or conceptual, reality. The mention, for example, of Facebook, or Elon Musk, or Mao Zedong, or the Bolsheviks int he Russian Revolution.. all count as events. Even if you’re not proving anything or using evidence, shading what you are saying in the light of things that are happening or have happened situate your writing in the physicalness of reality. It helps the coherence of your writing substantially, especially if you are someone that is inclined to cerebral and ideas based writing. I recommend to read the opinion sections of publications such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and especially The Quadrant (if you can stomach the views expressed – it’s the best return on investment for GAMSAT purposes). Further I cannot speak more highly of The Minefield podcast on the ABC listen app. Like literally if you do one thing – make it that.
Ideas are great for cleaning up easy marks and can be thrown in e.g “conflict may be, in part, a reflection of residual fear in what Freud termed the ‘unconscious, of the unknown being projected onto unfamiliar people.” I made that sentence up on the spot, but not the use of ‘in part.’ My mention of Freud does not prove my point, so I do not position what I say as objectively true – I’m just wondering. Note also that the sentence and point would stand without the mention of Freud. I literally just threw it in. Conveniently, ideas in existentialism, behavioural economics, and psychology can easily be used in these ways and sprinkled in. You would be surprised how often ‘framing,’ ‘the unconscious,’ and ‘the dasein’ (Martin Heidegger’s description of the being or felt dimension of life) can come up in essays. I sprinkle them like confetti – joyfully and liberally as I clean up marks for doing so. The Dasein can literally be put almost anywhere (ESPECIALLY in Task B’s – highly recommend summarising the wikipedia on it and on existentialism in general).
You will also notice the more you write essays and develop and expand on your ideas that they can be organised into grand narratives or broader themes. The world that YOU experience arises naturally out of certain larger contexts which apply, by virtue of this, at least partly to everything that happens in these spheres. I am referring, for Western people, to things like Technology, Liberalism (or neo-liberalism), Democracy, Capitalism, Globalisation, Existentialism, Utilitarianism… lots of isms. Most of us live in countries that attempt to be representative democracies and who operate within capitalist, economically liberal or neo-liberal frameworks. Technology and globalisation are realities of the early 21st century for many Western people. Existentialism addresses nearly all humans. So by learning about these themes you can situate what you say in light of these broader themes. I have also taken care at the bottom of this article to include links to some articles and resources that I was using and incorporating ideas from in my own essays, for you to read and learn from, too.
– Howard Gardener’s multiple intelligences
– Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
– Freud’s ‘unconscious’
– Jung’s ‘shadow’
– Liberalism / neoliberalism
– Utilitarianism and consequentialism (both positive and negative including Hedonistic Calculus)
– Existentialism (esp. Martin Heidegger’s work)
– Personally I used the French and Russian revolution. These were the origins of many of the themes which impact the world around us today. The French revolution embodied the spirit of liberalism and democracy which are characteristic of many Western countries; and was the origin of liberalism, capitalism, democracy, and the free press. The Russian revolution embodied the spirit of communism and socialism which, in combination with Mao Zedong in China, was hugely influential in world affairs e.g the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, the installation of the Chinese Communist Party. Contrasting how each of these revolutions, and the values they embodied, achieved or failed at their aims is also thinking worth doing. Both attempt to increase the qualities of life for their citizens. Which was more effective? Does socialism in its practical applications achieve its aims, no matter how well intention it is?
– The Third Reiche and gulags in the Soviet Union are great examples of the departure from traditional Christian values of the worth of a human life in early 20th century Europe to a view of human life as expendable to achieve socialist or racial utopias.
… the list goes on.
Synthesis of ideas
I considered not including this.
This is not a GAMSAT essay, and was never intended to be read by anybody else, so I did not limit or frame it for digestion by others in my usual way. I wrote it in the days leading up to my GAMSAT as many of the themes and ideas I had explored began to cohere into a unifying framework. My understanding of the world around us began to deepen. I reproduce it here for whatever value you may extract from it. At a minimum it is laden with examples and ideas that you would benefit greatly from exploring further both in your personal research, and essays.
The history of Europe over the 20th century provides a telling context in which to examine a highly subtle, but crucially important, ontological dimension of contemporary human existence. Let us begin at the start. The beginning of the 20th century witnessed a systematic upending, or disfiguration, of traditional christian values regarding the value of a human life, culminating with the third reich’s commodification of human life to their economic or political usefulness (e.g uniting Germany against the evilness of Jews; economising them for cheap labour).
The word economy has its roots in the greek “oikos” (work) as distinct for life, or feeling “pathos.” The third reich’s concentration camps were emblematic of the extinguishing not of human life but of humanity. It represented a reduction of a person to their work (oikos), and the extinguishing of their being and feeling (pathos). The brutal nakedness of these Jews became an icon, or a crutch on which, the world woke back up to the essential importance of “personhood.” German philosopher (and ironically Nazi sympathiser) was central in introducing the theme of the “dasein” or “being-here” dimension of life which precedes everything else. He said that life reveals itself to us through moods such as anxiety. And this emphasis that the feeling, being, and pathos dimension to life is the essential quality of life undergirded this transition. Where in the 40’s a person could be a physiological bundle of reactions as the body struggled to fight emaciation, the next 50 years was characterised by significant progress in human rights – whether the enfranchisement of women, the desegregation of black and white schools in America, trans and gay rights in the early 21st century, and more recently the tremors that the murder of George Floyd sent globally.
Yet there is a way that we listen. Our entire experience of our lives is prefaced by the where-we-are and what-we-know, and goes as deep or deeper than language. We are born knowing nothing. And we are told we are a girl; and so we become female. Told we live in Melbourne; and so we become Australia. As Vonnegut described, our lives are thusly limited as we are domesticated to this world. These frames and rituals that are given to us so that we may function harmoniously with others also serve to limit our perception of the world. It gives us something to look at the world through, but is not discussed or negotiated. George Orwell touched closely on this idea in his narrating of the actions of Thoughtpolice in 1984, who sought to introduce “Newspeak” and destroy the old language which contained words that could potentially incite rebellion. If we are unable to speak or describe our feelings or understandings with language, we suffocate and disenfranchise them. Social media, by creating the rules and structures of how we interact with one another, in our increasingly online world, also suffocate or bottleneck our ability to negotiate life with one another. There is something that precedes everything else, like Heideigger’s moods, but which is not unique to the individual. That is the dasein of humanity today. Increasingly the feeling of being human today is uneasy, or confrontational; it can be delusionally neurotic. In this post-truth era, where there is a diminished importance or political sway placed on facts, it matters less and less that there is an agreed epistemological or ontological scaffold in which our ideas and understandings are collectively placed. We divest ourselves of these agreements and polarise our socio-political and cultural atmospheres with increasingly incommensurable ideas about the world, and no priority on fact. The late Paul Virilio, a 20th century french cultural theorist and aesthetic philosopher, coined the term “the dromosphere” from the greek “dromos” (race, or racetrack). He described the accelerated sphere in which world events unfolded at ever-increasing speed. We hurtle towards our oblivion and, indeed, the University of Chicago nobel laureates who manage the “doomsday clock” recently changed our proximity to midnight (the annihilation of humanity) in seconds, not minutes.
There is a feeling which presupposes everything else, something that we live life through. In the same way that we are only able to perceive a spectrum of light, or sound, and so cannot make an absolute judgements about the world given our relative sensory inputs, we are also perceiving only a spectrum of the world around us. The world around us is in fact a function of this spectrum. It’s sturdiness is predicated only relatively on these perceptions. We could just as easily change how we see the world, shift the paradigm – as certain moments in time have done, for instance the discovery of Nazi Germany’s concentration camps by American soldiers, or the image of the napalm child from the Vietnam war – and live in a new relativistic ontological (and therefore epistemological) framework. In a sense it’s arbitrary which lens we look at life through. But the being-here as a human on earth today is a context which limits our ability to empathise with each other, and this necessitates our sympathy with one another. Most importantly, it signals an urgent need for a greater focus on this dasein of humanity. What is it? What goes into it? What comes out of it? These flows are the essential constituents and determinants in human life, progress, history, and unfoldment. Our future depends on it. Wake up.
I love the activity and enthusiasm crew, keep it up 🙂
I’m available for free forever in the group (link below) – all I ask is that you contribute to each other.
Love to you all,
Let’s get Section II sorted!
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Being and time: part 1 (why Heidegger matters) – The Guardian (note: there are 10 parts – by part 7 or 8 you will have gotten enough of the gist)