|So how do we know? TOK website for IB students.|
So how do we know ?
As a Belgian national, I am a huge fan of Magritte's paintings (see above). In 'La trahison des images' [Ceci n'est pas une pipe] Magritte challenges our preconceived notions, which often find their origins within representational models of reality. We all know that representation and reality are not the same thing, yet we often need reminding about this fact. Our world view is shaped by our language, our cultural background and years of education. Yet, the world does not exist in an absolute sense. As Wade Davis illustrates in his TED talk on endangered cultures, one should rather speak of 'multiple models of reality'. The methods we employ to gather knowledge are heavily influenced by the model of reality we are most familiar with.
I invite you to go on a journey in which you critically evaluate yourself as a 'knower' within your 'knowledge community'. In Theory of Knowledge classes, you will explore knowledge questions related to the tools we use to gather knowledge. We call them the eight ways of knowing: sense perception, reason, language, memory, intuition, faith, imagination and emotion. You will make links between various areas of knowledge whilst evaluating the boundaries that confine them. You will learn more about the methods we employ to gather knowledge in different subject areas and discover the historical development of and shifts within cognitive paradigms.
Theory of Knowledge is an assessed subject at IB DP level. On the assessment page, you will find more information about knowledge questions as well as the assessed presentations and essays. I have tried to add some essay questions of the 2015 specification to the sections of the website where I feel they could be relevant. Nevertheless, all Theory of Knowledge essay questions are open ended and could consequently be applied to a wide range of ways of knowing/areas of knowledge.
Important notice on using materials from this website.
Teachers, you can use my resources and PowerPoints freely in your lessons, however, you cannot sell any resources from this website or pass them on as your own creation. Please reference in the same way as we would expect from students (according to international copyright laws).
Introduction: What does it mean to know?
Introduction to TOK powerpoint.
TIP: For the best view of the powerpoints, download the files. For a quick browse through them, check the scribd files (some lay-out distorted).
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What does it mean to know?
How do you view your world and why?
Possible essay questions about mapping of knowledge, representation & reality:
"The knower's perspective is essential in the pursuit of knowledge." To what extent do you agree? (May 2016)
"In knowledge there is always a trade-off between accuracy and simplicity." Evaluate this statement in relation to two areas of knowledge. (May 2016)
The nature of knowledge
Within TOK you will explore the difference between knowing something as an individual (personal knowledge) and as a member of a group (shared knowledge). We make this distinction because it is important to become aware that what you accept as knowledge as an individual member of a group may be heavily dependent upon group membership as such. Speakers of the same language, students of the same 'schools of thought', or members of the same cultural group will often accept similar knowledge claims. Yet, as mentioned before, knowledge is not stable. What we consider to be knowledge within our community today may be discarded tomorrow, and there are many geo-cultural variations in what counts as knowledge today. Sometimes, we can establish knowledge on our own. We can construct personal knowledge through personal experiences. We can also 'personalise' second hand knowledge by using our ways of knowing to evaluate and assess what is presented to us as knowledge. It is essential to critically engage with knowledge that has been passed on to you. Authority worship and group think can be dangerous, as the documentary "Five Steps to Tyranny" highlights. Philosophers and thinkers have created many 'theories of knowledge'. While it is impossible to give you a definite answer to what constitutes true knowledge or even truth, it is worth exploring several perspectives. The BBC A History of Ideas site is a good starting point for further research in this area. The dynamic relationship between personal and shared knowledge, or the dialogue between different perspectives, is often at the heart of the creation of new knowledge; the revision (and hopefully improvement) of our knowledge maps.
Remember that within TOK assessments, you should avoid giving short definitions of what knowledge constitutes (be particularly careful with a quick mention of knowledge as justified true beliefwithout further explanations or implications). Within the context of TOK, you could explore the metaphor of knowledge as a map. According to the TOK guide: "A map is a representation, or picture, of the world. It is necessarily simplified—indeed its power derives from this fact. Items not relevant to the particular purpose of the map are omitted. For example, one would not expect to see every tree and bush faithfully represented on a street map designed to aid navigation around a city—just the basic street plan will do. A city street map, however, is quite a different thing to a building plan of a house or the picture of a continent in an atlas. So knowledge intended to explain one aspect of the world, say, its physical nature, might look really quite different to knowledge that is designed to explain, for example, the way human beings interact." (TOK Guide First assessment 2015, p16). The simplifications embedded in mapping are both useful and problematic, of course. You could explore how this works in various areas of knowledge.
"Knowledge within a discipline develops according to the principles of natural selection." How useful is this metaphor? (May 2016)
"In knowledge here is always a trade-off between accuracy and simplicity." Evaluate this statement in relation to two areas of knowledge. (May 2016)
“Ways of knowing operate differently in personal and shared knowledge.” Assess this claim. (November 2016)
So what should we believe?
Information, knowledge and propaganda.
To what extent do the media manipulate information?
How does language create webs of illusions of knowledge?
What is the difference between information, knowledge and propaganda?
Should you trust your first impressions and instinctive judgements?
How gullibility leads to (the acceptance of ) erroneous knowledge claims.
Shermer on "patternicity" & why people believe weird things.
Recommended further reading: The believing brain (Shermer 2011) and Why people believe strange things.
TOP TIP FOR TED TALKS:If your find it difficult to follow the arguments (especially if English is not your first language), you can always check out the transcripts on the TED websites themselves. If you want to quote a TED talk, click here to find out how.
- To what extent do ways of knowing prevent us from deluding ourselves? Justify your answer with reference to at least one area of knowledge. (Specimen 2015)
- “All knowledge depends on the recognition of patterns and anomalies.” Consider the extent to which you agree with this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge. (Specimen 2015)
- There is no such thing as a neutral question. Evaluate this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge (May 2015).
- “The whole point of knowledge is to produce both meaning and purpose in our personal lives.” To what extent do you agree with this statement? (May 2015)
- “Ways of knowing are a check on our instinctive judgements.” To what extent do you agree with this statement? (May 2015)
- “Without the group to verify it, knowledge is not possible.” Discuss. (November 2015)
- “In some areas of knowledge we try to reduce a complex whole to simple components, but in others we try to integrate simple components into a complex whole.” Discuss this distinction with reference to two areas of knowledge. (November 2015)
- “The main reason knowledge is produced is to solve problems.” To what extent do you agree with this statement? (November 2015)
- Is explanation a prerequisite for prediction? Explore this question in relation to two areas of knowledge. (November 2015
- "Knowledge within a disciple develops according to the principles of natural selection." How useful is this metaphor? (May 2016)
- "Without application in the world, the value of knowledge is greatly diminished." Consider this claim with respect to two areas of knowledge. (May 2016)
- "In knowledge there is always a trade-off between accuracy and simplicity." Evaluate this statement in relation to two areas of knowledge. (May 2016)
- “Conflicting knowledge claims always involve a difference in perspective.” Discuss with reference to two areas of knowledge. (November 2016)
Further reading & keeping a TOK journal
The historical development of knowledge, ideas and concepts.
Caplan goes on to say that: "These ideas enable us not only to decide on but also to defend the personal views that we assume regarding important matters."
In TOK you are encouraged to explore how we gain knowledge; how we engage with some ideas and reject others. You are invited to explore the historical development of knowledge, as well as the underlying assumptions embedded in knowledge claims you have accepted. An exposure to the historical development of ideas, and indeed knowledge, leads to the discovery of different perspectives. Experts disagree, have disagreed and will continue to disagree on what should be accepted as knowledge. Their personal perspective, the general historical and geographical context, the preferred methodology as well as other driving forces in one's quest for knowledge will influence their stance. In addition, also non-experts will be heavily influenced by the above factors when they decide which knowledge claims to accept and reject.
Ethics is an area where knowledge claims sometimes veer to the dogmatic. Caplan asks if there is "an absolute moral ethic that you should always follow, as Plato claims." Yet, if we consider historical and geographical variations, where opposing moral principles and knowledge claims seem to co-exist and contradict one another, this position seems untenable. After years of religious morality, science and ethics meet within Bentham's utilitarianism and utilitarianism "provides a fascinating antidote to centuries of morality reliant on divine or royal authority, virtue and inviolate principles." (Caplan, 2013). But, are Bentham's moral theories still appealing today? And why do some religious ethics gain in popularity today?
Robert Arp's book explores a range of areas of knowledge (without explicitly calling them so) and their contributions to knowledge as a whole. For example, Caplan questions what it is "that we actually see when looking at art, as John Berger asks?" In TOK we evaluate the role of the Arts in the creation of knowledge. We look at its language, methodology and historical evolution. Some artists' contribute to knowledge by breaking through conventions and established knowledge frameworks; by asking us to 'see' differently.
What is accepted as knowledge one day, may be rejected another. This can easily be illustrated with an example from the human and/or natural sciences [opinions regarding classifications may differ on this one]. In his preface, Caplan asks the reader if s/he 'agree[s] with the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic manual classification of what is "normal" with respect to mental health.' The history of knowledge regarding mental health is rather contradictory to say the least and it may surprise you that homosexuality was only removed from the APA's list of mental illnesses in 1973. The history of the treatments used to cure the latter 'mental illness' ranges from the absurd to the rather cruel. The treatments of women's 'hysteria' provides another interesting starting point for further research (note how gender-biased language -hysteria/hysterectomy- plays a pivotal role here). In brief, the above mentioned book, as well as many other 'real life situations' provide much food for thought in TOK terms. As you will soon notice, TOK is everywhere and your input is at least as important as what your TOK teachers provide you with in classes.
Fantastic site with concise explanations of great ideas. Useful for essay examples:
Possible essay questions on historical development of knowledge:
- "The knower's perspective is essential in the pursuit of knowledge." To what extent do you you agree? (M2016)
- "Knowledge between a discipline develops according to the principles of natural selection." How useful is this metaphor? (M 2016)
- “The whole point of knowledge is to produce both meaning and purpose in our personal lives.” To what extent do you agree with this statement? (M 2015)
- “None of us is as smart as all of us” (Eric Schmidt). Discuss the extent to which you agree with this claim with reference to personal and shared knowledge. (Specimen)
Knowledge Frameworks & the TOK guide:
linking areas of knowledge and ways of knowing
The Theory of Knowledge guide (2015)
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Knowledge frameworks for specific areas of knowledge (see TOK Guide 2015):
"In gaining knowledge, each area of knowledge uses a network of ways of knowing." Discuss this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge. (May 2016)
"Without application in the world, the value of knowledge is greatly diminished." Consider this claim with respect to two areas of knowledge. (May 2016)
"To what extent do the concepts that we use shape the conclusions that we reach? (May 2016)
*Theory of Knowledge Coordinator
Jerudong International School (Brunei)
*Theory of Knowledge Teacher
The British International School (Vietnam)
*Member of the IBO TOK Curriculum Review team.
MA Women and Literature in English, UK (distinction),
MA Germanic Languages, Belgium (distinction).
PGCE French, UK.
This website could not have been created without Richard van de Lagemaat's wonderful handbook 'Theory of Knowledge for the IB Diploma' (Cambridge University Press, 2011). It is, I believe, an excellent textbook for students and teachers of Theory of Knowledge. The second edition (2015) of Lagemaat's textbook is now in line with the 2015 specification. To introduce the changes in the specification, I have also been inspired by materials from the TOK guide (first examination 2015) and the Theory of Knowledge Course Companion by Dombrowski, Rotenberg and Bick (Oxford University Press, 2013). Last but not least, I would like to thank all the teachers of Jerudong International School who have shared their ideas, TOK lesson materials, PowerPoints and Lunchtime Lectures.
Beauty- seeing is believing?
The Dove commercial transforms 'the girl next door' into a billboard beauty. Which questions does this raise about sense perception as a way of knowing?
Dubious knowledge claims in advertising.
Harry Enfield's parody of knowledge claims about women.
Battling bad science:
Dangers of authority worship
"The greatest obstacle to progress is not the absence of knowledge, but the illusion of knowledge. "
“The knower’s perspective is essential in the pursuit of knowledge.” To what extent do you agree?
Again this invites us to contrast and compare personal with shared knowledge. It asks us to consider what drives the production of shared knowledge – is it the agency of pioneering individuals or the incremental outcomes of collaboration? (or a mixture of both?).
- To what extent does Personal Knowledge drive and form Shared Knowledge?
The IBO TOK guide has something to say on this issue….
“Links between shared and personal knowledge Clearly there are links and interactions between shared knowledge and personal knowledge. These are discussed in more depth in the knowledge framework.
Consider the example of a scientist such as Albert Einstein who has contributed much to modern physics. Clearly, he had some personal qualities that enabled him to see further than some of his peers. He had personal knowledge, a way of looking at things perhaps, that he was able to use to propel his exploration of the difficult questions that characterized the physics of the early 20th century. But his insights had to go through a thorough process of review before being accepted as part of the shared body of knowledge that is the discipline of physics.
There were disciplinary-specific methods that placed demands on Einstein’s thought. For example, his ideas had to be logically consistent, had to conform to previous experimental findings and had to go through a process of peer review. They also had to provide predictions that could be independently tested and verified (for example, the predictions made about the visibility of stars normally obscured by the sun in the solar eclipse of 1919). Only then could Einstein’s vision become an accepted part of physics. This illustrates how personal knowledge leads to advances in shared knowledge.
The reverse process can and does occur. Shared knowledge can have a big effect on our personal view of the world. Not only do the familiar areas of knowledge impinge on our personal experiences—someone studying economics might regard everyday shopping in a different light as a result of studying economics— but shared knowledge as membership of our cultural, ethnic, gender and other groups might influence our world view. This is what we call perspective. Membership of such groups provides a horizon against which the significance of the events of our lives is measured. Acknowledgment of such perspectives is an important goal of the TOK course.
From an individual perspective, shared knowledge often appears in the form of an authority—a source of knowledge whose justification is not immediately available to the individual. An example here is the authority of medical science to the patient who is not trained in medicine.”
You may want to consider the Great Man Theory or watch the three short films entitled “Everything is a remix” which argues against the myth of the genius and asserts that the process of innovating inherently involves plagiarism.
At times in human history there are trailblazers; iconic figures whose thinking radically alters shared knowledge. Let’s list a few Rosa Parks, John Snow,Picasso, Einstein, John Locke, Miles Davis,Captain Beefheart, Charles Darwin (in the news), Karl Marx, Confucious. But could they really have achieved what they did without relying on the groundwork of their predecessors or the efforts of their peers? We attribute the monumental success of apple products to the individual efforts of Steve Jobs, but is this really the truth?
Sometimes though individuals are prone to cognitive bias or fallacies. Individuals views are coloured by their culture, their experiences and the views of their immediate family.
The need to define which AOKs
It would be a good idea (as with all the essays) to define the parameters of your essay. The titles are so broad that you need to limit the focus down and explain in your introduction how and why you intend to do this.
Perhaps you could do a comparative study of the extent to which the knower’s perspective is important in different AOKs.
- Consider the necessity of the knowers perspective in the pursuit of knowledge in Maths compared to say, The Arts. Arguably the the importance of the individual perspective is more prevalent in the process of developing knowledge in the arts than it is in Maths or Science. But this generalization is ripe for scrutiny! Is it always so or are there any interesting exceptions you could point to?
- Does the question depend on what WOK the knower is using? For instance is the knowers perspective more or less important in the pursuit of scientific knowledge than in The Arts?
- Is there a different answer depending on which AOK we study? Is the knowers perspective more valid when they use reason rather than intuition in the pursuit of knowledge?
- What do we actually mean by the word perspective? Is such a perspective formed by experience, genetics, culture and or tradition?
- Does the essay title require us to look at the comparative benefits of subjectivity and objectivity?
The following questions could be raised about the Knower’s Perspective:
|Knower’s Perspective||Questions raised|
|Assumptions||To what extent is the knower aware of their own assumptions?|
Does the knower’s assumptions influence the language in which they express their ideas?
|Values||What are the knower’s views on how the world and people should be?|
What guidelines (moral, religious etc..) does the knower have?
What are the knower’s goals for learning?
|Claims||What processes does the knower employ to examine knowledge claims?|
Does there exist a neutral position from which to make judgments about competing claims? – link to May 2015 Essay Title
|Validation||What methods are used in the validation of knowledge? – this can be approached from each area of knowledge|
Resources and ideas