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The following episodes relate to the 'All Articles' Category

Starting and Planning the TOK Essay

Autumn leaves

Structuring the TOK essay is an essential component for obtaining many points on the essay. This post illustrates the first steps.

More info can be found here: TOK Essay and Presentation Help

You just received the list of the ten prescribed TOK essay titles. What are the next steps?

  • Read all of the prescribed titles: do this several times and take your time. You may not understand every title yet and you may not be certain on what the quesdtion asks you to do. You need to take your time to understand the titles.
  • Choose one prescribed title: Select one title based on your personal interest and previous knowledge on the issue. Be careful – you already may think that you know an answer to the title. Be aware that you have to answer the title question in a balanced way. Do not limit your options by focussing on one answer too early.
  • Highlight the relevant terms in the title: What are the key words of the title? What does the question ask you to do?
  • Continue reading »

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Theory-based TOK Syllabus

Straw roof
I’ve compiled a list of theoretical TOK topics which may help teachers in preparing their course. The list of topics may also prove useful for providing a theoretical basis for the essay or presentation. The list is quite different from the IB TOK guide and focuses mainly on epistemological theory.

I would like to share with you a TOK syllabus (lesson plan) of a somewhat different kind. I’ve made a list of epistemological topics that fit to the different Ways of Knowing and Areas of Knowledge covered in the course. In my view, TOK should not be taught too theoretically. It is a critical thinking course, and by merely covering philosophical/epistemological topics you do not promote critical thinking. Nevertheless, I consider a theoretical basis helpful and useful for a variety of reasons.

  • As a basis for discussion: The topics can be woven in into the course to provide a more solid foundation for classroom discussion.
  • For the TOK Essay and presentation: Students can include theoretical components into the TOK essay to support their arguments. There is the danger, however, that some students merely summarize these concepts without reflection and this must be avoided.
  • Continue reading »

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What are Knowledge Issues or Problems of Knowledge?

Desert grass
Here I’ll show you (yet again!) how to identify Knowledge Issues or Problems of Knowledge (KI/POK) for the TOK Presentation. It’s not easy to define what KI/POKs are, because the terms are so broad and can include many different aspects.

The TOK essay and presentation require you, the TOK student, to identify knowledge issues / problems of knowledge. And this is often not an easy thing to do, and it shouldn’t be – after all you get points for identifying them. In this post, I’ll refer to Knowledge Issues and Problems of Knowledge as KI/POK. Both of these terms mean the same thing.

Possible reasons why it is difficult to identify knowledge issues

From my experience, a difficulty can be found on several levels:

  • The terms “knowledge issue” or “problems of knowledge” are rather broad and there is no single, easy definition. And if there is a definition, then this definition itself my cause confusion. Essentially many people do not know what they should be looking for in a KI/POK. The TOK Guide from the IB states that Knowledge Issues include “everything that can be approached from a TOK point of view.” Now what is a “TOK point of view”? Essentially KI/POKs (and thus TOK itself) address all these aspects where we ask ourselves “How do I know?”, “Can I be certain?”, “What are my assumptions?”, “Am I biased?”. The motto of TOK is: “It depends how you see it.” KI/POKs address these aspects.
  • Continue reading »

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What is Logical Positivism?

Office Windows
Logical Positivism was one of the most important schools of philosophy of science in the beginning 20th century. The “Vienna Circle”, a group of scientists, mathematicians and philosophers, contributed greatly in promoting this philosophical view.

When I was younger, in my teens, I started to discover my love for the sciences. I was fascinated by Biology and Physics and I think I must have driven my teachers crazy with my constant request for “proofs” and evidence. I liked science so much that I even included chemical formulas in my literature essays. Instead of saying “The water waves are gently moving in the sunset.” I’d write “Waves made of H2O are gently moving in the solar spectrum.” My English teacher then responded, “Don’t forget about the H2SO4 (sulfuric acid) which is dissolved as well!”. An then I didn’t feel as bad about the bad mark on the test anymore… Now I am teacher myself and occasionally I meet some students who remind me very much of myself. They are constantly confronting me with the words “How do you know that?” – always eager for empirical, scientific evidence. They want to see things before they believe it. They want formulas. They want cause and effect relationships. Without having been aware of it, I myself as well as my students, were followers of a certain philosophical school. We were “Positivists”. Continue reading »

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What is the Title of this Episode?


Office building
A paradox is a self-contradictory or self-referential statement. In this episode we’re going to have a look at several examples.

If I say: “I always lie” – am I then lying, or not? If the sentence “I always lie” is true, then it should not be true, because I always lie. If the sentence is not true, this would translate into “I never lie”, But in this case I lied to you, and we again have a contradiction. This is an example of a paradox. A paradox is a statement which contradicts itself. In this episode I’d like to show you a few other examples of paradoxes. Just for the fun of it.

Once there was a crocodile, which stole a child. The mother talked to the crocodile and the crocodile said that it will return the child to the mother if she answers to a question correctly. If the answer is wrong, then the crocodile would eat the child. The mother agreed. The crocodile now asked the question: “What am I going to do next?”. What should the mother answer? If she says: “You are not going to eat my child.”, then the crocodile would respond: “Wrong answer, I would have eaten the child, and now I’m really going to eat it because your answer was wrong”. What’s going to happen if the mother answered: “You are going to eat my child.”. The question is now: Should the crocodile now eat the child or not? If the answer is correct, then the crocodile promised to return the child. But this would make the answer wrong again. If the crocodile really intended to eat the child, he has to return it, but at the same time can’t do that because then the answer would be wrong again. Continue reading »

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How can Math be Right and Wrong at the Same Time?


A hot air balloon
To what extent does math reflect the real world? Some mathematical equations deliver results that have no connection to reality. This episode applies the correspondence and coherence theory of truth to the area of mathematics.

Originally I wanted to call this episode “Does Math Reflect Reality?” or “The Limits of Math” but then I decided on the title “How Math can be Right and Wrong at the Same Time” – it sounds more, how shall I say… captivating.

And yes, I’m going to start off with a little mathematical task to illustrate that mathematical solutions do not always correspond to reality. Let’s start off simple. Certainly you remember the Pythagorean Theorem. If the length of two sides of a right triangle are known, then it’s easy to calculate the third side: a²+b²=c². I’m going to show you now an example using this formula.

Lets use some simple values to make calculation easy. If the lengths of the two legs of the right triangle a and b have the values 3 and 4 (a=3 and b=4), what is the length of the hypotenuse c? Continue reading »

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Of Justified True Belief and the Snouters

Ocean waves
In this episode, I’m going to apply Plato’s definition of knowledge (justified true belief) to the recently discovered mammals, the Rhinogradentia. Can you know that they existed?

Have you ever heard of the strange looking group of mammals, the Rhinogradentia? If you don’t know what they are, then maybe the name Snouter rings a bell? No? Don’t worry, I’m going to explain what they are. In this episode I’m going to use the names Rhinogradentia and Snouters interchangeably, they refer to the same animals. And, yes, I’m also not forgetting about some Theory of Knowledge aspects. In particular I’m going to address the concept of “justified true belief” as a definition of knowledge. So in that sense this episode is somewhat introductory in nature. But first, let’s talk about the Rhinogradentia, the Snouters.

The Rhinogradentia are a group of mammals and were first discovered by the Swedish explorer Einar Pettersson-Skämtkvist in the year 1941. They are a fairly recent discovery, even if this was over 60 years ago. He discovered them on the Polynesian Hi-yi-yi islands in the Pacific ocean, while escaping captivity as a prisoner of war. This was during the second world war. Unfortunately only a few years later, in 1945, the island was destroyed by an earthquake. Continue reading »

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TOK Essay Prescribed Titles – May 2010

Waves on the shore

Here are some (possible) guiding questions to help you deal with the TOK Essay titles.

I have compiled a list of questions which should help students analyze their chosen prescribed title question (Nov 2009, and May 2010 session). The presented questions are meant as a source of inspiration. Some of you may think that simply answering these questions is enough for passing the TOK essay. Trust me, it’s not enough. And don’t say that you didn’t know. The purpose of these questions is to get you thinking about the prescribed title. I’m not saying that the questions are directly relevant for your particular approach to your chosen title question. I have to be honest with you: For many of these questions I myself do not even know an answer and maybe some questions do not even have a single, clear answer. Some of the questions may not even be relevant for your approach to the prescribed title! If you already have an approach to your prescribed title, then do not let these questions distract you. You must read these questions critically and reflect on them.
Continue reading »

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The Egg of Columbus


Yellow flower
How do you balance an egg on its pointed side without any extra help? Many problems appear easy, once you know how to solve them. Often hidden assumptions prevent us from solving a particular problem, however.

Here in front of me, I’ve got a boiled egg. And the last 10 minutes I’ve been trying to balance the egg on its corner. No. Eggs don’t have corners, of course. I’ve tried to balance the egg on its pointed end. I think I don’t have to tell you that this is an impossible feat, the egg is always rolling over to its side. It’s possible to spin the egg, but after a few seconds the egg will roll again to its side, so this is not a good solution.

This egg balancing problem is not a new problem. It has been around for about 500 years now. Christoper Columbus, remember he was the one who discovered America in 1492, posed the very same problem to several Spanish nobles. And even 500 years ago they could not solve the problem. But Christoper Columbus knew a solution, one which is surprisingly simple. He took the egg and he smashed it on the table. And the egg was standing.
Continue reading »

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What is the Age of Enlightenment?


Enlightenment is the courage to use your own brain. Sapre Aude! Dare to Know!

Enlightenment is the courage to use your own brain. It is the courage to think on your own.

  • What do you do if you want to make your lifestyle healthier? You talk to a doctor. He or she will advise you on what food to eat.
  • You have a financial issue? You talk to the bank. They will advise you how to invest your money.
  • Or maybe you have an emotional problem? Go to a psychologist! He/she will fix it.
  • You have problems making a moral or ethical decision? You talk to a religious authority or a philosopher.
  • You have problems settling a disagreement with somebody? What do you do? You talk to a lawyer, of course.
  • You don’t know what to study at university? You ask your parents or your friends. They know it better.
  • You don’t know the answer to question on an exam? You have look at what the person sitting next to you is writing.

Continue reading »

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To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.

- Henry David Thoreau -