3. “There is no reason why we cannot link facts and theories across disciplines and create a common groundwork of explanation.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

I have posted a short summary guide to all May 2015 ToK Essay Titles here. This post is a more detailed look at the possible ways in which to answer Q3 (as cited above).

This post is intended only as a starting point for discussion between ToK students and teachers. It is neither the only, nor the ‘right’, answer. Students should not copy this post as an essay – it is in no way substantial, nor developed, enough to constitute an answer. It’s just one of many ways to start thinking about this answer.

OK, let’s have a look at Q3 – this is an interesting question for a number of reasons. Firstly it states “There is NO reason…”, this level of absolutism could be difficult to disagree with. Secondly it mentions linking “facts”, whether it is possible to establish such things could be a matter of much discussion. Finally, the Q talks about ‘disciplines’, how disciplines are defined will affect how you answer the question.

The following answer structure is only my interpretation of how to answer this question. It is neither the only answer, nor the best answer. I have little doubt that many of you will be able to devise a better answer than me. This post is just to stimulate thinking around a possible starting point.

My approach to the question would be to generally agree with the statement along the following lines (the “Knowledge Claims“):

1. We have always linked facts & theories across ‘disciplines’ to create common understandings.

2. Knowledge is neither static, nor the linear product of subject based enquiry.

3. The ‘disciplines’ are social constructs, they change over time, culture and place.

Possible Knowledge Questions.

In formulating the KQ’s for this PT I have assumed that the term ‘discipline’ and Area of Knowledge are fairly interchangeable.

1. How does knowledge interact across disciplines ?

2. Does the process of knowledge production within any specific discipline change that knowledge when interpreted in another discipline ?

3. Are disciplines essentially paradigmatic and, therefore, exclusive ?

4. Do socially constructed disciplines share similar knowledge objectives ?

5. Why do knowledge disciplines emerge, and decline ?

6. What is the inter-relationship between the knower, the knowledge, and their proclaimed discipline ?

These are just a few trigger KQ’s. They are neither the only, nor the ‘right’, KQ’s. Learners should not copy & write to these KQ’s, they should use the KQ which arise from their own thinking about this question.

Structure.

I would define disciplines as the Areas of Knowledge defined within ToK, and would argue that this also encompasses the Ways of Knowing (e.g. Faith as an AoK translates as Religious Knowledge).

However, I would put a strong caveat at this point that the very existence of these disciplines could be questioned (more later).

Premise 1: We have always linked facts & theories across disciplines to create common understandings.

The linking of content from various disciplines to give new common understandings is not new, it is how knowledge is developed. Students could give a range of examples to demonstrate this linkage. Some that come immediately to mind are:

1) The production & use of Booth’s Poverty Maps required the combination of Human Sciences, Maths & Natural Sciences. The combination of facts & theories from across these disciplines was required to produce the maps. Then further linking across the disciplines was required to understand the increased mortality & reduced lifespans of those living in poverty. Finally, the combination of all 3 disciplines was required to formulate solutions to illnesses exacerbated through poverty.

2) The design of The Austin Mini car required Natural Sciences, Human Sciences and The Arts.

3) Understanding the link between traumatic experience and mental illness (such as PTSD) required linking facts & theories from Human Sciences, Natural Sciences, Maths, History etc.

The list of examples that could be given is nearly endless, students should make clear which AoK that they are drawing upon if they give examples.

Premise 2. Knowledge is neither static nor the linear product of subject based enquiry (“Aha” & “Eureka” moments).

Better, or more accepted, knowledge changes over time, ideas are historically, culturally and geographically located. Therefore, that which is accepted as ‘good knowledge’ is temporal both in time and in it’s position within a knowledge framework. A wide range of examples could be drawn upon, such as the rise of empiricism, the development of a human based system of ethics, or the recent return to environmentalism (echoing the belief systems of pre-industrial societies).

Students could give a wide range of examples of superseded scientific theories.

The temporal nature of knowledge would seem to lead to a smooth process of replacement which involves process up a near hierarchical chain whereby old ideas are replaced by new ideas which seem borne from the old. This is clearly not always the case, sometimes there are ‘eureka moments’ moments of deep insight which give rise to a new way of looking at things, seemingly unrelated to the earlier givens – students could give an examples – there are many such as Tesla’s discovery of alternating current, Loewi’s discovery of chemical nervous message transmission.

There could be a very useful discussion of Kuhn’s Theory of Paradigm Shifts at this point.

This could lead to an interesting discussion around the nature of divergent thinking, its’ role in knowledge creation, and the link to personality traits. This could also be linked to lateral thinking, and citing some of the research evidence which supports lateral thinking as a method for generating new ideas. Both divergent thinking and lateral thinking would be used to support the question.

This question could also contain a useful discussion on creativity, and it’s role in creating a ‘common ground of explanation’. Students would need to define creativity, think about types of creativity, and how creative processes are applied in a variety of academic areas. Such a discussion would be in support of the question.

Premise 3. The ‘disciplines’ are social constructs, they change over time, culture and place.

I was recently at Chetham’s Library (a very old library) in Manchester, UK, they’ve kept many of the old section names (dating back hundreds of years, I noticed that the Physics section of the library was called ‘Applied Philosophy’ (or similar). The disciplines are not absolute givens, but they are social constructs produced and influenced by cultural preference and the prevailing academic biases of the time, for example Psychology had not been labelled until the late 19th century, Artificial Intelligence was labelled in the mid 20th century, and quantum mechanics even more recently. That which is thought to be an academic discipline can also fall in and out of favour, for example Physiognomy, Astrology and Alchemy (?).

This leads to a discussion of Basil Bernstein’s work on Curriculum Organisation. Bernstein argued that the curriculum is organised according to a prevailing power structure of which reflects the interests of dominant social forces. This analysis generally supports the question.

Counter arguments ( I would not recommend structuring the essay as this guide is laid out, ie arguments for followed by arguments against. The arguments for and against the PT should be integrated throughout the response).

In counter the question does state ‘there is no reason’, undoubtedly there are reasons why we cannot link facts across disciplines. These reasons are not mutually inclusive of all reasons why we can link across disciplines, and therefore do not negate the reasons why we can link. However, such reasons do exist.

The paradigm of reference of disciplines may not be congruent.

When researchers, or thinkers, are developing ideas (& knowledge) within their discipline they may be using quite different frameworks (or modes of thought). The aims of the research may not be congruent. For example, biologists and psychologists studying the same behaviour may assume very different causes, their frame of reference is different. Such difference can happen within a discipline, for example ethnomethodologists & positivists will set off into their field with quite different research questions, and different ways of interpreting the same behaviours.

The Value Basis (and therefore aim) of Disciplines may not be congruent.

This area touches upon whether disciplines are value neutral, if we take as a starting point that disciplines have inherent value biases then the question arises whether these value biases are congruent. The hypothetico deductive method requires observation, formulation of hypothesis, and application of research tools, at each of these stages there is a significant potential for value biases (ie what do you choose to observe ? what do you choose to formulate as hypotheses ? which research tools do you apply ? how do you interpret your results ? – all are subject to individual biases.

There is quite a lot of research which shows gender and cultural bias in research, this would run counter to the question, and suggest a reason why we should not share research findings across disciplines.

There may be practical problems of time & space

However, generally, such reasons against linkage are minimal in comparison to the reasons enabling linkage.

Resources.

Excellent LSE Blog on reflexivity & subjectiveness in research.

Should the curriculum be subject led ?

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7 thoughts on “3. “There is no reason why we cannot link facts and theories across disciplines and create a common groundwork of explanation.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

  1. Would it be possible to say that natural sciences and religious knowledge system cannot go hand in hand if a literal view of a holy book is to be held (holy book inerrancy)?

    1. interesting knowledge claim. Whether they can go ‘hand in hand’ very much depends upon your definition of ‘hand in hand’. You are exploring the relationship between a scientific method and a faith based belief system, the degree to which the two can co-exist, or even be integrated is the very core of the essay. I would probably explore how knowledge is produced in each sphere in order to reach a conclusion.

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