Content ideas for November 2016 Essays

I recently marked over 200 ToK Essays for the May 2016 Session, and I got very very bored of reading the same RLS examples used to illustrate KC’s. The following came up repeatedly:
The move from Geocentric to Heliocentric understanding of the solar system.
The development of Fermatt’s Theorem.
Stalin’s use of propaganda.
The Piraha people who don’t have numbers in their language.
The development of Atomic Theory

All of these examples are solid and worthy examples to use in your ToK Essay, but with some thought you can go beyond the examples given in the textbooks. If you develop your own examples they are often better applied because you have been compelled to think about them more deeply, and apply them in a way which is tailored for the PT that you are answering. Therefore, I’m a big advocate of developing your own examples. Here are some RLS examples that I have identified for Nov 2016 titles, you can use these if you wish, but I include them to help you to develop in your own ToK writing.

PT#1 – Acquisition of knowledge is more recognition than judgment.
The obvious area to look at here is ‘accidental discoveries’, or the serendipitous creation of knowledge. The obvious example is Fleming’s discovery of the antibiotic properties of penicillin. However, why not be creative and cite a less used example, such as Roentgen’s discovery of X-Rays.
The ‘discovery’ examples work perfectly for this PT as either claim or counterclaim, or even as both ! It all depends how you define the terms acquisition and judgment.

PT#2 – Does increased availability of data always help the production of knowledge ?

A potential issue with this essay could be the difference between the increased availability of data, and increased data. Is there a particular issue if data is available, but not used in comparison to when the actual data used is increased ?

Mathematical and Natural Science inclined people will be getting super excited around the potential data modelling examples that could be used here – like when the Hadron Collider showed particles moving faster than the speed of light ! or classic weather forecasting mistakes. However, in counterclaim you could use examples where more data would have helped the production of knowledge – for example the flawed testing of Thalidomide in the 1950’s (which had only be tested on animals) . Such discussions could consider issues of reliability and validity, triangulation, confirmation bias etc. IB Psychology students can draw upon their methodology knowledge to help with this question.

However, for me the interesting areas to explore in this question are not concerned with the conventional definition of ‘data’. I would take ‘data’ in this question as referring to information which has the potential for interpretation to become a constituent of knowledge.  Therefore ‘data’ in different AoKs can be constituted by different WoKs: in AoK The Arts it could be argued that ‘data’ comprises of emotions. Now if we take an art form which is strongly characterised by the experience and evocation of a dominant emotion then we can consider whether it would be ‘helpful to the production of knowledge’ to add more data, albeit in this case a different form of data. For example:
Would Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite be helped if we tasted nuts whilst watching it ? (adding Sense Perception).
Would Hopper’s paintings be improved with the addition of a phone number helpline for the lonely along the bottom ? (adding Reason).
Would you feel sadder if Disney added a soundtrack of a Psychologist explaining why you are crying when Bambi is killed….,  You get the idea.
Further, students could consider minimalist art, thriller novels, scary films (would it make it scarier if you knew the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park were  CGI?). OK, that’s just playing in the Arts.

Let’s play with AoK History.

Whilst marking ToK Essays this session I often read essays that stated that the function of knowledge production in History is to ‘find the truth’, or to portray an accurate version of the past. This is an interesting claim to make if you can justify it, however, unfortunately I did not read any viable justifications of that position (most students didn’t even attempt to justify that position).
More successful students would often develop a more constructivist understanding of the function of knowledge production in History, taking the position that History has no singular truth, but possibly multiple truths. Taking this further, many students consider socio-political and ideological functions of History, and the consequent influence on knowledge production within AoK History.
In relation to the addition of more data, use of a constructivist approach allows students to develop much more sophisticated claims and counterclaims than using the singular truth approach. For example:
Claim: The addition of more data to oral history accounts of experiences in the Somme (WWI 1914-1918) would not ‘help the production of knowledge’ if the function of knowledge production was high validity in the understanding of individual experience.
Counterclaim: The addition of more data to oral history accounts of experiences in the Somme (WWI 1914-1918) would be very ‘helpful in the production of knowledge’ if the function of knowledge production was high reliability in understanding the wider causes of war.

AoK History offers lots of scope for a discussion around this phrase “helpful in the production of knowledge”. Students could discuss the methodology of the AoK, the possible functions of the AoK, the underlying principles of the AoK etc etc.

PT#3. Do conflicting KC’s always involve difference in perspective ?

Uuhh, please excuse me – I’ve just marked lots & lots of essays about “the knower’s perspective” in the May 2016 session so, I’ll take PT#3 in Nov 2016 session a little slowly.

Perspective can be a very difficult term to pin down in a ToK essay, care should be taken at the beginning of the essay to ensure that your unpacking of this term gives you the freedom to develop claims and counterclaims which can relate to useful RLS. I would advise against giving a ‘basic’ dictionary definition as this will either restrict the development of arguments, or you will be forced to ignore the definition later in the essay.

You could decide to develop this essay through the  Knowledge Framework of two contrasting AoKs, particularly focussing on the Concepts/Language section and the Methodology section. The argument would develop along the lines that Knowledge Claims are often reflective of a dominant AoK, and therefore if there are different Concepts/Language/Methodology used in knowledge production of that AoK then that represents a difference in perspective.

An equivalent set of arguments could be used around Ways of Knowing, however in this case you would have to be careful to ensure that you didn’t start to attribute particular WoKs to specific AoKs. this argument would be more empirical as it would be implying that claims are formed by interconnecting WoKs with certain Woks being dominant.

The difficulty with this question arises when you start develop counterclaims. Potentially it could be argued that conflicting KCs arise from commonality in perspective, I could definitely see RLS for such a claim arising from History, Economics, Physics and possibly RKS. However, it’s a difficult argument to make, and could bog you down in a definition of the term ‘perspective’.

Possibly a more useful set of counterclaims could be developed around the words in the PT – e.g. unpacking the term ‘conflicting’ or the term ‘difference’. The idea of conflicting – does this mean diametrically opposed or just contrasting ? Does it mean counterbalancing, in opposition to, subtracting from or competing ? Likewise, the term ‘difference in perspective’ is open to interpretation. Just because there’s a difference in perspective doesn’t necessarily mean that the perspectives are conflicting, opposed or competing.


4 thoughts on “Content ideas for November 2016 Essays

  1. Thank you for the blog!! In Q2 there are several key terms to define. In the explanation of Q2 you came with the definition of data. However, I that a definition of ‘knowledge production’ is also needed. So, how would you define “knowledge production” for Q2? 🙂

    1. Thank you for your thanks.

      ‘Knowledge Production’ is, essentially, the whole point of ToK, that’s what you are studying. The process is defined by all of the Knowledge Frameworks of the Areas of Knowledge contained within the ToK Study Guide issued by IB (your teacher can give you a copy). To give a 2 line definition would overly simplify ToK in a way which would not serve the purpose of the subject. In relation to this essay you can write the essay in such a way that the whole essay becomes your working definition of Knowledge Production.

  2. I recently read about the addition of the 4 elements that complete row 7 of the periodic table and thought this is a great claim/counterclaim for Q3. Ask a scientist in the year 1999 how many elements there are in the periodic table and they’ll say 114 but ask another scientist (or the same scientist) how many elements there are in the periodic table now and they’ll say 118. This is a conflicting KC (depending on how you define conflicting) to me but they are not from different perspective (again, depends on how you define perspective). This conflict stems from a difference in time. Scientific knowledge evolves over time, a KC in the past may be deemed as obsolete or may be proven to be true centuries down the road. The same RLS can also be argued as a difference in perspective in time (again, this depends on the definition of perspectives)….ok….I get the idea, it is quite tricky to define perspectives here. Many RLS works both ways!

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