#4 May 2018. Is suspension of disbelief essential in AoKs ? Ref. 2 AoKs

The first thing to do here is to ensure that understand the concept of ‘suspension of disbelief’, if disbelief is an unwillingness to believe something then suspension of this would suggest a willingness to believe something (albeit temporary).

When choosing the AoKs to be discussed the IB recently offered guidance:

Prescribed title 4 currently reads: “Suspension of disbelief” is an essential feature of theatre. Is it essential in other areas of knowledge? Develop your answer with reference to two areas of knowledge.” The title states that ‘suspension of disbelief’ is an essential feature of theatre, a discipline within the area of knowledge of the arts. Ideally, the candidate will need to explain/unpack to some extent what “suspension of disbelief” might mean in theatre in order to open up the analysis. The title then asks “Is it essential in other areas of knowledge?”, which means the candidate needs to discuss suspension of disbelief in two additional areas of knowledge other than the arts.

That’s very clear, and very fair, from IB – you must choose 2 Aoks other than the Arts. I would consider AoKs which allow the best contrast in relation to the nature of belief/disbelief, for example an obvious contrast is between Natural Sciences and Religious Knowledge Systems (default disbelief vs default belief), or between Ethics and the Arts (default universal principles vs default individualised interpretation), I could go on, but you get the gist.

The word ‘essential’ features twice in the question, however we are not told what suspension of disbelief may, or may not, be essential for. ie what is the suspension of disbelief essential for, or not essential for ? My two immediate thoughts are either ‘knowing’ or knowledge construction. It could be argued that suspension of disbelief (SoD) is, or is not, an essential part of knowing in so much as knowing is a process of bridging between shared and personal knowledge spheres. In this instance suspending disbelief would be an essential part of the either modifying or promoting PK. On the other hand it could be argued that SoD is essential  in the construction of knowledge as suspension of disbelief is required to test, hypothesise, accept, experiment innovate etc etc Of course, how you make either of these arguments will very much depend on the AoK under consideration..

The word disbelief is open to high degree of interpretation. Is disbelief an approximation of skepticism ?, and if so does suspension of it lead to a degree of certainty, or maybe trust ? Again it, very much depends upon which AoK is under consideration, and whether the SoD  is considered essential to knowing or knowledge construction.

It would seem that the most straightforward way of illustrating this PT is to start by looking at Religious Knowledge Systems (RKS). Most RKS ask for a suspension of disbelief, there is an appeal to WoKs such as faith, emotion and intuition as the process of knowing. As more accomplished students venture down this avenue they will probably start to  look at differences between belief and truth. In this instance is SoD defined as a willingness to construct a truth ? (and if so, is it a Correspondent Truth, pragmatic truth etc?). It could be argued that RKS could be seen as a ‘top-down model’ of belief, in which the knower is not invited to exercise disbelief (most RKS dissuade knowers from testing knowledge), the knower is asked to suspend disbelief, and often the degree to which the knower is will to suspend disbelief is a measure of the degree of their knowledge of (affiliation to, identification with) the belief system.

In contrast we could look at AoK Mathematics as the opposite process. Mathematics requires proof before it becomes known, or categorised as knowledge. Rather than a suspension of disbelief it could be argued that disbelief is inherent to the methodology of knowledge construction. Students could make good reference to the Knowledge Framework, regardless of the AoK to which they refer. It is not difficult to find evidence for the primacy of mathematical proof (and therefore a inherent system of disbelief) in the AoK. For example it took Russell & Whitehead 300 pages to prove that 1+1=2, the problem of Goldbach’s Conjecture and the process by which Andrew Wiley proved Fermat’s last theorem (notably, there were many steps on the way to final proof that mathematicians ‘knew’ without being able to prove, such as the Shimura-Taniyama conjecture). Students with an interest in maths will be able to use much more apt and interesting evidence than me.

Obviously students need to develop counterclaims to their claims. Students could set up one AoK as the claim, and the other AoK as the counterclaim. However, I think that a far more sophisticated essay would include both claims and counterclaims for each AoK.

Obviously weaved into the discussion about the essentiaility, or not, of SoD in AoK could be links to WoKs. It could be argued that some WoKs are based upon a process of testing & rejection / trial & error (such as sense perception, reason, language), whilst other Woks seem to be based upon a more open acceptance of knowledge (such as faith, intuition, and emotion).

Finally let’s come back to the word “essential”. This word makes the proposal an absolute. There can be no______________ with suspension of disbelief. Students should state whether SoD is essential for _________________________ or whether you can still have _____________ with SoD, maybe to a lesser or greater extent.

Enjoy your writing !


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