The map is not the territory.

This lesson is designed to be taught early in a ToK Course. It is designed to encourage students to question the veracity of their reality. It is a classic ToK / Psychology / Philosophy lesson, I include it here as help for teachers who may be new to teaching ToK.

Like all lessons posted here you should adapt this so that it is appropriate for your class group.

WoKs: Language, Sense Perception,   maybe others such as Imagination, Reason etc

Learning Intentions:

  • Students understand that there are multiple interpretations of reality.
  • Students understand that reality can be visually presented, yet realities may extend beyond the unitary visual representation.
  • students understand that visual reality can develop to cognitive representation of reality.

Some of the lesson ideas here come from my erstwhile ToK teaching colleague Mr Gareth Stevens, check his site out for many other cool ideas.


1. Start with this YouTube video of 42 Magical Maps of the World.

2. Cool Presentation on the Metaphor of The Map

Students list things that they ‘know’. e.g. “I know….”:

that France exists, that Thailand is hot, that bottles are made of glass, that The Wizard of Oz is made up, etc etc

Students then classify their ‘knows’ by WoK. Language should be a big part of this / apparent.

Draw out the contrasts in WoKs.

3. Play the game Broken Telephone (once known, in less politically correct times, as Chinese Whispers).

exemplify that most knowledge is passed on knowledge, only known by 3rd hand, 4th hand etc etc.

4. Contrast Knowledge by experience with knowledge by description:

  • What do I know through primary experience ?
  • What do I know through secondary description ?
  • Is one more informative than the other ?

5. Descriptive labels are arbitrary.

Ways to say hello in different languages around the world.

Signified and Signifiers: explain.signifier-and-signified-7-728


Use slideshow: 




Descriptive labels need context, and contain symbolism.



6. Meaning is not fixed. Descriptive labels have multiple meanings.

Eats shoots and leaves.


7. Chomsky on language and meaning.

Video of Noam Chomsky discussing the use of language during the 1991 Gulf War.

8. Wittgenstein’s Language Games:

Our language defines our reality.

This essay is a good place to start (see the section on language games).

The School of Life YouTube Video on Wittgenstein.

Students to describe experiences for which there is not ‘a word’.

or if you have multi-lingual speakers ask them to list words / concepts which do not have direct translations to / from each language.

with gratitude for reference to:

Ian Rutherford’s ToK Blog and the absolutely wonderful Cartastrophe !



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