Precepts to use in everyday life

1. Think for yourself, 2. Be yourself, 3. Speak up, 4. Feel free to agree and disagree, 5. Be honest with yourself and others, 6. Be open-minded, 7. Avoid being judgmental and 8. Question everything - even your own thinking.

TOK Essay Titles Nov 2020

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

ToK Essays 2010

We would like to send a message of thanks and our personal best wishes to all the Year 13s who are about to finish their essays over the next weeks. You have grown in mind and heart and we sincerely hope that all the experiences you've had in TOK over the last 18 months have helped to shape you into independent thinkers who are confident to speak your mind about the things that matter most to you. Having seen and assessed your recent presentations, we have great confidence in all of you - you are not the same people as the ones who started the course. And even if you do not see the transformations in yourselves, rest assured that we see them and that they are good.

Please take the time to read the following message:

1. Final deadline for TOK Essay: Monday 8th February 2010 at 12 p.m.

2. Come to the IB Office Rm 210 to hand in the essay

3. Please note that the essays and presentation scores are being posted away immediately after 12 p.m. so any latecomers will FAIL

4. Print off the formal essay cover sheet (from the website) and complete it in BLACK INK

5. Also bring your completed official TOK Presentation paperwork, also completed in BLACK INK

6. After Christmas there will be essay consultation sessions on Fridays P1 and Tuesdays P9 in the Lecture theatre - please do NOT come empty handed. A plan of ideas or a self-reflection sheet will suffice - we will not read through or discuss completed essays. Please look out for the booking form on the noticeboard and pencil yourself in - no more than SIX students per session.

Good luck to you all and have a splendid holiday!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Human Sciences (Psychology), The Arts and Ethics

As the festive season fast approaches, you'll no doubt be aware that some major national and global issues either are or have taken place to distract us from the general mayhem of Christmas consumerism and potential gluttony in every form imaginable (not the least in eating!). For instance, the climate change talks in Copenhagen (still taking place) and the final of X factor UK(already done).

In the context of recent posts on 'peak oil', consider the following statistics and make up your own minds:

1. Approximately 19.1 million people in the UK watched the final of X factor on TV on Sunday 13th December (see Marketing Week, December 2009) - that is 31 % of the estimated population of the UK (approx 61.4 million, Guardian, August 2009).

2. Approximately, 15, 000 participants (from a 192 nations) and onlookers are estimated to be involved in the Copehagen UN talks on climate change between 7th and 18th December (this is not counting the estimated 6, 500 police officers drafted in to supervise the event, or the anticipated 350 potential troublemakers for whom the Danes have set up steel cages, or the potential 1000 protestors who could be processed over a period of 24 hours in a former Carlsberg beer depot) (see New York Times, December 2009) - that is 0.02% of the estimated population of the UK.

What are the objections to this jusxtaposition of statistics?
  • X factor has nothing to do with politics - we're making a false comparison
  • The representatives at the UN conference are doing a job for which we elected them - to represent us, so we don't actually have to be there in person
  • We can enjoy our free time how we please - it's a free country

But think about this: who is taking what seriously? And whom should one take seriously? We should say: HUMANKIND, BLOODY WAKE UP!

Think about the whole issue of voting folks. According to last years figures, 16, 469, 064 votes were placed throughout the entire Series 5 of X-Factor. We haven't had the full figures for this year, although we know that the winner received 63% of the total votes cast on the night.

Now consider that in the last general election in 2005, 27, 110, 727 votes were cast (44% of the population). The winning Labour party received 35% of these votes.

Where are people when the voting really matters? Does voting matter at all? Perhaps we're all much too spoilt and self-satisfied to be bothered...

Imagine if the millions watching X-Factor last Sunday night had gathered instead in pockets at the Town Halls of the major towns and cities in the country, in honour of the UN climate change talks; imagine the impact that might have had...

Or perhaps these are just the vain fantasies of idealists - perhaps we should be grateful that the plebiscite didn't turn out in their droves in case they had to be taken in and locked up in 'bird cages' similar to those constructed for the protestors in Copenhagen!

Or perhaps we should use the same argument for X-Factor as people use to shut up extremist parties like the BNP: just giving it the time of day is to acknowledge its importance, so don't do it.

Oh dear. But don't you see that at some point we just have to give these things the time of day; we just have to think about them and then decide what to do.


Human Sciences (Economics), Natural Sciences, Ethics and History

Watch the following videos to sum up our excursion into the territory of 'peak oil' and the new world beyond. Richard Heinberg speaks extremely eloquently about the issue from a historical and economic perspective which has tremendous ethical consequences.

There are SIX clips in total, entitled "Richard Heinberg's 'Peak Everything' ", but we have given you the first and the last clip - fill in the gaps yourselves through the 'youtube' reference.

Finally, here's a reference to a website listing a range of towns and cities that are taking the message of 'peak oil' seriously and attempting to do something to prepare themselves for the aftermath in a post-industrial, post-oil era:

You might be surprised to see that most of the 255 listed towns and cities are in the UK.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Human Sciences, Natural Sciences and Ethics

Compare the previous interview with Michael Ruppert with the later interview above, then move on the the advice he gives about 'disengagement':

Towards a Method of Disengagement

What we should do to get out of the trap of an infinite growth-based econonmy is based on two assumptions, which are actually the key OBJECTIVES of any disengaging strategy:

  • We need to be able to make decisions about our lives on rapidly changing, fluid circumstances - we must be flexible enough financially, socially and psychologically to adapt to extreme conditions
  • There will be little or no help forthcoming from governments whose contingency plans are all geared towards preserving the infrastructure rather than caring for people, so do not rely on assistance from this source
  • There could be a nuclear solution to 'peak oil', but this could lead to further political and economic conflict with the added threat of global armageddon

So here's a rudimentary map or plan of action to help us to 'disengage':

1. Get out of debt

2. 'Balance sheet' : make an account of income and expenditure so as to know where to cut back on spending

3. 'Rainy day account': save a little every week and let it earn interest in a savings account or in a place where it's making something

4. Stay away from all forms of credit as much as possibe (even student loans!), but if you have to get credit, stick to short term, very low (fixed, not adjustable) interest rates

5. Stay away from investing in the stock market

6. 'Investment': Buy gold (and silver) - a tangible asset kept in a safety deposit box or a safe at home

7. 'The home': Do not buy a property, rent one

8. 'Sustaniablity': Find a small plot of land and prepare it for growing your own food - be self-sufficient

9. Insulate your home carefully to safeguard against rise of heating costs

10. 'Network': keep alive the social connections that you trust implicitly - consider re-locating to form a local group or community of friends and family who will take care of each other

11. 'Siege mentality': Avoid hoarding stuff in preparation for any further econimic meltdown, but certainly act prudently enough to safeguard yourself from immediate disruptions

12. If you are fully debt-free, be cautious about how you 'spend' your credit to prepare for short term disruptions (see point 4)

13. 'Liquidity': try to have as much 'cash-in-hand' as possible or something that is quickly transferable into cash (see points 3 & 6)

14. 'Currency': be prepared to use 'regional currencies', instead of the national currency, for exchanging goods and services actively build a local currency for trading things

15. 'Banking': use a small, local bank that re-invests locally instead of a national High St bank whose shares trade in the stock market and whose first responsibility is to their shareholders rather than you - stay clear of credit card accounts from these big banks

16. 'Spending': spend your hard-earned money on local produce and stay clear of the High St supermarkets

17. 'Ownership': create neighbourhood stock corporations - people have joint shares in the stock of the community as a means of determining the value of the stock and their standard of living

18. 'Personal growth': don't waste your energy on converting people who are closed to change - find people who think like you do and work with them to adjust yourself

19. 'Wake up call': educate the young to THINK about the issues of the post-oil era so that they can help themselves and make a good life

20. 'Media': think for yourself and critically assess everthing that you are confronted with through the TV, newspapers, Government initiatives, technological gadgetry...

Remember: this is NOT an exhaustive list. What else could you do?


Human Sciences (Economics), Natural Sciences and Ethics

Let's resume the discussion about 'peak oil' from the perspective of what to do when we run out of oil. The questions we'll be exploring here are these:

  • If you accept that oil energy is running out fast, then how do you adjust to the new reality?
  • How do you cope with the immediate chaos of not being able to rely on gas and electricity supplies and to live in a world that reverts into a state of pre-industrial order?
  • How do you deal with Governments and financiers that not only led us with open eyes into economic, political and military mayhem, but will not be there for us to help when we enter into the post-oil era?
  • And finally, to what extent do you want to continue to absorb yourselves in reality TV when the real world is on the edge of a crisis that could see the end of human society as we know it?

These questions are not put to you lightly. And it's crucial that at some point soon, you face up to them and answer them honestly.

Here are three clips of an interview with Michael Ruppert who neatly resumes our global oil depletion predicament:

The Global Economic Paradigm

Ruppert argues that we are hooked into a certain (debilitating) way of thinking about how money works in the economy and must tear ourselves away from it (listen closely to his theory about money). The features of this paradigm are as follows:

1. Fractional reserve banking (banks lend money to us based on its reserve requirement)

2. Compound interest (charged on mortgages, credit cards, student loans, car loans)

3. Debt-based growth (which works on the assumption of infinite growth)

Ruppert describes this economic paradigm as a 'trap' from which it is extremely difficult to extricate ourselves. So he proposes what he calls his strategy of 'disengagement', a list of things-to-do to prepare ourselves for the post-oil era.

You'll notice that he ends the interview on a really tragic note (however much he hides it in his flippant tone): 'We're all screwed; but not everyone has to go down...'

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Human Sciences (Politics & Economics), Natural Sciences and Ethics

Here are some websites devoted to the study of, and discussion about, 'peak oil'. We've tried to balance the sources, but you should look at the evidence yourself and reflect on it to make a decision about the efficacy of the theory. This is by no means an exhaustive list.


Dear Reader,
Civilization as we know it is coming to an end soon. This is not the wacky proclamation of a doomsday cult, apocalypse bible prophecy sect, or conspiracy theory society. Rather, it is the scientific conclusion of the best paid, most widely-respected geologists, physicists, bankers, and investors in the world. These are rational, professional, conservative individuals who are absolutely terrified by a phenomenon known as global "Peak Oil."

2. is a privately funded website, and has no affiliation with any group, business or other interest group. Publishing at this domain has two primary benefits:

1. The preferred Domain Name for what we feel will become the most important debate of humanity.
2. Building on online community to enrich this debate.

The supporting staff are 100% volunteers from around the globe, and receive no compensation of any kind.

Our agenda is as simple as our slogan: "Exploring the Issue of Hydrocarbon Depletion"


The Oil Drum's mission is to facilitate civil, evidence-based discussions about energy and its impact on our future.

We near the point where new oil production cannot keep up with increased energy demand and the depletion of older oil fields, resulting in a decline of total world oil production. Because we are increasingly dependent upon petroleum, declining production has the potential to disrupt our lives through much higher prices and fuel shortages. The extent of the impact of this supply shortfall will depend on its timing, the magnitude of production decline rates, the feasibility of petroleum alternatives, and our ability to curtail energy consumption...


ASPO is a network of scientists and others, having an interest in determining the date and impact of the peak and decline of the world's production of oil and gas, due to resource constraints.

Let's put it this way: the issue of 'peak oil' is arguably as important as is the problem of 'global warming' and must be given as much attention, if not more. Just as there are people who believe that the evidence produced to justify global warming is weak (see the Guardian, November 2005), so there are people who think that peak oil theorists are also wasting their time gathering so-called evidence to support their ideas.

Then there are those who think that time (and life) is too short to worry about those in denial about peak oil; that it is time to educate the people who accept that there is a pending collapse and are ready to face it and that it is best to embrace those who are petrified about the future and find themselves rooted to the spot in their fear.


Human Sciences (Politics & Economics), Natural Sciences and Mathematics

Continuing with our apocalyptic theme of the last few posts, we come back to the ideas of Michael Ruppert who refers us to the concept of 'Peak oil': the notion that the planet is fast running out of oil and that when the moment comes, the already crisis-ridden economies of the West are going to collapse and revert back to how things were about a hundred and fifty years ago.

This is an extremely bleak view of the future, pessimistic you might argue, but it is something that is hardly mentioned in the general news of the day so that you could be forgiven for not thinking about it. On the one hand, there is a suggestion, which we have pointed to, that we have been deliberately distracted from the peak oil issue in case it might jolt us into fervent action. On the other hand, this is exactly what we must do and Michael Ruppert neatly points us in the direction of those actions.

Before looking at the implications of 'peak oil', consider what it actually means. You can read articles in the Guardian (2005), the Independent (2007) and the New Scientist (2009) to familiarise yourself with the ongoing debate over the last few years, but the roots of the idea go back to the 1950s with the studies of the geologist, M. King Hubbert - look at the site devoted to Hubbert's ideas.

Peak Oil Theory

Here are the key points of the theory:

Premise 1: Oil is a finite resource.

Premise 2: Once the oil resource reaches its maximum production point (its 'peak' level'), it can never increase.

Conclusion: Therefore, production declines until there is nothing left of oil.

There are various speculations as to when this peak level is going to be reached. Different oil producing countries may reach it at different times. For example, the US, Hubbert argued reached peak production in 1970, whereas Britain's North Sea oil production reached it in 1999. When considering average world production, the speculative range is that peak production could be reached anywhere between 2003-2030 (see Guardian).

Now of course, Premise 2 may be disproved if more oil fields are discovered. We might then find that the 'peak' level could be post-poned to a point way beyond 2030. But the key phrase is 'post-poned': if you accept that oil is a finite resource, this means it will necessarily run out at some point - oil is not a renewable energy source.

And when you consider that everything in this modern twenty-first century is predicated on oil energy, then the implications are vast. The Industrial Revolution grew on the back of oil production, even the technological revolution of the last twenty years was fuelled by it (every microchip manufactured requires oil energy in its production and the internet requires energy to power it). Some argue that it's not just computers and mobile phones that are at stake, but the whole social and economic structure of the Western world.

Let's make one thing clear: the peak oil theory is not presented to scare people. Whether you accept that it accurately describes what is going on in the world is a matter of considering carefully the evidence placed before you.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

TOK Websites

This isn't a website devoted to TOK issues, but we thought that you'd be interested in reading the articles presented on the blog, as well as contributing your own thoughts to it. The site promotes itself in these terms:

"Young Freethought is an independent blog, open for anyone, but with the aim of providing young people with a way of getting out their ideas regarding issues such as rationalism, atheism, science and philosophy."

Now at first glance, you might be forgiven for thinking that the contributions are fervently anti-religious. Not necessarily.

Or at least, it's up to the contributors to balance the arguments...

Friday, December 4, 2009


The Arts (Literature) and Human Sciences (Economics)

In the light of what we've been discussing in recent posts - the idea that we are being nurtured to become consumers (food) and distracted from what's really going on in the world by technological gadgetry (games) - consider this little gem from Roald Dahl: 'The Pig'.

In England once there lived a big
And wonderfully clever pig.
To everybody it was plain
That Piggy had a massive brain.
He worked out sums inside his head,
There was no book he hadn't read.
He knew what made an airplane fly,
He knew how engines worked and why.
He knew all this, but in the end
One question drove him round the bend:
He simply couldn't puzzle out
What LIFE was really all about.
What was the reason for his birth?
Why was he placed upon this earth?
His giant brain went round and round.
Alas, no answer could be found.
Till suddenly one wondrous night.
All in a flash he saw the light.
He jumped up like a ballet dancer
And yelled, "By gum, I've got the answer!"

"They want my bacon slice by slice"
To sell at a tremendous price!"
They want my tender juicy chops
"To put in all the butcher's shops!
"They want my pork to make a roast
"And that's the part'll cost the most!
"They want my sausages in strings!
"They even want my chitterlings!
"The butcher's shop! The carving knife!
"That is the reason for my life!"
Such thoughts as these are not designed
To give a pig great piece of mind.

Next morning, in comes Farmer Bland,
A pail of pigswill in his hand,
And piggy with a mighty roar,
Bashes the farmer to the floor…
Now comes the rather grizzly bit
So let's not make to much of it,
Except that you must understand
That Piggy did eat Farmer Bland,
He ate him up from head to toe,
Chewing the pieces nice and slow.
It took an hour to reach the feet,
Because there was so much to eat,
And when he finished, Pig, of course,
Felt absolutely no remorse.
Slowly he scratched his brainy head
And with a little smile he said,
"I had a fairly powerful hunch
"That he might have me for his lunch.
"And so, because I feared the worst,
"I thought I'd better eat him first."

Apart from being so much fun, what can we learn from this piece of writing?

Unlike some of us, Pig wakes up to what is happening to him. And how? Well, it's really a tough thing to do, but it seems that he asked the right questions and thought deeply about the answers with that big brain of his. This is extremely hard to do when one is bombarded from all directions by distractions and compelled to consume. And why are we so bombarded and compelled? Presumably to avoid a scenario whereby we do exactly what Pig does: rise up against his conditions and the people that create them. So 'bravo' Pig for his epiphany!

Now, Pig's actions might appear to be somewhat extreme, but wouldn't you act in the same 'grizzly' way if you discovered the truth about what was happening to you? Wouldn't you want to think for yourself against everything else in the world and to resist being turned into (at the risk of mixing the animal metaphor) a sheep?

Monday, November 30, 2009


Human Sciences (Psychology) and Natural Sciences (Technology)

Think about all the technology that predominates over us in our lives: from our ever-fancy digital watches and mobile phones, to the highly complex home cinema systems and virtual reality video games. A new gaming culture has arisen in the wake of the technological revolution of the last ten to fifteen years.

We know from the last two posts that some people are still suspicious about how technology can be used to manipulate us into conformity and apathy. We know also that those who are producing this technology are highly creative and inventive people. So what is it about the technology that is so compelling? Consider the following thoughts:

1. Technology has always made life easier for us by saving our energy and effort.

2. Technology saves time so as to allow us more (we hate the phrase, but here it is) 'quality time' with the people and things we care for for.

3. Technology helps us to go beyond the limitations of human perception and reason - without building the right kind of ships, we couldn't have discovered the rest of the world.

4. Technology provides us with much of the information we require to base some fundamental decisions in our lives.

There are of course many downsides to each of these points - for example, the fact that we rely on machine technology to cook the pre-processed and pre-packaged food that is readily available in shops, might not only make us lazy in the kitchen, but also be harmful to our bodies and the environment.

But here's another question that we sometimes overlook: how does the technology make its way to the general public?

It sounds like a strange question to ask, especially because we take for granted everything out there in the market place, but do you really think that technological knowledge is harnessed for the benefit of you and us? That there's somone somewhere who is thinking philanthropically about helping us?

Let's be a little sceptical about this and say 'No!'.

Here's an idea that you can verify for yourselves: nearly all the technology available on the high street is funded, researched into and developed by the Government for their own purposes (which are not always the same reasons as those we voted them in for), usually to enhance the defence capacity of the nation. The technology is then re-packaged and re-distributed in small doses in the public field, trickled out in palatable forms to keep us happy.

Here are some examples:

1. Lycra: it started off as a material developed in the making of space suits, now it's used for tights and underwear.

2. Theme parks: these began life as testing grounds for military and space training: what could humans endure in extreme situations?

3. Video games: again, these were created for simulation purposes to help refine the reaction skills of soldiers and astronauts.

Nothing suspicious in this, you might think. However, if you relate this back to the economic crisis and the political decisions that are made in high places, you can begin to visualise a scenario:

  • Technology is big business and it's in the interest of governments to keep a control over it so as to ensure the business comes to them and to ensure they keep power.
  • Technology is a usful tool for controlling a population (their minds and their behaviour) - just look at CCTV, the proliferation of speed cameras and GPS systems, as well as the desire of governments to enforce an ID card system.
  • You are always under threat of having your identity stolen from credit or debit card fraudsters

In short, our lives are no longer private and in extreme cases, not our own anymore. So next time when you sneeze in the street, just beware because Big Brother is watching you!

Sunday, November 29, 2009


History and The Arts

Following on from the last post and what Gerald Celente said in his interview about the so-called 'revolution' that is coming and will transform not only the United States, but also the world economy, consider this statement:

"Revolutions don't happen from the people that are going to be watching American Idol or waste their time away playing video games and their minds lost in celebrity culture, in pop culture..."

That's you and I he's talking about, folks! Are you going to take it lying down?

Either he's just another old man who's tired of life and especially young people, or he's expressing a sound truth. But what evidence does he have to suggest that the general public who are fed on a diet of reality TV and fast food, fast money and fast fame (and so many other fast things!), have become apathetic, self-satisfied, spoilt and, the shame of it, especially for those of you passionate about TOK, unthinking, unquestioning wretches?

Before you answer that, have another look at Max Keizer and his analysis of something that you all might be fascinated by at this time: 'Twilight' (you only have to watch the first 2 minutes to get the idea):

Keizer argues that "The Establishment - and that is the Hollywood-Washington-Wall Street Axis of Evil - is trying to train this next generation to be Goldman-Sachs Bankers and J P Morgan Derivative Traders. How better to do that than to introduce them to the wonderful world of vampires and zombies..."

Like begets like, it seems, in the political and economic rat-race of the world and the social impact of this is to perpetuate the values of greed, exploitation, get-rich-quick and don't care over whom you trample in the process.

Is this your future inheritance? The world into which you are heading after your studies? Perhaps our question should be: how far do you want to go into that world with closed eyes and an unthinking mind?

We'll leave you with a historical thought over which to ponder: it was the Roman Emperor Nero (who had as many flaws as the power-hungry people who allowed the present world crisis to take root), who said that the best thing for the general public, so as not to upset them into revolution against the Holy Roman Empire, was to ensure at all times that they had two things: food and games...

Monday, November 23, 2009


Human Sciences (Politics/Economics) and Ethics

Question: How does an event become attached to a conspiracy theory?

Answer: When people try too hard to look for answers that aren't there...

Consider the causes and effects of the so-called 'Global economic crisis' in the context of the following clips by economic specialists based in the U.S.A.

Ask yourself if they are simply doom and gloom merchants and political revolutionaries intent on slandering the powers that be, or genuine critics of the Capitalist system and objective analysts with the intention of promoting positive change.

Here's Max Keizer (first shown on 03/09/09): "The banking system is terminally ill..."

Here's Gerald Celente (first embedded on geraldcelentechannel.blogspot on 14/09/09): "It's not a recovery; it's a cover up...There is no recovery..."

And here's Max Faber (first youtube on 22/09/09): "The hour of truth will come one day...But the next crisis will bring down the entire Capitalistic system." (Part 2 of this interview can be found on youtube.)

You'll hear many more profound statements on these clips than the quotations listed above, some of which may appear fairly libellous!

But these people appear to know what they're talking about. So to what extent are they looking for answers that aren't really there? How far are they creating a conspiracy about the financial crisis when a simple economic explanation will do?

What do you think?

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Human Sciences (Economics/Politics) and Ethics

We know from past experience that many of you like to do your TOK presentations on conspiriacy theories. But ask yourself this:

Question: When is a conspiracy not a conspiracy?

Answer: When the motive for an action is out in the open.

When things are kept secret and close to the chest of only a few people, we commonly assume that something devious is happening behind the scenes. Think of all the usual conspiracy theories.

When the politicians who are in power and who lead governments justify the use fiction and deceit to keep order and peace and safety in the world, are they not also simply working to hold onto their power?

So how can we know that this is what they are really doing? That the interests of the general public is NOT at the heart of their motives, but only their own personal interests? We know either because they're doing it openly or because someone digs into their affairs and exposes them (cf. the recent expenses scandal in British politics).

Now look at this clip and decide for yourself if the actions that brought about the war in Afghanistan could be regarded as being part of a conspiracy theory. In other words, are the motives for fighting there hidden or open? And does it make any difference?

The clip lasts for just under 15 minutes, so be patient and try to follow the argument and to think about the TOK aspects of the talk...

Michael Ruppert analyses the present geopolitical crisis

[ Source: - November, 2009 ]

Monday, November 16, 2009

The TOK Essay

The Year 13s will be starting to turn their attention to their final essay drafts while the Year 12s will be attempting their first essay.

For the Year 13s, we would say:
  • Use all your experience of preparing your Presentations in approaching your final drafts

  • Use the same structure for the essay as you did for the presentation

  • Choose your essay title/question and PLAN the essay from scratch WITHOUT looking at the original one you did

  • Then WRITE the essay without looking at the original one

  • Finally, compare the new essay with the original and take from this only the best elements

You might be surprised at what you produce.

For the Year 12s, we would say:

  • Don't worry - this essay is like nothing you've ever done before

  • Use the advice on the blog and the website to help you

  • It's not so much the content that you're marked on as the quality of your mind and how you apply it in exploring the implications of the question

  • Just go for it!

For both Years, here's a sheet that you can use to focus your mind on the writing process: TOK Essay Self-Evaluation Sheet.

If you want a consultation on the Essay, make sure you follow the advice on this sheet and bring a PLAN of your ideas. Do not come to us EMPTY-HANDED!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Life, the Universe and Everything

Here are some of the TOK-related statements from Andy Fletcher's seminar that you should ponder carefully over a period of time:

Reason: "Our assumptions drive our conclusions."

If this is true, then what consequences does it have for our knowledge? What sort of assumptions are we talking about? Are thee assumptions different within each subject area? To what extent is all our knowledge 'stained' by our assumptions? How so we filter out these assumtions?

Perception: "The universe is not as it appears to be."

You saw that the Einsteinian Universe breaks down everything that the traditional Newtonian view of the Universe had presented. If the Universe began as a singularity AND if a singularity remains in a state of quantum uncertainty until an observation is made, then what collapsed the uncertainty to bring the Universe into being? An observation...

Language: " 'Good' science does not set out to give 'proof'; it works in the realm of 'evidence'. "

This is not just a matter of playing word games. The idea is that even the so-called watertight truths of Mathematics can never give us an absolute truth about the way the world works. The equations of Quantum Theory, for example, explain how the world works but not in a way that we can fully understand. We live in a relativistic universe in which there are no absolute truths or certainties; the truths od science are probabilistic and depend on their veracity on the evidence that scientists provide for their hypotheses.

Emotion: "This is the single-most incredible intellectual experience you are likely to have in your lives."

After participating in the seminar, you may have asked yourselves 'what was all that about?' or 'what was the point of all that?'. This is not an unusual response. In our experience, the last six generations of TOK students have felt exactly the same way. However, we always tell them to think of the seminar as an experience - allow the ideas to wash over you like sea-waves; absorb the complexities of the language like the heat of the sun when sunbathing. Give the ideas a chance and they will grow inside you like flower seeds; feed them with your curiosity and nurture them with your attention. At some point, you may wish to harvest the ideas for your writing or presentations or even a future career!

So what are we left with? A rational belief that the the Laws of Nature govern our experience of the existing Universe combined with the irrational beliefs that it was somehow predisposed to exist for us (Anthropic Priciple) and came to be through some kind of strange observation...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Life, the Universe and Everything

'Investigating God and the new physics'

In just about a week's time (Tuesday 3rd & Wednesday 4th November), Andy Fletcher will be here to conduct his seminar with the above title (see his website on the link to the bottom left). He'll be addressing the perennial question: how far is the belief in God rendered irrational and obsolete by Science? In other words, are Science and Religion worlds apart?

To prepare yourselves for the seminar, you might like to read up on the following ideas:

1. Infinity

2. Mechanism

3. Determinsim

4. Reductionism

Andy Fletcher will be taking you on an intellectual journey you'll never forget. You might not grasp the ideas at first, but the understanding will grow in time. Be prepared to travel the path of the great scientists of the last century and a half and to understand Relativity Theory, Quantum Theory, Chaos Theory and Complexity Theory and judge for yourself if Science has made God disappear...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Knowledge Issues - Examples

KIs in a TOK Presentation

Following on from the last post, here’s a worked example using the framework for KIs in preparation for a TOK Presentation:

Real Life Example: 'Which kids join gangs? A genetic explanation.'

Problem: This article is about scientific explanations of human behaviour/nature and nurture.

Knowledge Problem (Facts): What is the truth about children’s behaviour in their peer groups? This question uses one of the 5Ws.

Knowledge Issue (Closed question in context): “Is the survey data very reliable?” This question is ‘in context’ in that it is focused on the details of the article and requires a ‘yes/no’ answer.

Knowledge Issue (Open question in context): I’d like to transform the previous question in this way: “In what ways can the statistics about children’s behaviour be verified?” This question induces further discussion and also asks you to research beyond the article itself while remaining rooted in the details of the article.

Knowledge Issue (Generalised Open Question): "To what extent are the explanations of science liable to bias?" " How certain are scientific explanations of human behaviour?" These are now fully fledged ‘strong’ KIs ready to be explored in the Presentation.

KIs in a TOK Essay

Here’s a worked example using the framework for KIs in preparation for a TOK Essay:

Essay question: “Can a machine know?” (Question 9 from the Prescribed Essay list 2006-7) (You might like to look at the Blog entries on Consciousness at the same time.)

Problem: This question is about whether machines with Artificial Intelligence have consciousness or minds.

Knowledge Problem (Facts): Which WoKs does a machine use to acquire knowledge? A 5Ws-type question.

Knowledge Issue (Closed question in context): “Do machines only know what they are programmed to know?” This question is ‘in context’ in that it is focused on the details of the question and requires a ‘yes/no’ answer.

Knowledge Issue (Open question in context): I’d like to transform the previous question in this way: “How can we know (ie. verify) that machines actually know something?” This question induces further discussion and also asks you to research beyond the question itself while remaining rooted in the details of the question.

Knowledge Issue (Generalised Open Question): "How far is it true to say that machines and humans know in the same way?" "To what extent is knowledge or knowing limited to organic life forms?" These are now fully fledged ‘strong’ Kis ready to be explored in the Essay.

Further ideas about Knowledge Issues

Here’s a general framework to help you create KIs for your essays and presentations. Some of you might jump steps and start with Step 6, others might need to go through each step at a time. The most important thing is to try to work things out for yourself, but then to collaborate if you find creating KIs tough-going. Usually a combination of the framework and collaboration should yield a pretty strong result.

NOTE: Make sure you don’t use the SAME KIs in your work as your collaborators use in theirs!

1. Stimulus material/Essay question: Define the exact nature of the material or question.

2. Central argument or problem: State the essence of the material or question in the form of one simple statement (This is about...).

3. Knowledge Problem (Facts): Raise one question that focuses on the details of the material or question (Who? What? Where? When? Why?).

4. Knowledge Issue (Closed question in context): Now transform that question into a more closed (one that requires a yes/no response) question about the article or question itself.

5. Knowledge Issue (Open question in context): Next transform the closed question into a more open question (How far...? To what extent...? In what way...?) which inspires further debate about the article or question.

6. Knowledge Issue (Generalised Open Question): Finally, transform the previous question into a more wide-ranging open question that draws attention to the ‘bigger picture’ about knowledge in the world and how it is acquired and used; this question need not be focused on your material or essay question at all but goes beyond it in some way.

TIP: you may use any of the KIs you create in Steps 4-6 in your essays and presentations, though you will tend to get more credit for those created in Step 6 if they are effectively expressed and generate balanced arguments when you explore them in the main body of your work.

Watch this space for some worked examples...

Monday, October 12, 2009


Natural Sciences and Human Sciences (The problem of consciousness, Part 4)

Click on this movie to see the first episode of Dr. Susan Greenfield's BBC 1 documentary Brain Story - 'All in the mind'.

At this point in our discussion, we enter into an enquiry that philosophers label the 'mind-body problem' which is linked to the problem of identity. It's worthwhile investigating into the various theories, if only to yield some insights into the mystery of consciousness.

The materialist theory of consciousness

Greenfield argues that 'you are your brain'. Your inner world of consciousness is a matter of electrical activity inside your brain. So for example, when you saw that red apple you had for lunch, certain physical causes and effects created the experience of redness in your consciousness: first, light was reflected off the apple into your eye. Here the light was focused onto your retina to create an image. Next, the photo-sensitive cells on your retina triggered electrical pulses which moved down the nerve pathways that connect your eye to your brain. Then the electrical pulses caused something to happen in your brain to give you the visual experience of seeing a red apple. Your mind, or mental perception of the world, is just what goes on physically in your brain. In short, you are the sum of the different parts of your brain: the cells that cause different electrical impulses depending on ther function; the nerves that transport those impulses from your sense receptors to your brain; the neurons that fire when you those electrical impulses reach the brain and so on.

The dualist theories of consciousness

There are two versions of this theory:

Substance dualism

Rene Descartes (1596- 1650) argued that 'you are your mind'. He devised the theory that the mind and body are separate entities and capable of existing independently of eachother. In short, Descartes believed that when something happens in the brain, something else had to happen - your brain caused something to happen in your mind. The brain and mind may interact, but they aren't identical. How does Descartes argue his case? He gives us the classic sceptical method of doubt:

P1: My body (or anything made of physical matter) is something the existence of which can be doubted.

P2: I am not something the existing of which I can doubt (since some doubting is actually going on...)

Conclusion: Therefore, I am not my body.

I am, Descartes concludes further, a thinking substance made entirely of mind.

Property dualism

Property dualists differentiate between physical and mental properties, rather than substances. Yes, human behaviour can be explained by certain brain states, but there is something else, over and above the physical, that characteries our conscious, mental experience of the world: these are explained in terms of mental states or properties. Unlike materialists, property dualists would argue that our minds are not reducible to the sum of the parts of the brain; we are somehow more than the some of our parts. We'll have a look at the arguments that represent this view later.

But for now, now, we are left with three alternative views of consciousness:

1. The hard scientific view that consciousness is reducible to the individual workings of the brain.

2. Descartes’s view, which very few people would be willing to defend these days, that consciousness is an immaterial substance that interacts with our physical body.

3. The very unscientific view that there exist these non-physical, so-called ‘mental properties’ which make up what we call 'consciousness'.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Natural Sciences and Human Sciences (The problem of consciousness, Part 3)

So what have we established so far?

1. Consiousness (the action of my mind) is redicible to the physical facts of what happens in my body and brain when I express my inner experiences. This is, presumably, what Kurzweil would refer to as 'sentience'.

2. Consiousness is purely subjective and it is in principle impossible to reduce my conscious experiences, the facts of my mental actions, to mere physical facts: there must be something more than just the physcial facts to explain this strange inner life that only I can experience.

Position 1 is termed the 'materialist' perspective and is usually held by scientists. They explain that just as two properties that at first seem distinct are in fact identical (eg. water and H2O), mental states and brain states are in fact identical. Don't be fooled by advertisements for pain killers which tell you that the drug, once taken, homes in directly to the part of your body that is throbbing (usually indicated by a fancy visual of a red spotlight on the affected area). The pain is actually a certain brain state and the drug's work really takes place there.

Position 2 is termed the 'dualist' position and is usually held by people with a leaning towards a religious or supernatural explanaton for the origins of consciousness. 'Substance dualists' argue that the mind and body are two disctinct substances and can exist independently of eachother but can interact with eachother. Property dualists argue that there is only phyiscal stuff in the universe, but this stuff has two distinct properties, mental and physical properties. Our mental properties are extra properties and exist in addition to our physical properties.

Before we look at the arguments and counter-arguments presented by believers in each position, consider the following variations on an intelligence test for machines.

The Turing Test

In the 1950s, Alan Turing devised an intelligence test to establish whether a machine is displaying any conscious mental activity. There are different versions of the test, but here's a summary: there are three participants, A, B and C. B & C are in separate compartments and A is the interrogator looking into both. A communicates with B & C by means of a telegraph apparatus. It is up to A to pose questions to B & C in an attempt to find out who is the human and who is machine. It's up to B & C to convince A that each of them is indeed human. According to the terms of the test, if A cannot tell the difference between B & C more than 50% of the time, then the machine is said to be intelligent. As yet, we haven't been able to create a machine or computer that has passed the Turing test. Why? Largely because, as Kurweil might suggest, our computers have not mastered emotion...yet!

The Chinese Room

In 1980, John Searle presented a thought-experiment to prove that machines or computers don't have minds or conscious mental states, they simply imitate intelligent behaviour or understanding. In short, computers, however complex their computational outcomes, are simply fulfilling a program that we have created for them. Here's how the experiment works. Imagine that a person who has no knowledge of Chinese is locked in a room in which there are a set of cards with strange symbols on them. These symbols are in fact Chinese characters, but to this person they are meaningless squiggles. Suppose now that he is given other cards with similar symbols on them plus instructions (in his own language) about how to shuffle the symbols and hand them back in response. The first set of cards were a story in Chinese and the second set were questions posed to him in Chinese about that story. The instructions for the symbol shuffling are his 'program', so to speak, to respond correctly in Chinese to these questions. The people posing the questions outside the room are Chinese. When the answers come back from the person in the locked room, they might be fooled into thinking that he understands Chinese and is capable of following the story. But clearly he doesn't understand a word of Chinese. He's simply shuffling symbols according to his instructions. Searle's point is twofold: first, that computers, however complex, work in exactly the same way - they mechanically shuffle symbols according their program without understanding any of the symbols and their meaning. They merely provide a simulation of understanding. Second, the main reason for this is because they're made of the wrong stuff - they are not biological, organic beings that have evolved naturally.

Friday, October 9, 2009


Natural Sciences, Human Sciences and the Arts (The problem of consciousness, Part 2)

Literary writers have been fascinated about the consciousness conundrum, most dramatically Mary Shelley in her Gothic novel, Frankenstein. Haing been impressed by the work of the 18th Century Italian physicist Luigi Galvani in the fiel of electricity, she constructed that well-known parable of man playing God and giving life to a inanimate piece of matter comprising the body parts of different dead humans sewn together. Dr. Frankenstein harnessed the raw power of electricity in lightning and channelled it into the lifless flesh of his Creation. And the rest is fictional history.

But this isn't how it happened with us, is it? It's going to be extremely hard to specify a date when our ancestors first became conscious. And perhaps it's going to be harder still to explain how this happened, unless we're drawn to the God hypothesis. But what if we aren't so drawn? What sort of hypthothesis are we left with.

Clarifying our concepts

Let's begin with some definitions. In the debate, 'Will machines become conscious?', Kurzweil defines 'consciousness' in two ways:

1. 'Apparent consciousness': "We can define apparent consciousness, which is an entity that appears to be conscious—and I believe, in fact, you have to be apparently conscious to pass the Turing test, which means you really need a command of human emotion. Because if you're just very good at doing mathematical theorems and making stock market investments and so on, you're not going to pass the Turing test...Mastering human emotion and human language is really key to the Turing test, which has held up as our exemplary assessment of whether or not a non-biological intelligence has achieved human levels of intelligence.

And that will require a machine to master human emotion...That's the most intelligent thing we do. Being funny, expressing a loving sentiment—these are very complex behaviors..." and reflect our "emotional intelligence".


2. 'Subjectivity': "Consciousness is a synonym for subjectivity and really having subjective experience, not just an entity that appears to have subjective experience...There's no consciousness detector we can imagine creating, that you'd slide an entity in—green light goes on, OK, this one's conscious, no, this one's not conscious..."


What implications does this distinction have to our understanding of the human mind as opposed to the mind of a machine?

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Natural Sciences and Human Sciences (The problem of consciousnes, Part 1)

You've just got to read this!

In a recent Guardian article, Ray Kurzweil, a technology guru, made certain predictions about mankind based on the evidence of the technological revolution in the field of computers and Articial Intelligence in recent years. The Guardian reports:

"that by 2029 computers will be able to pass the Turing test - that is, pass themselves off as human in conversation...By 2035 the human brain and computers will begin to merge - literally. Those nanobots will be used to vastly extend the reach of human intelligence. They will allow us to control all our senses by computer and enter a full virtual reality in which we could become other people."

'Nanobots' are tiny robotic micro-processors. Kurzweil describes them as "blood-cell sized devices" that can be injected into our bloodstream. The initial effect would be to help our bodies repair dead or dying cells and, ultimately, to keep us healthier and living longer.

What we're interested in, however, is the idea that in 20 years time, we won't be able, if Kurzweil is right, to distinguish between computers (or machines) and humans. Nanobot machines will be able to enhance our thinking powers from the inside, so to speak, just like a pacemaker enhances the work of a defective heart. Nanobots are more than replacement internal prosthetics like a heart valve or a metal pin to strengthen a hip joint; they are enhancements that become a part of us and make us somehow more than human. The full implications of nanobot technology are, however, vastly more interesting and perhaps even unimaginable.

Kurzweil suggests, in another debate entitled, 'Will machines become conscious?', that machines, computers, will display CONSCIOUSNESS; they will become self-aware.

How on earth does that happen?

By extension, we may well ask: how on earth did this piece of flesh that is a human being ever become conscious?

Much of what follows is discussed very vividly and with great lucidity in Stephen Law's book, The Philosophy Gym. Please check it out.

Friday, September 25, 2009

BBC : 'The Big Questions'

The TOK Team is returning to the BBC show once again this Sunday 27th September 2009 at 10.00am. The motions that will be debated are:

1. Have we lost faith in the police?
2. Do we have a duty to care for our elderly parents?
3. Are religious relics a con?

As you know, we have fairly strong opinions on a range of topics although the ones above don't seem to be too controversial. A summary of our responses to the above can be found below:

1. Yes.
2. Yes.
3. Yes.

Watch the program to see the range of arguments and counter-arguments that are on offer.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

More on Knowledge Issues

The IBO have finally published a leaflet on this elusive but extremely important concept that provides the foundations to any TOK presentation and essay. Here's the link to the document on the IBTOKSPOT website: Knowledge Understanding Issues.

Remember: KIs are usually formulated as questions. You will gain higher marks if you're capable of formulating specific and focused OPEN questions using the TOK terminology presented to you at the start of your studies. This means:

1/ Steer clear of using verbs at the start of your questions: 'Can...?', 'Do/Does...?', 'Have/Has...?', 'Will...?'. These sentence starters will lead you to create CLOSED questions which have either a yes or no answer.

2/ Use instead the words 'How...?', 'Why...?', 'What...?', 'Where...?', 'When...?' at the start of your question. Alternatively, use the phrases 'How far...?', 'In what way....?', 'To what extent...?' to begin your question. In this way, you can create questions that will push you to explore your topic more widely and deman more rigorous arguments and counter-arguments.

Here's a key paragraph from the IBO document that you should study well since it gives you some key trigger vocubulary to set you on your way to formulating challenging and relevant KIs:

"Knowledge issues that are most likely to support high levels of achievement are:

• open-ended questions that admit more than one possible answer
• explicitly about knowledge in itself and not subject-specific claims
• couched in terms of TOK vocabulary and concepts: the areas of knowledge, the ways ofknowing and the concepts in the linking questions—belief, certainty, culture, evidence,experience, explanation, interpretation, intuition, justification, truth, values
• precise in terms of the relationships between these concepts."

('Understanding Knowledge Issues, IBO, 2009)

Click onto the Knowledge Issues tab on the left to look at other clarifying articles on the subject.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Open University and BBC

Here's a splendid website devoted to topics relevant to TOK presented by the BBC in association with the Open University. Especially impressive are the pages devoted to Mathematics: More or Less. This title actually refers to a radio programme aired on BBC Radio 4 which you can also download from the BBC's i-player. Navigate through the menu bar on the left to access various articles on mathematical subjects.

On the Home page of the site (or on the 'Learning' tab at the top of each page), you'll be able to look at the OU's 'Browse' menu which is categorised in a way which looks very similar to the AOKs in TOK. Here are some direct links:


Natural Sciences



Human Sciences (incl. Emotion)


The articles on these pages will help you to develop and vary your use of key EXAMPLES in your essays and presentations and to ensure that you don't repeat clich├ęs...

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Natural Sciences and Human Sciences

If you've been following the World Athletics Championships in Berlin, you'll be familiar with the controversy regarding the South African Women's 800 metres champion, Caster Semenya. There are allegations from her fellow athletes and others that the eighteen year old sportswoman is a man.

Here's an aptly entitled (and extremely interesting) blog article that discusses the subject: 'Man or Woman? The Importance of Knowing'. Compare this with a Guardian article on the aftermath of Semenya's Berlin victory.

The International Association of Athletes Federation (IAAF) suggests a possible solution to the problem: Semenya must undergo 'gender verification tests' to establish her true gender status. What do you think these tests involve? Apparently the tests take a week to complete and involve a group of scientific specialists. They may reveal that Semenya has both male and female genitalia which is not an uncommon state of affairs.

Both of the above-mentioned articles point to cases which suggest that these issues are not new. Reflect on the tragic case of David Reimer (article 1) and on the very different case of a female tennis player (article 2) and consider if we have learned to see through the media hype surrounding these cases and to deal with them sensitively.

The issue not only raises questions regarding what it is to be human, but also about the nature of human sexuality. How do we define 'masculinity' and 'femininity'? How do these differ from or relate to our understanding of what it is to be a 'man' or 'woman'? And do these definitions change with the advance of scientific knowledge about the human body? On a more psychological level, we must question the motives of human beings in their social interactions: how far are these motives driven by fear, jealousy and greed? How far is it true to say that those accusing Semenya of cheating are motivated by a 'racist agenda'?

Friday, August 21, 2009


History, Natural Sciences and Human Sciences (Paranormal Phenomena)

Is the truth out there?

Last October, the Government's MoD released its own 'X'Files' on UFO sightings in the UK since the late seventies. One refers to a case in 1980 which is being dubbed as Britain's 'Roswell' in Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk (click the above image). Another batch of files released this month has renewed interest in the UFOs and the central questions that are related to this phenomenon such as, are we alone in the universe? Is there a conspiracy relating to the use of alien technology? Are world governments covering up the fact that aliens have visited, or are indeed already inhabiting, the earth?

Read this article in the Guardian and have a look at the National Archives and MoD website for further information, especially if you decide to base a presentation around this topic or write about it in your essays.

You will need to consider the common assumptions that people make about UFOs and the assumptions we make about those who claim to have seen them. Consider the definitions and concepts used to discuss the subject: what do we mean by using the word 'UFO'? Consider then the problem of perception and common sense: can we relly believe all that we see? Consider also the various arguments and counter-arguments relating to the phenomenon: the physical evidence relating to the existence of aliens compared to the psychological evidence which suggests that humans are strongly affected by the power of suggestion.

While you delve into your researches, you might like to consider these question too:
1. What is the difference between 'good' and 'bad' science?
2. To what extent is the paranormal experience of seeing a UFO comparable to the mystical experience of seeing God?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

ToK Websites

Prince Alfred College - TOK Presentation Guide

For those of you working hard on your TOK Presentations (and those of you planning to begin your hard work!), here's a guide we found courtesy of Mr. R. Bruford, Dean of Studies at Prince Alfred College, Australia.

It will be useful for a numnber of reasons, but the two most important ones are as follows:

1. The guide gives you a number of possible topics to work on if you are still unsure about which subject to explore (pp. 4-5.)

2. The guide neatly clarifies the meaning of that important concept, KNOWLEDGE ISSUES, which should form the foundation of your presentation and essay (pp. 8-10.)

Keep working away and we look forward to seeing the fruits of your valiant labours in September...

Saturday, July 25, 2009

TOK Websites

Steedman's TOK Site: Hyannis, MA, U.S.A.

This is really two-websites-in-one and is a blog-based TOK site created by the IB Co-ordinator of a school in the U.S.A.

Site 1:

The focus is on the Ways of Knowing and some information on the TOK presentation (also has some CAS/Extended Essay material). The site is full of useful questions and related articles on the individual WOKs to help you further your research and understanding of these concepts.

Site 2:

The focus here is on the Areas of Knowledge and the TOK Assessments and again presents links to many articles on individual AOKs.

Use both sites when researching and planning your essays and presentations as well as simply to bolster your understanding of what TOK is all about - thinking for yourself!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


The Arts

Here's a response (albeit unwittingly) to the previous entry about Stephen Law's question: 'So What have you learned from literature?'

Remember, we adapted the question to cover all forms of fiction: T.V. drama, film, theatre, dance, music and so on.

While preparing for his formal GCSE assessment, one of our students gave the following speech which is unrelated to the discussion about The Arts. The stimulus for the presentation was simply the title, 'My Inspiration'. This is the transcript of his speech as kindly forwarded by the student.

Click onto the picture to view the scene he showed before you read his speech.
"The Pursuit of Happyness"

"For some of you who haven't watched that film, it's called the Pursuit of Happyness and that was the ending scene. It's a true story that follows a man called Chris Gardner, who is not doing so well for himself. His wife leaves him and he is left looking after his 5 year old son and trying to make a living off a failing business. He is invited into an internship at a stockbroker, but it has no salary so he is left doing that, his normal job and taking care of his son. he becomes the lowest of the low and has to sleep in a subway tunnel one night, but as you saw he is offered the job and his situation turns around.

I came across this film when I was reading through the sun on holiday. I read the description and thought to myself, 'I'll have to go and watch that.' I didn't. It was only when I went to spend all my Christmas money with my dad that I saw it in HMV and picked it up. I took it home and watched it that night, and the story caught me in the first ten minutes. I watched it again the next day and it caught me even more. The way a man could turn around his situation like he did was outstanding.

Well what have I learnt? It's only a film, what can it tell us? It tells us that when a situation becomes as worse as it can possibly be, we can always turn it around. It tells us that if we keep our family and loved ones close, that we can always pull through. It tells us that any individual can make a difference in the world. And it does it all in just under 2 hours. So when the teachers say that staring at a screen does nothing for you, they're wrong and in a big way.

How can this help you? Watch it and find out. Remember that it was a true story, this man actually exists. He did get evicted out of his apartment and a motel and he did sleep in a subway toilet for a night. But he got a job with a stockbroker firm, founded his own firm and then went on to sell it to become a multi-millionaire. If you ever think your problems are piling up and you don't know what to do. just watch this film. Get some inspiration.

I wouldn't actually call this an inspiration; I would call it a reminder. It reminds me that however down I may feel; however hard a situation may become, with the help and support of the people you love, your family and friends, you can always overcome any obstacle put in front of you, just like Chris Gardner did. And if that isn't a form of inspiration, I don't know what is."

So, is our student simply a young, naive innocent who doesn't get that he's being manipulated into believing in that strange phenomenon, 'The great American Dream'? Is life really reducible to the simple formula: Hope + Hard Work = Fame, Fortune and Glory?

Or are our student's comments, when stripped of his rhetorical flair for speechmaking, a sincere statement of the lessons of life he has learned after watching the movie?

Friday, July 17, 2009


Ethics and Education

This is an excellent topic to reflect on: should everyone who comes into contact with children as part of their work have a Criminal Records check?

The Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) require such people to have a check on whether they've had any past convictions, especially related to any bad behaviour against children. It is called 'The Vetting and Barring Scheme' and has been set up in the aftermath of the 2002 Soham murders committed by former school caretaker Ian Huntley and its main aim is to filter out potential child abusers from the workplace. This October, all of the 11.3 million people across the education, care and health industries who work with children must register – for a £64 fee – on a national database, if they haven't already done so...

However, some very famous authors, like Philip Pullmann and Quentin Blake, who very often make visits to schools to inspire children to read and write, are outraged that they should have to do this.

Scan through the Guardian article about Pullman's response (he's definitely against) and compare it to the article about the new children's laureate Anthony Browne's thoughts (who's very much for).

Here's another article by the BBC covering the same issue.

What do you think?

Friday, July 10, 2009


Human Sciences and The Arts

Another splendid blog-entry from Stephen Law's site which asks: What have you learned from literature?

A superb question to explore. Law questions the nature of the 'truth' in literature, both fiction or non-fiction. What, if anything, does a novel or biography tell us about human nature or the human condition? At best, literature obfuscates reality, creating an illusion that life is like a story-line with a neat beginning, middle and end. At worst, literature is another medium for clever writers to spin lies, deceit or propaganda and promote dangerous beliefs. In short, the psychological 'insight' into life, the universe and everything that literature promotes is a myth...

In defence of literature, we might counter by arguing that literature should be read simply for entertainment and not to discover some essential truths about human behaviour. We read, because it's a fun way to pass the time or because it helps us to escape from the dreariness of our day to day life or because it's just another thing to do when we're bored. Well alright then, let's not get carried away by the idea that literature is trying to tell us some hidden truths about life.

However, might we not ask the same question about other forms of entertainment media, such as T.V. dramas or soaps, films, theatre plays and music? Do these not purport to give us an insight into ourselves and our world too? We wonder what an episode of 'Coronation Street' tells us about the human condition!

You might argue that you only watch these to switch off from the world - you know, it's fun to watch an episode of 'Big Brother' while you're eating your take-away Chinese. In that case, think about these questions:

why do we choose the entertainment we do in the first place? Why are we attracted to particular types of entertainment like 'Big Brother', murder mystery books or horror films? And what does fiction, whichever form it appears in, actually do for us?

Any suggestions...?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

TOK Websites

This is an excellent site for articles on different Areas of Knowledge and would make a great resource for essay preparation and also to generate a topic for your presentations. We're not sure whether the website has been updated since June 2008. If not, then be advised to scan the various pages and make the most of the material before the website is taken off the internet.

Some examples of the articles collated on the site are are as follows:

'Science Cannot Provide all the Answers'

'Scientology on Trial'

'Do all languages have a common ancestor?'

'How does homeopathy work?'

Go and have a look and use the resources efficiently, making sure that you get the full bibliographic information so that you can reference it appropriately.

Monday, July 6, 2009


The Arts

Following on from the previous 'Arts' entry, look at this example of how one art form interweaves with another. In 2001, the American artist Mark W. McGinnis read Tagore's Gitanjali and was inspired to create a painting for each of the verses in the book. You can view a selection of paintings on McGinnis's website (click the painting above) and can also read what he has to say about his experience of discovering Tagore's poetry here:

McGinnis gives an insight into the nature of art in the statement that Tagore's poems "deeply and beautifully describe the human search for the eternal."

So we have two important criteria for what art strives to do (good art, that is), at least for this modern artist: represent 'beauty' and the 'search for the eternal'. I expect many of McGinnis's contemporaries would scoff at this old-fashioned return to traditional values. What do you think?

McGinnis goes on to explain what he intended to achieve with his paintings: "The paintings are not meant to be illustrations of the verses, but images inspired by the poetry and my understanding of the creative mind behind them."

So, McGinnis isn't trying to re-present the poems into another form; he isn't attempting to copy somehow the beauty of the poems into his paintings or to illustrate the hidden essence of the poems' eternal qualities. He is transforming the original poetry into something entirely new; the meaning of each poem takes on a different, yet related, existence in the art work; each painting expresses creatively the artist's experience of another creative mind at work. The creative process involves a kind of metamorphosis of the world through art.

Are we to take the artist's intentions into account when we judge the quality of his paintings? What does McGinnis's statement tell us about the artistic process or craft? What does a work of art gain or lose by being transformed into another form?

Another day to remember - July 6th 2009

Results day!

Congratulations to our leaving Year 13 students whose IB results have just been released.

From a group of 68 students who completed their TOK assessments, we achieved an A-C pass rate of 93% - unprecedented in the history of our school and beating the previous record of 92% in 2007. Here are the grade breakdowns:

Grade A: 6 students
Grade B: 18 students
Grade C: 39 students
Grade D: 5 students
Grade E: 0 students

Well done to you all and every best wish for the future. We hope that the rest of your individual results are equally impressive and gain you access into the University of your choice.

TOK Team.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


The Arts

Read this poem by a Nobel Prize winning poet, Rabindranath Tagore (1861 - 1941). It comes from a collection of poems entitled Gitanjali or 'Song Offerings'. The translation from the original Bengali is by the author himself . Click onto the image above to access an on-line version of the full text of the book, which has an interesting Introduction by the famous Irish poet, W. B. Yeats, who writes about the poems as follows: "A whole people, a whole civilization, immeasurably strange to us, seems to have been taken up into this imagination; and yet we are not moved because of its strangeness, but because we have met our own image, as though we had ... heard, perhaps for the first time in literature, our voice as in a dream."

'Mind Without Fear'

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action -
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

What does the poem tell us about our day to day lives?

We use the metaphor 'the grass is greener on the other side' when we are dissatisfied with ourselves and our situations. On the surface, this poem seems to be reinforcing this idea - we should aim ourselves to a 'country' or place away from the 'narrow domestic walls' and 'dreary desert sand of habit' to a place 'Where the mind is led forward...Into that heaven of freedom.'

Read more closely and you will see, however, that you don't have to go far to reach the 'other side' - the poet is not advocating a mass exodus to a more exotic land of instant sunshine and happiness!

Rather, the poet is suggesting that we cultivate a particular attitude to life. This attitude is marked by a sense of fearlessness and dignified ease in which you can hold your head 'high'; it is signalled by an integrity in our language whereby we say what we mean with words rooted in 'truth'; it is underlined by mental discipline, that 'clear stream of reason' and a refinement of that self-awareness through which we 'awake' to ourselves and what we are worth.

The poem neatly encapsulates what our TOK studies are aiming for: to instil in ourselves a desire to think and speak for ourselves; to stand firm in what we believe; above all, to respect ourselves and to see what we are capable of.

Do you recognise the TOK vocabulary?

Which knowledge issues emerge from the poem?

Saturday, July 4, 2009



When you're asked to reflect on the nature of history or to draw examples from historical sources to support your arguments, you tend very quickly to point to the Second World War and the atrocities committed by those infamous dictators of the time, especially that very familiar one, Adolf Hitler.

Now, the Germans have pushed themselves through over sixty years of guilt for their recent past, quite rightly many may argue, and only recently has their most important news journal, Der Spiegel, stopped printing articles on the consequences of the last World War. In order to enhance your essays and presentations, however, try to think of other relevant examples to support your historical arguments or counter-arguments.

Take for example, the massacre at the Golden Temple, Amritsar in 1919, where British troops fired on the thousands of people who had gathered to commemorate the start of the Sikh New Year. The scene was filmed dramatically in Sir Richard Attenborough's film Gandhi:

Watching this clip makes you rethink your whole understanding of what terrorism means and the atrocities that are carried out in the struggle to assert so-called 'democracy' upon citizens.

This is not to minimise the impact of the Second World War, but to make ourselves more keenly aware of what is happening (and has happened) under our very noses. So make the most of your freedom and research into this area for yourselves.

Think about what the Russians did to the Afghanistanis; what the North Americans did to the indigenous Indian tribes and what the Australians did to the Aborigines...

Monday, June 29, 2009



Perhaps the most difficult subject on the course. Everyone tries to avoid it and everyone finds it almost impossible to do at IB level. What a difficult job for the Maths teacher (almost as tough as being a TOK teacher!).

There are two things you can do to enthuse yourself about the Mathematics element of TOK and the IB course:

1. Visit the Lancaster School TOK Blog where you can find some very useful examples of how Mathematical problems can be a fascinating area to explore.

2. Click onto the following links to view a series of BBC4 programmes about Mathematics. Read the summary of the programme to the left of the display screen before you watch. This will give you a clear idea of the content of the show. Here's the corresponding website if your mind is suddenly fired by the programmes, as it should be...

The Story of Maths Part 1

The Story of Maths Part 2

The Story of Maths Part 3

The Story of Maths Part 4

Enjoy the shows!

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Human Sciences - Education

Dear Student,

Is the present system of secondary education letting you down?

According to this article in the Mail-Online, the answer is a categorical 'YES'.

In what way exactly?

The central argument of the article is that the imposition of business 'performance management' criteria in schools is undermining our children's education. This raises three important issues:

First, that the government is attempting to legislate for the education of children by pushing through a system for measuring student learning that is fundamentally flawed because it distracts everyone from the essential goals of education. These goals are, as the writer neatly articulates, to enable students 'to take responsibility for themselves, treat others with respect and care for the environment...[to] promote justice and respect...[and to] foster intellectual virtues, encouraging children to be open to evidence, argument and criticism.'

Second, that this fallible system is being driven through by mediocre school managers, often incompetent teachers themselves, on sheep-like teachers without being questioned. These teachers are in turn creating sheep-like students - a little bit like European Union regulations about fruit and veg that have to be a certain size before they can be sold in a shop. Remember, there are stories about apples that have to be passed through a template with a specific sized hole cut into it before they are acceptable for sale! Do you believe that education should make you jump through hoops and over obstacles like performing monkeys at a circus?

And thirdly, that the language which is used to get students to talk about their learning is brainwashing them into becoming commodities for the market place - they stop questioning the process at the very heart of their mental and physical development. This commercialisation of education is an insidious process because it addresses students not as human beings, but as abstract objects which enter into the system with a particular level and leave it with another level and a 'value added' score that measures progress or regress.

The Nuffield Review, a research-based group in Oxford, states that in many schools in the UK which are driven by the target setting culture, and the corresponding linguistic jargon that goes with it, 'the consumer or client' has replaced 'the learner'. The impact of this on our education system has so reduced confidence, the article claims, that '45 [UK Universities] are setting their own admissions tests to help them distinguish between the most able candidates' as an alternative to accepting 'A' Level and IB grades at face value.

So next time you go to a 'Target Review' meeting, you might like to reflect on this execrable state of affairs more seriously...

We propose two principles that an educationalist might like to ponder before he attempts to overhaul the education system. Both knowledge claims, we think, are based on sound empirical evidence and would lead to the creation of the best possible human beings and the best possible society - feel free to add to the list:

1. If a teacher can connect with a student on different levels, then there is no need to legislate for learning: the student will do anything to learn by himself for himself and not just for his parents or to get a Diploma or for the prospect of being merely a commodity in the job market.

2. If a teacher is happy and fulfilled in his job, then the students will be correspondingly happy and fulfilled in their learning - target setting and measuring 'value added' scores and testing makes neither feel happy or fulfilled.

So lots of COURAGE to all of you students out there - be awake to your work and get on with it quietly, efficiently and creatively.

Yours caringly,