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

Sunday, December 11, 2011

TOK Websites

Not only does this site give you a link to an interview with Ray Kurzweil, someone we admire for his innovative thinking about consciousness (see our posts under this tab), but it also engages you in an on-line debate which should help you think about the topic for the May 2012 TOK Essay Question 8.  Moreover, some of the books recommended on the subject of the debate look interesting in themselves.  Definitely a worth a glance!

Friday, November 25, 2011

TOK Websites

There are two sites you should be following avidly (one of them especially if you're based in the UK):


This is the Radio 4 Podcast website which has recordings of some of the best archive material on science and nature, as well as philosophy, politics, arts, history, ethics and mathematics.  In fact, every AOK relevant to your TOK essay and presentation research.  The podcasts last from anything between 15 - 45 minutes.  The recent one we followed was a fascinating journey into the history of the brain...


If you've been following the toktutor tweets above, another great tweet to follow is 'TOKtweet' as it gives you up to the minute links to web articles on all aspects of TOK and is authored by no less a figure than the writer Richard Lagemaat.  Superb for TOK essay and presentation research.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Natural Sciences and Human Sciences

Following on from the precautionary tale of the last post, here’s another approach to the skeptical tradition of thinking about knowledge claims, especially against those made about paranormal events, aliens, miracles and pseudo-scientific theories:

‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’ (Carl Sagan)

A popularized version of:

‘An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof’ (Marcello Truzzi)

These statements originate in:

1/ the thinking of the Scottish Philosopher David Hume: “A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence” and

2/ the thinking of the French Mathematician Pierre Laplace: “The weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness.”

See a religious examination of the statement here:

and a medical (not literally, but philosophical!) examination here:

and a skeptic’s examination here:

Which one do you find most compelling and why?

Some knowledge issues relating to this approach: How far is the skeptical approach to knowledge a practical one? To what extent does a skeptical approach take us nearer to objective knowledge? In what ways does a skeptical approach help or hinder the search for knowledge? Is skepticism about miracles/aliens (or any other extraordinary claim) justified?

Friday, October 21, 2011


Ethics and Human Sciences (Politics)

A Precautionary tale for cautious times

‘...action without evidence is justified...’

Towards the end of the third part (itself subtitled, 'The Shadows in the Cave') of a fascinating documentary entitled, “The Power of Nightmares”, the narrator explains how, in the climate of fear subsequent to the 9/11 episode, politicians have turned to a scientific principle to justify their actions: the precautionary principle.

This principle emerged in the early 1990s out of discussions between scientists on the topic of global warming. These experts argued that in the absence of scientific evidence as to whether the polar icecaps were indeed melting and the earth’s surface heating up, governments should nevertheless gear their policies to preventing or minimising the possible effects of global warming. In short, it was justified to plough money into research into the phenomenon as a precautionary measure and wait for the evidence to emerge at a later date. Fairly unscientific approach, it seems.

Now, it appears that governments have taken this principle out of the scientific realm and into the ethical which begs the question: is it justified to act (eg. Incarcerate people for supposed terrorism or invade Iraq) without having good grounds or evidence to do so?

According to the ‘evidentialist’ view, the answer is a firm NO. First, we need to test any claims which propose how we should or should not act, which usually means that we need evidence in advance of committing the act. So, as far as the invasion of Iraq is concerned, it shouldn’t have gone ahead because there was no prior evidence of the presence of weapons of mass destruction.

However, the evidentialist position is not as solid as it first appears. If our belief in the fact that Iraq is a threat is justified by referring to the belief that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, then presumably the belief that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction must be itself justified by reference to a further belief that Iraq has obtained such weapons. This further belief must itself be justified by reference to another belief in how the weapons were obtained and this chain of reference appears to go on ad infinitum. The only counter to this potential infinite regress is to point to a belief which is somehow self-evident, which is pretty precarious for an evidentialist who holds that all our beliefs must be grounded on observable evidence.

According to the precautionary principle, the answer is a resounding YES. It doesn’t matter that there’s no evidence, we are simply acting to prevent the Iraqis from using any weapons of mass destruction because we distrust them. And if someone asks why we distrust the Iraqis, it is enough to say that this doesn’t matter; we have to set a preventative strategy into action as it’s only a matter of time before they start to take over. The evidence of weapons of mass destruction, we are assured, will arrive in time.

The precautionary principle seems to rest on a version of a theory of knowledge known as ‘reliabilism’ which states roughly: it is justified to believe in a state of affairs P

1/ if P is true

2/ if my belief that P is brought about by a reliable mechanism

A ‘reliable mechanism’ might be many things: my senses, my gut feeling, my instinct.

At this point, I hand you over to the discussion of reliabilism by Stephen Law at his blog ‘But I just know’ who provides a lucid explanation of the use and abuse of this idea.

Whatever you do, take the time to watch the three part documentary as a perspective on the word in which we now live.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Human Sciences (Education)

If you haven't already come across this website - - it's well worth a visit and could make an excellent topic for a presentation.

In order to get a flavour of the website, you could look either at the 'About Us' page or read this article: 'IB - Improvement or Indoctrination?' (you'll have to scroll down the page to see the article).

The writers take very seriously the context of the economic crisis when presenting their arguments, bringing together evidence to suggest that the IBO's approach to education is flawed.  Here are a just a few conclusions the website reaches:

1. The IBO is elitist.
2. The IBO doesn't improve standards in low perfprming schools any more than state schools.
3. By following the prescribed IBO curriculum, schools forego control over what they can and cannot teach.
4. The IBO is part of a movement to indoctrinate the minds of the youth of today to adapt themselves to the coming of the 'new world order' - whether this is a socialist movement or not is up for debate.

This latter conclusion seems far-fetched, but the article references a 29 page IBO document published for an IB Latin America Conference in June 2008 entitled, 'The origins, philosophy an principles of the IB diploma and MYP', which uses the phrase 'new world order' in pronouncing the thinking behind its MYP program.

Fascinating, isn't it, that students of IB around the world could be intellectual guinea pigs at the mercy of a ruling elite wishing to bring about social, economic and political change which, presumably, will favour them.

What questions does this raise?  What actions does it promote?  What wider implicatons does it raise?  Are their any valid counter arguments that support what the IBO is doing in education?

So it seems that we are all becoming Borg drones.

Frightening, isn't it.  But just remember, questioning everything often leads you to looking more closely at the things you usually take very much for granted so that you don't becme drones.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Human Sciences (Economics & Politics)

Riots in England : A summer sandwich

On this month's holiday TOK-menu, we discovered this delicious combination with which to to feed the brain.

Now, before you bite into it, a few words in advance: chew carefully; don’t swallow all at once; MAKE UP YOUR OWN MIND!

This is the top half of the sandwich: click on the picture below and listen to this radio interview with Gerald Celente given on August 3rd 2011 (you’ll need to click the purple icon on the bottom left corner of the web page to hear the audio).  Note: this is pre-riot talk.

This is the main filling: now go to any news information website or newspaper or magazine and get the full details the events of the riots in England during the last four nights in all their gory aspects.

This is the sauce: while you’re reading about personal experiences and watching the videos, make sure you take the time to listen carefully to every ‘expert's’ attempt to analyze why the riots occurred.

This is the bottom half of the sandwich: now click onto the picture below and listen to this video of Michael C. Ruppert presented about August 8th 2011 (you won’t be able to avoid the sales pitch towards the end of the video…).  Note: this is post-riot talk.

Enjoy your meal.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Human Sciences - Economics, Philosophy, Psychology
It's a question of happiness (Part 1)

Just before Christmas 2010, the new government in the UK were promoting their ideas about how to find a more efficient way of measuring the population's happiness.  Here's something that David Cameron said that interested us:

Wellbeing can’t be measured by money or traded in markets. It’s about the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our culture and, above all, the strength of our relationships. Improving our society’s sense of wellbeing is, I believe, the central political challenge of our times.”

Oh dear. When a politician starts to ponder philosophically about something, it might be a good idea to take precautions...

Isn’t he really speaking about ‘happiness’? Why then substitute this word with ‘wellbeing’? And why speak of General Well Being (GWB) as a measurable index that defines our quality of life and so turn it into a political concept.

Well, he doesn’t have to. Happiness has always been a political issue, if by ‘politics’ we mean how we organise the relationships between individual people in a group so that the power of each strengthens or enhances the power of the whole.

Where does the idea of wellbeing leave happiness? Is happiness less desirable now that we have a new ‘political challenge of our times’?

We would argue a resolute NO.

We can let the politicans do what they like with their GWB which will have the following positive effects on the idea of happiness:
  • It takes happiness out of both the market place and the political arena - we don’t have to think of being happy as involving some sort of ‘economic transaction’ that gives us a kind of political status in society.
  • It maintains the idea that happiness is not a measurable quantity – you might well be able to devise a GWB index, but never a GH index.
  • It will open a space in which to reclaim the importance of being happy in our emotional lives.
The real question is: how far can Government control happiness, like they intend to do with wellbeing? And indeed, is it desirable for Government to do so?
The worry is that by re-defining the focus, the Government is trying to shape our knowledge and understanding of what it means to be happy according to their terms, which might not always be in our best interests. It can lead to manipulating people’s behaviour, coercing them to behave in line with their interests and why?  History tells us that it is usually in order to keep power.
So keep a detached eye on their happiness tampering in the near future...

Sunday, February 27, 2011


The Big Questions, Sunday 27th February 2011

We appeared on 'The Big Questions' this morning at King Edward VI School, Handworth, Birmingham, which you can catch on the BBC i-player if you click the picture above - it should be available for a week, until the next program.

The three questions debated were:

1. Should Britain be ashamed of its arms trade?

2. Should adoption be colour blind?

3. Have we been here before?

We didn't get asked to contribute this time, but if we had, our statement would have branched all three debates.

First of all, the Hindus believe that reincarntion is the process by which the soul evolves into a higher plane of consciousness to become at one with the divine forces of creation, destruction and preservation.  But we cannot do this passively; we have to act.  Hence the philosophy of karma or action as manifest most eloquently in the epic poem The Bhagavad Gita which is part of the greater epic the Mahabharata which itself tells the story of the rise and fall of two dynasties which end up in a great war to settle once and for all the fate of humanity.

The Gita articulates the philosophy of action through the story of the warrior Arjuna who turns to face the opposing armies and has a sudden sense of self-doubt because he realises that these armies are full of people he knows: family and friends and colleagues.  He turns to Krishna (Arjuna does not know that Krishna is the Lord in human form) and puts down his bow in a state of despondence.  "How can I kill these people?" he asks.

Krishna then explains, very poetically, that whatever Arjuna thinks or feels at this time is irrelevant; he has to know that he was put on this earth to act and everyone's actions flow from their particular nature.  Arjuna's nature is to be a fighter; the greatest bowman on this earth.  Therefore, he must fulfil his nature and do what he does best - he must be the best that he can be in action - whch means to take up his bow and fight.

So here we have the essence of reincarnation:
  • every living thing has a particular role or action to fulfil on this earth
  • until this action is fulfilled, we continue to be reborn in different forms so that we can finally fulfil what we were made for
Very compelling argument, isn't it?  But it raises those perennial questions: how do you know what you're made for?  What is your specific role on this planet?

Well, like every religion, and in the absence of any real physical evidence, the answer is that we have to take our guidance from some higher moral authority who knows what God had in mind for us - either an incarnation of God's words (like the holy scriptures), or of God himelf (like Krishna), or some enlightened human being (a guru or Pope figure, perhaps).  Some of you sceptics might not like this very much, but there it is.

Now, returning to the other two debate questions about arms and adoption: clearly Krishna wouldn't have minded the British selling arms to Arjuna, as long as this helped him to fulfil his action.  Neither would he mind the colour/gender/race/religion of an adoptive child's parents, as long as they helped the child to fulfil what it was made for on this earth.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Notes on Structure and Layout

Using sources in Essays and Presentations

We came across the following passage when re-reading that classic work of investigative journalism, All the President's Men.  It struck us that we could all learn lessons from the anecdote, not only about how to use sources in TOK essays (and how not to), but also about the nature of evidence.  Read the paragraph and decide what lessons you learn.

Here are two important Knowledge Issues that emerge from the passage: to what extent is common sense important in establishing the truth of knowledge claims or the reliability of evidence?  What are the limitations of common sense?

The instructor had assigned the students to read some medieval documents that gave somewhat conflicting accounts of Henry IV’s famous visit to Canossa in 1077 to seek Pope Gregory’s forgiveness.  According to all of them, the King had waited barefoot in the snow outside the Vatican for four days. Woodward had pored over the documents, made notes and based his paper on the facts on which most of the accounts agreed.  All the witnesses had Henry IV out there in the snow for days with his feet bare.  The instructor had failed Woodward['s paper] because he had not used common sense. No human being could stand for days barefoot in the snow and not have his feet froze off, the instructor said.  “The divine right of kings did not extend to overturning the laws of nature and common sense.” (p. 221)

WOODWARD, B. & BERNSTEIN, C., All the President’s Men, London, Quartet Books, 1974, 349 p.