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 May 2019

Sunday, September 14, 2014

ToK Prescribed Essay TItles (May2015): Question 1

There is no such thing as a neutral question. Evaluate this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.
Click on picture to listen to soundtrack: 'It's a jungle out there'

Where do babies come from?  Remember asking this question to your parents? Do you remember how they reacted or what they said?  Were you satisfied with the response? Do you remember if you asked a follow up question?  There’s something about asking questions that drives people crazy, especially curious little children who just seem to want to ask questions for the sake of it without really appearing to be interested in the answer. Sometimes questioning can be just playful; a form of mental gymnastics to keep the mind supple and flexible – you’re not really interested in gaining any knowledge but just enjoy the ‘trip’.  At other times, questions can be dangerous, a form of intellectual probing which reaches into areas which may be classified as ‘Top Secret’ or ‘For your Eyes Only’ – you’re poking your nose into forbidden knowledge and ought to be aware of the risk.


There are other times when questions can drive you a little crazy: the song, ‘It’s a Jungle Out There’, by Randy Newman raises the knowledge questions, how far should we be over cautious about the world? To what extent do our fears hinder our day to day lives? In what ways should we protect ourselves from the dangers of knowledge?


The first of the two actual questions posed by the song – ‘Who’s in charge here?’ seems to be driven by utter terror of the randomness of the world; it’s almost a cry for help from someone or something to take control of some pending danger; an appeal to some higher authority so give sense and meaning to life.  Isn’t this sometimes true when we ask knowledge questions?  When attempting to justify our beliefs, we often make an appeal to the higher authority of experts to help support the truth of a belief.  The authority could be a Nobel Prize winner on the field of medicine or a religious leader of a faith.  The ultimate authority in the latter example is, of course, God.  We tend to think that such authorities are infallible and that their answers are detached and have no hidden agenda, but is this strictly true?  Shouldn’t all our questions to authority figures be driven by a scepticism and be, as such, non-neutral?


What about the second question: ‘Do you know what’s in the water that you drink?’  This seems to be driven by some deeper knowledge: ‘I know something that you don’t’.  It’s not a rhetorical question (it’s followed by a clear ‘Well, I do…’), but why would anyone want to ask this question.  Surely we can take it on trust that the water coming out our taps is drinkable.  We know that we can wash babies without any side effects.  We take this knowledge for granted don’t we?  But it wasn’t so long ago that we couldn’t take it for granted (and there are some places on earth even today that people can’t take it for granted). So is the singer’s knowledge about the drinking water personal or shared?  The tone of the song suggests that it’s emotive knowledge: his ‘gut feeling’ is that the water is full of the kind of poison that’s in the air we breathe.  What would he need to convince us that it’s not simply personal knowledge: That we should actually ‘better pay attention’?  The answer comes back to justification or evidence.  The singer would have to show us some empirical evidence carried out by respectable scientists using the scientific method to generate some reliable data to back up his belief (which would, of course, spoil the song entirely!)


Still, the song neatly captures the kind of paranoia that drives some people with obsessive compulsive disorders (‘People think I’m crazy because I worry all the time’) giving us an insight also into the state of mind of conspiracy theorists and reminding us of that famous Joseph Heller quote from Catch-22? ‘Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t after you’!...

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