This is a site where I post articles, videos, and various resources relevant to a Theory of Knowledge teacher or student. You can find handouts, activities, and day to day plans on the resources for the TOK class page.
You can find folders for day to day lessons as I’ve taught them there. You can also find a greater variety of ideas and resources if you look at the pages for Areas of Knowledge or Theme.
I have only had the chance to teach Year 1 of the new course one time. I will no longer be teaching Theory of Knowledge so I won’t be updating this site any further.
Take a look at the sites for other course I have taught (but no longer do):
Songs arise out of suffering, by which I mean they are predicated upon the complex, internal human struggle of creation and, well, as far as I know, algorithms don’t feel. Data doesn’t suffer. ChatGPT has no inner being, it has been nowhere, it has endured nothing, it has not had the audacity to reach beyond its limitations, and hence it doesn’t have the capacity for a shared transcendent experience, as it has no limitations from which to transcend. ChatGPT’s melancholy role is that it is destined to imitate and can never have an authentic human experience, no matter how devalued and inconsequential the human experience may in time become.
A really thorough and easy to read discussion about the nature of data collection and different types of studies and the nature of the conclusions we can draw from them. Really useful for discussions in the Human or Natural Sciences. She covers the concept of data broadly but supports with many different examples include breastfeeding and IQ.
The question of whether a controlled effect in observational data is “causal” is inherently unanswerable. We are worried about differences between people that we cannot observe in the data. We can’t see them, so we must speculate about whether they are there. Based on a couple of decades of working intensely on these questions in both my research and my popular writing, I think they are almost always there. I think they are almost always important, and that a huge share of the correlations we see in observational data are not close to causal.
One of the powers of Western science that has brought us so much understanding and benefit is this separation of the observer and the observed; to say that we could be rational and objective and empirically know the truth of the world. Absolutely, but there are lots of truths. I like to say that there are multiple ways of knowing, and we could benefit by engaging more of them. I do recognize the slippery-slope argument, because people have said to me, Does that mean that you think that creation science is valid science? No, I don’t, because it is not empirically validatable. But sometimes what we call conventional Western science is in fact scientism. Scientism being this notion that Western science is the only way to truth. It’s a powerful way to truth, but there are other ways, too. Traditional ecological knowledge, Indigenous science, is a more holistic way of knowing. In Western science, for often very good reasons, we separate our values and our knowledge. In Indigenous science, knowledge and values are always coupled. It’s an ethically driven science.
Why the greatest scientific experiment in history failed, and why that’s a great thing
For the last 60 years or so, science has been running an experiment on itself. The experimental design wasn’t great; there was no randomization and no control group. Nobody was in charge, exactly, and nobody was really taking consistent measurements. And yet it was the most massive experiment ever run, and it included every scientist on Earth.
That experiment failed. Humanity does not want to be a global hive mind. We are not rational Bayesian updaters who will eventually reach agreement; when we receive the same information, it tends to polarize us rather than unite us. Getting screamed at and insulted by people who disagree with you doesn’t take you out of your filter bubble — it makes you retreat back inside your bubble and reject the ideas of whoever is screaming at you. No one ever changed their mind from being dunked on; instead they all just doubled down and dunked harder. The hatred and toxicity of Twitter at times felt like the dying screams of human individuality, being crushed to death by the hive mind’s constant demands for us to agree with more people than we ever evolved to agree with.
Great podcast episode discussing how disasters can happen when we get the math wrong. This particular story is about unit conversions but is followed by a great conversation about the nature of math.
“A metre is longer than a yard. An ounce is heavier than a gram. We harmlessly mix them up sometimes, but a “unit conversion error” when you’re filling up the fuel tanks of an airliner can be fatal. Which is exactly what happened to Air Canada Flight 143.”
The episode itself is fascinating but the conversation with the author upon whose work this story was based is equally fascinating. Below is a quote from that conversation that explains some of the utility and dangers of math.
“The underlying issue is that as humans we’re not naturally good at mathematics…the human brain doesn’t do maths natively…because we have maths we can do so much more than our brains could do intuitively. We don’t have to make a building by eyeballing it and superoverengineering it, we can do the mathematics and figure out exactly what we need and how it is going to work. Using maths we can do far more than the human brain was ever designed to do. The cost, however, is that we can we are beyond our intuition and have to do the maths and do it very carefully.”
I have the link below queued to the section quoted above.
The original “Hamilton” score includes a number of quotations from American hip-hop songs. Most of them were cut from the German version because the translations made them unrecognizable…The original language is packed with American metaphors and idioms that just don’t translate. So the translators were given license to come up with their own turns of phrase.
This is a link and lesson based on the popular series Finding Your Roots hosted by Henry Louis Gates. This provides a really interesting look at the methods of history and a great opportunity to discuss its relevance on a personal level. Thanks to my colleague for sharing her work with me on this.
I focused on Questlove’s story rather than play the whole episode through.
We watched the intro, 11:15-16:30, and 40:45 until the end of Questlove’s portion
The story of the laptop, what was on it, how the story was dealt with (and blocked) has been around for almost two years now but still worth exploring in a TOK context with connections to several themes (Knower, Technology, Politics). How do our prior beliefs affect how we interpret new information? How do we decide whether a claim is credible? What responsibility do social media companies have to decide what is true? What are the consequences of so few companies having so much power over the spread of information?
I like this topic because it pushes my students to confront their own discomfort with the potential weaponization of the concept of fake news but in a direction that suits their politics. The twitter video at the bottom of Sam Harris, ironically, communicates what many people actually believe.
Here are a few of articles that explain the controversy:
This was from a recent conversation with Sam Harris, whom I normally have great respect for. His defense of wide ranging conspiracies to generate politically desirable outcomes is interesting. This is a good example of consequentialist ethics.
Most people prefer experts, of course, especially when it comes to health care. As a surgeon myself, I can hardly object to that tendency. But a problem arises when some of those experts exert outsized influence over the opinions of other experts and thereby establish an orthodoxy enforced by a priesthood. If anyone, expert or otherwise, questions the orthodoxy, they commit heresy. The result is groupthink, which undermines the scientific process.