You can use any or all of the resources linked below with attribution when appropriate
“The largest and most lethal eruptions of irrationality have all occurred in the name of reason.”
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
-Bob Samples (possibly paraphrasing Einstein)
Web Resources on Reason
Handouts and Activities
Below are some handouts and activities I use to help kids explore concepts related to reason as a way of knowing. Often, the best way to explore it is to consider its connection to other ways of knowing, particularly emotion and intuition.
Contrasting reason, emotion and intuition
Often, we contrast these two ways of knowing as being opposed to one another. This reading and activity, adapted from the book, How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer, is based on interesting neurological research on what happened to patients who suffered from brain damage and made decisions without any emotion factoring in. The results are not what we might expect.
Jonathan Haidt lays out his own model for the relationship between Intuition and Reason. Below is a handout adapted from his book, The Righteous Mind, in which he lays out the metaphor of the rider and the elephant. This handout has a lot of utility when studying ethics and the WOKs associated with how we decide what we think is right.
Haidt further examines how we use these competing impulses to make moral judgments. How “moral reasoning” is often a after the fact rationalization of what we intuitively believe to be correct. Here is an adaptation of some of his ideas along with possible prompts to get students thinking.
Haidt also discusses his concept of the “rationalist delusion” and explicitly discusses the limitations of reason as a way of knowing.
One of the most accessible books on intuition that I have found is Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. I adapted the following readings to help students get a sense of what intuition is and how it differs from reason. Generally speaking, the ways of knowing are easier to explore when not dealing with them in isolation. It is often really interesting to find activities to let kids explore their own thoughts and conclusions and try to evaluate what’s going on in their own minds. What is the role of reason? Intuition?
Inductive vs. Deductive Reasoning
In TOK, we often identify these as the main forms of reasoning. It can be dry simply to define the terms. An alternative approach would be to choose some examples from Math (maybe this is worse?) to help them differentiate between the two forms of reasoning. After doing a few examples (getting the right answer doesn’t really matter) ask kids how they approach the questions and that can be a starting point for the different forms of reasoning.
Here is a handout I found on the internet that spells out the differences in some detail.
If your students are up to it, there are lots of fun deductive reasoning problems. Attached below are some good ones.
Are facts and factual information what people use to make up their minds?
This is a question that underlies so many of our issues in the day and age of fake news. Below is an article (you can find a hundred versions of these ideas around the web) that I adapted from Scientific American that does a neat and clean job spelling out the limitations of our ability to use reason in deciding what we believe.
One of the most fun topics and activities I do in TOK is on reasoning/logical fallacies. I’m not quite sure how to get students to incorporate these concepts into their minds outside of this specific part of TOK and become better thinkers but that is a problem for another day. Below is the powerpoint I use to introduce students to the concept of a logical fallacy along with the basic construction of what an “argument” is: premise, assumption, conclusion. After working through the powerpoint, students work individually or in groups to work through the worksheet (with the definitions to help them). An extension activity is to assign groups two random fallacies and create a fallacious argument they read out to the class and other students have to identify which fallacy they were try to reproduce.
You can also find examples of fallacies or errors in reasoning on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). I have in the past given students examples to let them work through.
Lastly, an NFL referee explained logical fallacies.
Here is a great poster for the TOK classroom. You can download the image for free or pay to have a high resolution poster delivered to you. Totally worth it!
(Click on the image below to go to the site)
You can also buy a deck of critical thinking cards from the same site. They’re fun.
Another clever cartoon below
One standard and common fallacy is the “correlation does not equal causation.” This website finds a bunch of different phenomena that are correlated (as evidenced by the graphs presented) but obviously not causally related. My personal favorite is the correlation between drowning deaths and Nicholas Cage movies. (Click on the image to visit site)
“You’re not going to believe what I’m about to tell you” Cartoon by The Oatmeal (Click on image to view)
This is a fantastic cartoon that does a great job walking you through some new information and facts and asking you to evaluate your thoughts and emotions as you go. It is far too long to print out for a class activity but if you have ready access to computers in your class, it would be worthwhile to have students work their way through this cartoon.
You are not so smart Podcast
If there were a single podcast that I would say is the closest to the TOK class, it would be this one. The episodes get into so many interesting aspects of how we acquire knowledge and the nature of producing knowledge in various fields and most importantly, as you may infer from the title, the various limitations involved. I would strongly encourage having students find an episode they find interesting and having them listen, identify main points, connect to relevant AOK and WOK and then produce some sort of writing or present to group members what they listened to. I am always trying to get students to listen to more podcasts.
Other interesting topics
Here are some class activities and readings I have done to help explore the concept. I still have a long way to go with this.
A good way to start is to play this clip from the early 2000s from the Colbert Report when Stephen Colbert first coins the term, “truthiness” which really captured (jokingly) the essence of what was to become the concept and problem with “fake news.”
Here are the worksheets I use to introduce the topic.
I found some examples of viral “fake news” that circulated around the internet to explore why these became so popular and speculate as to their impact.
The second day we try to explore why people believe fake news. The article that follows is probably the best, most concise article I have used with kids to understand the issue
Below are some of the definitions students came up with for what they thought “fake news” was.
Here is a contrary voice on the issue of fake news and the mainstream media being the arbiter of truth.
The Dunning-Kreuger Effect
An interesting topic to help kids understand the limitations of reason as a way of knowing. This “effect” describes the observation that people have a hard time assessing their own mental abilities. Below is a link to web resources.
Related to fake news, why do people believe in conspiracy theories? There is a lot of speculation and once again helps us explore the limitations in our abilities to reason. Below is a link to web resources.
Recommended Books on Reason
Reason, Fallacies, Emotion, Intuition, Ways of Knowing
Really great book (also a great podcast) that discusses, through interesting examples, cognitive biases, reasoning fallacies, and the general limitations and challenges of knowing.
From the book’s amazon page:
You believe you are a rational, logical being who sees the world as it really is, but journalist David McRaney is here to tell you that you’re as deluded as the rest of us. But that’s OK- delusions keep us sane. You Are Not So Smart is a celebration of self-delusion. It’s like a psychology class, with all the boring parts taken out, and with no homework.
Based on the popular blog of the same name, You Are Not So Smart collects more than 46 of the lies we tell ourselves everyday
Really interesting work on the relationship between emotion and reason. There are some really great stories that are easily adapted to the TOK class from this book. This work is often cited in other articles and books about how we make decisions.
Here is a good summary of the main ideas of the book:
From the amazon page for the book:
Since Descartes famously proclaimed, “I think, therefore I am,” science has often overlooked emotions as the source of a person’s true being. Even modern neuroscience has tended, until recently, to concentrate on the cognitive aspects of brain function, disregarding emotions. This attitude began to change with the publication of Descartes’ Error in 1995. Antonio Damasio—”one of the world’s leading neurologists” (The New York Times)—challenged traditional ideas about the connection between emotions and rationality. In this wondrously engaging book, Damasio takes the reader on a journey of scientific discovery through a series of case studies, demonstrating what many of us have long suspected: emotions are not a luxury, they are essential to rational thinking and to normal social behavior.
Easy to read book that evaluates and discusses how we come to decisions. Easy to adapt student readings from this book.
The first book to use the unexpected discoveries of neuroscience to help us make the best decisions
Since Plato, philosophers have described the decision-making process as either rational or emotional: we carefully deliberate, or we “blink” and go with our gut. But as scientists break open the mind’s black box with the latest tools of neuroscience, they’re discovering that this is not how the mind works. Our best decisions are a finely tuned blend of both feeling and reason—and the precise mix depends on the situation. When buying a house, for example, it’s best to let our unconscious mull over the many variables. But when we’re picking a stock, intuition often leads us astray. The trick is to determine when to use the different parts of the brain, and to do this, we need to think harder (and smarter) about how we think.
Reason, Emotion, Intuition
This is one of my favorite non fiction books of all time. This book is a compendium of all the groundbreaking work done by Kanheman and Tversky. Really thorough and insightful. Too long to be a text for students to use but would provide a teacher with lots of insight. Similar to Blink in its discussion of Intuition, this is far more thorough and detailed and creates an effective model for thinking about the brain: System 1 and System 2, or, the fast and slow brain.
The international bestseller, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman, the renowned psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, takes us on a groundbreaking tour of the mind and explains the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. The impact of overconfidence on corporate strategies, the difficulties of predicting what will make us happy in the future, the profound effect of cognitive biases on everything from playing the stock market to planning our next vacation—each of these can be understood only by knowing how the two systems shape our judgments and decisions.
Facts and information do not exist in a vacuum in our minds. They exist inside of some context, or “mental model” that helps us make sense of things. This book is an adaptation of a really thorough and well done website you can find here
The world’s greatest problem-solvers, forecasters, and decision-makers all rely on a set of frameworks and shortcuts that help them cut through complexity and separate good ideas from bad ones. They’re called mental models, and you can find them in dense textbooks on psychology, physics, economics, and more.