The Beauty in Maths

A few months ago the BBC conducted a survey to find the most beautiful mathematical equation in the world. There is of course a long history of the relationship between the idea of beauty and mathematics. The ancients certainly pondered that relationship as well as connecting it to the concepts of truth and of goodness. In Plato’s mind certainly, as well as in the mind of others, the true, the good and the beautiful were objectively one in the transcendental ...

Is Economics a Science?

Robert J. Shiller is a Nobel Laureate in Economics and an Economics professor at Yale University, in an online article published in 2013 he addresses the vexed question as to whether Economics is a Science. Whilst acknowledging the limitations of his subject as a science readily enough he cannot bring himself to altogether abandon that label. Moreover, he almost seems more interested in highlighting the failures of other disciplines as sciences (chemistry, physics, politics, astronomy…) than to provide evidential support for ...

Being Human

This week I did something which I have rarely done in my many years of teaching; I asked students to spend a whole lesson watching a video. Each student was given a laptop and they were asked to put on their earphones (they always seem to have the latter available at the drop of a hat). They were told to go to Youtube and look for the film “Human” by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, and watch at least any five of the ...

Deconstructing a Knowledge Question

In the last blog we looked at how to identify and construct a Knowledge Question, this is particularly important for the TOK presentation. In this blog we will focus on how to deconstruct a Knowledge Question. This is of course essential for success in the TOK essay and although this is some way off for many students it is useful to look at this now so one can practice the skill before the TOK essay titles arrive at the end ...

Knowledge Questions

Knowledge Questions (KQs) are the heart of the Theory of Knowledge course in the DP, yet it is not unusual to find many students and (let’s say this quietly), even some teachers who do not seem to grasp what they are and what they are for. If you read the IBO guidelines on TOK you will find explanations of the nature of KQs as well as a table of examples of good KQs, acceptable KQs, not so good KQs and questions ...

Forget History

At the end of John Sayles’ masterful film Lone Star, the two main protagonists have just discovered that their life-long love is doomed as they are brother and sister. They sit in a disused drive-in, an outdoor cinema, and contemplate how the vagueries of personal and collective history have conspired to their predicament. What now? Are they destined to forever live apart because of events over which they had no control? The woman tenderly takes her lover’s hand and says, “forget ...

Reason: A Goddess with Feet of Clay

In the wake of the French revolution in the 1790s emerged a new religion, the Cult of Reason. This new faith was dedicated to the de-Christianizination of Europe and in churches all over France a new goddess was enthroned. Sensibly the new high-priests shied away from objectifying Reason by setting up statues of it, instead women, often young and scantily clad, were sat on newly erected altars whilst holding torches symbolizing enlightenment. Reason was to shine its guiding and liberating ...

Lost for Words? You’re not the only one.

The seminal 1970s concept album Tales of Mystery and Imagination by the Alan Parsons Project begins with the recorded voice of the legendary Orson Welles. In his inimitable voice Welles reads out an extract from Edgar Alan Poe’s Marginalia (1844 – 1849) in which the idea of ineffability is given an evocative and powerful expression. The ineffable is that which cannot or should not be expressed in words. Poe writes, “For my own part. I have never had a thought which ...

Was Plato Right?

Plato’s definition of what knowledge is, ‘justified true belief’, has been trotted out by countless IB students for generations, often without much thought as to its genuine value or validity as a definition of what knowledge is. However, what are we to make of the fact that the definition includes the term belief? What does the definition actually mean? Is it not possible to interpret the definition in different ways? And has anyone since Plato not provided a better one? Let us explore ...

Two Cultures?

Do you think of yourself naturally as an artist or a scientist? Do you instinctively lean towards culture or technology? Are you predominantly left or right brained? Do you struggle with families of subjects which seem to belong either to the Humanities or the Sciences? Have you experienced this sense of a disconnection between two spheres of learning in others? If so, read on and see what TOK can do for you. On the 7th of May 1959, Physical Chemist and ...