Is Mathematics a Religion?

For many numerically illiterate people out there, the film The Man who Knew Infinity (released September 2015) was, if atheists will pardon the expression, a godsend. It describes the life and achievements of renowned Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. It did this in a way which not only made his passion for and staggering discoveries in Mathematics entirely accessible, but it also managed to express the very soul of the man.  In a particularly moving scene, the great mathematician G.H. Hardy ...

So, What’s the News?

Every moment of every day, an avalanche of information is dispersed through countless media sources in a myriad of forms and this without respite, 24/7. This may be one of the most significant changes in our daily lives since, well, forever.  It is not that information was not available before of course, but nothing comparable to the sheer quantity and accessibility of ‘news’ we encounter throughout a single day. However, it would be quite easy to trawl the internet for ...

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 ...