Poppies and remembrance: symbolism and perspectives

Controversy again over poppies and remembrance – or in TOK terms, over symbolism and shared knowledge! In Britain, a headscarf with a poppy pattern has been sold to Muslim women to “raise awareness about the 400,000 Muslims, most of them Indian, who fought alongside British troops in the First World War.” Condemning this poppy scarf, one Muslim woman calls it one of "the most ill-conceived of the recent spate of 'we are not extremists' initiatives. I also take issue with ...

“What’s your favourite number?”

Mathematician Alex Bellos was intensely irritated by the question. Was that person in the audience mocking him, or possibly ridiculing what he’d been saying about mathematics, to ask such a bizarre and irrelevant question at the end of his lecture? The audience member had asked him, as others had done before, “What’s your favourite number?” In this podcast conversation from Radiolab, Bellos describes his abrupt shift of perspective as he realizes that the questioner is asking in sincerity. Quickly, he discovers ...

So who needs language?

:roll:   Can we write more directly and more effectively to each other by chucking out all those words and using emoticons or emoji instead?  Three social networks are offering images to bypass text altogether.  Could this be, at last, a universal language? Emoticons are not new.  But till now they've stayed in place as an adjunct to text. What's new is the advent in the past two months of emoji-only apps that claim to replace text and still achieve communication. To ...

Shared knowledge: a moment of “Wow!”

You HAVE to watch this video from Discovery Channel! Watch it, and then rotate your screen for the view at the end. First, just enjoy it. And then we can link it to TOK.   Mount Everest in 3D: Experience the Trek to the Summit. For me, there are moments of wordless wonder – amazed at being given an echo of experiences so far beyond my own life, shared through stories or images. But, in a characteristic for which I have often ...

Fashion, symbolism and perspectives

In the student lobe of these blogs, I’ve just posted on a recent controversy that could engage students in TOK discussions on symbolic representation and cultural perspectives.  What are they “saying” as they wear certain symbols, such as the tee-shirt design that juxtaposed a skull and triangles that could be interpreted as a star of David?  The department store H&M made a public apology as it withdrew the tee-shirt.  I won’t repeat here what I wrote for students, but you may ...

Fashion statements and what they “mean”

It's a weekend morning.  You're going shopping. You will be seen. You look at various T shirts in your cupboard.  Which one should you choose?. Be careful. After all, you are making a "fashion statement."  We're all familiar with the notion of the "fashion statement"--presumably that your deliberate choice of clothing is "saying" something--about your personality, your mood, your values, your self-image. Feeling in one of those moods, you reach for a T shirt with a skull design--the kind of thing that ...

Sensationalizing and distorting science: the media and “shared knowledge”

“Researchers Shocked To Discover Hidden DNA Code”!  Anyone even casually interested in the ever expanding pool of shared scientific knowledge is likely perk up at such a headline.  It takes a lot more than casual interest, of course, to keep track of scientific discoveries:  dozens of credible websites (let alone scientific journals) are crammed with articles about yet more discoveries about the human genome—or about yet another exoplanet  or species of bizarre beetle. Barraged with far more information than we ...

TOK: the map, the territory

Wow!  Have a look at the ten maps picked out on the website Atlantic Cities as top ones for 2013.  "The map is not the territory", quoted from Alfred Korzybski, has been used repeatedly in TOK as a metaphor for the idea that beliefs about reality are not the same as reality itself.  Moreover, our symbolic representations (visual images, languages) are not neutral and objective records of the world but equivalent to maps, selected and shaped by our perspectives and ...

Quebec Charter of Values in TOK: perspectives, symbolism, fallacies

[youtuber youtube='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTlDcDYf-ao'] Today protesters march in the streets of Montreal, opposing the newly announced Quebec Charter of Values.  The government of the Canadian province of Quebec has declared that certain values define their society, which has often had a fractious relationship with the rest of Canada.  Among those values – valeurs québécois -- are ones that would broadly capture agreement from Canadians, such as the religious neutrality of the state.  It is the application of this principle that has provoked outrage ...