Tag Archives: natural sciences

Where do fresh ideas come from?

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Where do new ideas come from? Is it inevitable, I wonder, that in trying to talk with students about using ways of knowing creatively I’m inclined to turn to individual stories of “getting ideas”?  Today I’d simply like to share two or three resources for raising discussion of creativity in class. Continue reading

Indigenous memory codes, the wisdom of crowds, and other summer listening


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(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Surely in the holiday sunshine of a northern hemisphere summer we TOK teachers deserve to rest our minds — even as we nourish them. Do you share this belief? If so, you might, like me, enjoy listening to interviews or thoughtful conversations while preparing salmon for the barbecue, watering the garden, or walking on the beach. Often, podcasts treat ideas not with bullet-point-analytical-delivery but with chatty interviews and reflective conversation – more diffuse, more relaxing. Continue reading

Beasts, whirligigs, and raindrops: engineering, art, and the play of the imagination

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) On this fine day in May, most Theory of Knowledge students in the northern hemisphere are surely preoccupied with only a certain aspect of knowledge: how well they have demonstrated it, in relevant forms, on examinations. So today let me suggest that tired students deserve to be invited away from exam stress through their senses and imaginations, and through a gentle form of TOK reflection.

I’d give them no taxing questions, but instead the chance simply to watch and respond to Theo Jansen’s Sandbeasts:

Continue reading

“Natural selection” and the early career of a metaphor

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) “Metaphors, as we all by now know, aren’t just ornamental linguistic flourishes—they’re basic building blocks of everyday reasoning. And they’re at their most potent when they recast a difficult-to-understand phenomenon as something familiar.” So writes cognitive scientist Kensy Cooperrider. In giving the backstory of Darwin’s choice of “natural selection” for evolution, he provides a short article for any Theory of Knowledge teacher to note, relevant to language as a way of knowing and the natural sciences as an area of knowledge. Continue reading

Clever cons and TOK 2: What does storytelling do to knowledge?

160215 scam roadsign(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Stories have power. In the scams of con artists, they have the power to “get you emotionally transported enough that you stop asking questions, or at least the questions that matter.” So warns Maria Konnikova, whose recently published book The Confidence Game prompted my post last week, and this week. At the same time, however, stories have an enriching role in the creation of knowledge, not just in obvious areas such as literature and history but also in areas such as the sciences where we might not expect a narrative to carry us. What, then, is the role of storytelling in telling lies, and telling truths? Continue reading

Climate science, ethics, politics: Dare we hope?

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Scientific agreement, ethical agreement, and political agreement are entirely different. They’re not justified by the same means, not shared through the same process of communication, not brought to a conclusion through the same process of validation. But when they converge – when for a moment the political representatives of the world accept scientific knowledge as the basis for an ethical global agreement – then we have reason to celebrate along with the delegates of the COP21 Paris Climate Talks. Continue reading

“Climate Skeptic” or “Denier”: Can journalists stake neutral ground in a language war?

(by Theo Dombrowski. first published OUP blog)

151108newsglobeWords map our concepts. They affect how we think within our personal knowledge, and how we shape and exchange our shared knowledge. In any critical examination of the creation and flow of knowledge, we need to be aware of the influence of the terminology we use.  

Do you accept the knowledge claims above? If so, you are likely to be keenly interested in guidance on terminology issued to journalists by the Associated Press Stylebook editors on September 22, 2015. The editors have recommended specific language for journalists writing on climate change “ to help our reporters and editors present the news accurately, concisely and clearly”.

This AP announcement hands TOK teachers a current example for class on the relevance of language to handling concepts, and the importance of definitions and connotations in public flow of knowledge. Continue reading

“Really? You don’t know what MATTER is?”: Nobel Laureate in physics uses doughnuts to explain.

(from OUP TOK blog) In just a minute and a half on a comedy show, Arthur McDonald explains the discovery in physics that made him a co-winner of a Nobel Prize for physics this month. Well, actually…..no, he doesn’t. But he does provoke a laugh, perhaps especially for Canadians who recognize the popular chocolate Timbits he resorts to using in a simplified explanation. I recommend this video clip for TOK class for two reasons: first, a class laugh opens discussion of scientific discovery without distancing those fearful of physics; and second, it raises some tasty knowledge questions about the nature of explanation and responsibility.   Continue reading

Happy Thanksgiving! It’s good for you!

151012 thanksg turkey(originally published on my Oxford University Press education blog) In my part of the world, there’s an entire public holiday built around a particular emotion: gratitude. In 2015, Thanksgiving Day falls on October 12 for us Canadians and November 26 for our American neighbours. Although this year I’m not home cooking a traditional turkey (I’m off travelling in Romania!), I wanted to wish all of you the best for this day, and to send you my hopes that you have plenty in your lives to feel happy about. And (no surprise here!) I can’t resist linking the emotion of gratitude to TOK class discussions.  Continue reading

“— Based Medicine”: alternatives to “evidence”

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Is it obvious that medical conclusions ought to be based on evidence and science? What are the alternatives? For a smile along with the serious point, I recommend this satirical list by two doctors: “Seven alternatives to evidence based medicine”. Vehemence-based medicine? Eminence-based medicine? The list predates the recent book on celebrity-based medicine with the splendid title Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? Looking at what people believe in medicine and why can be very funny — and very scary.

In his book debunking the specific health advice offered to her fans by influential actress Gwyneth Paltrow, Professor Timothy Caulfield is also dealing with a more general concern, and the implications of what people accept.   Continue reading