Tag Archives: natural sciences

Do Nobel prizes distort public understanding of scientific knowledge?

171106 nobel-prize(Eileen Dombrowski from OUP blog) “Absurd.” “Archaic.” These are surely not descriptions most of us would apply to the world’s most celebrated prize in science. The Nobel Prize, conferring millions of Swedish krone (more than a million American dollars) and everlasting fame upon its recipients, honours the year’s highest achievements in knowledge. Yet even as it grips our imaginations, could this illustrious award simultaneously distort our understanding of how that knowledge works? Continue reading

Sharing knowledge – effectively!

(Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) “Alone we go fast, together we go far.” So goes the proverb quoted by a leading neuroscientist involved in a major new project bringing together 21 labs in Europe and the United States for research on the brain. The international team aims to discover “where, when, and how neurons in the brain take information from the outside world, make sense of it, and work out how to respond.” What’s interesting for the Theory of Knowledge classroom is the commitment undertaken by all the labs to work within a shared framework. Continue reading

PS to “This is the nature of science.”

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(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Yes, I too found the solar eclipse thrilling, and a little spooky. The summer sunshine grew dim and a chill settled over the garden. Curved bites appeared in the dappled shadows of leaves. Like many others, we peered at light falling through the pinholes of a homemade cardboard box to see the image of the bright circle of the sun largely blotted out by the dark shadow of the moon. Yes, it was thrilling – even though we were not ourselves placed along the swath named so resonantly “The Path of Totality”. Continue reading

“This is the nature of science.”

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Today I offer you morsels from a book I’m reading as a delectable snack for your mind. Beautifully written, it reminds me that, in our course, we look at areas of knowledge not just for their description and analysis but also for their wonder. In many ways, I feel TOK to be a celebration of what we can know, and what we do know — almost, at times, in spite of ourselves. Let this reflection on science by Carlo Rovelli give you a bit of refreshment as you guide your students to the kind of vast overview that we aspire to take in IB Theory of Knowledge! Continue reading

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