Tag Archives: reason

SPOT and the cloak of invisibility: cognitive biases

170925 cloak

For the observer: a cloak of invisibility?

(Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) With a laugh, I pass on to you today a couple more cognitive biases, ones that students are likely to enjoy. We could, of course, despair over how deep our biases seem to go and what a challenge it is to achieve an open mind, but I find it curiously entertaining to learn about the quirky biases of our human minds. Maybe it even creates some patience with other people – those others who are so stubbornly wrong! – if we recognize that we are also naively wrong ourselves.

When considering reason as a way of knowing, we Theory of Knowledge teachers have long treated fallacies that derail clear thinking. When considering intuition as a way of knowing, we have a wealth of material in all the biases that kick in before we’re even consciously thinking. At moments, I’ve idly wondered whether we could teach the entire TOK course centred on confirmation bias, our tendency to notice and accept only information that reinforces what we believe already.   Continue reading

Standing at the Centre of the World: TOK class discussion (with handout)

Daryl Duke 200 dpi

Standing at the centre of the world: it’s a compelling image. But just who or what is at the “centre”, and what does planting that centre do to our knowledge? Clearly, this question of “centrism” threads through the Theory of Knowledge course, and there are plenty of good entry points to take students into discussion of its complexities. For one such entry point, I’d like to suggest using the image above, with its claim, “Whoever holds a camera stands at the centre of the world.” Continue reading

Love, luck, literature, and logic: Who will win the lady?

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Which of her eager suitors will make the right guess in the gamble – and win the beautiful Portia and her fortune? Mathematician Alex Bellos gives us a new twist to a story familiar from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice: a lovely and virtuous heiress is compelled by her late father’s will to marry the man who chooses, out of three caskets, the one which contains her portrait. In a Theory of Knowledge class, love, luck, literature, and logic combine in a quick class activity solving a problem – and thereby clarifying for students the process of deduction and justification through reason and language as ways of knowing. And it’s fun. Continue reading

AGAINST empathy? Really?

170213-hands(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) “In the moral domain…empathy leads us astray,” argues Paul Bloom, professor of psychology at Yale University. “We are much better off if we give up on empathy and become rational deliberators motivated by compassion and care for others.”  Bloom adopts a provocative stance to focus attention on what we in IB Theory of Knowledge would call “ways of knowing”, and ties emotion, imagination, and reason to ethics as an area of knowledge. Continue reading

Burkini controversy: TOK activity in analyzing perspectives


(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) A storm of controversy over a swimming suit? Astonishingly, it’s not even a risqué one! Women have recently been fined in France for keeping too much of their bodies covered on the beach – and towns have passed regional laws to ban the “burkini”.  The ban on this bathing costume, however, has met extensive protest. The top French administrative court has now overturned it. A cultural flashpoint hotly contested, the burkini offers an ideal class activity – not because the TOK course cares about beachwear but because the controversy provides material for students to consider the nature of symbolism and to practise their skills of analyzing perspectives in application to issues very alive in the world. Continue reading

Small biases, large consequences: an interactive online game on diversity or segregation

160817polygons(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Often it takes dramatic illustration to convey just why certain abstract concepts are so important to thinking critically about knowledge. For demonstrating the significance of concepts of “bias” and “implications”, try this online game with your students. “The Parable of the Polygons” provides an attractive, interactive – and startling! – visualization of what can follow from accepting some initial ideas, or from being influenced by only a little bit of bias! Students can play the game online, make their own choices, and see the graphic results form before their own eyes. Continue reading

Conspiracy theories, intuitions and critical thinking: Part 1

160321 spooky hood(by Theo Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Did you know that the Charlie Hebdou attack was not, as the media tell us, an attack by terrorists offended by the satiric magazines’ portrayal of Muhammed, the Prophet? Did you know, rather, that it was orchestrated by the U.S. in order to punish France for its foreign policy decisions? Did you know that pop star Kate Perry is, in fact, a member of the Illuminati, bent on world domination? Both of these are carefully hidden facts, of course. And if you need any proof of the effectiveness of the cover-up of either and, therefore, the terrible power wielded by those running the world, what better proof than the fact that you cannot find a single shred of evidence for either claim? These are but two of literally hundreds of “conspiracy theories” reported in many media, but most widely on the internet. Continue reading

Perspectives and manipulation: 6 photographers and a single subject

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) At first glance, this three-minute video (6 Photographers Capture Same Person But Results Vary Widely Because of a Twist) provides a visually engaging, if rather obvious, illustration of differing perspectives at work as 6 photographers take distinctly unlike pictures of the same subject. Taken at face value, it’s an appealing resource for a TOK class on the effect of what we think (perspectives, WOK intuition/reason) on what we see (WOK sense perception) and how we represent the world (WOK language). It’s when we question the methods of the film makers, though, and the reach of their conclusions, that the video becomes richer in questions that we want to raise in Theory of Knowledge.

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Clever cons and TOK 3: Is critical thinking utterly futile?

160222 mirror(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) Does everyone really fall for con artists? Everyone, always? That’s the subtitle of Maria Konnikova’s book: The Confidence Game: Why We Fall For It…Every Time. No, I’m not going to fall for taking a catchy title literally! But if potential victims are so very vulnerable, is it utterly futile to try to develop skills of critical thinking in our own defense? 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