AN ORIGINAL PODCAST FOR TEACHERS, STUDENTS AND OTHER CURIOUS PEOPLE
This is one that I could discuss endlessly. Who doesn’t love imagination? I actually recorded this (and a few more episodes coming soon!) nearly a year ago and have been waiting for the right time. Now seems like the right time for this one, especially as we’re talking about the role of imagination in allowing us to understand and empathize with circumstances outside of our own world.
We did go down a little LOTR rabbit hole in this one, let me know if you agree with what we said! But to bring it back to TOK, we talked about imagination in arts, literature, science, history... But we also just discussed the nature of imagining - how do we all imagine differently? Is your imagination a blank canvas? An audio box? Is it a recreation of senses in your mind? How much does it infiltrate your daily narrative? What is imagination? How is it different than reasoning or brainstorming? Is reason and imagination different versions of a similar way of thinking? Is it enough that imagination plays the role of fun and entertainment in producing knowledge about the world? Does it just make things more real and more fun?
Links in relation to this talk:
Guests: Brett Fisher, Monica Wahl
Music: Hilary Ng playing in the hallway at school
I met with Jon Rees, another TOK Teacher (as well as teacher of Human Technologies and IB English) here in Hong Kong, and we discussed TOK Exhibition Prompt 23: How important are material tools in the production or acquisition of knowledge? It was a fascinating discussion! Students, you need to be careful in this question about the difference between producing knowledge and producing things. While there is a connection (knowledge is needed to produce things), it is not an obvious connection so an exploration of the knowledge being produced (not just the thing) is required here. I think it would be very hard to argue that material tools (and conceptual tools by extension?) are not essential - and yet there’s room for exploration as you can hear from our conversation. I hope to talk with Mr. Rees again soon, as it was a very interesting and thought provoking conversation.
Books & Resources that we referenced and discussed in relation to this talk:
Guest: Jon Rees
Music from the ISF Student Brass Band playing outside the school gate one morning in December 2023
Thank you to Waffling Beans for letting us use your space to record!
As a TOK Teacher, I always tell students not to use "TOK Help Sites" to help them write the essay. But is this not a TOK Help site? Well, it is not. I want to make it clear that I do not think these podcasts will help you with the actual content of your essay or exhibition, but I do hope that they get you thinking.
We have created these podcasts to prompt you to delve deeper into each title. They are not exhaustive, nor are they “correct.” Rather than using these to write your essay, use them to challenge or prompt your own thinking!
A word then about academic honesty:
When writing your TOK Essay, the reader must be able to distinguish clearly between your words/work and the words/work of others.
Therefore, as you listen to the Essay or Exhibition Podcasts, I would not recommend "taking notes" on what is said, but rather take notes on your own ideas that come from listening. What examples come to your mind? What questions does it prompt you to ask? Where do you disagree with us?
In regards then to AI...
Just as you would not copy and paste from another source, you should also not copy and paste from AI. For example, if you use a chatbot to generate ideas or find examples, you’ll need to cite it. If you use Bard to rephrase your ideas, you’ll need to cite that entire section of text.
Yes this may cause a reader to lose faith in quality of your work. Therefore, we do not recommend using AI in any part of the TOK Essay process.
May 2024 TOK Essay Title 3 Nothing is more exciting than fresh ideas, so why are areas of knowledge often so slow to adopt them? Discuss with reference to the human sciences and one other area of knowledge.
Guests: Brett Fisher and Garrett McKee
Sounds from rice fields in Bali
May 2024 TOK Essay Title 5 Do we need custodians of knowledge? Discuss with reference to two areas of knowledge.
I met with Kevin and recorded this, but I had a technical malfunction so the recording was lost. I’ve tried to recapture the essence of our conversation as best as I could. We unpacked some really interesting questions: How does one become a ‘custodian’ of knowledge? Who has the authority or right? Who decides what is protected? What about knowledge that has been lost or discluded? What other great truths and insights are we not hearing because of the selectivity? As custodians, how do we weigh up this choice? What if we didn’t have custodians of knowledge? What about knowledge that might be dangerous?
Links from our conversation:
CNN interview - 'Potato custodians' are safeguarding this crop's future
Académie Française Académie française
Wikipedia: Contributing to Wikipedia
Guest: Kevin Hoye (though as the original episode was lost, his actual voice is not featured, only his ideas as I have tried to faithfully represent them)
Music: Jingle Bell Rock as recorded by the Brown School Shoes in December 2018… no it's not the holidays yet.
May 2024 TOK Essay Title 2: How can we reconcile the opposing demands for specialization and generalization in the production of knowledge? Discuss with reference to mathematics and one other area of knowledge.
This is a tough one that requires some confidence to write about examples with confidence in mathematics. A good investigation would offer an exploration of ways that the demands are reconciled. Why do the demands oppose? Are they really opposing demands? Why do we need both specialization and generalization? If one way to reconcile these demands is to create systems and improve communication within and across knowledge communities, what does this actually look like in the real world? Are we (knowledge communities) actually able to reconcile these demands?
Link from our discussion:
Clay Mathematics Institute Millennium Prize Problems: https://www.claymath.org/millennium-problems/
Guest: Martin Brown
Music: random sounds that could be so much better. Do you have music you'd like featured? Please contact me through the form at www.TOKTalk.org
May 2024 TOK Essay Title 6: Are we too quick to assume that the most recent evidence is inevitably the strongest? Discuss with reference to the natural sciences and one other area of knowledge.
Be careful here with this title that you’re really talking about evidence and not the interpretation of evidence in the form of theories! This one is worth a listen just for how we talk about ways to approach TOK Essay Titles in general, nearer to the end.
One more word about the arts after further consideration: recent evidence could be uncovered in the arts in many ways, for example the use of x-ray can uncover new evidence about artists’ intentions, techniques and processes. Check out the Art News article linked below
Links from our discussion:
Guest: Rhodri George
Music: sounds recorded on the beach in Pak Lap and a random bass line from Garage Band... I really need more music! Contact me if you have any you want featured.
May 2024 TOK Essay Title 1: Is subjectivity overly celebrated in the arts but unfairly condemned in history? Discuss with reference to the arts and history.
Be careful with this title: you need to really interrogate assumptions about the role of subjectivity in both arts and history. Think about instances where subjectivity may be overly celebrated in the arts and where objectivity could be of value. Likewise, think about where subjectivity is condemned and where it might also have value in history.
Guests: Kevin Hoye, Robert Scheer
Today we talked about TOK Exhibition prompt 14: Does some knowledge belong only to particular communities of knowers? This is a good one with links to religious knowledge, and secret knowledge only shared by communities… We discuss the idea of preserving some knowledge, why some knowledge does (and perhaps should?) only belong to particular communities, and the blurry line where protecting knowledge becomes gatekeeping. This is a really good one, and left me with a lot more questions than answers. An interesting link to this year’s TOK Essay titles too!
Guest: Dr. Rachel Oser
Music: cover of Taylor Swift Love Story from Grade 9 students around a campfire.
In this Mandarin episode of TOK Talk, Mr. Sun invited Mandarin Language Teachers Mr. Wang, Ms. He, and Ms. Wu to discuss important questions about beauty: Why do we think certain things are beautiful? What is the origin and nature of a sense of beauty? Is this sense specific to the individual or to the culture, or is it universal? A profound discussion on art and beauty The discussion and post-production of this topic cannot be completed without the strong support of Ms Osann and Miao Xiaolong.
Hosts: 孫秀東 Mr. Sun
In this episode, I met with Bill Kyzner (IB Teacher of Global Politics) and Garrett McKee (IB Teacher of Design Technology) to discuss Prompt 10: What challenges are raised by the dissemination and/or communication of knowledge? We explored the relationship between the communicator, the message, and the audience along with the challenges raised in each of these stages. We first unpacked the assumption that there will be misinterpretation: what is said is not what will be received. Some of the many challenges we discussed include: the layered meaning of words, translation, media of dissemination, perspectives that shape our understanding, language, expectations, context (everything is relative to the context!). We also discuss the challenges when a message requires action on the part of the listener: convenience or desire to act, fatigue and lack of tools or methods to act upon a message, lack of a singular clear authority, not knowing who to trust, vetting sources, knowing what knowledge is valid when faced with conflicting information or ideas, especially when they go against existing beliefs. We agreed that it is always a challenge (though absolutely necessary) to set our own perspective aside in order to develop sincere understanding.
We also discuss when less is more to make a message clearer and less open to interpretation, but also in a very Orwellian way, how this can also go entirely wrong. What authorities supersede our own independent search for truth? From a Global Politics perspective, an important idea raised was that “just because the more powerful perspective dominates the landscape doesn’t mean that the less powerful perspective is less meaningful.” From a Graphic design perspective, to communicate messages, raise awareness, what is the best way to communicate so that it is not misinterpreted? How can we avoid adding to misinformation? What are the basics of communication to begin with? This was a challenging question and (as many knowledge questions) we ended with even more questions than we started with! Thanks for listening, I hope you found it thought provoking.
Host: Emily Osann
Guests: Bill Kyzner, Garrett McKee
Music: Emily Osann
Mandarin speakers, this is the second episode just for you! In this podcast, Sun Laoshi asked, "What is history? To what extent can we explore the truth of history? If historical truth is difficult to verify, does that mean that various versions of that historical event are equally acceptable? What factors influence your acceptance of an interpretation of a historical event?”
With these questions in mind, we invited teachers Zhang Qiong, Miao Xiaolong, and Li Xiaoxi to contribute to this Episode of TOK Talk - our second Chinese Podcast in our growing effort to share bilingual resources about TOK. I hope you enjoy this episode!
Once again, I would especially like to thank Wang Mei Tyng Laoshi for the beautiful original musical composition especially prepared for this podcast.
Hosts: 孫秀東 Xiudong Sun & Emily Osann
Recently I met with Naomi Chevannes who teaches Design Technology here in Hong Kong. We discussed TOK Exhibition Prompt 15: What constraints are there on the pursuit of knowledge? Breaking this down we discussed constraints such as access, tools, time, language, personal experience, motivation, perspectives, funding… We found possible divisions of these constraints such as inner and outer constraints, as well as an elegant distinction between constraints to the pursuit of knowledge which are within or without our control. We talked about knowledge as a buffet, and contrasted that with a famine (we may have gotten a little carried away with our food metaphor, as we were meeting just before lunch!! I really enjoyed this conversation, so thank you so much to Naomi for taking time out of a busy day to sit down and talk TOK with me.
This is the first of a series of Bilingual TOK Talk Podcasts! Today I met with four Chinese speaking colleagues to discuss the question: 具有不同文化及語言背景的人們是否生活在不同的世界中? “Do people with different cultural or language backgrounds live in different worlds?”
Sun Laoshi led this conversation, and together we met with Liu Yu, Zhang Qiong Laoshi and Bai Laoshi. These teachers shared their understanding of this topic from multiple perspectives based on their own personal experience. Sun and I personally benefited a lot from this discussion, and I look forward to more Chinese teachers participating in this series in the future.
I would especially like to thank Wang Mei Tyng Laoshi for the beautiful original musical composition especially prepared for this podcast.
Today I’m joined for another session by Ms. Virginia Voigt, Psychology teacher and we discussed TOK Exhibition Prompt 12: Is Bias inevitable in the production of knowledge?
Since we’re human (and we're biased even when we try to be aware of our own biases), and knowledge is made by and for humans, the logical deduction here would be that yes, bias is inevitable. We don’t stop with this though, we unpack this question through the lens of Psychology, a field that strives to be as aware as possible and remove bias through stringent measures.
Our conversation today reminds me very much of Thoreau’s quote I have on my refrigerator “It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see”. I’m left wondering that if bias is inevitable to some extent, is bias necessarily a bad thing? Or, if it is unavoidable, what can we do about this? Another topic we discuss is the bias of language, and the fact that we’re holding this conversation in English, and the problems that come along with this.
Kudos (my favorite granola bar as a kid) to Bernard for the music once again. Seriously, if I can find a kudos bar, it’s yours. Thank you.
Link from our discussion well worth the listen:
14 Biases (Master Class)
In this episode, I met with one of my favourite teachers here in HK, Anastasia Stitch. She is a DP History teacher & examiner, and she holds a Masters of International and Public Affairs from University of Hong Kong, and was a DP History student herself. Looking through a Historical lens, I was really interested to hear what she had to say about Exhibition Prompt 9: Are some types of knowledge less open to interpretation than others?
We explore the beauty of history, literature and arts as being constantly open to interpretation, and try to dig into what kinds of knowledge might not be as open to interpretation, even in these areas. We talk about the key methods of historiography, and how that plays a valuable role in interpretation of historical events, as well as the role of the historian in removing the subjective “I” and to consider a range of contrasting evidence to get a sense of what took place. We get in deep in this one about the nature of knowledge in history and the role of interpretation. Hope you enjoy it and it gets you thinking a little more about the history you know!
And again, thank you Bernard Wun for the music!
After we finished the last episode, Kevin Hoye and I kept our conversation going about each of the titles, and I decided to keep the mic on to capture our conversation in the form of a quick little bonus episode to point out some things to watch out for and some interesting bits about each of the 6 titles. Class of 2023 TOK students… listen up!
Again, thank you random musicians on this track… speaking of which, if you’re a musician and would like to be featured,reach out to me!
Today I enjoyed tea and talked some TOK with Kevin Hoye (IB English Literature and TOK Teacher) about 2023 TOK Essay Title 5: Are visual representations always helpful in the communication of knowledge? Discuss with reference to the human sciences and mathematics. We talked a lot about different ways into understanding this question, beginning with ∞
Thank you to the random street Shanghai musician, once again for the music bringing us in and out of this track.
In this episode, I sat down with Donna Gee (IB Design Technology Teacher) and Michael Stewart (IB Psychology and TOK Teacher) to unpack and wrestle with 2023 TOK Essay Title 1: Is replicability necessary in the production of knowledge? Discuss with reference to two areas of knowledge.
We had a rich discussion which I hope you’ll find insightful into the role and relevance of replicability in different Areas of Knowledge.
In this episode, I talked to Ian Galley (IBDP English Language & Literature) Nicole Mamphey (Science and Applied Ethics) about TOK Essay Title 3: Does it matter if our acquisition of knowledge happens in “bubbles” where some information and voices are excluded? Discuss with reference to two areas of knowledge.
We had a rich discussion about “bubbles'' as they exist in social media networks and internet platforms as well as within academia, algorithms, and how this contributes to, enhances and distorts our bubbles. We also discussed many of the real world consequences (why it matters!) that what we’re learning may occur in these bubbles.
We discussed relevant ideas including retracted findings of psychology and vaccination studies, bubbles in comedy and how it fits with the Benign Violation Theory, perspectives and the Soldier vs. Scout Mindset by Julia Galef, Spiral of Silence Theory and the social tendency to reinforce bubbles and silences descending voices, and the Metaverse. We discuss the difference between a community and a bubble: which one is more open to other ideas? How do they overlap?
We unpack and explore: Does it matter (to who? for what?) Does it matter to our acquisition of knowledge? Does it matter to the voices that are excluded? We challenge the notion that science is objective, and discuss how even in the sciences we want to reinforce what fits our own perspective and beliefs. We also begin to discuss voices that are excluded: silenced voices - why this matters!
In this episode, I met with Dr. PS and Janka Steinkamp (both IB English teachers to talk about Essay Title 4: Do you agree that it is “astonishing that so little knowledge can give us so much power” (Bertrand Russell)? Discuss with reference to the natural sciences and one other area of knowledge.
I hope you find this episode as interesting as we did. If you’re looking for the TOK Essay Title Posters I mentioned, you can find them here.
“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance” (Confucius in 500 BC)
Today I had a really insightful discussion with IB Theatre teacher, Alex Campion. We talked about May 2023 TOK Essay Title 6: To what extent is the knowledge we produce determined by the methodologies we use? Discuss with reference to history and one other area of knowledge.
Of course we talked about the Arts, attempting to give light to artistic methods in contrast with "the scientific method". I really enjoyed this one, and hope it leaves you thinking a little about the connection between the way we choose to produce knowledge and the impact it has on what we know. Stay tuned for more of these Essay Title discussions in the next few weeks!
Today I had a coffee with Bill Kyzner and Bob Scheer and we unpacked the 2023 May Title 2: For artists and natural scientists, which is more important: what can be explained or what cannot be explained? Discuss with reference to the arts and the natural sciences. Questions that arose included: When does one become an “artist” or “scientist”? What does it mean to “explain”? Important for the artist/scientist to do what? So many different questions and ideas came up as we talked, I hope this gives you some food for your TOK thought!
Today I met with Dr. Rachel Oser, (Science Teacher) & 孫秀東 Xiudong Sun, (Chinese Literature and TOK Teacher) to talk about Exhibition Prompt 8: To what extent is certainty attainable? This was a really interesting episode for me firstly, because we begin by contrasting the idea of certainty in Religious knowledge and Science… This is something I find very delicate to explore through the lens of TOK. Secondonly, the episode was especially interesting because it was my first English & Chinese bilingual episode! I hope to do more of these in the future. I have added a translation of some of the sections where I thought clarity would help. I hope I have translated well enough to keep the integrity of Sun’s ideas, as well as to make it understandable to an English listener.
Some key quotes and ideas from this episode include:
Benjamin Franklin: “Nothing is certain but death and taxes” which Sun said was similar to “我唯一确定的事情是什么都不确定” The only thing of which I can be certain is that I’m not certain of anything.
"There are a thousand hamlets in a thousand people's eyes" in relation to Shakespeare… which brought up a discussion of Hamlet through a Taoist lens, and how this brings up the problem of lenses and certainty. We discuss certainty in the Arts in relation to good and bad interpretations.
Later we talk about issues that pertain to certainty have to do with our perspectives, replicability, tools and the limits of our human experience, raising the question Why do we need certainty? What is the role of doubt?
a few key Chinese words I learned from our conversation:
物种起源 wùzhǒng qǐyuán Darwin's Origin of Species
怀疑论者 huáiyí lùn zhě skeptic
不可知论准 bù kězhīlùn zhǔn agnostic
Once again, thank you Bernard Wun for bringing us in and out of this episode with your guitar!
To unravel this question, I met with Sarah Rodgers (DP Chemistry & MYP Science Teacher) & Alice Brookes (DP Bio & MYP Science Teacher). Together, we talk about a range of reasons we might doubt claims that are made about knowledge, and conversely what might make knowledge claims more trustworthy. We touch upon a variety of criteria, and discuss issues related to science, doubt in the time of Darwin when religion ran the world, the conflicting information about nutrition, as well as the current political climate in areas around the globe. It’s always fascinating to talk with people from different areas of the world, especially international teachers because we see things from both our own culture, our host culture, and sometimes a third global perspective as well.
Are we immune from the challenge of doubting the norm? Should we really doubt everything? Should we question everything? Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day? These are important questions to consider and I hope you take some time to think about the things you take for granted and where you’ve developed “cognitive ease” around what you believe.
Cognitive Ease a 5 min youtube video summing up Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow section on Cognitive Ease
Once again, thank you Bernard Wun for music to bring us in and out of today’s discussion.