MODELLING THE TOK PRESENTATION (3)

TOK is intellectual mindfulness. It’s about being aware of the processes involved in formulating knowledge; it’s about being aware how belief, prejudice, desire, cowardly conformism and logical fallacies of all kinds will constantly sneak in, masquerading as knowledge. It’s about watching yourself think, observing how you enquire, observing how you accept premises and construct arguments upon them. I once had a student who said to me ‘Since doing TOK I’ve realized that all of my thinking – all of it – is based on fallacies.’ Give that girl an A.

As I get deeper and deeper into my chosen real-life situation (RLS), the Shakespeare authorship question, the more fascinating I find it. I’m aware that I’m spending too much time on it – probably more than any IB student could afford. I’m also aware than most of the information I’m accumulating will not fit into a ten minute presentation. So the more I learn, the more difficult I’m making the job of outlining the RLS. Do I need to go this deep? After all, this isn’t a research paper.

At the same time, I’m certain that for the Theory Of Knowledge presentation you need a topic that you are deeply interested in. If you’ve never developed a passionate intellectual interest in anything, then you’re going to be faking it right from the start. If your RLS is something that can be summed up in a few seconds, it’s way too thin: it’s something you haven’t thought your way into; it’s shallow; it’s trite. The presentation is about sharing your thinking – if there’s no thinking going on, yeah you’re in trouble.

You need to spend some time inquiring into your topic, so that you can observe what’s happening in your mind. TOK is intellectual mindfulness. It’s about being aware of the processes involved in formulating knowledge; it’s about being aware how belief, prejudice, desire, cowardly conformism and logical fallacies of all kinds will constantly sneak in, masquerading as knowledge. It’s about watching yourself think, observing how you enquire, observing how you accept premises and construct arguments upon them. I once had a student who said to me ‘Since doing TOK I’ve realized that all of my thinking – all of it – is based on fallacies.’ Give that girl an A.

Critical thinking means criticizing your own thinking. As I research, then, I try to be conscious of what’s happening around the edges of my attention. What effect is the material having on me? Why am I so interested in this? Why does it matter – why does it matter to me? What are the emotional drives behind my fascination? Do these emotions threaten the legitimacy of my conclusions?

Because I have drawn conclusions – tentatively at first, but by this point with more and more certainty. By now, having changed my mind several times, I’m getting to the point where I don’t think I’ll need to do so again, though I still need to understand more, and absorb the implications.

Can I trust my main conclusion? I think I now know who wrote Shakespeare. Is it knowledge, though, or merely belief? Does my choice of candidate satisfy some need in me? Is it really a question of who I want to be Shakespeare?

I’m also aware that this historical period – the Elizabethan era – exerts a particular pull on me. Why is that? Perhaps that would be an interesting direction to take – why is it that certain historical periods seem to have such glamour about them? What is the fascination of the past – and can we ever, ever arrive at truth uncontaminated by our own psychology and cultural background?

Questions, questions. Out of these I need to define one, or a group or progression of related questions. In the mean time, back to the candidates.

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Author: Paul Dunbar

I have worked in international schools for the past 15 years, teaching English Literature and Theory of Knowledge in Amsterdam, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City. I'm also a musician, and a bit of a writer. Since 2001 I have come to question literally everything, the default position for an uncrippled epistemologist.

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