TOK Tuesdays

Exploring PT 4 – Plunging In

This is the fourth of six TOK Tuesdays posts that briefly explore various nuances and concepts associated with each of the May 2020 TOK prescribed titles.  In each post I will highlight a few specific themes that students may wish to consider related to each title, themes that are fleshed out in considerable detail, together with specific examples, in the corresponding Titled Assistance video available directly on Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal.  Subscribers might wish to regard these posts as high-level summaries of those videos, illuminating large-scale structural motivations that can further assist students both before and after watching the associated Ideas Roadshow Titled Assistance video. 

Today we tackle prescribed title 4.  Once again it’s worth emphasizing that these thoughts, together with those in the related Titled Assistance video, are strictly personal opinions and are designed to highlight key conceptual points associated with each title rather than provide any particular thesis or response to the title in question. 

Generally speaking, I’m a big fan of analysis: when faced with a complex problem I like to take things apart and reduce them to their simplest building blocks. This might be my physics training, or (to invoke a typical TOK-type of inversion), it might well be that my particular orientation and outlook made me more susceptible to those sorts of activities, like physics, which explicitly invoke the sorts of investigatory approaches that I felt most comfortable with. 

Well, whatever. The point worth stressing here, I think, is that the analytical approach, like all others, has its natural limits: there are many times when it succeeds, but many others when it does not, or at least doesn’t fit the problem at hand as well as other avenues.

Which brings me, in a roundabout sort of way, to PT 4, which is all about the issue of giving one’s take on the role of analogy. What does it do? What are its limits?  What does it not do?  What does it depend on?  

A strictly analytic approach would involve a detailed examination of the relevant words in the title, such as “understanding”, “justification”, “role” and so forth in an attempt to develop appropriate definitions and frameworks that one could then “apply” somehow to the notion of an analogy, and see what happens.  

There are several major hurdles to this approach however, certainly including the slipperiness of defining the key terms in question and their variability due to context.  But by far the biggest problem in my view is that, to weigh in on the role of analogy, you really have to wade into considering actual analogies themselves. In other words, this is not a title that particularly lends itself to a detailed abstract analysis of key terms, but rather one that clearly requires plunging in to the world of analogies and carefully assessing what they are doing, and not doing, in various circumstances.

To use an analogy here (who could resist?): investigating the role of analogies without explicitly invoking specific analogies is like learning how to swim from a textbook.

 Which makes it all the more ironic that the detailed PT 4 Titled Assistance Video I’ve just completed does actually present things in a rather analytical fashion: outlying a framework, highlighting key terms and issues and so forth. Why on earth would I do such a thing? Well, because as any teacher knows, there’s often a real difference between getting a handle on something and deciding how to most coherently and concisely describe it to others. The way I went about exploring the issue for myself, unsurprisingly, was by considering lots and lots of different specific analogies and trying to sort out what each of them were doing. Once you’ve done that enough times, you start getting a hang of how to group things in a reasonably coherent way: these sorts of things do that, those sorts of things do this, and so forth. 

But going through such an exercise in a video would likely make for a pretty boring and incoherent experience, bombarding people with example after example and then waiting for a pattern to somehow emerge. Of course, one could always simulate such an approach (deliberately choosing a string of examples that highlight different aspects and characteristics), but I think that runs a serious risk of making things look a bit too ad hoc.   

So when you watch our PT 4 video you will notice two things:

  • There are more than three times as many examples in this Titled Assistance video than any of the others.
  • It is, correspondingly, significantly longer than any of the others, coming in at just over 40 minutes.  

While this title has its challenges like any other, that’s not because it’s so obviously the most complicated.  It’s because if you want to learn to swim, at some point you simply have to get wet.  

The Titled Assistance – Supporting PT 4 video is now available on Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal to all individual subscribers and subscribing schools.  It can be found in the Student TOK section, TOK Teachers section and general Theory of Knowledge section (under “TOK Compilations”).  It provides a detailed discussion of PT 4 with 15 specific examples from Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP resources to highlight the concepts under discussion.

For information about an affordable individual teacher or student subscription which provides full access to Ideas Roadshow’s IBDP Portal, including all Titled Assistance videos PT 1-6 please visit our website, for students: here, and for teachers: here.


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