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Natural sciences knowledge questions

Natural sciences knowledge questions

Knowledge questions (KQs) form the heart of the TOK course, and provide us with the opportunity to discuss, explore, and sometimes argue about the way in which we acquire, use, and evaluate our knowledge about the world.

Although the natural sciences knowledge questions that you see here link primarily to this area of knowledge, many of them link to other AOKs, and themes, so one of the first things to consider is how they relate to, and impact on, other aspects of the course.

Knowledge questions on the nature and scope of the natural sciences

  • These KQs on the natural sciences relate to Big Question 1, our first BQ unit for TOK
  • They also link to the nature and scope of the natural sciences, part of the IB’s knowledge framework
  • Good KQs ask how we know about the world (second-order knowledge), rather than what we know about the world (first-order knowledge)
  • Being able to tell the difference between first and second-order knowledge can be difficult, but it is the most important attribute of successful TOK thinking

What makes a field ‘scientific’?

Are the natural sciences characterised by their content, or method?

What is the relationship between the knowledge produced in the human and natural sciences?

To what extent is knowledge underpinned by unprovable assumptions in the natural sciences?

What is the purpose of the natural sciences?

Is knowledge in the natural sciences always produced via the ‘scientific method’?

How ‘error-proof’ is scientific research?

What is the role of induction and deduction in the production of scientific knowledge?

Is the (scientific) knowledge we find determined entirely by the questions we ask?

Knowledge questions on the relationship between the natural sciences and values

  • These KQs on natural sciences relate to Big Question 2, our second BQ unit for TOK
  • They also link to the natural sciences and ethics, part of the IB’s knowledge framework
  • Good KQs ask how we know about the world (second-order knowledge), rather than what we know about the world (first-order knowledge)
  • Being able to tell the difference between first and second-order knowledge can be difficult, but it is the most important attribute of successful TOK thinking

Is (/should) science be free of value judgements?

Does science develop at the same pace as ethical values?

Should we reject ideas and theories when they clash with our modern-day sensibilities?

Do ethical constraints help or hinder the production of useful scientific knowledge?

Do you agree that there is a danger in hero-worshipping certain figures in the natural sciences?

What is the difference between the evidence used to justify scientific and ethical claims?

Who should make the decisions about what is, and what isn’t ethically acceptable in the sciences?

Knowledge questions on the communication of ideas in the natural sciences

  • These KQs on the natural sciences relate to Big Question 3, our third BQ unit for TOK
  • They also link to methods, tools, and practices of natural sciences, part of the IB’s knowledge framework
  • Good KQs ask how we know about the world (second-order knowledge), rather than what we know about the world (first-order knowledge)
  • Being able to tell the difference between first and second-order knowledge can be difficult, but it is the most important attribute of successful TOK thinking

How should we simplify scientific ideas in order to represent them?

Can the language used to convey ideas and concepts in the natural sciences be precise enough to avoid ambiguity?

How can data visualizations be manipulated in order to spin the knowledge they communicate?

How does the way a scientific idea is communicated shape its validity?

How does it change our understanding of something when we (radically) alter our terminology related to it?

What role do metaphors play in our understanding of the natural sciences?

How do ‘shifting meanings’ complicate the way we approach debates in the natural sciences?

What are the most effective ways to convey scientific knowledge?

What is the role of classification in (scientific) knowledge?

Knowledge questions on natural sciences, perspectives, and context

  • These KQs on natural sciences relate to Big Question 4, our fourth BQ unit for TOK
  • They also link to perspectives & context related to the natural sciences, part of the IB’s knowledge framework
  • Good KQs ask how we know about the world (second-order knowledge), rather than what we know about the world (first-order knowledge)
  • Being able to tell the difference between first and second-order knowledge can be difficult, but it is the most important attribute of successful TOK thinking

Is scientific knowledge free from biases?

Can the production of scientific knowledge be tainted by cognitive biases?

What characteristics of knowledge within the natural sciences enable it to be shared by diverse groups of people?

How do developments in the natural sciences affect other areas of knowledge?

Who decides what is ‘mainstream’ science?

Do the natural sciences deal with knowledge that clashes with knowledge produced in indigenous societies?

To what extent is scientific knowledge the product of the society that creates it?

Does nationalism affect our ability to be objective about the natural sciences?

Knowledge questions on the creation of new ideas in the natural sciences

  • These KQs on natural sciences relate to Big Question 5, our fifth BQ units for TOK
  • They also link to methods, tools, and practices of natural sciences, part of the IB’s knowledge framework
  • Good KQs ask how we know about the world (second-order knowledge), rather than what we know about the world (first-order knowledge)
  • Being able to tell the difference between first and second-order knowledge can be difficult, but it is the most important attribute of successful TOK thinking

What are the implications of the assertion that “The Universe is under no obligation to make sense to you”?

Is new scientific knowledge created via the ‘shoulders of giants’, or ‘paradigm shifts’?

Do the natural sciences rely completely upon imagination?

Is the human tendency to compete with others a help or a hindrance to the acquisition of (scientific) knowledge?

Are new ideas created by accepting or rejecting existing knowledge?

Do you agree that “art makes you question the [scientific] reality around you”?

Is scientific knowledge only ever provisional?

To what extent do we depend on imagination to help us produce new knowledge in the natural sciences?

Do our ideas of what constitutes a natural science depend on the point of time, or cultural context?

Knowledge questions on becoming a discerning knower about the natural sciences

  • These KQs on natural sciences relate to Big Question 6, our final BQ unit for TOK
  • They also link to methods, tools, and practices of natural sciences, part of the IB’s knowledge framework
  • Good KQs ask how we know about the world (second-order knowledge), rather than what we know about the world (first-order knowledge)
  • Being able to tell the difference between first and second-order knowledge can be difficult, but it is the most important attribute of successful TOK thinking

Is science the most important form of knowledge?

Is having an open mind always beneficial for the way in which we gather knowledge in the human and natural sciences?

Who should decide on the way in which scientific knowledge is produced and used?

Is the objectivity of the natural sciences directly proportional to the extent to which it is based on mathematics?

Do expert scientists trust their intuition?

Can empirical knowledge blind us from scientific reality?

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