Foundations, our first Big Question for the 2022 TOK core theme, asks, ‘How do I become a knower about the world?’ It looks at the nature of knowledge, and different methods we use to understand the world
The Big Questions (BQs) are our framework for exploring and understanding the TOK themes and areas of knowledge, with each one considering a different aspect of knowledge, and how it is acquired. As we discuss on the main page for the core theme, the BQ approach offers several major advantages over other ways of delivering TOK.
The BQs should definitely not be viewed as self-contained entities. For example, the scope of knowledge (considered within BQ1) changes fundamentally over time (the focus of BQ5). The way ideas are communicated (BQ3) relates to the perspectives and biases of the knower (BQ4), and the values they may possess (BQ2). Being an expert knower (BQ6) involves being aware of all these relationships.
There are many other ways in which the BQs overlap and inter-relate, something that students can think about as they use the BQ framework to navigate their way through the TOK course. The BQs should also be viewed as prompts rather than prescriptive questions, to encourage exploration, rather than seek a definitive answer.
KQs on the foundation points of knowing
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.
Good KQs should be about how we know about the world, rather than what we know about the world (in other words, second-order knowledge, rather than first-order knowledge), which is what distinguishes TOK from the other DP courses. Sometimes the difference between these types of knowledge is difficult to distinguish, but you’ll get better at it with practice, as you progress through the course.
The KQs below relate to our first Big Question for the core theme, ‘Foundations’. Note that many of them link to other themes, areas of knowledge, and BQs, so one of the first things you could consider is how they relate to, and impact on, other aspects of the course.
Quotes on the foundation points of knowing
These quotes offer definitions about the foundation points of knowing, and the different ways we ascertain our knowledge. They identify various different processes which we can draw on to produce knowledge, including imagination, reason and logic, sensory perception, intuition and instinct, and memory. Members will find questions on these quotes in the Exploration Points section below.
e. e. cummings
Knowledge, the object of knowledge and the knower are the three factors that motivate action; the senses, the work and the doer comprise the threefold basis of action.
If we look at the realm of knowledge, how exceedingly small and limited is that part acquired through our own senses; how wide is that we gain from other sources.
The first and simplest emotion that we discover in the human mind is curiosity.
Man is a reasoning rather than a reasonable animal.
All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason.
Nothing can be found in the intellect if previously has not been found in the senses.
We live on the leash of our senses.
The two operations of our understanding, intuition and deduction, on which alone we have said we must rely in the acquisition of knowledge.
Mankind are governed more by their feelings than by reason.
Memory is the fourth dimension to any landscape.
Intuition is the clear conception of the whole at once.
Johann Kaspar Lavater
Intuition is a suspension of logic due to impatience.
Rita Mae Brown
Reason is the natural order of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.
C. S. Lewis
Where the senses fail us, reason must step in.
It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this.
Man is a rational animal who always loses his temper when he is called upon to act in accordance with the dictates of reason.
Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.
What we hold in our heads – our memory, our feelings, our thoughts, our sense of our own history – is the sum of our humanity.
We know the truth, not only by the reason, but also by the heart.
To imagine is everything, to know is nothing at all.
Foundation points of knowing in a real-world context
Below you’ll find a range of engaging media sources (articles, podcasts, videos, etc.) that place the foundation points of knowledge within a real-world context. Members will find a list of key terms related to these sources, as well as questions and unpacking suggestions, within the Exploration Points section.
Objective & subjective views of reality
Source 1 A BBC/Open University video, looking at how we all construct reality based on our past experiences and the expectations these create.
Source 2 A Big Think article, in which Donald Hoffman argues we have evolved to experience a “collective delusion”.
Source 3 An Aeon essay, considering how we see what we expect to see.
Source 4 This short Atlantic video explains how what we see around us is actually constructed (or ‘hallucinated’) by us individually, and is therefore a subjective rather than objective reality.
Source 5 This BBC article asks a simple question – “Why do we enjoy looking at magic?”, particularly given that we know that ‘magic’ doesn’t exist. It considers areas that overlap with psychology – perception, attention and how we process information.
Knowing and the senses
Source 6 A FiveThirtyEight article, looking at some of the loudest places on earth – that we can’t hear.
Source 7 The yanny vs laurel audio illusion was huge viral hit; this Guardian article considers the reasons why.
Dreams and imagination
Source 8 A Guardian article, exploring the extent to which we can draw on dreams to provide us with knowledge about the world.
Source 9 This short Guardian article looks at the case of Mia Tomova, who has aphantasia, a condition which means she cannot visualise things in her mind.
Knowing and memory
Source 10 This Guardian video looks at the reliability (or not) of memory, and the implications of how false memories can be implanted in our minds.
Source 11 This Independent article considers the reliability of memory, and its relationship with other ways of knowing, such as imagination and language.
Source 12 This accessible BBC article runs through some of the ways in which memory is fallible, and how we often misunderstand this way of knowing.
Source 13 This very short Guardian article nonetheless poses an excellent question: what proportion of our memory (specifically our earliest memories) are actually fictional, and actually based on photographs and anecdotes?
Philosophical approaches to knowing
Source 14 An Aeon essay, that looks at the pragmatic theory of truth, and evaluates its usefulness in helping us produce knowledge.
Exploration points (Full Access Members)
The exploration points – which are only visible to Full Access Members of the site – help students to process the ideas found on this page, and interlink this aspect of TOK with other elements of the course. Join us to gain access!
Get in touch with us about the 2022 TOK course, our membership options, or any other aspect of TOK, using the contact form below. Find out who we are on this page, and what people have been saying about us here.