Examples to Avoid in ToK Essays
In Theory of Knowledge we always encourage you to use original evidence. It's always more interesting when a student uses an example (a quote, a story, a fact) that we haven't heard of before.
Original "evidence" in your essays doesn't necessarily make them better essays, but it does suggest that you've taken some time with your research and not just using the first thing you found in a last-minute Google search.
The best examples can be the worst --because they're just so darn good.
So again we do tell our students to use "original evidence", but for the student it can be hard to know what is original. As teachers we might see some of the same examples used every year. But it would be hard for a student who is new to the subject to know to know which examples to avoid.
Good examples of bad examples
The May 2016 ToK Subject report has come to the rescue, with a list of some common examples you might want to avoid. It's not mandatory to avoid these examples, but it could improve your mark.
And just to be clear, these examples are in this list for a reason. They really are great examples, so you might decide you do want to include one of them in your essay. If you do, just be sure to explain it very clearly and use it in a way that it helps you answer the prescribed title.
Here's the official list:
1. Serendipitous discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming
2. Mark Rothko and environmental influences on his work
3. String theory and the role of evidence in the sciences
4. Margaret Mead's perspective during fieldwork in Samoa
5. The human aspects of the story of the discovery of DNA and of its structure from Friedrich Miescher to James Watson, Francis Crick and Rosalind Franklin
6. Bloodletting as an example of an obsolete practice in medical science
7. The value of the Enigma code and the work of Alan Turing
8. Alchemy as the necessary precursor to modern chemistry
9. Pablo Picasso and Guernica
10. Vincent van Gogh and Starry Night
11. Leonardo da Vinci, the Mona Lisa and Vitruvian Man
12. Isaac Newton and the compatibility of his scientific achievements and his religious orientation
13. Persistence of "anti-vaxxers" despite the exposure of Andrew Wakefield's claims in relation to MMR vaccine as fraudulent
14. The applications of imaginary numbers
15. Ludwig van Beethoven's deafness and reliance on "feeling"
16. Rounding of numbers (eg pi) as examples of simplification and inaccuracy in mathematics
17. Polynomials, factorisation and complexity
18. Music therapy as an application of knowledge in the arts
19. Different notations and ways of doing differentiation from Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz
20. Thomas Edison and the invention of the light bulb
21. The Hiroshima bomb versus nuclear fission reactors with respect to the value of knowledge
22. Work in number theory by Pythagoras, Pierre de Fermat and Andrew Wiles
23. Membrane structure from Davson/Danielli to Singer/Nicholson and the fluid mosaic model
24. Galileo Galilei’s house arrest and Pope John Paul II's admission of error in 1992
25. Friedrich Wöhler’s blow to vitalism with the non-biological synthesis of urea
26. Atomic theories from John Dalton to JJ Thompson to Ernest Rutherford to Niels Bohr to Erwin Schrödinger
27. Elizabeth Loftus and John Palmer on language and eye witnesses
28. Francesco Redi, Louis Pasteur and the disproof of spontaneous generation
29. Alfred Wegener and continental drift
30. Lera Boroditsky’s article on Australian aboriginal orientation
31. Caloric vs kinetic theory with respect to "natural selection" in scientific knowledge
32. Leonhard Euler's equation allegedly having value without application
33. Development of heliocentrism from Aristarchus to Copernicus
34. Thalidomide prescribed for morning sickness and leprosy
35. The outcomes of the work of Fritz Haber for fertilizer and explosives
36. The Riemann hypothesis, large primes and Internet security
37. The Treaty of Versailles and the subsequent rise of Nazism in Germany
38. George Orwell's perspective as presented in Animal Farm
39. Thomas Young’s double-slit experiment and wave-particle duality in physics
40. The ethics of Edward Jenner's work on smallpox and vaccination
41. August Kekulé's dream and the structure of benzene
42. Antonio Damasio and somatic marker theory
43. Fritz Fischer and the alleged causes of WWI
44. Occam's razor with respect to Albert Einstein’s special relativity and Hendrik Lorentz’s ether
45. Gregor Mendel and overly neat experimental results for segregation and independent assortment (also Robert Millikan and determination of the electric charge on the electron)
46. Jackson Pollock’s art and the use of WOKs
47. The Amish and rejection of modern technology
48. The Phillips curve and transient accuracy in economics
49. Lock-and-key and induced fit models of enzyme action
50. Spherical and hyperbolic geometries as perspectives in mathematics
51. Confirmation bias and persistent error in the accepted human chromosome number
52. CERN and the Higgs boson as applied knowledge
53. Standard rival interpretations of the Cold War: traditional, revisionist, post-revisionist
54. Albert Einstein and the cosmological constant
55. Edwin Hubble and expansion of the universe
56. Ignaz Semmelweis and childbed fever
57. Conventional current and electron flow
58. The Nanjing massacre and perspectives
59. Alfred Adler and schemas in psychology as the basis for perspectives
60. Biston betularia and industrial melanism as an example of natural selection
61. Detection of gravitational waves in accordance with predictions from Einstein’s theory of general relativity
62. Feynman diagrams and quantum electrodynamics with respect to simplicity and understanding
63. Physiology from Galen to the discovery of blood circulation by William Harvey
64. The complexity of the chemistry of photosynthesis as presented at various stages of education
65. The patient’s “perspective” in connection with the use of placebos in medical testing
66. Heinrich Hertz and the subsequent application of radio waves
My full ToK Essay Mastery course is here (step-by-step videos, templates and tips) if you’d like a big boost with your essay– including the May 2016 Prescribed Titles.
The following structure is a foolproof, step-by-step method you can use on any ToK essay to get very high marks.
It works really well, to give you a strong foundation for your essay. And once you have this in place you can challenge your own thinking and consider ways you can make your essay as insightful as possible.
(I’ve also done this for the TOK presentation, here).
Before you can begin your real/final essay, you’ll need to take the title (something like: “What is it about mathematics that makes it convincing?” and come up with a Knowledge Question (KQ) that turns the title into a question of knowledge. For example, “To what extent is math more reliable than other areas of knowledge?”).
In my ToK Mastery Course I encourage you to begin the KQ with words like: “To what extent…”,” “How do we know that…,” “How reliable is…,” “How certain is…” These kind of open questions allow you to pull in multiple perspectives (AoK’s and WoK’s, as we’ll talk about), so you can show your TOK thinking. Also, make sure that your question is directly related to knowing–that it is a question about knowledge (not about Sociology, for example).
Second, take your KQ and choose three aspects of knowledge you’re going to relate it to: any of the Areas of Knowledge (Mathematics, Human sciences, Natural sciences, the Arts, Ethics, and History) or the Ways of Knowing (Sense perception, Reason, Emotion, Language). Then you can explore these in your essay.
Each body section will look at another area of knowledge or way of knowing. To explore the KQ we came up with above, let’s use Mathematics, Natural Science and Ethics as our three aspects. Each of these parts can be thought of as arguments you’re making. Think of a court case. Your lawyer will make the case that you can’t be guilty of robbing the bank (her thesis), by using several arguments (claims); she’ll show that A-you weren’t there, B-you’re are a moral person and C-you don’t have the technical knowledge to pull off a job like that. However, if your lawyer was a ToK student they would also be explaining reasons why you might be guilty (the counterclaims). A-someone said they saw you there, B-you did lie to your mom about candy one time and C-you are pretty good at computers. The lawyers would use evidence to support each of these claims and counterclaims. Making sure your evidence actually supports your claim is one of the toughest aspects of the essay.
The formula has 4 sections and 7 paragraphs overall and specific aspects need to go in each. Section 1: The Introduction 150-200 words
–Give your KQ. For example, “To what extent is math more reliable than other areas of knowledge?”
–State your thesis. What is your short answer to the KQ (your question of knowledge). “While looking at mathematics, natural science and ethics, we will see that mathematics isn’t necessarily more reliable; however, we will see that knowledge is different in different fields.”
–Give us a roadmap, a sentence that gives us a preview, showing us what you’re going to do in your body paragraphs. Make it clear how you are going to explore the KQ, which Ways of Knowing and/or Areas of Knowledge you’re going to use. This will make it easy for the marker to know what to look for. An example: “Mathematics can be seen as more reliable because it uses reason. Natural science can be less reliable because it relies on observation. And ethics can be less reliable because it is related to the norms of a person’s society. ”
Section 2: Two paragraphs totalling 600 words
–Claim. A claim a topic sentence that outlines your argument about the KQ. For example you could claim that, “Mathematics can be relied on because it is a purely logical system.”
–Explain. Elaborate and clarify your claim. “Mathematics is axiomatic and independent of subjective experience.“
–Example. A real life example, to clarify and support the claim from your own experience. Examples should be personal, specific, precise and real. Did something happen in your Science class? Did you have a conversation with your or hear a story from your grandfather? These are evidence from your own life rather than examples from Darwin or Lincoln. So you could talk about how, “In mathematics we learned that the inside angles of a triangle, in Euclidian space, sum up to 180 degrees.”
–Counter-claim. Argue against your claim above. “However, it is possible to come to different conclusions using different systems of mathematics.”
–Example. An example that supports your counter claim. “There are different It is not possible to demonstrate that the interior angles of a triangle equal 180 degrees in Euclidian space, this cannot be proven within other systems, such as spherical geometry or hyperbolic geometry.”
–Link to KQ. Quickly sum up the (complicated) insights of this section. “It is therefore clear that mathematics is reliable to an extent, but often it can only show something to be true within one fixed system or approach.”
Section 3: Another two body paragraphs, looking at your second AoK or WoK. Write these using the same approach you saw in paragraphs 2 and 3. 600 words
–Link to KQ.
Section 4: Conclusion with two paragraphs totalling 200-250 words
–Implications and significance. Why is it important that we know about this?
–Perspective. Explain another view that someone may have (i.e. an older person, someone who’s had different life experiences than you)
–Sum up the argument. The thesis again, in short. What have we learned?
(My full ToK Essay program is here if you want/need a lot more help. It’s only available outside of Singapore Click Here. It expands on everything in this essay and takes it up a few levels. My online students are giving it great reviews. Feel free to join if you’d like. Or you can join our Facebook group for ToK students.)
Here are some more ToK Essay tips you might want to consider. (A big thank you to my ToK mentor, John Hellner who has helped me and encouraged me to develop and share this structure).
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