TOK #23 – Knowledge can be produced in History

Evaluate the following claim:

While there are a myriad of problems faced by Historians, knowledge can still be produced.

I would agree that there are many problems that Historians have to face in the production of knowledge. Firstly, there are many assumptions made in trusting or recording past historian claims (before common documentation methods were established, or from old civilizations). There is danger in interpreting language, as well as questioning the validity of information left from so long time ago. Similarily, it is difficult to judge when to trust eyewitness accounts. In history, there are no tests for truth – we would not know whether the eyewitness was trying to deceive on purpose, or is believing that they saw something that didn’t actually happen.

Another problem with History is that oftentimes, only a few events or pieces of evidence is known. The gaps between these events are filled in with logic or reasoning by historians, constructing a narrative to make the story seemingly make sense. However, it brings up the question of validity and if things were left out. For example, recently scientists discovered a misassumption being made, where a grave was unearthed containing various weapons. It was immediately assumed by the archaeologists that it must have been a male Viking which warrior’s grave. However, in the past month scientists were able to use modern technology to extract DNA from the skeleton, and found out that the Viking was actually a female, trumping assumed gender roles in society.

Lastly, another difficulty that historians face would be trying to get all perspectives of an event. History often takes sides – the side of the winner. For example, what we know of World War II is pretty much that of the allied powers’ perspective – but how would the axis describe the events?. History is written by those who won, which makes it problematic.

While I’ve described several of the problems in deriving historical knowledge, this does not mean that knowledge cannot be created. It is still valuable to try and piece together a reconstructed version of the past – while biased, while some facts may be off, that is still more useful to humans than if no attempt was made. Furthermore, corroboration by many different sources can strengthen the reliability of historical claims.

TOK #22: Seven Reasons to Study History


  1. for patriotism: to strengthen sense of security and confidence in the future, as well as increase selflessness/steadfastness.
  2. to gain knowledge about society, in a sense like creating memories –  without knowledge society would be adrift.
  3. for human self-knowledge, to gain better understanding of us – through finding out what has been done, which defines humans.
  4.  as an intellectual pursuit: to search for truth + reasoning, which also helps humanity to improve.
  5. to gain different perspectives on human behavior, as well as understand the future better.
  6. to put today’s human societies into perspective.
  7. to better understand the present.

Ranking of compelling reasons: 2, 3, 4, 7, 5, 6, 1

I chose 2 to be the most compelling reason because the situation it posed had great impact. (try to imagine what everyday life would be like in a society in which no one knew any history). While the other reasons used complicated examples or fancy words, I found number 2 to be effective in it’s simplicity.

Suggest a refutation for the reason at the bottom of your list:
I would say that number 1 would be a compelling reason for someone who places a great deal of pride in their country and has a great sense of patriotism.


TOK #21 – History contains no facts, it is the creation of historians

In agreeing with this statement, it can be said that historians determine history, as in the information of what happened in the past. What we know about the past can be manipulated by historians, so it is relevant to question whether or not what they record is all true. It is common in history for what used to be accepted as facts to be debunked, so can we really accept everything we know about history as truth? Historians even disagree with each other on opposing “facts”. For example, there is a huge misconception that Christopher Columbus was the first person to discover America. Now, historians generally agree that it was Leif Erickson (an ancient north missionary) who first landed on Canadian shores almost 500 years before Columbus arrived in the Bahamas. Additionally, to further back-up the claim that history contains no facts is the problem of objectivity in the recount of various situations. Perhaps it can even be said that it is inevitable that bias will come into play in the description of events, therefore there are no facts in history. The same event can have multiple retellings by different historians. What we know of the past is not definite, but only the closest re-interpretation that historians can get to. In accepting this claim, the implication is that it’s now relevant to consider if it’s even valuable to study history if we do not consider it as a fact, or as truth.

The most obvious argument to go against this statement would be to say that there are some facts in history that cannot be argued against. For example, it is indisputable that the US declaration of independence was signed on July 4, 1776. That Nelson Mandela was South Africa’s first black president. This is not saying that all of history consists only of facts, but just recognizing that there is perhaps a mixture of debatable and non-debatable information. It could be said that history is not the creation of historians, rather it is created by people and historians are the documenters. When there is a corroboration of (many) several sources, then generally the information can be accepted as truth. The implications of taking this side would be that it raises the question of how do we separate fact from objective statement? Is there equal value in knowing both?

GEO HL TOK: Models

“All models are wrong but some are useful.”

Explain what this quote means with reference to specific models in your Group 3 and Group 4 subject.
A good response will also show awareness of differences and similarities between the two AOKs. This can be as simple as ‘one important difference between how useful models are in HS and NS is…’ or ‘models in both HS and NS are useful in that they…’

This quote criticizes the use of models in saying that they are inaccurate, but still in a way useful to learn. Models are inaccurate because they are, most of the time, huge oversimplifications of a concept. For example, in G11 biology we learn about the Kreb’s’ cycle, but are told that this is simply a generalization of what happens in the cell during this process – there are several underlying complex mechanisms part of other processes that is not included in the model that we learn. While the Kreb’s cycle diagram is not entirely accurate, it’s still useful to learn as we can now grasp a basic knowledge on this specific part of aerobic respiration. Therefore, models are relevant and is helpful in allowing learners to understand concepts at a basic level.

Another way that models are “wrong” is that no model can perfectly apply to any real life situation. Rather, models provide a more simplified, general version of the truth. For example, the demographic transition model (DTM) is used to show the population trends of a developing country. It is criticized for being outdated, as it was based off of the trends of a few countries in around the 1930s. While the DTM may have matched what happened in a few countries, it is largely inapplicable to other countries as each is a unique case with different histories. It is unrealistic to assume that every country will follow the DTM and develop in the same way, especially for developing countries today which are developing under different circumstances – being influenced by things such as globalisation. This being said, models can still be useful even if it doesn’t apply to all situations to the same dergee of accuracy – it’s still relevant to generalise trends and patterns to make sense of the world around us.

One important difference between how useful models are in HS and NS is that in HS, there are several more factors influencing the applicability of models due to the complexity of human behavior. In HS, a myriad of factors are constantly affecting the validity of models – for example, a very inaccurate model taught in Geography is the doxey-irridex model. It states that as the number of tourists increase, the negative feelings of locals increase as well in an exponential manner. This completely ignores other relevant factors such as behavior of tourists, what activities they are doing, and anything else that can affect a local’s feelings. As such, the model is pretty unreliable. However, in contrast, models in the NS can generally be more reliable as scientific processes rarely differ too much between cases (with exceptions). For example, we learn about the stages of mitosis through diagrams of the 4 stages. These 4 stages and the mechanisms that happen in each stage are applicable to several different types of cells, from the division of liver to potato cells.

TOK #20: Comparing Human and Natural Science

Natural Science RQ + Investigation:
What is the chemical makeup of the ash?
The erupted volcanic ash will consist of jagged rock, minerals, and volcanic glass. Unlike the soft ash created by burning wood, volcanic ash is hard, abrasive, and does not dissolve in water.
Method(s)/tools of data collection:
Collect multiple samples of the erupted ash from several sites
Taking a specific mass, the ash can be processed in a centrifuge. The centrifuge will split up the ash into its separate components. Further analysis can be done by examining the ash molecules under a microscope.
Techniques for analysing your data:
Make sure the sample sizes are the same size for each trial. The samples should only consist of erupted ash.
Using a centrifuge. Conducting multiple repeatable trials. Analyse the makeup of different samples and come up with a judgment – are they all reasonably similar? is the makeup of ash from different regions different?

Human Science RQ + Investigation
In what ways did the eruption of Eldfell, Iceland (1973) create negative impacts on the economic activities of local citizens?
The town’s economy composed of a large agriculture sector, with villagers that had high dependency on livestock and crops. Due to low education and poverty, after the death of livestock and crops it is likely that villagers will return to the same job, to rebuild their houses and repurchase livestock.
Method(s)/tools of data collection:
Interviews will be conducted amongst those living near to volcano in such to provide qualitative evidence regarding economic impacts. These questions will include their jobs before and after the eruption. In addition to this, quantitative data can be conducted to compare economic activities before and after the eruption.
Techniques for analysing your data:
Conducting interviews of residents of varying ages and backgrounds, also can conduct collection of statistics on things such as unemployment rates. Perhaps organizing interview answers into similar categories – how many people all said this, or that in order to come up with the most widespread impacts.

Compare the reliability/certainty of the knowledge your experts will acquire.
It seems that the natural science expert would be able to gather knowledge that is more reliable, certain, and accurate than the data that the human science expert would acquire. For knowledge acquired in NS, data collection will be done mainly with machines or tools. The trials done for NS is repeatable, which is why there can be many repeated trials to ensure that the data is more reliable. In HS however, data is colelcted primarily by interviewing people that were directly affected by the eruption – while you may be able to interview many people, the things they say and the knowledge you gain about the economic impacts of the volcano will be different, as everyone is in a unique situation. Additionally, the reliability may be more questionable as human recounts may not always be 100% truthful – whether it may be due to bad memory, or if the interviewees have a specific motive. 

Identify the factors that contribute to (or take away from) reliability/certainty.
Method of data collection (processing samples of natural substances vs hearing human statements – humans are more subjective).
Repeatability (would increase reliability). 

Suggest ways that Human Scientists can increase the reliability of their claims.
Perhaps there can be more focused placed onto statistics rather than subjective claims. For example, instead of interviewing people if they had to switch occupations after the erruption, or how long it took them to recover, data on unemployment rates or the costs of repair would be more reliable. 

)What can you say ‘in general’ about HS as an AOK.
Human Sciences is an area of knowledge that focuses on examining the way in which humans behave. HS is different from NS particularly in the method of data collection – while HS relies on more empircal observations, NS is based off of more repeatable data and uses reasoning. 

TOK #19: Math: Discovered or invented Reflection

Presentation Link


  1. In your opinion, in which (if any) other AOKs does it make sense to also ask the question of discovered/invented?
    I think that in religious knowledge systems it would be reasonable to ask if the knowledge is discovered/invented. Followers of their respective religions would obviously believe that their beliefs were not invented, but from an atheist’s point of view, religious knowledge is not reliable/useful because they don’t believe in it. To a Christian, the holy bible documents the tales and scriptures – having been discovered, this book has then been translated into practically all languages. However, to everyone who does not believe in God the bible is just a collection of stories. It is also not possible for all knowledge within this AOK to all be true / discovered – the different religions have beliefs and ideals that contradict – thus, it makes sense to ask the question of discovered/invented. 

2. What do you make of the term ‘a useful fiction’? To which AOK(s) do you think this idea may also apply?
I think that the term “a useful fiction” means something that we made up and may not necessarily be true, but nonetheless is still helpful. For example, in religious knowledge systems some may consider the bible to be a work of fiction. However, to millions worldwide, this work of “fiction” is certainly useful – it gives strength to believers, inspires them, comforts them, and serves as a central part of many’s lives.

TOK #17: Math Scope

  1. What is the difference between a conjecture and a theorem?
    It’s a conjecture is a proposition made in math, a conclusion that has not yet been proven. When proof is found, a conjecture becomes known as a theorem. The theorem then is something that is eternally true and will last forever. 


  1. In THE VIDEO  Eduardo Saenz de Cabezon uses the example of people being surprised that folding a normal piece of paper 50 times, will reach a thickness as high as the sun. He challenges us to ‘do the math’ and see that he is correct. What do you think meant when he said that Maths dominates intuition and tames creativity? Do you agree with this?
    I agree with this. Mathematics is both about logical and illogical thinking. Paradoxes are a central part of math, and they are defined as a seemingly contradictory statement. Paradoxes go against intuition, so thus it can be said that math dominates intuition, by using logic and reason to uncover truths. I think that math tames creativity because it’s focused on using abstract reasoning as a method of finding proof – there are no multiple interpretations, or inventive types of thinking. There only exists definite truths (if it’s a theorem).


  1. Saenz de Cabezon claims that the truths in maths are eternal. Do you think this gives maths a privileged position in TOK?
    I think that this does give math a privileged position in TOK as one of the areas of knowledge where truths are definite and absolute. This is in comparison to other AOKs, like the natural sciences for example where conclusions are always being disproven and nothing is clear-cut. Many of the common rules we learn in science turn out to be imperfect, and many exceptions exist. For example, one of the main rules of cell theory is that all living cells are made of cells that are fundamental unit of life, but viruses, which are considered alive, are not made up of cells. These types of discrepancies and exceptions are very common. In this regard, math can be regarded as superior because the knowledge can be considered more trustworthy or reliable.

TOK #16: Comparing Arts and Science

Art vs Science Summary
Both art and science convey truth. There are different definitions of truth – first, there are factual and informative ones that are provided by areas of knowledge such as history or science. For example, names, dates, statistics, concepts  – unemotional reports on causes, effects, and events. The second, and more important definition is the emotional side of truth, the part that tells us something about humanity. It’s the conveyance of the tendencies and experiences of the human condition. This type of fundamental truth can only be conveyed through the arts. For example, in a history book you can read about what happened during the Vietnam War – the causes of it, the statistics of how many were hurt. However, this is not the whole image of the Vietnam War – through photographs and paintings is where you can find the pain and anguish felt by the Vietnamese. This emotional truth is just as, if not more important as scientific truths.

Art and Truth Summary
It is wrong to place the responsibility of “conveying truth” onto the arts. The truth in question is a more abstract, emotional truth about humanity deeper than simply factually true statements. Art is unique and is seen to have that responsibility because of it’s special form of communication – the type of truth it addresses cannot be chalked down into a few statements, it’s something that simply cannot be put into words. And perhaps it shouldn’t be – there is no need to find truth in art, because in doing so the whole value of what is being conveyed would be diminished. Art should not be reduced to a source of finding true statements.

How do both of these essays reflect what is presented in chapter reading about truth in art?
The first essay restates what is written in the chapter reading about the different types of knowledge/truth that is conveyed from science vs art. Going further however, the reading questions the validity of truth in art – because it’s such a subjective to the artist, can it still be considered the truth? Artists also like to create completely unrealistic creations, so is it still conveying knowledge? There are different true emotional experiences that can be found in a piece of art, but it seems to depend on the individual who looks at the work.

TOK #15 – Arts

Do you think that theories such as the elements and principles of design or the Darwinian explanation of art proposed by Dutton mean that beauty is not in the eye of the beholder?

Provide claims with examples in support of this KQ, and counter-claims and examples.

Support Claim:
Yes, because the Darwinian explanation of art describes how, as humans, we have been wired to find beauty in certain shapes or designs. This means that beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, as to some extent the idea of aesthetic has been predetermined for us. Darwin taught us that evolution operates through natural selection and sexual selection, with the latter being the focus. Sexual selection is the idea that a mate is chosen because of a physical factor that makes them seem more attractive to the partner. In the case of peacocks, a more alluring, colorful tail would attract peahens. From this example, animals have been shown to desire common qualities of beauty, to make adaptive decisions for reproduction. Another object that is wired into our brains to view as beauty comes from prehistoric artifacts. Acheulian hand axes are stone tools dating back two and a half million years. Although the tools have been around for thousands of centuries, it was not until our ancestors started shaping the stone into a thin blade, or rounded oval, that the crude tool became an object of beauty. Perhaps there was an attraction to the symmetrical pointed leaf or teardrop shape, the smoothness of the material, or the lustre – but these axes have been unearthed by the thousands all over the earth. Examination shows that the tools weren’t just used as tools – without evidence of wear on the delicate blade edges, it proves that these were kept around for admiration. While there are regional preferences or tastes in aesthetics, there are some objects that are universally acknowledged to be representative of beauty – jewels, gold, ores.  Therefore, beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, rather, our sense of beauty has been passed down from distant ancestors.

No, theories such as the elements and principles of design do not disprove the statement that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What the elements and principles stand for is just fundamental components or ideas on any visual work. They certainly are not a set of guidelines or rules for an artist to follow in order to create an appealing work of art. People can still form their own preferences to what they consider aesthetic within the elements and principles. For an easy example, some people prefer blue over red. Some may like the use of dominance, while others think that a repetitive artwork is nicer to look at. Because people can form their own biases and opinions within the elements and principles of art, beauty remains in the eye of the beholder.