IB TOK & Thought Experiments

Almost every TOK teacher has surely had a moment like this trying to explain the course:


Part of what makes it challenging, is the fact that TOK is notoriously abstract (we call it second-order for a reason, don't we? 😏) IB has well, taken ample note of these allegations and has kindly introduced the exhibition- a task that basically asks students to take objects and connect them to TOK prompts -an assessment and a PR exercise for TOK rolled into one, count me impressed!


Enter: Thought Experiments. As long as I remember, I've been facilitating TOK with the help of these trusty flights of fantasy. For the uninitiated, a thought experiment is a way to challenge learners into pushing their mental muscles, bend and stretch the rules of logical thinking and reimagine what is possible.

Thought experiments have been around as long as thinkers themselves: from Plato's idea of 'a world of ideas', Descartes' 'how can one be certain one exists?' to Berkeley's 'would a tree make sound if it falls in a forest, and if there is no one around to hear it?'. You might have run a few thought experiments on your own as a child- maybe you've closed your eyes and wondered what the world would look like without light, or imagined how things might have been different for the planet if there were no humans.

The point here is- every child knows what a thought experiment is, even if they've never formally engaged in one. The tell-tale signs of a thought experiment done right include loud WHAT IFs, wide eyes, confused looks, frustrated smiles and an endless stream of questions.

Sounds a lot like a regular TOK class? You bet!

Thought-experiments turn TOK into a experience- complete with goosebumps, instead of a mere run of the mill discussion. It adds drama, brings an edge and ups the stakes- everything knowledge questions may seem to lack on first glance.

If you're interested in trialling thought experiments in your class, I recommend Julian Baggini's 'The Pig that wants to be Eaten', as well as Peter Cave's 'How to Outwit Aristotle: and 34 other really interesting uses of Philosophy'.

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