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ToK Essay Titles May 2019

By ToKTutor, Dec 1 2018 12:13PM

Example for Question 3:


Bagpuss & the power of stories


If we’re going to get all technical about it, then yes, reliable knowledge of how the world works does require ‘good’ explanations, if by ‘good’ and ‘true’ we mean that such explanations are grounded in facts and statistics, the logical relationship between them and a clear causal relationship between such facts. Such explanations are ‘empirical’ and ‘good’ precisely because they can be routinely tested against the real world. In the context of science, here’s a simple explanation: Rain falls because air is warmed up by a heat source; the warmer air rises and condenses, producing water droplets which, owing to their heavier mass and the work of gravity, fall back to earth as rainfall.


But this sort of thinking leaves out a whole range of explanations that aren’t similarly empirical. What do these look like? They are based on a way of making sense of the world which relies not so much on ‘facts’ and ‘truth’ but more on ‘stories’ and ‘morals’ and ‘images’. A story may not be open to the kind of testing that a more scientific explanation requires but we learn things through their morals or messages. Does it follow that such explanations aren’t good? Well, a story can still help us to explain the nuances of human interaction with others and our environment. Such ‘explanations’ are ‘good’ because they challenge us to reflect on the moral and psychological possibilities of our behaviour and, of course, they are entertaining.


Look at this 1970s a children’s TV show that draws on the magical power of stories and storytelling: ‘Bagpuss’. Emily has a shop which doesn’t sell things. However, she’s a collector of broken things and brings them to her shop to leave them amongst her friends. Bagpuss, the sleepy old cat is one of them. As each episode unravels, when Bagpuss wakes up, he is always encouraged to tell a story based on the broken artefact Emily has brought into the shop. The story in itself is a bit of fun. The real interest is in what happens during the story and in its aftermath: the broken item has somehow been repaired and looks as good as new.


And here’s the moral of the story: stories encapsulate our way of creating order in a world we often perceive to be chaotic, broken. They offer reassurance and hope of finding solutions to problems. They are a way of projecting a world in which we feel we have some level of control and feel safe. Ultimately, they tap into a mythical form of thinking which helps us to sustain an emotional hold on our world; to tie us together through the power of remembrance and imagination. Even if such explanations can’t be tested like scientific ones, they bring us both personal and shared knowledge by allowing us to create virtual worlds in which we can ‘test’ ourselves as a way of managing expectations, desires, behaviours...

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