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Explore a range of examples and ideas for your Essays and Presentations and leave your comments.

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...

By ToKTutor, Sep 23 2018 11:29AM

Question 6:

'Not waving but drowing', by Steview Smith.

Stevie Smith’s poem is a powerful example of when the failure to take on contrasting perspectives becomes a life or death matter. The poem is woven out of different perspectives – the speaker’s, the dead man’s and the bystanders’ – but the tragedy of the poem is that none of them ever coincide. In relation to our Q, the tragedy is that no one knew the crisis in the dead man’s life; nobody actually knew the man at all. On one level, the idea that the man ‘loved larking’ suggests he brought on the tragedy himself: he always projected the stereotype of a happy-go-lucky man who no-one could take seriously. So, from everyone’s perspective, he looks like he's messing around when he’s waving from far away in the water. Hence the almost unsympathetic excuse that he died of a heart attack because it was ‘too cold’. On another level, perhaps his humour was a façade to hide his deeper hurt: he was projecting a comic mask of himself to compensate for the ‘cold’ he felt continuously in his life. So, from his own perspective, he was really asking for help all along. Hence the threefold echo of the expression, ‘not waving but drowning’ to underline the emotional pressure he was under. The message of the poem seems to be that the distances and barriers people put up between themselves mean that they cannot see beyond the narrow perspective of their lives to acknowledge others’ suffering. The universe described by Smith’s poem is a bleak one, inhabited by indifferent, unempathetic beings, trapped in their own small worlds and alienated from others. In this universe, the nurturing of contrasting perspectives is crucial but always appears out of reach…

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