Theory of Knowledge

Theory of Knowledge (aka ToK), is a necessary course for any student taking the IB Diploma Program. Students are provoked to question ethical matters originating from philosophical and moral concepts that can be reflected in practically everyday life. As the student's time with the course comes to an end, a presentation and an essay is required to be sent into the program. 

While in New Zealand, I studied a real life situations and incorporated knowledge issues and scopes to analyze the matter at hand. I chose to evaluate the draught in Sao Paulo, Brazil and how several aspects of the country such as politics (2014 Presidential Elections), deforestation, dry seasons, and the FIFA 2014 World Cup impacted the people's misconception of the draught. 

My real life situation is the drought in Brazil's largest city and region, Sao Paulo (2014). Being a Brazilian myself, this topic has personally affected me and the other 20 million people in Sao Paulo. The drought in the state's reservoirs is due to, primarily, climate change, a distribution and management issue, water supply availability problem, and the combination of the FIFA 2014 World Cup and presidential elections. 

Is it ethical for a government to distract a people from a crises?

The drought in the reservoirs, such as the Cantareira System, is primarily brought on by climate change. However there is an issue with water management and distribution which depends on Sao Paulo's water supply availability which since the summer of 2013 has been at a record breaking low. However, this is more than just a drought. It is the ignorance of a people who are misguided by their own perception of Brazil's resources and are manipulated by the government through the media. The presidential candidates refrained from mentioning the drought during presidential debates because if they were to suggest imputing rations on the people, they'd loose votes. Thus, the matter was kept in the dark. Prior to this, there was the FIFA World Cup in Brazil and the people did not take notice of the secret rationing because they were told that it was due to constructions for the event. There's a Brazilian mind set of "no worries", even now when there is a visible drought. One of my ways of knowing was memory, and here Brazilian's are seeking out their memory of Brazil's abundant resources in order to overlook the present. Also, reasoning can be based on historical information; however, memory can bend reasoning. Reason may be applied to some observation in the past, thus changing the way we may perceive current event resulting in ignorance as seen in Sao Paulo.  Across the media, the government has distracted Brazilians by reinforcing and repeating their memories of Sao Paulo thus further misguiding them from accepting the reality. 

I intend to take on three different perspectives: that of the Brazilian people, the Brazilian Government, and the international community. This allows me to further challenge my knowledge question by analyzing facts from databases and media that is made public to the world in regards to the drought. In every section of the perspectives, I intend to show quotes from Brazilian government officials stating that there is no drought then follow that with an image, chart, or statistic of some sort to contradict what they said. This will help me further prove that the government has manipulated the view of not only Brazilians but also the world. To make my presentation interactive with my audience, I intend to ask them in the beginning if they were aware that a drought was occurring. My subsidiary knowledge question are whether a people once recognizing their ignorance should they act? The arguments following this would be whether the government is incapable of managing the drought or are they willingly allowing it to happen for their own benefit, especially when considering that there are various political parties. Another argument would be that the media releases commercial campaigns on television in suburban areas outside of Sao Paulo; however, it is interesting to consider that these commercials are being sent to the only people who are actually being rationed. The argument there is that the majority of the ruling political party in Brazil dominates in Sao Paulo, so it wouldn't be to their benefit to ration the city that gave them the most votes which they needed for elections. Then I intend to contrast, suburban areas with cities to further challenge my knowledge question. 

My conclusions are practical, that most Brazilians are ignorant towards the very issue affecting them and this is because they believe that climate change only affects other nations because they have yet to accept the drought because the government through the media impedes them to doing so. I reached the conclusion that the government probably want its people to be ignorant. Then again, considering that it is Brazil's government in question, I thought it interesting to point out that maybe they are just incompetent considering the statistics previously shown regarding climate change and reservoir management. I also want to point out how other places around the world, like in Colorado, a similar process is occurring: climate change, government misconceptions, advertisement, and above all an unaware people.  I intend to finish clearly by stating that the reality is that Sao Paulo is near collapse if not already in it and that is my real life situation of the drought in Sao Paulo and its region.

Essay question:  There are only two ways in which humankind can produce knowledge: through passive observation or through active experiment.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

       The question of whether we only produce knowledge through passive observation or active experiment became of significance to me after a community service project during my semester in India. Every week, my classmates and I would go to a neighboring village to paint their school; however, I never even touched a paint brush. The children’s excitement disrupted the worksite, and that’s how I found myself on “kid patrol”. Hand gestures and facial expressions were our means of communication; this exercise made me more aware of the different interpretations we’d deduce from each other. Initially, we misunderstood what the other meant to say, but I realized that to understand them, I’d have to consider their customs or else “let’s go play over there” could just as easily mean “let’s run to the next village”. Over time, we had accumulated infinite interpretations of one another, and this led me to question whether or not we choose how we choose to produce knowledge or its entirety inevitable. This essay tries to determine whether there  actually are only two ways in which humankind can produce knowledge by evaluating how knowledge is gathered and “studied” in natural sciences and to what extent  passive and active methods impact knowledge. Considering this, passive observation suggests that the knower doesn’t impact the event which they are studying whose knowledge produces is acquired through discovery but exists nevertheless. On the other hand, knowledge can be manipulated by the knower and maybe even guide the study’s outcome through active experimentation where knowledge needs to be constructed. However, are we really limited to only these two ways of producing knowledge?

       During the service project, I questioned if my presence had any impact on the way the children acted. This question has provoked my previous perception of my experience. Was I a passive observer or active participant in the village? According to my memory, I was welcomed into their homes, but we tend to perceive everything on a personal level because our past knowledge from experiences are nature subjective. Our five senses, allow the brain to create a picture that it tries to reason through memories. Arthur M. Schleisinger suggests that “science and technology revolutionize our lives, but memory, tradition and myth frame our response” and we can deduce that he argues that our knowledge originates from our perceptions molded by the constant culmination of past recollections.[1] Then again,  my opinion doesn’t affect the temperature it takes for water to boil. In science, our intuition and memory disrupt methodologies that would challenge theories and laws that are fundamental in understanding our existence.

       Now, are scientists and researchers passive observers or active participants in their own experiments? Active experiments are usually linked to natural sciences and don’t tend to study humans. The Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century led thinkers throughout Europe to question traditional authority and perceive that humanity could advance through Rationalism by which they produced numerous inventions, theories, and scientific discoveries still relevant today.[2] The natural sciences became the source of knowledge. Sociologist, Auguste Comte’s theory of Positivism argues that “constant social viewpoint cannot include any notion of rights, for such notion always rests on individuality”.[3] Positivism’s basic principle refers to philosophical positions that emphasize empirical data, or knowledge acquired from experimentation or observation, and scientific methods which suggest that there are detectable regularities that can be reliably observed.[4] So I guess Comte wouldn’t have thought highly of my experience. Functionalist belief is that the world is simple, structured, and predictable. For example, we can see that opposite poles attract. Comte and scientists alike have observed this and conducted thousands of experiments searching for consistency to conclude that opposite poles do in fact attract. Firstly, we can say that a fact like this one is “positive”, as methodologies such as data collection produced a reliable conclusion. However, people mistake the relationship between methods of producing knowledge and knowledge itself. The how and why opposites attract is knowledge. William Lawrence Bragg supports that “the important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them”.[5] If that’s the case, then what are we making of observations and active experiments but not exploring knowledge in a particular way. Why did Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton become famous? When the apple fell from the tree and a car passed by, knowledge was produced. People like Newton and Einstein have been passively observing events, however they recognized the knowledge present in all phenomenons. Mathematics isn’t observed or even physically represented because its an inductive epistemology.[6] Inductively developed, Einstein’s Special Relativity theory was only scientifically certified when other scientists observed it was reliable through repetition. Biologists, physicists, chemists, and countless others’ work depend on reliable data and as much control over their variables as they possibly can. Essentially, they argue that observation would be useless, unless  the observer analyses the data and produces meaningful knowledge. However, Indian writer, Jiddu Krishnamurti claims that “the ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.”[7] So I guess that explains why Einstein and Newton are so famous.

       As humans, we do not like to consider ourselves as objects; it’s in our nature to believe that we are subject to the circumstantial. This idea was strongly supported in 1970s United States where university students reacted against positivism. Striking against the claims that observation was needed to produce “positive” knowledge about humans. In short, we perceive ourselves as an exception to the rule of natural science’s methodology. In the social and natural sciences, there are considered to be two types of observation: covert and overt. Passive observation suggests covert research. As seen Mcintyre’s infiltration into the Chelsea Headhunters gang, keeping an active identity as a member taking part in regular gang activity such as fights and tattoos so that he may have observed variable without outside biased. Despite his breaching of ethical guideline, this type of observational research not passive but active. On the other hand, overt observation bases itself on honesty between subject and researcher. These variables do not become involved with one another; however when researching humans the knowledge produced is circumstantially manipulated, thus false. When Eileen Barker observed a religious cult in Chicago known as the Moonies; she was transparent about her research to her variable. However, the knowledge produced from this overt observation was most likely skewed. Very similar to my experience in the village in India, contrasting physical or established identities deviate the study’s variable which in this case is a person towards intimidation. The potential mistake people may make when understanding this emotion in overt observation is that the person under study is not so much as intimidated by the unknown, but more like hesitant towards acting naturally because of the consequences of judgment. According to this, my previous perception of actively emerging myself was passive observation. Both the people under study and the researcher’s emotions’ effect on the observation is subject of much debate. An argument could be made with Stockholm Syndrome when the hostage feels empathetic toward the captor despite the physical and mental aggressions.  occurs during an experiment like that of the Stanford Prison. A group of consenting college student were “arrested” and placed into a fake prison where they’d be treated like real prisoners. After a few days, the prisoners obeyed the guard’s rules regardless of its morality. This is because people are naturally empathetic; however this allows us to conform because our brains try to rationalize illogical situations, like that of the prison, in order to survive through conforming to authoritative figures.

       To answer the question, it may also be of importance to consider other approaches to acquiring knowledge. Let’s say I invented a new machine, a person could gain knowledge by simple asking me what I understood; however that allows for biased and the knowledge is then subjective to my opinion. In order for someone to formulate his own knowledge, he’d have to go through the experiment himself. Interestingly, most of us try to understand previously discovered knowledge through our own endeavors and we ignore the simple method of inquiry. For example, you perform 50 experiments trying to know if your mother will allow you to eat ice-cream for breakfast and have a conclusion. Still, despite the numerous experiments conducted, the conclusions reached are not reliable until you actually ask her. Supporting the idea that if there is an exception to the rule, then there is no rule at all.

       The ways in which we produce knowledge are insignificant when you consider we don’t even know 1% of our universe’s mysteries. Since our beginning, we have tried to understand our reality through countless theories. Everything we do be it experimentation, observation, or sleeping, unless we were to remove our brain, observation is an active way of producing knowledge because “I think, therefor I am” suggests Socrates.[8] Yet, we don’t know the absoluteness of our reality, so whether we like it or not, everything we know and have not yet come to understand are subjective. For now, what is important in not so much as how we produce knowledge but more of how we try to understand it. Our deductive reasoning has surpassed the boundaries of experimentation and has allowed us to unveil truths. As humans, we focus too much on methodology and process, whereas there are unimaginable infinite perspectives, approaches and understandings of knowledge which has been and always will be there.


Works Cited

"Arthur M. Schlesinger Quotes (2 Quotes)." Arthur M. Schlesinger Quotes. Web. 26 Feb. 2015. <>.

"Enlightenment." A&E Television Networks. Web. 11 Feb. 2015. <>.

"Mathematical Platonism and the Nature of Infinity." Mathematical Platonism and the Nature of Infinity. Web. 26 Feb. 2015. <>.

"Positivism." Positivism. Web. 26 Feb. 2015. <>.

"Today in Science History." Sir Lawrence Bragg Quotes. Web. 26 Feb. 2015. <>.

Ward, L. F. "The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte." Science 19.479 (1904): 376-80. Print.

"A Quote by Jiddu Krishnamurti." Goodreads. Web. 26 Feb. 2015. <


[1] "Arthur M. Schlesinger Quotes - Inspirational Stories." 2011. 26 Feb. 2015 <>

[2] "Enlightenment - Facts & Summary -" 2010. 26 Feb. 2015 <>

[3] Comte, Auguste. The positive philosophy of Auguste Comte. W. Gowans, 1868.

[4] "Positivism - Changing Minds." 2004. 26 Feb. 2015 <>

[5] "Sir Lawrence Bragg Quotes - Today In Science History." 2012. 26 Feb. 2015 <>

[6] Côté, GB. "Mathematical Platonism and the Nature of Infinity." 2013. <>

[7] "The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form ..." 2013. 26 Feb. 2015 <>

[8] "I think, therefore I am in need of Socrates - The Independent." 2013. 26 Feb. 2015 <>