Science and theory of knowledge
The theory of knowledge (TOK) course (first assessment 2015) engages students in reflection on the nature
of knowledge and on how we know what we claim to know. The course identifies eight ways of knowing:
reason, emotion, language, sense perception, intuition, imagination, faith and memory. Students explore
these means of producing knowledge within the context of various areas of knowledge: the natural sciences,
the social sciences, the arts, ethics, history, mathematics, religious knowledge systems and indigenous
knowledge systems. The course also requires students to make comparisons between the different areas of
knowledge, reflecting on how knowledge is arrived at in the various disciplines, what the disciplines have in
common, and the differences between them.
TOK lessons can support students in their study of science, just as the study of science can support
students in their TOK course. TOK provides a space for students to engage in stimulating wider discussions
about questions such as what it means for a discipline to be a science, or whether there should be ethical
constraints on the pursuit of scientific knowledge. It also provides an opportunity for students to reflect on
the methodologies of science, and how these compare to the methodologies of other areas of knowledge.
It is now widely accepted that there is no one scientific method, in the strict Popperian sense. Instead, the
sciences utilize a variety of approaches in order to produce explanations for the behaviour of the natural
world. The different scientific disciplines share a common focus on utilizing inductive and deductive
reasoning, on the importance of evidence, and so on. Students are encouraged to compare and contrast
these methods with the methods found in, for example, the arts or in history.
In this way there are rich opportunities for students to make links between their science and TOK courses.
One way in which science teachers can help students to make these links to TOK is by drawing students’
attention to knowledge questions which arise from their subject content. Knowledge questions are openended
questions about knowledge, and include questions such as:
• How do we distinguish science from pseudoscience?
• When performing experiments, what is the relationship between a scientist’s expectation and their
• How does scientific knowledge progress?
• What is the role of imagination and intuition in the sciences?
• What are the similarities and differences in methods in the natural sciences and the human sciences?
IB Biology Guide First Assessment 2016