The first step in breaking down a prescribed title is carefully picking apart / analyzing the key words in it

1. Within an area of knowledge is it more important to have credibility or power? Discuss with reference to the natural sciences and one other area of knowledge.

There are many aspects to credibility.  A person can have credibility because of their job title, research they have published, reputation, etc.  An institution can also have credibility because of its reputation, its history, ground-breaking research or products it is responsible for, etc.

An individual can have power for some of the same reasons they have credibility.  There can definitely be overlap between power and credibility but with this prescribed title you should focus on distinguishing between them.  Consider, for example, some world leader who have credibility but not much power and others who have a significant amount of power but not much credibility.

One exercise for this prescribed title would be to make a chart of individuals, institutions, publications, etc. and note how and why they have credibility and / or power. After that take a closer look at each one and judge whether in each case whether it is credibility or power that is more important.

With November 2022 prescribed title #1 is extremely important that you directly and clearly argue whether credibility or power is more important.  The importance must also be directly and clearly linked to knowledge.

2. If pushed too far, can open-mindedness itself become restrictive? Discuss with reference to two areas of knowledge.

The phrase “pushed too far” needs to be addressed in an essay on November 2022 prescribed title #2.  You may find specific examples that have a solid link to “open-mindedness” but don’t have an obvious connection to “pushed too far.”  Regardless, you must still identify in the specific example how open-mindedness has been pushed too far.  Here are some examples of “pushed too far”:

  • Conclusions about a research project that have been pushed farther than the evidence can support
  • A new trend in art that that has been pushed so far that it loses its connection to its cultural / social context
  • A country pushing too far to remove a set of environmental laws / regulations which means that officials are restricted in the ways they can protect the environment
  • A translator making considerable changes to ideas in the original text that some meanings have been pushed too far from the author’s original intent

“Open-mindedness” is obviously the heart of this prescribed title. This broad phrase (to be honest, every phrase in a prescribed title is broad) means different things in different situations.  Open-mindedness could mean making changes to a traditional kind of art in an attempt to modernize it and appeal to a new audience. One example of this is “Super Kabuki” which is modern form of the traditional Japanese drama. 

Open-mindedness could also include an academic incorporating ideas from another discipline.  Psychohistory is one example of a field that incorporate ideas from many disciplines, but some have labelled it a pseudoscience. 

“Restrictive” is the last key word in this prescribed title. Perhaps the most constructive way to interpret this key phrase is “having a negative effect on knowledge production / acquisition.” A TOK essay on November 2022 prescribed title #2 should examine ways in which open-mindedness has both positive and negative (i.e. “restrictive”) effects on knowledge.

3. Is it better to “have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned” (adapted from Richard Feynman)? Discuss with reference to mathematics and one other area of knowledge.

The “Is it better to…” part of November prescribed title #3 should not be overlooked.  If you choose this prescribed title your thesis must directly answer the question.

The phrase “questions that can’t be answered” is the first key phrase in November prescribed title #3 that needs to be addressed.  First of all, there is some debate as to whether some questions have been answered or not.  One researcher may consider a question answered but other another researcher may disagree.

Also, consider why some kinds of questions cannot be answered.  In history, for example, some questions cannot be answered because of a lack of definitive sources.  Ambiguity in language in a document may mean the source could be interpreted in different ways which makes is difficult to answer particular questions.  In the arts, some questions cannot be answered definitively because of the interpretive nature of art. Or perhaps a particular piece of art is so closely connected to a specific culture / society that it cannot be used to answer some questions.

In other cases there are theoretical questions that cannot be practically researched and therefore the questions cannot be answered definitively.  Also, some research which could provide answers to some questions cannot be conducted for ethical reasons.  Some medical / psychological / social experiments that were done in the past that may have provided information are not longer able to be conducted.

There are a number different possible approaches to the phrase “answers that can’t be questioned.”  One obvious one is religion, where in some questions there are believed to be absolute answers than cannot be questioned.  However, this is not true in all aspects of all religions – questioning is a significant part of many religious beliefs.

Some specific examples show that there are answers for a particular situation but the underlying mechanism isn’t understood well enough to be able to question it.

In other cases, there are answer that cannot be questioned because the person or group that has provided the answers has some sort of authority.  That authority may or may not prove beneficial to producing some kinds of knowledge.  A dictator, for example, may be able to use fear to gain information about political rivals but that style of leadership obviously has significant blind spots.  Dictators are not known for valuing knowledge that contradicts his / his beliefs.

In rare cases (e.g. there are some in mathematics) a question has been answered so irrefutably that there seems to be no point in questioning the answer.

4. Why do we seek indisputable evidence when it is so often unattainable? Discuss with reference to two areas of knowledge.

The first key word / phrase is November prescribed title #4 is actually “why.”  It is important to recognize that this question isn’t focused on how, but why.  It may seem obvious but far too many TOK students lose marks in their essay because they have not focused carefully and precisely enough on the key words. If you choose this prescribed title, your essay might discuss how indisputable evidence is sought in an AOK or specific example, but only to the extent that it helps answer the why

Different individuals, groups, disciplines, etc. may have very different reasons for why they are seeking indisputable evidence.  Even two medical researchers can potentially have different motivations for trying to find indisputable evidence.   Consider the importance of “indisputable evidence” in different AOKs.

You need to look carefully at a variety of specific examples that will help you answer the “why” in the prescribed title.  Make sure the specific examples you focus on have direct and in-depth connections to the key terms in November 2022 TOK prescribed title #4.

“Seek” is part of the prescribed title and is not just a throw-away word between more important ones.  There are numerous ways in which individuals and groups “seek” knowledge and this is something to consider.

As for the word “indisputable,” you will find that there are a variety of standards as to when evidence becomes “indisputable.” Also, in some AOKs it may be more important than in others to find “indisputable evidence.”

The last specific key word / phrase in November prescribed title #4 is “unattainable.”  Make sure you consider why is it so difficult to find this level of certainty in the specific examples you are looking at. 

Your essay needs to not only address effectively each of the key words in November prescribed title #4, it needs to do so in a comprehensive way that brings the different threads of the prescribed title.

5. To what extent do you agree with the directive to “measure what is measurable and make measurable what is not so” (Galileo Galilei)? Answer with reference to the human sciences and one other area of knowledge.

November TOK prescribed title #5 starts with “To what extent do you agree…” This means that you should strongly consider both sides of the “directive.”  It is perfectly fine to write a TOK essay on #5 where in some areas you agree and some you disagree with the “directive.”  In fact, if you make solid in-depth arguments on both sides you may show a better understanding than if you were to write a one-sided essay.

The phrase “measure what is measurable and make measurable what is not so” presumes that measurement is a key element in the production and acquisition of knowledge.  Since November 2022 TOK essay prescribed title #5 starts with “To what extent” you do not have to agree with the prescribed title. 

There are other areas that can be vastly improved with measurement and improvements in measurement methodology.  The analysis and interpretation of a measurement is also a key factor in ensuring that the measurement is productive.

Some AOKs rely heavily on measurements and the data from the measurements can indicate whether a line of research, a medicine, or a building site is valid or not.  Other AOKs may use different kinds of measurements for different purposes.  Within each AOK there are also vastly different ways that measurements are taken and used. 

Measurement is important but it does does not guarantee accuracy or validity.  Measurements can be performed incorrectly, and even accurate measurements can be misinterpreted or misused. 

If you choose November 2022 TOK essay prescribed title #5 make sure that you look carefully for a solid set of specific examples that have in-depth links to both sides of the measurement debate.

6. If the artist has freedom to interpret past events in ways that are denied to the historian, is this an asset or an obstacle to our understanding of the past? Discuss with reference to the arts and history.

November 2022 TOK prescribed title #6 is a bit more prescriptive than the others.  You are limited to the arts and history and you are also limited to discussing the past.  That does not necessarily mean it is bad choice but be aware of the boundaries of this prescribed title.

If you look carefully at the first sentence of November 2022 TOK prescribed title #6 it seems quite clear that you have to accept the statement that “the artist has freedom to interpret past events in ways that are denied to the historian” if you pick this prescribed title. Trying to argue that a historian has more freedom than an artist seems to be pointless.

Consider the ways in which an artist interprets past events and compare and contrast those ways with a historian’s ways.  Think carefully about why certain similarities and differences exist – go back and look through the knowledge framework for each AOK. 

After that, go through each of the ways and consider whether the freer ways that the artist has compared to the historian is a positive and a negative.  The artist’s interpretive freedom can allow greater forms of expression and creativity.  It also can give a voice to a greater range of people.  This freedom, however, can negatively effect 

Keep in mind that the prescribed title uses the terms “artist” “historian” and not “the arts” and “history.”  It is a subtle difference but keep it in mind.

It is extremely important that you are clear and specific in your discussion and analysis of “our understanding of the past.”  You need pick specific examples carefully that allow you do this.

The second part of the prescribed title “is this an asset or an obstacle to our understanding of the past” means that you need to consider both sides of the debate – you argue that it is an asset or an obstacle or both.