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"Our knowledge is only a collection of scraps and fragments that we put together into a...

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yaseminkinav | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted May 22, 2013 at 5:56 PM via web

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"Our knowledge is only a collection of scraps and fragments that we put together into a pleasing design, and often the discovery of one new fragment would cause us to alter utterly the whole design (Morris Bishop)." To what extent is this true in history and other such areas of knowledge? My ToK topic is this statement. I have to write an essay about this topic with using areas of knowledge such as mathematics, natural scienceshuman scienceshistorythe arts and ethics and ways of knowing such as reason, emotion and language. can you give me some ideas about this topic?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted May 22, 2013 at 6:35 PM (Answer #1)

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I have few ideas and comments about this topic.

First, I would say that it is clearly true that our knowledge of history conforms to this statement in many important ways.  Because we are not able to know everything that happened in the past, we have to make do with whatever pieces of information we have.  When we find new information, our entire concept of the past can change.  I would suggest looking for instances in which this has happened.  One such instance is the thinking about the peopling of the Americas.  For decades, the “Clovis first” theory was accepted by essentially everyone.  But then, small scraps of evidence started to appear that showed people in the Americas before Clovis.  The theory had to change dramatically and it has.

Second, I would say that the statement is more true about the history of the distant past than it is of more recent history.  More recent history tends to be put together on the basis of whatever design we think is pleasing, not on the basis of new fragments of information.  We know so much about more recent history that changes tend to come from rethinking the evidence, not from finding new evidence.  A classic example of this is how thinking about Reconstruction changed when the Civil Rights Era came about and Americans were less willing to accept historical accounts that seemed racist.

Finally, I would say that you should seek further examples of this from the other areas that you are asking about.  Perhaps Darwin’s finches would help here.  I think that you should look for cases in which new information causes change in the “pleasing designs” and for cases in which it is rethinking and not new evidence, that has done so.

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