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Lesson 4

Interpreting Our World Through Sense Perception and Language Perception is active inquiry, not passive reception...We reach out to cope with the world in many complex ways: in names and descriptions, in sense and reference, in signs, symbols, words and gestures, in thinking in acting. (Reuben Abel Man is the Measure)

Our next unit will focus on the remaining two Ways of Knowing, Perception and Language. In order to for us to make substantive knowledge claims about our world, we must interpret, define, reference the external stimuli in a manner that allows us to internally make meaning and share that meaning with others. By exploring the interaction between the internal and external processes of the human mind, we can begin to explore how are knowledge is constructed and evaluate how sense perception and language can strengthen and limit our understanding. To provide context to our discussion of these two Ways of Knowing we will be developing and analyzing how their impact varies in the three Areas of Knowledge of History, the Arts, the Human Science and the Natural Science.

Be prepared to have you senses and conceptions challenged. It might be a little uncomfortable at times but ultimately, hopefully enlightening.


































Your summative assessment for this unit will be a presentation that links a "real life" situation and a Knowledge Question of your choosing that demonstrates the strengths and weaknesses of the Ways of Knowing in the acquisition and application of knowledge. There are a number of potential themes that you can explore for this presentation, so make sure you write down ideas that interest you as you progress through this unit so you can use them in your presentation.

You will be allowed to work individually or in pairs and you will be assessed on the TOK presentation rubric. You will need to complete a Presentation Planning Form before you will be able to sign-up for you time slot: Presentation Schedule.

Essential Questions

  1. How do our five senses give us information about our world and what are the strengths and weaknesses of the data we receive? (The additional questions are take directly from the IB Subject Guide for Examinations beginning in 2008. They are useful to consider if you are looking for additional stimulus.)

    1. Do androids dream of electric sheep? -Philip K Dick​

    2. In what ways does the biological constitution of a living organism determine, influence or limit its sense perception? If humans are sensitive only to certain ranges of stimuli, what consequences or limitations might this have for the acquisition of knowledge? How does technology extend, modify, improve or restrict the capabilities of the senses?

    3. What possibilities for knowledge are opened to us by our senses as they are? What limitations?

    4. Is the nature of sense perception such that, as Huxley suggests, sensations are essentially private and incommunicable?

  2. What is the role of interpretation in processing sensory input? How might expectations, assumptions and beliefs affect sense perceptions?

    1. To what extent do our senses give us knowledge of the world as it really is?​

    2. Does the predominance of visual perception constitute a natural characteristic of our human experience or is it one among several ways of being in the world?

    3. What is the role of culture and language in the perceptual process? Given the partially subjective nature of sense perception, how can different knowers ever agree on what is perceived? Do people with different cultural or linguistic backgrounds live, in some sense, in different worlds?

    4. How, and to what extent, might expectations, assumptions and beliefs affect sense perceptions? How, if at all, can factors that bias our views of the world be identified? Is all sense perception necessarily theory-laden? Do knowers have a moral duty to examine their own perceptual filters?

    5. It is often claimed that information and communication technologies are blurring the traditional distinctions between simulation and reality. If this is so, what might be the consequences?

  3.  To what extent do knowledge claims based on sensory input vary between different areas of knowledge?

    1. To what extent is visual perception in particular a justifiable model not only of all sensory perception but of human understanding as well (in English, “I see” often means “I understand”)?​

    2. What is the role of sense perception in the various areas of knowledge, for example, history or ethics? How does it differ across the disciplines? Is it more important in relation to some disciplines than others? Is there any knowledge that is completely independent of sense perception?

    3. Does sense perception perform fundamentally distinct functions in the arts and the sciences? To what extent does the artist make an advantage out of the subjective nature of sense perception, while the scientist regards it as an obstacle to be overcome?

    4. What can be meant by the Panchatantra saying, “Knowledge is the true organ of sight, not the eyes”? Is it necessary to have clear ideas to see?

    5. What role does observation play in the methods used to pursue knowledge in different disciplines? For example, are the conditions, function and results of observation the same for biology and human science? If not, what accounts for the differences?

    6. What role does what we expect to see, or are used to seeing, play in what we observe? For example, after learning about the structure of cells from a textbook, how “neutral” might the observation of a slide under the microscope be? Can we learn how to see things properly?

  4.  What is the nature of language and how does it define our world? What are the limitations presented by these definitions?

    1. What different functions does language perform? Which are most relevant in creating and communicating knowledge?​

    2. What did Aldous Huxley (1947) mean when he observed that “Words form the thread on which we string our experiences”? To what extent is it possible to separate our experience of the world from the narratives we construct of them?

    3. In what ways does written language differ from spoken language in its relationship to knowledge?

    4. Is it reasonable to argue for the preservation of established forms of language, for example, as concerns grammar, spelling, syntax, meaning or use? Is one language common to the whole world a defensible project?

    5. What is the role of language in creating and reinforcing social distinctions, such as class, ethnicity and gender?

    6. What is the role of language in sustaining relationships of authority? Do people speak the same way to inferiors and superiors in a hierarchy? Does the professional authority speak in the same way as the person seeking opinion or advice? Can control of written language create or reinforce power?

    7. How does technological change affect the way language is used and the way communication takes place? How might innovations in language, such as Internet chat or text messaging, be assessed: as contributions to or assaults against how language and communication “should be”?

    8. What may have been meant by the comment “How strangely do we diminish a thing as soon as we try to express it in words” (Maurice Maeterlinck)?

  5.  Is language created by or innate to humans? What are the ramifications of each of these theories?

    1. If people speak more than one language, is what they know different in each language? Does each language provide a different framework for reality?​

    2. How is the meaning of what is said affected by silences and omissions, pace, tone of voice and bodily movement? How might these factors be influenced in turn by the social or cultural context?

    3. What is lost in translation from one language to another? Why?

    4. To what degree might different languages shape in their speakers different concepts of themselves and the world? What are the implications of such differences for knowledge?

    5. How have spoken sounds acquired meaning? What is the connection between the sounds and what they are taken to represent? Given that a word such as “tree” groups together a lot of different individual objects, what is lost in using language to describe the world? What are the advantages?

    6. Is it possible to think without language? How does language facilitate, extend, direct or limit thinking?

    7. To what extent does language generalize individual experience, classifying it within the experience of a linguistic group? On the other hand, to what extent do some kinds of personal experience elude expression in language?

    8. Can language be compared with other human forms of symbolic representation, such as conventionalized gestures, sign language for the deaf, dance, painting, music or mathematics? What might language share with these other forms in the communication of what we know? In what ways might it be considered distinct?

    9. How do “formal languages”, such as computer-programming languages or mathematics, compare with the conventional written and spoken languages of everyday discourse?

    10. How does the capacity to communicate personal experiences and thoughts through language affect knowledge? To what extent does knowledge actually depend on language: on the transmission of concepts from one person or generation to another, and on exposure of concepts or claims to public scrutiny?

    11. How does language come to be known? Is the capacity to acquire language innate?

    12. In most of the statements heard, spoken, read or written, facts are blended with values. How can an examination of language distinguish the subjective and ideological biases as well as values that statements may contain? Why might such an examination be desirable?

    13. What do we gain, and what do we lose, when we name something? Do different areas of knowledge manage differently the balance between particularity and generality?

  6. How does the variance that exists in language impact the different areas of knowledge?

    1. How do the words we use to describe an idea affect our understanding of the world? For example, is “globalization” a synonym for “westernization”? What is the meaning of the term “anti-globalization”? Does it matter which words we use?​

    2. How does the language used to describe the past (for example, a massacre, an incident, a revolt) change history? Does something similar occur when different terms are used to describe natural phenomena (greenhouse effect, global warming, sustainable development) or human behaviour (refugee, asylum seeker)?

    3. How important are technical terms in different areas of knowledge? Is their correct use a necessary or sufficient indicator of understanding?

    4. To what degree might each area of knowledge be seen as having its own language? Its own culture?

  7. How does the interaction between language and sensory perception strengthen and weaken our "true" understanding?

Senses in Different Areas of Knowledge Questions

How do our five senses give us information about our world and what are the strengths and weaknesses of the data we receive?

Starter for Sense Perception: Which way is the train moving?
Watch Seeing is Believing video and complete Audience Participation activities
(See Mr. Johnson for Videos)
Reading from Man is the Measure on Perception
(Possible Homework or In-Class, 4 pgs)

Discussion Questions

Seeing more than your eye does link

Lesso 1

What is the role of interpretation in processing sensory input? How might expectations, assumptions and beliefs affect sense perceptions

A Show of Hands Activity
(Explanation for Teachers)

"What Sound Does it

Make?" Activity

Plato's Allegory of the


HW: Chinese, Americans Truly See Differently See Article

Recent Study Showing the Connection Between Language and Visual Sense Perception (Chinese vs. English)

Perception by any other name would it smell as sweet Activity

Socratic Discussion on the nature of perception
Discussion Question and Preparation

Extending our Sense Perception-To what extent does technology enhance our ability to gain knowledge of the world?

Cyborgs from "Insight"

Lesson 2

What is the nature of language and how does it define our world? What are the limitations presented by these definitions?



Stephen Frye's Planet Word Episode 1: Where does our language come from? (HW task)
Orwellian Doublespeak Activity Link
The Problem of Definition: Beef, Cows and Chairs Activity Link

Flash cards pdf for

Cows and Chairs activity

Socratic Discussion on the Nature of Language


Homework Reading:

Selections from Man is

the Measure by

Reuben Abel


Questions to

accompany reading

Lesson 3

Is language created by or innate to humans? What are the ramifications of each of these theories?
How does the variance that exists in language impact the different areas of knowledge?

Nature of Language Quotes Cocktail Party Starter

Download for Teachers:

Stephen Frye's Planet Word Episode 2: Language and Identity

(HW Task)

Decipher the Text: 

Video- The Stuff of Thought
(See Mr. Johnson for Videos)

Class Discussion on the Origin of Language

Lesson 4

Introduce Presentation Criterion, Develop Knowledge Question and Begin Working on Presentations.

Lesson 5

Presentations in Class Time

Student Presentations Assessed (Self, Peer and Teacher)

Lesson 6
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