Tok Intuition Essay

Pt. 5 – The Ways of Knowing: Imagination, Faith, Intuition and Memory

What are the Ways of Knowing

All knowledge comes from somewhere. Even if we say it is innate (comes from within us) we still have to say how that knowledge appears. The Ways of Knowing are what they sound like, the methods through which knowledge becomes apparent to us. In the IB there are eight different ways of knowing: Language, Sense perception, Emotion, Reason, Imagination, Faith, Intuition and Memory. Although this might seem like a lot, the good news is that the for the IB you’re only really advised to study four of them in depth (although it’s worth knowing how each of them works).


Try the following, really, try it!

‘Think of your favourite piece of music. Now imagine dragging your fingers across a chalkboard. Now imagine plunging your hand into a bucket of sand and feeling the grains crunch between your fingers. And now taste the difference between lemon and lime – which is more sour? There was no sand; there was no lemon. And yet, in response to a set of completely imaginary events, your mind produced very real physical reactions.’

This quote from author Olivia Fox Cabane points out the power of the human imagination. What is being described here is the what we traditionally call imagination: the ability to form a mental representation of a sense experience without the normal stimulus. There is another form of imagination, however. Propositional imagining: is the idea of ‘imagining that’ things were different than they are, for example that the cold war had never ended.

You should always link your ToK essays back to real life. One way that you can do this when discussing imagination is to talk about medical conditions that might affect the imagination. Thinking about people with conditions such as severe autism can give an insight into what a lack of imagination might mean to a person. Other conditions, such as schizophrenia can give some insight into what delusions and extreme examples of imagination can lead to.

If you want to talk about imagination in your work, you would do well to contrast the way imagination has been treated in the past. Imagination is often respected as a part of creativity, problem solving and originality. However, imagination is also distrusted since it is highly subjective. Thinking about the way people have viewed imagination in the past can really show you know how to reflect on the Ways of Knowing in your work.


When you’re talking about faith, one effective approach is to discuss what faith means. This is effective because many people have an idea of faith that is actually only one way of defining the idea, when there are many to choose from. To some people their idea of faith might be religious, for example faith in God. Faith in God is called theistic faith. However, religious faith is not necessarily theistic. Buddhists typically believe in reincarnation but don not have faith in any God. Faith can also be secular, try and think about all the different things we can be said to have faith in. Commitment to a concept can be an expression of faith, but needn’t be religious. People can be committed to an idea or a philosophy that guides their idea, they can be said to have faith in it. Contrasting what faith means to a religious group, for example Hindus, and to believers of a secular philosophy such as humanism can be really productive.

Faith is a way of understanding the world, underpinning the way we choose to interpret things. If you wanted to be really critical in your ToK work you should think about the complex relationships between the Ways of Knowing, like faith and reason. Some people might claim that faith and reason cannot be reconciled, that they are totally different ways of looking at the world, which often conflict. However, many religions see faith and reason as interdependent. Natural Theology teaches that God can only be known through reason, which He gave to human kind. Exploring these different perspectives to critically reflect on faith might be very effective in your ToK work.


Reason, can be defined as using a rational process to arrive at knowledge. Intuition is quite different from this. Intuition is having an immediate sense of knowing, without any prior thinking. After a footballer kicks a ball toward a goal, an expert at the game might ‘know’ whether there will be a goal or not. The fact that this person has reached this knowledge without having to consciously calculate the outcome shows that what is being used is his or her intuition. But how is this sort of knowledge possible? Psychologists believe that the subconscious mind is able to make many more observations than we consciously can in any given situation. All this data would be too much for us to think about consciously. However, we are able to process it on a subconscious level. This is often described as having a gut feeling about what is going to happen, or what the solution to a problem is.

Intuition can be defined as immediate awareness it is a very powerful way of knowing because what we would call flashes of insight may come from our capacity of intuition. Imagine taking a sofa and trying to fit it through a doorway. If you were to look at the sofa you could probably make an instant judgement about whether it would fit through. This is using your intuition (and perhaps some of the other WoKs as well. Computers do not have any capacity for intuition, they are forced to use logic and analytic processing or thinking. This means that for a computer to decide whether your sofa would fit through the door, it would have to try every possible way of fitting the sofa through. The computer would have to calculate whether the sofa would fit through on its side, its end or even diagonally. Using intuition you can tell instantly. If this is a strength of intuition, what do you think might be a weakness of this WoK? How reliable is this Way of Knowing, and how well can it be used to justify your actions? Is the phrase ‘I just know’ very useful in a debate?


Memory is a Way of Knowing that many students overlook. This gives you the opportunity to say something unique if choosing to discuss it in your ToK essays and presentations. As with the other WoKs, a starting point to your discussion might be to define what memory actually is. We need to go beyond definitions such as ‘knowing what happened before’ as these are not very helpful for critically examining memory. One way of defining memory is as the faculty which allows us to retain information and reconstruct past experiences – although like everything else in ToK, it is up to you to think about this definition critically!

If you do choose to discuss memory in your work, it might be worth referring to an on-going discussion surrounding the status of this Way of Knowing. Some argue that memory is not actually a Way of Knowing itself. They claim that memory is simply the recollection of things we already know. In response to this it might be worth considering to relevant points. One is raised by the psychology of memory. Many people, when thinking of memories, imagine a tape that is recorded as we live our lives, and played back when we wish to remember something, however, this is not really the case. Whenever we notice an experience it is encoded into the memory. However, each time we recall that memory we re-encode it. That is, if you remember an experience from your childhood, it is not the ‘original’ experience that you are recalling! Instead you are accessing the memory which was encoded the last time you thought about that thing. This theory helps to explain why memories are not completely reliable – if you were to photocopy a photograph every time you wanted to look at it, and only were able to keep the copy, how much detail would remain? A second point worth considering is the importance of memory in gaining new knowledge. We do not gain new knowledge in a vacuum. Our past experiences affect how our new experiences are interpreted. Because of this, memory is a huge part of how we gain knowledge at any moment in time.

If you want to discuss memory, it might be worth talking about illnesses that affect our faculties. Dementia affects many people as they grow older, and it is particularly important not to forget Alzheimer’s which affects a growing proportion of many countries with ageing populations. You might consider using these illnesses to think about how memory might not be a particularly reliable Way of Knowing. It might then be worth discussing how billions of people rely on their memories every day of their lives.

Way to go!

We’ve now covered most of the basics when it comes to ToK. You should have a much better idea of the ways we gain knowledge and be able to talk comfortably about all eight of the ways of knowing by using this week’s and last week’s blog posts. Next week we’re going to investigate the Areas of Knowledge. This is the last big push to make sure you have a really strong grounding in ToK. If you’ve just joined us it would be worth checking out previous week’s posts. If you’ve been reading along, then way to go! Not much further until you are a ToK Master!

The following episodes relate to the 'Emotion / Intuition' Category

Written on January 24th, 2010 by Oliver Kim

Comments: 4

Linking Arts, Math, Perception and Emotions

Categories: All Articles, Areas of Knowledge, Arts, Emotion / Intuition, Linking Questions, Mathematics, Sense Perception, Videos, Ways of Knowing

Here are 2 videos which link arts, math, sense perception and emotions. Watch them! They are very good, easily understndable and motivating!

Ifound two videos which illustrate the importance of emotions and perception in understanding statistics. In the first video, the speaker Hans Rosling uses animated graphs to visualize the development of different countries. It is a powerful illustration on how a visual representation (sense perception!) of numbers in the form of colorful dots greatly helps in understanding statistics. Tables with numbers alone are too difficult to perceive. Rosling’s computer program makes these numbers accessible.

The second video is quite remarkable as well. It links the areas of knowledge arts, statistics (math), with the ways of knowing sense perception and emotions. The photographer Chris Jordan wants to create impact by visualizing very large numbers and thus causing emotional involvement. We people often do not want to act to improve our environment, for example, becasue the numbers and statistics that we have available are simply to abstract and too large. What does it mean, when we say that we use millions of paper cups every day? How much is a million? Is this a lot? How much is a lot? Chris Jordan’s artwork helps us in perceiving these numbers, this way causing emotional involvement and creating an incentive to act.

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Tags: All Articles, Areas of Knowledge, Arts, Arts, Emotion / Intuition, emotions, graphs, linking, Linking Questions, math, Mathematics, Sense Perception, speeches, statistics, ted, Videos, Videos, Ways of Knowing

Written on December 20th, 2009 by Oliver Kim

Comments: 0

Linking Questions: History and Ways of Knowing

Categories: All Articles, Areas of Knowledge, Emotion / Intuition, History, Language, Linking Questions, Logics / Reason, Sense Perception, Ways of Knowing

In this post I’d like to present a list of questions linking History with the different Ways of Knowing for classroom discussion.

Linking the different Areas of Knowledge (AOK) with different Ways of Knowing (WOK) can be quite challenging at times. I now attempted to link History with Language, Logics, Emotion and Sense Perception.

History and Language:

  • Does the way (the language) that certain historical events are presented in history books influence the way that the reader understands these events?
  • What role does loaded language play when talking about historical events?
  • What role do connotation and denotation play when talking about historical events?
  • How can language introduce bias into historical accounts?
  • How does language help or hinder the interpretation of historical facts?

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Tags: All Articles, Areas of Knowledge, bias, Emotion / Intuition, emotions, History, History, Language, Language, Linking Questions, Logics, Logics / Reason, reason, Sense Perception, sense perception, Ways of Knowing, Ways of Knowing

Written on December 6th, 2009 by Oliver Kim

Comments: 4

What are the four Ways of Knowing (WOKs)?

Categories: All Articles, Authority, Emotion / Intuition, General TOK, Language, Logics / Reason, Sense Perception, Ways of Knowing

In this post, a quick introduction into the four Ways of Knowing (WOK)!

So, you are now sitting in front of your computer reading this very post about the Ways of Knowing. How do you know that? Honestly! How do you know that you are reading this text right now? Is it because someone told you? Of course not. You know it because your senses tell you so. You can read the text with your eyes (vision), you hear the sound of the computer fan humming (hearing), and you feel that you are sitting on a chair (touch).

Philosophers have identified these four ways of knowing: Sense Perception, Language, Emotion/intuition and Logics/Reason. Pick one fact that you know and ask yourself what the sources of this piece of knowledge are. From where do you know it? You will soon discover that it is possible to trace you knowledge back to one of these four Ways of Knowing. Let’s start with a little example: “I know that atoms exist”. How do you know it? Have you ever seen, heard or felt atoms before? I can hardly imagine. Sense perception is therefore an unlikely source. Do you intuitively and emotionally feel their existence? Hopefully not! The most likely source of this knowledge is that someone told, most probably a teacher, you or that you read about them. The source of this knowledge is therefore language. Continue reading »

Tags: All Articles, Authority, Emotion / Intuition, General TOK, knowledge, Language, Language, Logics, Logics / Reason, Perception, Sense Perception, Ways of Knowing, Ways of Knowing

Written on August 6th, 2009 by Oliver Kim

Comments: 0

Of Arts and Ethics

Categories: All Articles, Arts, Emotion / Intuition, Ethics


I’ll be exploring the relationship between arts and ethics. Is it necessary for art to go against moral and ethical conventions in order to be considered “good” art? Where are the limits to the freedom of expression of art? In this episode I’ll be asking questions, and not give answers!

In this episode, I’ll be exploring the relationship between arts and ethics. Some time ago, I read an interesting news report, one which links the two areas of knowledge Arts and Ethics. It’s about an unusual art exhibition. The artist placed 10 kitchen blenders on a long table. The blenders have sharp rotating knives and are normally used to smash vegetables or fruit. But in this case, each one of the blenders contained a live little gold fish swimming in some water. The visitors of the museum now had the choice of turning on the blenders – or not. The visitor, essentially, became the “rulers of the decision on life and death”, too use the words of the artist. According to news reports, some visitors indeed turned on the blenders, killing the fish, making fish soup. Animal rights activists complained, of course, and the police started to get involved as well.

When I first read about this art exhibition, I had to ask myself several questions.

Tags: All Articles, Arts, Arts, dilemmas, Emotion / Intuition, Ethics, Ethics, morality, opinions

Written on June 14th, 2009 by Oliver Kim

Comments: 0

On the Purpose of Life

Categories: All Articles, Emotion / Intuition, Ethics


Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) and the purpose of life.

After a few months of idleness, I think it’s about time to add another short episode. Well, what am I going to talk about today? Today I’d like to talk about the purpose of life. Now, I know that this does not sound like one of the classical Theory of Knowledge topics, but who cares….. Why not do something different for a change. Why this topic?

A few weeks before the end of the school year a student came up to me and asked me, seriously, “What is the purpose of life”? We had a short conversation on the issue and I decided to pick this topic up during the last TOK lesson of the school year. I passed on this question to the rest of the class. Some of them looked back at me with surprised big eyes. In my view, one of the purposes of TOK is to make students ask questions that they normally would not ask, and by the response that I got many of my students really never asked themselves this question before, in that sense I reached my objective.
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Tags: All Articles, Emotion / Intuition, Ethics, frank, life

Written on November 30th, 2008 by Oliver Kim

Comments: 0

Of Ghost Traps and Wrist Watches

Categories: All Articles, Emotion / Intuition, General TOK, Logics / Reason, Ways of Knowing


Ghost traps are very useful devices – they can be used to catch evil spirits. What? You say that this does not make sense because ghosts do not exist? You say that ghosts are a product of our imagination? Well… do you believe in time? Could it not be that time is a product of our imagination as well?

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit a cultural exhibition. There were all sorts of interesting exhibits, ranging from art work to the local food… and of course there were also rooms filled with religious objects, handicrafts, clothing etc. I also remember the nice photographs of the landscape that were on display. For the purpose of this episode, the country is of no importance. We were a small group of approximately 10 visitors and we had one tour guide for the museum.
Continue reading »Tags: All Articles, culture, Emotion / Intuition, General TOK, General TOK, Logics / Reason, pragmatism, Presentation, religion, Truth, Ways of Knowing

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