Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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The Bird’s Nest – Derek W.

Bird's Nest

In class so far, we’ve been discussing various aspects of our new unit: Aesthetics. All of us are now picking a piece of art and examining various aspects through an aesthetic lens.

After thinking about works of art worth blogging about, I finally settled on the Beijing National Stadium. This iconic building has been considered by the NY Times as “Intoxicating” in its beauty. Our question, however, is simply why?This is why Aesthetics has been intriguing for millennia and continues to be so today.

Just so we all know what I’m talking about, the Beijing National Stadium, or perhaps better known as the “Bird’s Nest” Stadium, was completed in 2008 for that year’s Olympics in Beijing.  The architectural design of the structure is the creation of Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron. The duo’s design submission was the winner of hundreds that had been systematically eliminated. Historically, nations have occasionally built facilities to host the Olympic Games, and often the design reflects the host nation itself. From Berlin’s ring of stone columns signifying the fascist regime of the time, to the transparent roofs of the Munich in 1972 signalling the growth of Western style society in Germany. Now it was China’s turn. The Beijing Olympics was an honour to China and thus was an occasion for the nation to show national pride as well as present itself as a generous and grand host. The nature of the space around the stadium was made to portray whatever was in the centre. The hill upon which the Beijing Stadium would be built would act as a pedestal to display another jewel in the architectural world. Construction on the project started in 2003 and suffered several setbacks but was ultimately completed in time for the opening ceremony.

Now that we understand the context, history, and authors behind the Bird’s nest, we can start to aptly examine its aesthetic value. Seeing as it has been one of the most memorable structures of the last decade there must be certain aspects that universally draw the mind’s wonder and respect. This evaluation based on predetermined principles is, in the world of aesthetics called the Normative approach. If Plato were to comment on this piece of structural art, he would most definitely comment on the representation of nature in the building. Shaped like a bird’s nest the stadium does have a connection to nature but not in the way that Plato would consider proper. Although inspired by the nest, the Stadium was never intended to represent realistically the bird’s nest. It is a stadium after all. Another normative appraisal of this structure is the sheer size and architectural skill that went into creating the global landmark. The stadium seats an impressive 80,000 people, down from 90,000 during the Olympic Games.  On another technical note, architects and artists alike would appreciate the construction of the supporting pillars around the stadium. Not clearly visible, the supports are blended with “Random Beams of Steel”, with each weighing a hefty 1000 tons. As a result, the supports are indistinguishable from the steel camouflage.  The effective organization of formal art elements and principles, as Clive Bell would say, certainly accounts for part of the Stadium’s aesthetic value.This skill in construction clearly deserves a Normative thumbs up from the aesthetics camp.

Beijing-Olympic-stadium     Now if we were consider the other side of the aesthetics camp, we would need to delve into the realm of descriptive aesthetic evaluation. In other words, what is it that makes the Bird’s Nest something more than a respectably organized heap of twisted steel? Well as philosophers in the descriptive camp such as Tolstoy, Dewey, and Croce, would say, it is the experience and ideas that one receives from the piece that makes it aesthetically pleasing. When we look at the Bird’s Nest, we can see symbols and things to be learnt and experienced. Looking at the monument it represents the growth and development of an old empire prospering in the modern world and thus is regarded with pride by many citizens of China. Also, we can see the cosmopolitan trend of our global society in the Swedish design, a trend that would have been unacceptable centuries prior. Finally, the Beijing National Stadium also continues and honors the tradition and spirit of the Olympic Games an age old event now held around the world. From the descriptive camp, the meaning behind the Bird’s Nest is what holds its Aesthetic Value.

Personally, I agree with the descriptive camp. For me I find I enjoy art the most when I can appreciate and gain insight into it. When I saw the Stadium for myself the camouflaged supports and interweaved steel did not impress me as much as what I found going through my head. Make of this landmark what you will, but it can be surely said that the Bird’s Nest is an Aesthetic gold mine.

 

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The Bumps Along the Road of Ethical Development – Derek

Morality and ethics, as I view it, are both collections of precedents, trial and error, and simple learning. When we think of ethics, many of us will think in terms of a set of rules. Set out by some incomprehensible facet of humanity. Some might even think that because we are humans, we have ethics. That we have ethics, morals, and concepts of right and wrong, however, is not simply the result of us being humans and the ability to reason and think and even “feel”.

Our environment or the nurture side of our development surely has a profound impact on the way we view the world and how we perceive right and wrong, ethical and unethical. We see this in our differences from hemisphere to hemisphere, east to west, and north to south. We can observe clear differences in the values of society between Canada, a highly developed country, and other more impoverished and underdeveloped nations. Hot topic issues such as the weeding of female infants, or the owning of slaves show the stark contrast between our worlds and notably our contexts.

If we move back in time along the proverbial continuum of our ethical development as a global society, we can guess how the first ethical rules or concepts began. Hypothetically consider a group of humans at the outset of our intelligent life. There is no denying that, at a fundamental level, the goal of primitive life was to ensure its posterity. In this vein, when the first group of humans chanced upon each other, they noticed that surviving in the company of others made survival relatively easier.

To further outline my view, consider again the primitive tribe. Having learned about collective security, the individuals notice one member that has been compromised and is unable to contribute to the group. Able to think about this issue and come to a conclusion, the group cuts the injured member loose thereby ensuring the survival of the collective and its posterity. We can now look at this and say the favorable outcomes of the group’s decisions has reinforced similar decisions in the future, a set of rules to follow if you will. This brings us back to Ethics.

In our modern society, our context has changed immeasurably compared to our primitive ancestors. What does this change mean for the rules drawn up by those ancestors? The simply answer is that their rules do not apply. Considering the same examples, but in our context, there would be almost no benefit to cutting off the weak and sickly in our society. There simply would not be a point. Our survival and well-being are not hindered noticeably by the presence of the elderly.

Now that we can see that the changes in our environment do, in time, alter our ethics and concept of right and wrong, we can look at other issues that have arisen from the development of new and problematic outcomes of technology.

As I read through some internet articles various developments in the world, I came across a piece on a growing trend around the world: E-Cigarettes. Invented back in 2001, the E-Cigarette has recently caused much concern over its effects on individual health. In this issue, the users themselves are the stakeholders or the ones the government’s rulings will affect. The E-Cigarette boasts a non-combustive vapor of nicotine which admittedly does not contain the harmful carcinogens and smoke of traditional cigarettes adding more grey to the ban on tobacco advertisement on television.

The main ethical question that has been revived through the advent of this E-Cigarette is virtually the same as that of its dangerous burning cousin. I see the E-Cigarette as another means with which self-harm can be inflicted. Does this fall within the jurisdiction of the government and law? Should it?

More recent studies conducted by the University of Athens conclude that although a level of damage reduction is present, the E-Cigarette still damages the user’s lungs. Now that we know that the E-Cigarette is far from the “safe” alternative it is held to be, we come back to the same question. Should the wellbeing of an individual be ensured against him/herself?

Large lobby groups for both sides on this E issue have made their points clear. For some it restricts personal freedom and choice, yet others say it is for the wellbeing of society as a whole. The literal issue being argued through heated online anonymous debates and various other mediums is whether the E-Cigarette should be allowed to advertise through television and radio. That the E-Cigarette does not contain any trace of tobacco excludes it from laws against tobacco products. The harmful effects of even the Nicotine vapor, however, cannot be ignored.

Personally, the advertisement of even this reduced version of cigarettes would be a lapse in judgment and a negative projection to the youth of this generation. The fact that the Nicotine in these electronic devices is not only addictive but also dangerous to health should be enough to keep it from influencing the youth of the day. Simply pointing out that the E-Cigarette is less harmful than a fuming counterpart is not any indicator of safety.

Coming back to the main hatchet, I believe that the area of personal freedom of choice will not ever be approvingly or definitively nailed down, akin to all the other ethical questions worth discussing. When the presentation of the choices is concerned, however, I whole heartedly assert that each choice be made clear to the stakeholder. The knowledge of what a decision can do to oneself is one thing that I believe the government and law should give unto the stakeholder.

Finally, we can look back on how other philosophers have taken to this topic. Before we can understand the arguments of noted philosopher John Stuart Mill, we must understand the terms they use. Paternalism is according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “behavior, by a person, organization or state, which limits some person or group’s liberty or autonomy.” The term is further split into soft and hard paternalism. Soft paternalism refers to restrictive measure being placed on a person’s actions which are deemed not sufficiently voluntary to be genuinely theirs. Hard paternalism on the other hand deals with restrictive measure placed on actions which are voluntary enough to be considered genuinely theirs. John Stuart Mill, however, would care less about these distinctions because he disagrees with paternalism altogether. Mill claims that the idea of paternalism is grounded in the assumption that the government or external regulator possesses better judgment of the individual than the individual does himself, which, in his view, is a clear error in judgment and reason.  Though he does not make clear whether his view is exclusive of some oddball cases or not, his view does raise a cogent point. Appealing to common sense always ga

 

As we see, the intricate tangles of ethics have grown as the context in which we operate has thrived into a thicket in which there is always more than one path. Accompanying our ethical progress are problems which do not seem to have a clear answer. Amongst those problems are such things as Paternalism and Autonomy which still hold, as many heavy ethical questions do, relevance today. rners some attention and support. Concerning Mill, however, I would only agree so long as the individual has sufficient information about the decision he or she is about to make. In our modern context, it is not always clear to the decision maker the outcomes of each path.

 

 

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For the sake of knowledge, let’s just assume.

The past few days in class, I got a chance to see what the philosophical society defined one of the ideas that I thought of in the first unit “Introduction to Philosophical Inquiry. Now when studying epistemology I can add considerable information and include new concepts to express my thoughts.

At the beginning of the course, in class, we were discussing “Truth”, which in itself is tied inextricably to epistemology. The next following days, I came to a simple conclusion. We really cannot know something to be 100% true. Absolute truth in my opinion cannot be found as long we perceive things. The moment we attempt to measure something, that “thing” changes because we are measuring it in Human terms and Human instruments. A Human Bias if you will.

Perhaps assumptions would be a good replacement for “lies”

Now in epistemology we can delve deeper into Truth, Belief, and Justification, and their roles in how we know things.

Henry Ford’s assembly line

How I like to view of how we reach knowledge or learn in general, is by looking at the process as just that: a process. I see how we know and develop our thoughts as a assembly line, continually developing and refining raw materials and adding to the scaffolding or blueprint provided.

At the start, we must have some idea of what we want to know or would like to know. I see this as belief in epidemiological terms. Belief is defined as holding something as true in your mind despite a lack of evidence for it. The way I see it, it seems like the raw material in an assembly line. In some cases it may be sufficient. If you are a grocery store, the raw apples are enough for you. No further refinement is needed. Through this vein, belief looks to be a fundamental item in the progression of knowledge. The scientific progress that our century has enjoyed is due largely to the conjectures and beliefs of scientists who later went out and sought corroboration for their theories, or in other words refinement.

Taking all this into consideration, how do we know what we’re doing is actually refining the product? How do we know what we’re adding to our belief isn’t just more beliefs? Knowledge, if taken as belief that has been proven true through supporting evidence, is a fickle thing. True as used in the previous sentence is tricky as well.

Now going back to my opening remarks, the knowledge with which we pride ourselves with may simply be stronger beliefs stacked supporting beliefs that are less so. I think this is the case. Setting aside “what if” examples, we can truly investigate what is behind our human knowledge. On the assembly line metaphor, we cannot construct or attain raw and unbiased knowledge because the machines with which we process it are man-made. The human bias of simply observing through our organic eyes, nose, skin, tongue, and ear alters what really is there. Nothing is translated perfectly without distortion. That distortion is what accounts for the problem of knowledge.

It is often written that knowledge is “true belief”. The belief part of this is straightforward enough, but “true” is a problem. If we are defining true as the objective and ultimate truth, “true belief” and consequentially knowledge cannot actually exist, again due to the human bias.

The way I see it, however, is in terms of practicality. I pose the question: “does it even matter?” What is the use of doubting our own senses and interpretation of the different wavelengths of light flying through the air. If as long as we exist and observe, we cannot attain objective truth, why worry? Yes, it’s important to recognize that knowledge in its technical and pure form cannot be attained by us mortals, but, perhaps more importantly, knowledge as defined by our limitations is definitely possible. We must assume truth to learn and teach without doubt.

 

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Aristotle’s Hylomorphism – Derek W

We’ve all heard of the name Aristotle, especially throughout the course of this class. The Aristotle we have come to know, however, is the old, matured, and wizened philosopher. We have barely looked at Aristotle the youngster, the pupil, and the host of his precocious mind.

As a student of Plato, he studied at Plato’s Academy for 20 years before becoming dissatisfied with the direction the school went after leadership passed onto Speusippus after Plato’s death. His own philosophy was largely influenced throughout his time in his own academy: Lyceum. The denial of headmastership of Plato’s Academy led Aristotle to begin looking at and ruminating about the opposite side of Plato’s Philosophy. Attempting to come from a different angle under a different school, Aristotle was at odds with his former and late teacher on many issues. Those of which included, the separation of mind and body, consciousness and soul.

A couple days ago I came across just one of Aristotle’s ideas. For me, it appealed to my logical side and it just felt right. His theory and belief in Hylosmorphism, concerns the nature of matter, form, and nature. Ultimately, Aristotle proposes the way that we interpret the things around us and how what we see is not the true matter.

Right into it then. I’m not going to explain all the ideas of Aristotle here because that would be novel(s) worth. Instead, I want to take a close look into Hylomorphism. The main parts of Hylomorphism are: Matter, Form, and Substance.

Matter, as operationally defined by Aristotle, is the thing that makes up another thing. For example, a bronze statue’s matter would be bronze. Going deeper, Aristotle defined the bricks of a house to be proximate matter, which is the contents of an object which has it’s own contents. In the case of the bricks, the matter would be clay.

Form on the other hand, is simply the shape or form that the matter appears in. Going back to the bronze statue, the matter of bronze is shaped into the form of a statue. As we see that statue we don’t see all the individual parts of the statue and the subatomic particles that make up the proximate matter of bricks (I know this contradicts what I said earlier but I’ll explain in a second).

Finally, substance is defined as the combination of form and matter.

Another key point of Hylomorphism is the idea of different forms of substance. These forms include the Substantial, and Accidental. Essentially, Aristotle states the Substantial Form is one that consists of only the essential essence of that substance. For example the substantial form of a table is that it (depending on the person) four legs and a flat top. With substantial form, it is assuming that everyone will have an operational definition of the essences of a table. Obviously, the idea of a true substantial form not limited by the state of theory, is virtually impossible because one thing never has the same meaning for two people. On the other hand, Accidental Form. is defined by Aristotle as the NON-essential qualities of a substance. manipulating the essential qualities would change the substance into something else.      Removing the legs of a table would render it into a wooden mat or something of the like. However, a tables accidental form would still be considered a table but may have different designs, perhaps an extra central leg, again what we consider a table and how we draw that line is still shrouded in mystery. In theory, however, Hylomorphic Accidental Form makes sense.

Today, we are not limited as Aristotle was by the science of his time. We have gained insight that many philosophers of Aristotle’s era never thought possible. With the advent of subatomic theory, Aristotle’s Hylomorphism gains a whole new dimension of inquiry. If we define matter as the basic building blocks of an object, what would matter ultimately be in the world of inconceivably small particles that form objects? The matter of a bronze statue suddenly becomes, not bronze, but atoms and it’s swirling cloud of charged particles. New information, however, has called into question whether atoms really are the most basic building blocks. Atoms have already, according the Aristotle’s theory demoted every substance a layman can describe as proximate matter. Will atoms themselves be ironically demoted by an even smaller building block in our world? Each new discovery increases the depth at which Hylomorphism attempts to operate.

For me, the idea of substances being built of progressively smaller parts is soothingly logical. I find that, when I look at something, I don’t start considering the substances that have gone into constructing it right away. For example, when looking at a person, I don’t consider the organs and the cells of his or her body, nor do I consider the atoms that constitute him or her. I look at a person, something Aristotle would consider a form and in turn a substance. In my view, I really enjoy theories that make logical sense and are based on the basic experience humanity has had with the paths of thought humans take. Aristotle’s ideas are firmly rooted in logic and Hylomorphism is no exception.

 

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Logic in “The Walking Dead”

Recently I’ve been watching a YouTuber play a game called ‘the walking dead”, an interactive version of the popular TV series. Throughout the series, various characters get bitten and each time the main character (Lee) must decide whether to shoot the infected before they turn or to wait and take the chance.

Near where PewDiePie (the YouTuber I watch) left off, the son of Lee’s friend is bitten. Naturally Kenny, the bitten child’s father, does not want to shoot his son. PewDiePie, however, utilises logic when it came to the moment of decision. He essentially put together the following syllogism:

All bitten people will turn into zombies

Duck (Kenny’s Son) is bitten

Duck will turn into a zombie

You may think that there is a problem with the first premise. However, it is essential to remember that PewDiePie arrives at this conclusion through inductive reasoning. No premise drawn from inductive reason can be proved outright. In the walking dead, PewDiePie has played enough of the game to see that every bitten person had turned into a zombie if he had not shot them. Although this may be bordering on a sweeping generalization, every time a bitten person turns into a zombie it corroborates the general statement through specific cases. We can now assume with reasonable confidence that the first premise is reliable. It may not be true, but it at least functional in the vast majority of cases.

On the other hand, the second premise that Duck is bitten is true. PewDiePie can clearly see that there is a large bite wound on the side of Duck’s torso, not to mention the fact that PewDiePie witnessed the bite happen.

Now breaking it down further:

Bitten People (A) is the middle term

Zombies (B) is the predicate term

Duck (C) is the subject term

Now once simplified:

All As are Bs

C is an A

Therefore C is a B

From this we can conclude that the structure of PewDiePie’s reasoning is indeed valid. The evidence provided for each premise throughout PewDiePie’s playthrough is consistent, making his premises true beyond a reasonable doubt. In conclusion, PewDiePie’s categorical syllogism is Valid and Sound because his premises are reliable. Tough luck Duck.

 

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Broken Dubstep and Criminal Surgeons

All Dubstep makes loud harsh electronic sounds

Broken electronics also make loud harsh electronic sounds

Therefore broken electronics are Dubstep

In this syllogism:

“A” (middle term) is Harsh Electronic Sounds

“B” (predicate term) is Dubstep

“C” (subject term) is “Broken Electronics”

In ABC form. This syllogism would be represented like this:

All B produce A

C produces A

Therefore  C is an A

If you read this carefully you will realize that there are major flaws with my syllogism. When I wrote it, I did not take into account validity or soundness. The true fun is here, where I get to dissect it.

Starting off, we can look at the structure of this syllogism. Consider that all B (dubstep) produces A (harsh electronic noises) -bear in mind that “harsh electronic noises” is a subjective term as well. If C also produces A does this mean that it must fall under the category of B? Do Broken electronics or anything for that matter have to be Dubstep to produce harsh electronic noises? No. The category of “things that produce harsh noises” is larger than the category “Dubstep”. Therefore the conclusion is not supported by the argument making the entire structure of the syllogism invalid.

If this argument isn’t valid it, by default, is not sound or true.

Now, let’s dissect in further detail the things that are going on inside this syllogism and what mistake is being made here. By saying that all things that create harsh electronic noises is dubstep, this syllogism suggests that broken electronics, having the ability to produce such noises are classified as dubstep. In doing this, this argument commits the fallacy of Sweeping Generalization. If I say that people who cut others are criminals, does that make surgeons criminals? My syllogism commits the same error: it does not account for the plausible exceptions. Instead, it creates a false generalization that covers the exception.

 

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Because You’re a Bad Person

Looking through the local letters to the editor I found heaps of faulty logic buried within wrtiers trying to sound convincing. I picked out one of the more obvious ones below:

And as a creative person, I feel a little insulted that Coun. Terry O’Neill seems to consider artistic output “propaganda.” Do councillors O’Neill or Lou Sekora ever listen to music? Go to a movie? Read a book? Visit a museum or gallery? Look around the gorgeous council chambers they deliberate in weekly? These are all expressions of art, of design, of creativity.

Looking over this. you can easily detect the presence of rhetorical questions in the writer’s argument. However, the way erotema is used to reinforce her point is a logical fallacy of Ad hominem. Even if  Councillors O’Niell or Sekora do not listen to music, it is not logical to use this as an argument against their points because it is considered a personal attack. By presenting this view to his or her audience, the writer has attempted (consciously or otherwise) to impress upon the reader that the two councillors are not qualified or apt to be making decisions rather than make a point against their argument.

In addition, the effects of the writer’s fallacy are not confined to this particular argument. People who have read this article will now be (to some extent) influenced by the idea that the councillors are not art oriented people. In a sense, everything that the councillors say in defense or response will be considered with an alternate view as a result of the writer poisoning the well.

Ad-hominem.gif

 

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Which way out of the cave? “What cave?” – Derek W.

Over the past few days in our classroom, there have been things going on that I feel don’t happen very often at our school. We’ve just gotten into Philosophy and the basics of it and the tip of the iceberg has already astonished me. I feel as though I have never thought before.

However, through the many things that we got a taste of, a select few really had me thinking late at night. I found myself thinking more and more about the ideas that I had never thought about before. Things that, if true, would tear and ruin the foundations of human knowledge and all we’ve ever known.

The most vivid thing I remember of my first few days in Philosophy was the word TRUTH. The capital T. I remember watching a video of Dr. West talking about Plato’s “Examined Life”. He touched on truth while presenting his reasoning and opinions and I started really liking the idea of a “Truth”.

Does she know the weight of those words?

Later in the last week, we began talking about the nature and foundations of human progress. First of all, we talked about scientific theories and the fact that they cannot be “proved” absolutely, but can be definitely disproved. The nature of our science is based on trial and error, and observations. We began to see that process itself cannot occur without previous work. Our class then started tracing the line of knowledge: blocks of information built on each other. Eventually we found that, however logical our theories and conclusions, they are all based upon the assumptions of truth. How can we base our knowledge on things that we cannot prove? How do I know that I am sitting in a chair typing on a laptop? There is always the possibility that what is happening to me right this instance is false. The possibility that my senses are faulty and that what I perceive this instant is artificial. To begin our quest for knowledge, we took must have assumed a constructed truth to work upon. We’ve become masters and experts of a contrived truth.

We may have built a grand palace on assumed foundations, but does this mean that what we have built is not a truth? Is there a better truth to be searching for? Yes: possible, but not plausible. The capital T truth that Dr. West talks about is something that could be at the end of any of the infinite lines of knowledge we could have assumed at our very conception. The beginnings of human knowledge must have made assumptions to ensure its survival. There was no other choice, our progress may be in vain but for us it is our truth.

Is our palace of knowledge simply just assumption?

As though in answer to the thoughts swirling around in my head, our class covered and discussed Plato’s Allegory of The Cave. If you aren’t familiar with this electrifying tale, take a look here. Within this story, the prisoners chained to face the wall have done what human knowledge has done. The prisoners have taken the shadows that dance upon the wall as reality and have assumed such. Within their assumed reality they cannot even imagine the working of the relative truth of the outside world. They in fact have become quite adept at discerning shadows and projections on the wall. So much so that, when a prisoner was freed and enlightened to the relative truth outside, the captive prisoners denounced him and his reality as ludicrous to them masters of discerning shadows. Plato’s cave, for me, really brought out and made tangible my scattered thoughts. For me, it brought acted as a keystone and solidified my previous nebulous ideas.

It was the scale of what philosophy impacted that really had me captivated. Sitting in philosophy trying to imagine what truth would be but ending up with more and more layers to be peeled back was like trying to imagine infinity. The moment you think what you’ve thought of might be close to it, you realize that it is literally infinitely larger than that. I can only wonder how many strains of subjective truth there are. Starting at square one, wherever that may have been, we must have assumed something and started in one direction. Was our primordial direction the one that leads to capital T truth? Maybe. Maybe not. I admit that we don’t know if what we see and think are just shadows on a wall or not. Is it still worth trying to work with shadows? Or should we abandon them and search for light? If so, how do we know our light is just a different way of looking at shadows? Should we even try?

Image Sources:
http://philosophy.talons43.ca/files/2012/09/tip_of_the_iceberg.jpg?w=300

http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/seek-truth.jpg

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/56/Karaweik-Palace.JPG

http://taicarmen.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/platos_cave_verysmall.jpg

 
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