Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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Katherine’s Thoughts on Philosophy: AAAAAAAAH!

So, Philosophy 12 has officially begun. And in true Jackson fashion, what better way to start the year than a document of learning?

Now, I’m a little rusty on the whole format of these documents, but I’m pretty sure we start off with what we’ve done in these past two weeks.

Thoughts about love, wisdom, and loving wisdom:

I was very confused why Mr. Jackson was asking us about love and wisdom, and I only learned today that the actual definition of philosophy is “loving wisdom”. This explained a lot. In my discussions with people in the class, I had come up with a definition of “loving wisdom” as “the passion for gaining knowledge and improving yourself through experiences.” That actually sounds pretty close to philosophy to me, though in my head philosophy is a lot more thinking and looking deeply at sunsets. the most fun about loving wisdom was hearing my classmates’ thoughts on it.By talking to so many people and getting so many ideas put together, I reached a much deeper and better understand of both the words.

Thoughts on class readings:

While I’ve been a little lost in class discussions (as you’ll see later in my goals), I’ve found some pretty interesting things in our class readings. My favorite was the “Talk With Me” essay by Nigel Warburton. It was about how the stereotype of philosophers living as hermits and never talking to people is quite misleading.

I know right, Socrates??? The essay was about, funnily enough, the Socratic Method.  It is about how conversation and argument have a large place in philosophy. While many philosophers spent years in solitude, doing their best work in exile, most of them actually used letters to get other human perspective, or spent their time imagining people to talk too. Somehow, while all in isolation, they realized: there is something about human interaction that is essential to philosophy.

Audible non-verbal aspects of the interaction, such as hearing the smile in someone’s voice, a moment of impatience, a pause of doubt perhaps?), or insight – these factors humanize philosophy

As for the whole essay, the other part that really stuck with me was about argument. As someone who loves debates and arguments with classmates, family or teachers, I could easily see how disagreement is a driving force

It is the dissenters who force us to think, who challenge received opinion

Now, onto the more personal part of this post: My goals and aspirations. (Yes, it’s all about me)

Coming into philosophy, I had a pretty good idea of the atmosphere: mostly self-directed, making our own assignments, lots of class discussions. It was the content that surprised me. Epistemology?? I suppose I’ll learn more about that later, but it was really hard to form any goals without knowing what they were supposed about. He then said that anything we were worried about, or questions we had would also work. Thank god, because I am literally made of worry and questions.

  • Worried about being over-shined in a class of such keen and smart students. Will I speak up enough? Are my points good enough? Can I go “deep” enough?
  • Worried about finding a topic. What pool of topics am I choosing from? the subjects we cover?? It’s too big.
  • How to find a personal philosophy. I don”t know if this means one that I make up, or speaks to me, or even exactly what a personal philosophy is.

My only real, concrete goal for this class is: engage in class discussions and debates

 

I know right, Socrates?? Seems so simple, yet so unattainable. The thing is, while I absolutely adore class discussions and all the fun and wacky things they lead too, I suck at speaking in them. You find me mostly burying my head in a notebook, still listening intently, but with nothing to add. I really want to get more involved in the discussions in this class and debate more with the other classmates. that’s my main aspiration. (My aspiration for this project is to get an “exceeds expectations”, but we’ll see how that turns out.)

Until next time,

 

I’m really feeling the Bill and Ted vibe today

 

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Phil’s Day Off- Alysha Gillis

My goal during this phils day off was to find out how language relates to how knowledgeable you are percieved as by others. I was struggling to figure out what to do because I couldn’t just go on with my weekend becuase nothing I was going to do was going to help me with my topic. I decided to do to exact same thing as I did last Phil’s day off because my topic again has to do with words and the use of language so I figured that this would be a good idea. So I went back downtown to the Vancouver art gallery. This time I went to a different part of the gallery and this time it was based on Picasso’s artwork and this kind of fit perfectly with my topic becuase it got people talking about their opinions of all of the artwork.

During my afternoon at the art gallery I was just walking around and looking at the different art and listening to what peoples opinions on the art and the difference between last time and this time was last phils day off I was trying to listen to how people’s opinions affected my view on the artwork but this time I was trying to see if I could tell how knowledgeable people were about the art.

I discovered that it was clear who was an artist and was the “smartest” and had the most information on the artwork and who was just there becuase the art was pretty or for something to do on the weekend. I was listening to the people who were actally artists and had a lot of knowledge about art and it was much more interesting listening to people who actually knew what they were talking about becuase I felt like I could really learn much more about the piece than if I was listening to someone who didn’t know much about art and just thought it was pretty. I learned that when I was listening to people who used proper language about the topic, it seemed to me that I assumed that they had more knowledge than the people who spoke with less artistic vocabulary.

I think that I still would like to learn more about how smart I think people are about things I have knowledge about  becuase I could have been biast because I don’t really know much about art. Maybe if I did know a ton about art, those people that I thought knew what they were talking about, could have been completely wrong but since I knew basically nothing, I couldn’t have known any better.

I think that this phils day off was equally as sucessful as last because in both, I ended up sucessfully achieving my goal that I set out to complete. I also think that I learned more about my topic and answered a few of my unanswered questions so I would consider this a sucessful phils day off.

 

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Metaphysics Unit Reflection and Self-Assessment

 

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Economic Epistemology

Image courtesy of Cliff Kule

In recent years I’ve been curious about the fluidity of presumed objectivity at the heart of modern economics. Chiefly, its occasional lack of ability to explain the behaviours of markets:

Central bankers still debate whether it’s possible to recognize asset bubbles when they occur, and whether they can or should be deflated. Regulators and bankers are still at odds over new financial products such as credit derivatives: Do they simply improve the market’s ability to process and reflect information, or do they also present new dangers of their own? This is a failure that left the world unprepared for the most recent financial crisis, and the economics profession has been far too complacent about it. Economists can’t be expected to predict the future. But they should be able to identify threatening trends, and to better understand the conditions that can turn a change in prices into a financial tsunami.

Following events such as the financial crisis of 2008, and rising levels of destabilizing inequality (especially in the United States, at the center of the world economy) in the years since, a growing number of economic minds have begun conceiving of a “Brave New Math:”

While the limitations of GDP have since been echoed by many prominent economists including Nobel laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen (whose landmark 2010 report included dozens of important socio-economic measures drawn from the developing world), there has been little change in the obsessive overreliance on GDP as the primary economic barometer. And if GDP was an unreliable indicator in the pre-globalized world, it is woefully misleading today. Increasingly, understanding the quality of GDP and its composition, especially the weighting of its four constituent parts—consumption, government spending, investment, and net exports—is most important to our long-term national health. Yet few governments have managed to divorce themselves from the simple GDP figure, regardless of how irrelevant it has become.

Editorialists at the New York Times have opined that:

“Infinite growth in a finite world is impossible, growth based on speculative finance is unstable, and since the 1960’s, GDP growth and self-reported well-being have been completely uncorrelated phenomena. In this sense holistic, deep-reaching change of both thought, education and practice is needed. Indeed, we were brought together by an increasing realization that our global economic troubles aren’t just a few bad apples; the problem is indeed the apple tree.”

 Writers at the Guardian have called for an expanded undergraduate economics curriculum

We propose that neoclassical theory be taught alongside and in conjunction with a broad variety of other schools of thought consistently throughout the undergraduate degree. In this way the discipline is opened up to critical discussion and evaluation. How well do different schools explain economic phenomena? Which assumptions should we build our models upon? Should we believe that markets are inherently self-stabilising or does another school of thought explain reality better? When economists are taught to think like this, all of society will benefit and more economists will see the next crisis coming. Critical pluralism opens up possibilities and the imagination.

From a certain perspective it could be stated that we are reaching the end of an economic paradigm, giving us something of a real-time example to examine in the realm of Epistemology, as old truths are investigated, and assumptions are tested against the possibilities of the new.

Or not.

That’s the thing about shifting paradigms: How do we know that the existing paradigm is flawed to its foundation? Might it require merely ‘tweaks’ as opposed to full-scale revolution and regeneration?

How do we ensure that this conversation has a means of happening democratically?

 

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Introductory Readings for Week I

Marginalia

Marginalia by Flickr user Shelly.

Love, Wisdom and Wonder: Three Reasons to Celebrate Philosophy | Matthew Beard writing in the Conversation

Philosophy matters, simply, because the answers to philosophical questions matter. Not only is it a matter of life and death, but a matter of, to name a few examples, the nature of law, the role of language, where morality comes from, whether there is a God, whether there is a self and what constitutes our identity, and what beauty is. What makes these questions important is not only that they help societies to function (although they certainly do), but that they reflect something deeply fundamental about human beings: that we are physical creatures, but our consciousness is not restricted to physical matters. Indeed, philosophy is both reflective and perfective of human nature.

Philosophy in our schools is a necessity, not a luxury | Robert Grant writing in the Irish Times

Our standards for truth and knowledge influence our scientific and religious beliefs. Our ideas about justice, equality and freedom determine whether we are liberal or conservative, capitalist or socialist.

In examining these concepts, philosophers rarely come up with neat answers. None are immune to counter-argument.

Philosophy teaches that our understanding of these basic concepts rests on shaky foundations. In so doing, it reveals the limitations of human knowledge and understanding.

Such awareness helps students be wary of those who claim certainty and truth; it protects against dogmatic indoctrination and group-think. Philosophy celebrates the complex, nuanced nature of our understanding. It reminds us of what we do not know.

Why are there so few women philosophers? | David Papineau writing in the Times Literary Supplement

Women occupy 25 per cent of the posts in university philosophy departments across the United Kingdom. The figures are similar throughout the anglophone world. In the United States the proportion is 21 per cent, while Canada, Australia and New Zealand all have fewer than 30 per cent women philosophers. This makes philosophy an outlier among humanities subjects. Half a century ago, all university departments employed far fewer women than men. But this kind of imbalance has all but disappeared from areas such as English literature and history, and is nowadays largely restricted to the so-called STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Philosophy stands out in continuing to appoint about three times as many men as women to academic posts.

What is the explanation for this peculiarity, and should it be a matter of concern? These two questions are interlinked. How far philosophy’s gender imbalance is bad depends on its causes. If it were the result of simple discrimination against women, for instance, then it would not only be unjust, but it would also be preventing some of the best-suited people from working as philosophers. But it is not obvious that discrimination is the right explanation, and it should not be taken for granted that any other causes for the imbalance would be similarly unacceptable.

The key step is to point out that there are certain genuine puzzles regarding fundamentally important notions that only philosophers work on and about which scientists don’t seem able to solve or often disposed to even address. The reason these puzzles are fundamentally important lies in their subject matter (e.g., truth, justice, consciousness, knowledge); the reason they are genuine is that they can be put in the form of a small number of individually highly plausible yet apparently jointly inconsistent claims. Since they seem jointly inconsistent, I want to say that they can’t all be true; since each is highly plausible, I want to say that each is true; but of course I can’t say both things once I see the incompatibility between them. Any minimally adequate response to the puzzle must do either of two things:

  • Identify the claims in the puzzle that aren’t true, explain why they aren’t true, articulate the truths we have been confusing them with (if there are any), and explain how it is that we made those mistakes.
  • Explain how contrary to what anyone thought the claims are all true and do not conflict with one another. In this case the solution must greatly clarify the claims so we can see that they don’t really conflict.

Does Colour even Exist? | Malcolm Harris writing in the New Republic

One of the reasons I think philosophy isn’t very popular in the United States is that the secular among us assume not only that there exists a scientific explanation for everything, but that someone in a laboratory or a library somewhere already knows it. Primary science education plays up this assumption, preferring testable information to ongoing mysteries—I am reminded of an eleventh-grade physics exam on opponent processing. But here’s what they don’t tell you in school: The neurological and physical evidence that supports this model is extremely inconsistent.

Philosophy: A Brief Guide for Undergraduates | American Philosophical Association

Philosophy is quite unlike any other field. It is unique both in its methods and in the nature and breadth of its subject matter. Philosophy pursues questions in every dimension of human life, and its techniques apply to problems in any field of study or endeavor. No brief definition expresses the richness and variety of philosophy. It may be described in many ways. It is a reasoned pursuit of fundamental truths, a quest for understanding, a study of principles of conduct. It seeks to establish standards of evidence, to provide rational methods of resolving conflicts, and to create techniques for evaluating ideas and arguments. Philosophy develops the capacity to see the world from the perspective of other individuals and other cultures; it enhances one’s ability to perceive the relationships among the various fields of study; and it deepens one’s sense of the meaning and variety of human experience.

 

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Art can show us what’s wrong with our Planet

Image courtesy of Nautilus Mag

With our unit on Aesthetics leading us into the winter break, our philosophers may enjoy this tour of curated art installations that call the human species to take note of the degradation taking place in the natural world:

Earth is on the brink of a mass extinction—the first in 66 million years, and it’s caused primarily by human activity. Scientists first detected this epochal event by calculating diversity in our forests and taking the temperature of our atmosphere, and they now outline steps we must take to deter the grim global prognosis. Engineers, following suit, havesuggested ways to change human industry to reduce our footprint and try to soften the damage done. Ideally, politicians react, too, transforming scientific insight into Earth-friendly leadership.

But what’s the part of the professional painter or sculptor? In the presence of environmental anxiety, what can the artist do?

In the 1960s, just as Rachel Carson was publishing her landmark book Silent Spring—often referred to as the catalyst of the environmental movement—a new kind of visual art sprung to life. Through art created in outdoor environments rather than the white walls of a studio, “ecological artists” sought to illuminate the most serious environmental issues of their time. They revealed often-ignored details of the world with unorthodox mediums like graffiti, planted fields, and even mountains. Here are some lessons that their ecological artworks have bared about our planet in flux.

 

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On Experience, Perception and Biased Expressions

Proposition: Knowledge is fueled by experience, influenced by perception and expressed in a strictly subjective manner

When creating a theory of what knowledge is I came to understand that it is fueled through experience. Whether that experience is physical (one is creating an understanding that fire is hot by touching it) or mental (one is creating an understanding that fire is hot by reading about it). There are so many different ways in which people can begin to understand and gain knowledge of different topics, just as there are many ways in which they encode that knowledge.

Klob’s theory of the experiential learning cycle outlines that there are four steps in the cycle of learning through experience:  Concrete Experience, Reflective Observation,  Abstract Conceptualization, and Active Experimentation.

Concrete Experience involves encountering a new situation or the reinterpretation of an existing experience.

Reflective Observation involves reflecting on the experience being sure there are no inconsistencies on the experience and the understanding of it.

Abstract Conceptualization involves the discovery of new ideas or the abstract understanding that come to mind through reflections.

Active Experimentation involves the learner applying new knowledge to real life in order to see what may result.

learning-kolb

 

In Klob’s theory, all parts of the cycle are necessary for a person to fully gain knowledge. No one category can be effective on its own.

Knowledge can be perceived differently person to person. Many people have different learning styles which affect how they learn and what they gain from their experiences. Klob’s theory also involves the different styles of learning that people may have. Different variables affect a person’s learning style, and how they perceive their experiences.  For example, social environment, educational experiences, or the basic cognitive structure of the individual all play a role in how that person learns.

Klob’s theory involves four different learning styles: Diverging, Assimilating, Converging, and Accommodating.

Diverging (feeling and watching – CE/RO): People who use the learning style of diverging knowledge are often able to look at things from different perspectives. These people are sensitive to their surroundings, themselves and others. These learners prefer to watch rather than do, tending to gather information and using their imagination to solve problems. Diverging learners are best at viewing concrete situations at several different viewpoints and perform better in situations that require idea generation e.g. brainstorming. Diverging learners are generally more social as they prefer to work in groups, to listen with an open mind and to receive personal feedback.

Assimilating (watching and thinking – AC/RO):People who use the learning style of Assimilating knowledge use a logical approach when solving problems or interpreting information. These people value ideas and concepts over information from other people. They require a good clear explanation of a concept rather than a practical opportunity to physically use their knowledge.Assimilating learners excel at understanding a wide range information and organizing that information in clear logical formats. These people are more attracted to logically sound theories than approaches based on practical value. They prefer readings, lectures, exploring analytical models, and having time to think things through when attempting to gain new knowledge and understanding.

Converging (doing and thinking – AC/AE): People who use the learning style of converging knowledge can solve problems and will use their knowledge to find solutions to practical issues.They prefer technical tasks, and are less concerned with people and interpersonal aspects of thinking.These learners are best at finding practical uses for ideas and theories. They can solve problems and make decisions by finding solutions to questions and problems which enables them to specialize in technological tasks.

Accommodating (doing and feeling – CE/AE): People who use the learning style of accommodating knowledge tend to be ‘hands-on’ learners, and rely on their intuition rather than logic. They use other people’s analysis, and prefer to take a practical, experiential approach when solving problems. These learners are often attracted to new challenges and experiences, and to carrying out plans. They act on ‘gut’ instinct rather than logical analysis and are the most prevalent learners in the general population.

A typical representation of Klob’s learning styles looks something like this:

kolb's_learning_styles_businessballs

The east-west axis of the cycle is called the Processing Continuum. This is how we choose to approach a task. The north-south axis is called the Perception Continuum which is our emotional response to our experience.
Many people agree that knowledge is obtained when a person is able to express that knowledge. While I believe that one does not have to express their knowledge to have it I do agree that the best way to prove that one has obtained an understanding of something is to express that understanding. When attempting to express knowledge, it becomes clear that knowledge obtained through experience is often subjective. In an article titled Subjective Knowledge by Rich Stutton he writes of the subjective view point. Explaining that:

“In it, all knowledge and understanding arises out of an individual’s experience, and in that sense is inherently in terms that are private, personal, and subjective. An individual might know, for example, that a certain action tends to be followed by a certain sensation, or that one sensation invariably follows another. But these are its sensations and its actions There is no necessary relationship between them and the sensations and actions of another individual. To hypothesize such a link might be useful, but always secondary to the subjective experience itself.”

He touches on what would conventionally be argued as objective knowledge. Information such as science and math involving definite particles and equations with definite solutions and concrete explainings. He talks about the objective, realist view explaining the belief that knowledge is objective in that

“In this view there is a reality independent of our experience. This would be easy to deny if there were only one agent in the world. In that case it is clear that that agent is merely inventing things to explain its experience. The objective view gains much of its force because it can be shared by different people. In science, this is almost the definition of the subjective/objective distinction: that which is private to one person is subjective whereas that which can be observed by many, and replicated by others, is objective.”

He points out both the flaws and the appeal of these views pointing out that:

“The appeal of the objective view is that it is common across people. Something is objectively true if it predicts the outcome of experiments that you and I both can do and get the same answer. But how is this sensible? How can we get the same answer when you see with your eyes and I with mine? For that matter, how can we do the “same” experiment?”

Stutton concludes that knowledge is subjective; a point that I whole heartily agree with. Knowledge is biased as no one person will experience, perceive and express their knowledge exactly the same way as another. Thus my theory of knowledge is that knowledge is fueled by experience, influenced by perception and expressed in a subjective manner.

 

 

 

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Stephen Downes’ Theory of Epistemology

Blog well...
We are greatly fortunate to have a mind like Stephen Downes‘ join us from time to time in Philosophy 12 to offer comments, feedback and dialogue with our for-credit participants. Occasionally, he offers responses to assignments, as in the case of this semester’s mid-term assignment, where he proposes the following theory of epistemology:

Most theories of knowledge depict knowledge as a type of belief. The idea, for example, of knowledge as ‘justified true belief’ dates back to Plato, who in Theaetetus argued that having a ‘true opinion’ about something is insufficient to say that we know about something.

In my view, knowledge isn’t a type of belief or opinion at all, and knowledge isn’t the sort of thing that needs to be justified at all. Instead, knowledge is a type of perception, which we call ‘recognition’, and knowledge serves as the justification for other things, including opinions and beliefs.

You can read the rest of Stephen’s theory of epistemology here. But other philosophers writing their own Theories of Knowledge midterms this week may also find useful reading from an older piece of his writing, How to Write Articles Quickly and Expertly

From time to time people express amazement at how I can get so much done. I, of course, aware of the many hours I have idled away doing nothing, demur. It feels like nothing special; I don’t work harder, really, than most people. Nonetheless, these people do have a point. I am, in fact, a fairly prolific writer.

Part of it is tenacity. For example, I am writing this item as I wait for the internet to start working again in the Joburg airport departures area. But part of it is a simple strategy for writing you essays and articles quickly and expertly, a strategy that allows you to plan your entire essay as you write it, and thus to allow you to make your first draft your final draft. This article describes that strategy.

Begin by writing – in your head, at least – your second paragraph (that would be the one you just read, above). Your second paragraph will tell people what your essay says. Some people write abstracts or executive summaries in order to accomplish this task. But you don’t need to do this. You are stating your entire essay or article in one paragraph. If you were writing a news article, you would call this paragraph the ‘lede’. A person could read just the one paragraph and know what you had to say.

But how do you write this paragraph? Reporters will tell you that writing the lede is the hardest part of writing an article. Because if you don’t know what the story is, you cannot write it in a single paragraph. A reporter will sift through the different ways of writing the story – the different angles – and find a way to tell it. You, because you are writing an article or essay, have more options.

 

 

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Midterm Assignment: Personal Theory of Knowledge

εntropyıng ın-bεtwεεn Camεra▲Obscura . .

Image courtesy of Flickr user Jef Safi

All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason.

Immanuel Kant

For credit as well as open-online participants are invited to respond to the following prompts in developing a personal theory of knowledge to be share on the blog by the end of next week (Friday December 5th). 

Purpose

  • To state and support a proposition of personal knowledge;
  • To synthesize and reflect on course topics explore thus far:
    • Philosophical Inquiry
    • Logic
    • Scientific Philosophy
    • Metaphysics
  • To integrate existing epistemological ideas into a unique personal theory.

Components

  • It’s a Blog Post: Each personal theory of epistemology will be posted in the form of a blog entry on the class site.
  • Tell us what you know: Identify a specific aspect or perspective of your view of knowledge ( how, where, and under what conditions it exists, is acquired, communicated).
  • Be Logical: Represent the statements formulating your proposition of knowledge as a syllogism or logical argument.
  • Cite your Sources: Whether the website that originally posted the image at the top of your post or the thinker(s) who informed your own ideas, use links and identify how others’ have influenced your published work.

Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 1.26.22 PM

 

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Rationalism, the Paradigm Shift, and the Penrose Tile

KITES & DARTS: British mathematician Roger Penrose created a plane of beautiful, endless variation with just two shapes, kites and darts, seen here in blue lines. Image by Dominique Fung

I came across this article in Nautilus that seems to tread some familiar territory in terms of a few of our discussions during metaphysics in the last while.

Given that Fibonacci seems to appear everywhere in nature—from pineapples to rabbit populations—it was all the more odd that the ratio was fundamental to a tiling system that appeared to have nothing to do with the physical world. Penrose had created a mathematical novelty, something intriguing precisely because it didn’t seem to work the way nature does. It was as if he wrote a work of fiction about a new animal species, only to have a zoologist discover that very species living on Earth. In fact, Penrose tiles bridged the golden ratio, the math we invent, and the math in the world around us.

However, an added piece of this idea relates directly to a concept at the heart of our epistemology unit, as relates to the idea of a paradigm shift:

It was as though Penrose’s fanciful mathematics had forced itself into the natural world. “For 80 years, a crystal was defined as ‘ordered and periodic,’ because all crystals studied from 1912 on were periodic,” Shechtman says. “It wasn’t until 1992 that the International Union of Crystallography established a committee to redefine ‘crystal.’ That new definition is a paradigm shift for crystallography.”

It was more than mere mental inertia that made it so hard to understand and absorb Shechtman’s discovery. Aperiodic crystalline structures weren’t just unfamiliar; they were supposed to be unnatural. Remember that the placement of one Penrose tile can affect things thousands of tiles away—local constraints create global constraints. But if a crystal forms atom by atom, there should be no natural law that would allow for the kind of restrictions inherent to Penrose tiles.

As we continue to argue the merits of empiricism versus rationalism, doesn’t the example of the Penrose tile present a case of rationalism leading the way?

 
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