PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Friday, February 18, 2005

Interpreting Reality

Interpreting Reality

18 02 2005

Dear Friends,

Next Sunday we are discussing "Interpreting Reality".

This should be fun because as I suspect a lot of subjectivism is involved. Of

course that is not a problem for us, we are used to expressing our opinions in

public. So I hope you can come a long and tell us what your reality looks like.

See you Sunday

Take care


SUNDAY 6.30pm START at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs, but just in

case there is no football on go to the very back of the pub, then turn left

and left again!

Subscribe yahoo group send an email to:

tel 606081813

Pub Molly Malone, c/ Manuela Malasaña, 11, Madrid 28004

metro: <Bilbao> : buses: 21, 149, 147

Interpreting Reality

If a friend of mine sees me carrying a bag full of apples and asks me how many

apples I've got, I'll probably say, ''let's count them.'' And if before that I

happen to be walking down the street and saw this figure walking towards me and

though it was an old colleague, but on closer inspection I discover it is my

friend, then I would just change my belief to fit the real situation.

These sort of reality incidents or issues are common every day standard problems

about what is reality. The problem of reality has many aspects. There is the

semantic issue of what do we mean by reality? What is real, as opposed to is

what is not real? Some, at this point, take reality to mean what exists.

Strictly speaking the issue ''interpreting reality,'' is not the same question

as,'' what is reality?''

Strictly speaking, "interpreting reality" is an epistemological problem and not

a question about perception, physics or, at a pinch, metaphysics.

There is the temptation, however, to assume that reality is what is out there

and for us to find out. This approach implies questions like, how much can we

know, as human beings? How much is knowable, meaning how much can reality enable

us to know? And then there is the old question, how do we know that we know?

Let us, however, not get bogged down with such issues as, what's beyond the

Planck's constant in the microscopic world? Or what's on the other side of the

galaxy? These are all very interesting questions, but not necessarily within our

scope. Let's look at things closer to Earth, things that people like you and me

come across in our everyday life. Let's look at reality which depends on our


Before we can go into specific examples, however, we need to say a bit more

about the interpreting side of the question. When we say interpreting, it is

assumed to mean something like coming to the right conclusion about a state of

affairs or inferring what is reasonably expected from a given set of facts.

Now, since no one lives in a closed black box, and we are talking about our day

to day normal life, we have to take two factors into consideration: 1) our day

to day reality if full of distracting events and information; also known as

white noise. In other words, there are things that are relevant for the piece of

reality we are trying to interpret and things that are not? 2) Everything we

come across as reality has a context. Nothing, as far as our normal everyday

life is concerned, happens outside a context. Could it be that we find the idea

of the big bang so difficult to comprehend conceptually, precisely because it

happened outside a context?

Let's take a practical example, or at least an example that is closer to home.

It is now quite fashionable for governments to try and sell us the need for a

constitution. I mean sell us because the way these things are being promoted is

the way a company would promote its packets of washing powder. The face value

reality seem to be quite a laudable move on the part of governments. So

interpreting reality at face value is more or less settled as far as this matter

is concerned. The face value justification for a brand new constitution seems to

be historically entrenched; and if a country does not have such a document it is

really being out of tune with reality.

But if we really want to do some interpreting of our own we can do no better

than to ask a few awkward questions. For example, if this document is so

goooooood for us, why don't we have it already? I mean, it is not as if the idea

of a goooooood constitution is a new whiz bang discovery. Constitutions have

been around for quite some time now; not to mention what is goooooood for us.

Besides, what is going to happen to the old constitution anyway? So when we are

being sold a new constitution what is the white noise? What is the context? What

is reasonable to believe about the intentions of governments?

Another flavour of the month is globalisation. The face value reality seems to

be that having a world wide open market must be good for us. Think of the new

markets we can sell our goods to. And of course, developing countries can have

all these wonderful opportunities to sell to the developed world. At face value

we can all agree that open markets are good for everyone and unjustified

protectionism does not do any one any good. These are powerful arguments until,

that is, we add some relevant information. Such as the fact that the economies

of developed countries survive on credit; be it mortgages, car loans, or the use

of credit cards. On the other hand, developing countries can really make ago of

things because they don't need sophisticated labour laws nor excessive social

security rights.

The reality about globalisation, maybe, is not that developed countries are

exploiting developing countries, but that developed countries have priced

themselves out of the market. And as a consequence they cannot even afford to

exploit each other any more. Maybe, reality should not be interpreted as needing

different markets, but a different way of doing business.

On the same theme of big business it is often argued that big corporations are

only interested in making big profits. I'm not sure if this is an analytic truth

or a face value reality. This can be further extended to suggest that big

corporations exploit their workers to make a few people rich and powerful. Yes,

of course, but we now that already and it has always been the case anyway.

However, big corporations do actually provide employment. Moreover, the entry

costs are much lower to join a company than starting one's own business. Maybe

there is an element of a catch 22 situation here; one is anti corporations

because one is not employed by the corporations, but one will never be employed

by a corporation if one has an anti corporation attitude. This, is clearly

another way of interpreting reality.

Some would argue that this way of interpreting reality is called cynicism. Maybe

the word cynicism is itself a cynical way to make us feel guilty. That's not the

issue, maybe even frivolous. The issue is that reality is very much context

driven. It is also dependent on how much knowledge and information we have

available. Indeed, we do say that knowledge is power, but the relationship

between knowledge and power is not, in my opinion, linear. I mean, it does not

automatically follow that the more one knows the more powerful one is or

becomes. I suspect knowledge is related to power in a non linear fashion. Maybe

what I know, plus what you don't know, plus the miss information I manage to put

your way, plus…plus…, you know, whatever.

Seeing through the white noise, whether intentional or even accidental, will

certainly give us a head start to interpret reality correctly. Being well

informed will also help us. And finally, being able to spin a good story will

certainly put us in a good position to help others interpret reality correctly.

So let me try it out on you and then tell me how you interpreted reality: "Once

upon a time there was this charismatic phi………"

Maybe next time.

Take care


Friday, February 11, 2005



Feb 11, 2005

Dear Friends,

Don't forget that next Sunday at 1pm we are meeting outside the Thyssen Museum

to go an see the exhibition on German Expressionism. I think that it is more

practical to go for a quick lunch after the exhibition.

It is only fitting that after such a packed day we meet at 6.30pm to discuss


Take care and see you Sunday.


SUNDAY 6.30pm START at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs, but just in

case there is no football on go to the very back of the pub, then turn left

and left again!

Subscribe yahoo group send an email to:

tel 606081813

Pub Molly Malone, c/ Manuela Malasaña, 11, Madrid 28004

metro: <Bilbao> : buses: 21, 149, 147



Time is an important issue in science, and by default in philosophy. This means

that it is a mature subject in the same way that some markets are mature

markets. In other words, it is very difficult to come up with innovative and new

ideas on the subject.

For this reason, it might be worth our while to look at time in our normal

day-to-day setting. Applied philosophy is, in any case, part of our

philosophical activities.

In that case let us start with the most famous scientist. Einstein, is quoted to

have said, "Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an

hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That's


I can, of course, thoroughly confirm half of Einstein's experiment, but

evolution made sure I will not try the other half. This means that we don't have

conclusive proof of this experiment. Another way of explaining Einstein's

dilemma is by invoking the law of diminishing returns. What if he sat one year

next to the pretty girl, how relative would relativity be?

The real point about Einstein's dilemma, however, is that pleasant things seem

to come to an end very quickly. The issue ought to be then, why do we have the

impression that pleasant things in life are limited? Even limited to the extent

that they seem an exception rather than the rule. Why is it that both Einstein

and the rest of us don't seem to have enough time to sit next to anyone for

long, never mind pretty girls? And this is not a question of whether time flies

or stands still.

We can either look at pleasant things as being limited in duration and frequency

or that pleasant things are the culmination of our efforts and work over a

period of time. In other words the tip of life's iceberg.

If in real life pleasant things are the culmination of our efforts then pleasant

things are the dividend we receive for investing over time. If pleasant things

are really short and rare then life must truly be unfair and brutal.

What if we were to take Einstein's dilemma as more than just a causal reaction,

but also an issue about time? Nothing to do with pain or even consciousness, or

diminishing returns. Let us assume for the sake of argument that life is not all

that brutal and pleasant things are in part the product of our effort. Then the

real question is, how long do we have to wait before the pleasant things happen;

a week, a month and year? How long did Einstein have to wait before he had the

opportunity to sit next to the pretty girl in the first place? For me, this is

the crux of the time question. Maybe Einstein did not have to wait that long,

but what about the rest of us?

We know for a fact that in the long term we'll all be dead, so if things were to

happen they'd better happen in the short to medium term. And if we cannot wait

that long, then we had better be that fast. We can be fast, however, if we have

ample resources available. Einstein did write something about converting mass

into energy, but that's another story.

We can therefore either do one thing at a time over a long period of time or we

can do a lot of things, more or less, at once. To put it in another way: one can

try one's luck to sit next to a pretty girl over a period of say, 12 months (we

all know what Einstein meant, so no cheating) or one can try to sit next to as

many pretty girls as one can possibly do over a short period of days. At the

end, at least in theory, we should be able to sit next to a pretty girl for an

hour. Its a matter of doing things concurrently or consecutively.

Is this another way of saying that life is a numbers game? Is there a hint of

the gambler's paradox here? We can play at the roulette table thinking that our

number will come up after the next spin, or we can play all the roulette tables

at the same time. As far as probability is concerned we have not changed the

odds, but we still get the impression that we must really win. But if this is

true then we have no reason to believe such expressions as: time will tell, wait

and see and time heals all wounds. It seems, therefore, that time is neither a

necessary nor a sufficient condition for a pleasant outcome.

This conveniently brings us to another issue in applied philosophy. Since we

don't have an infinite amount of time to sort out our lives, we surely need lots

of resources, and we know what that means for most of us: work. The people who

have access to resources can do lots of things concurrently; if all the above is

to be believed that is.

At least in the context of work things seem to be more clear cut. The theory

goes something like this: the harder one works the greater the rewards. Or, if

you work hard now your just rewards will come later. A version of this theory

also suggests that it is not enough to work hard, but also to work smart.

But we already know that resources are scarce, and as a consequence the question

we have to deal with is how should resources be distributed? Should the rewards

go to those who work hard, smart or both? But we also know that things do not

get more relative than in the field of work.

I am sure that for some a day at work seems to pass as slow as keeping one's

hand on a hot stove for a minute. Is this, however, relativity, boredom or

someone being smarter than us? Have you noticed how those who are handsomely

rewarded at work are not usually paid for their time, but for the results of

their efforts? I mean, the CEO of a multinational company and a charge hand in a

factory both have 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week. Yet the latter is

paid for spending 40 hours working in a factory whilst the other is paid

according to the results of the company. But the connection between time and

work does not end here.

We have the "forty hour week" although in some countries it is 35 and in others,

well they don't even bother about such niceties, after all exploitation has no

time limits. Take the weekend for example, in the past it started Saturday

afternoon, I'm thinking early 20th century here, now we have two full days. Some

companies even allow employees to start their weekend on Friday afternoon. The

absurd thing, though, is that after more than 200 years since the industrial

revolution we still have 28.571428571428571428571428571429% of the week to

recover and rest.

Again, take the concept of overtime, usually paid at 1.5 times the normal rate.

In the media it was recently reported that a study by the TUC (Trade Unions'

Council) concluded that British workers worked as much as ?23bn worth of unpaid

overtime in 2004. That's an average equivalent of £4,650 unpaid wages per

employee; 6,756.76 Euros.

If all the above means anything, it certainly means that time is directly

associated with some ethical issues.

On the plus side, time does keep the wheels of society oiled and synchronised.

Well, to begin with, as Einstein pointed out, yet again, "the only reason for

time is so that everything doesn't happen at once."

Maybe the weekends are short, but it helps if we all stopped work at more or

less the same time. This would enable us to meet friends or do those chores we

do not want to or cannot do during the week. But we cannot meet anyone unless we

can agree the time and place to meet. Even when we do, we still depend on such

things as transport, whether the places we intend to visit are open and of

course our friends actually turning up (on time). However, all these activities

depend on an important idea: convenience. For example, if public transport does

not operate at the time we want to meet our friends, we have very few options:

we don't meet our friends, walk, go by car or whatever. If the shops we want to

visit are not open when we want to go and do the shopping then we have very few

options left. This chain of thought immediately introduces the idea of

compromise to the idea of convenience. However, convenience and compromise are

not only limited to transport or shops.

I mean, some politicians insist in getting their way or no way at all. Some

pressure groups insist on getting their own way or else God help us. Consumers

insist on cheap goods now or they'll go to the competition. Companies, using

shareholders as an excuse, insist that quarterly figures are always in the

black, or else the bottom 10% of performers are sacked. Instant gratification

seems to be the order of the day.

In some cases what started out as convenience, turned into instant

gratification, which in turn left little scope for compromise ending up ousting

tolerance from our language. Maybe when pretty girls leave our company, it is

not only time that seems to fly away.

take care



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