PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Saturday, March 31, 2007

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: How do we create personal harmony?

Dear friends,

Sorry for sending the essay on How de we create personal harmony? so late.

I am also including the details/mailing for Thursday again:

Isabel has managed to get some information about the events Thursday, holy
week (5 April), in Morata de Tajuna.

Morata - Enactment of the Passion of Christ:
These are eleven staged enactments, and we are told that the one in the Town
Hall square is the best. For some reason, the person Isabel spoke to at the
Ayutamiento thought that there might be some changes because of the summer
time. No specific details were give. However, the event will probably start
between 8.00pm and 8.30pm and finishes around 11.00pm and 11.30pm.

Buses - Line 337:
Buses leave from Conde Casal every hour, except that there isn't one at
5.00pm. The return buses are also regular with the night buses running at:
23.10, 00.25, and 2.40am. The only thing we have to find out is where the
return bus-stop is in Morata.

We can fix the details of where and when to meet this Sunday during the
meeting. In any event there are a couple of good bars in Conde Casal should
things not work out.

See you soon


**********HOLIDAY FLATS**********
Mayte; Almería (Villa de Níjar);

Paloma; Marbella (near Elviria);

+++++++++MEETING DETAILS+++++++++
SUNDAY 6.00pm START at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs----
-Yahoo group >> <
-Old essays:
-Group photos:
-My tel 606081813
-metro: Bilbao : buses: 21, 149, 147


How do we create personal harmony?

There are two prominent models the human beings. One is the Spinoza type
model were we try to balance positive and negative forces. And a state of
harmony would exist if we did manage to achieve this equilibrium. Of course,
this model is not exclusive to Spinoza. Some oriental thinking also ascribes
this equilibrium model for example the yin-yang model of balance.

The second model is the religious type model (the gap model), specifically,
the monotheistic model, where the human being is a unity. If a person can be
said to be in the grace of god then he would achieve personal harmony, and
if not then that person would have something missing. Hence, on this model
personal harmony can only be achieved through spiritual fulfilment and grace
from god. Without which the person would be missing something. In a way this
religious model is also similar to Plato's theory of forms. The human being
is a representation of some more perfect whole; that is there is something

The religious model is more prescriptive than descriptive in the sense that
it does not try to explain what is happening with personal harmony, but how
to achieve personal harmony. The Spinoza equilibrium model, is as
descriptive as it is prescriptive. once we know what is going on and how
things work, we can then find a way to achieve harmony.

Hence, if the question is to be understood as prescriptive, then we can
answer it by seeing what people do in general. Some people achieve personal
harmony through prayer and spiritual meditation, others through spending
sprees, others employ drugs and some apply more imaginative strategies. We
can of course discuss the ethics of each strategy, but this would hardly
provide a philosophical analysis of what is at issue here.

It is not within the scope of this essay to give a full analysis of the
structure of human beings. I will only try to give a rough idea of how we
can understand the idea of harmony in the human being. I am therefore not
interested in a prescriptive analysis but more descriptive analysis;
understanding what is going on and what problems we expect to find.

Harmony, is just a word describing a human experience. There is nothing
magical about the word itself, which means that we can use different words
and expressions to describe what is essentially the same experience.
Alternative words and expressions to harmony might be inner peace, personal
tranquillity, at one with god or nature, feeling good or on top of the
world. The list might be endless. To be in harmony means that we do not feel

I do not think that harmony necessarily implies being happy, but it
necessarily implies not being sad or troubled. And I do not think that being
happy is a sufficient condition to achieve personal harmony. Maybe, having
personal harmony might itself cause happiness. Harmony in a way can act as a
gateway to happiness. Anyway, Spinoza* sort of prescribes a way towards
harmony in Postulate 42: Cheerfulness cannot be excessive, but is always
good; melancholy, on the other hand, is always bad.

I would also say that we appreciate personal harmony during or immediately
after a troublesome or tumultuous period in our life. Maybe, after the loss
of someone important to us, or in a situation where we experience personal
danger, a crisis or a life threatening situation. There are many causes why
we would seek and value personal harmony. On the equilibrium model, we have
to balance against the melancholy.

Losing a partner or a parent is one of them, losing one's pet gerbil might
not readily qualify. The cause of the disequilibrium must be quite
substantial. Which in turn might explain why we place so much value to the
concept of harmony since it is associated with major traumatic events. As
memory aids, traumatic events are very good at helping us remember our state
of being at the time.

Does this mean that personal harmony is only relevant for such traumatic
events or is it more common in us, except we just do not notice? Maybe we do
require some sort of personal harmony when our pet gerbil dies, but not
enough to have a long lasting impact on us. If we look at children when they
do actually lose a pet gerbil or a favourite toy, they do seem to go through
some eventful trauma. And the idea for them to come to terms with such
events does require a big effort. However, I would not have though that by
seeming to forget about it soon after is a sign of their low moral standard,
but rather of their underdeveloped sense of space-time emotional experience.
They forget quickly because they are constantly coming across new
experiences every day.

I am sure we all agree that personal harmony is a state of mind rather than
an additional object which some how manifests itself in us. I therefore
reject the argument that personal harmony fills any gaps or void in us to
make us whole again. That we might refer to 'filling a gap' or 'make us
whole again' as metaphors is of course a matter of language convention and
not a physical event. But even as metaphor I am not convinced that we are
filling any blank spaces or making something more complete. There is nothing
missing because the causes of what makes personal harmony necessary is not
the absence of something but an imbalance in the brain.

That personal harmony tends to follow some personal trauma suggests that
this experience is closely linked with pain. And in this case I want to
argue that pain can be physical or psychological; the pain itself is
physical, but I use psychological as a language tag to refer to a type of
pain. We could therefore say that personal harmony is a form of pain
management. We could leave the topic at this point and assume that what
follows is a matter for physiology to take over and explain. And maybe fix.

However, what makes personal harmony a legitimate philosophical issue are
two things. The first is that personal harmony is based on our epistemic
state of mind or beliefs. And secondly, we value personal harmony because we
see it transcending over a long period of time into the future. Hence, our
beliefs are always a legitimate philosophical concern and value judgments,
especially about the future, are always of interest to philosophers.

Starting with the second point, this future transition of personal harmony
means that the kind of happiness or tranquillity we experience is beyond
everyday pleasure. I would argue that the meaning of harmony implies a state
over a period of time. Pleasure is more temporal and short term. No matter
how much I might enjoy a strawberry ice cream I know for a fact that the
pleasure I am going get from a cone of strawberry ice cream is not going to
last long into the night.

This idea of personal harmony applying over the medium or long term means
that it depends on our ability to project ourselves into the future. Not
only does this mean that we can see ourselves having positive experience in
the future, but also that what we do now has a long term effect. So, the
first thing we seem to do and need to do to create personal harmony, is to
project ourselves into the future. Maybe, we would ask ourselves such
questions as would life be like in six months time? Or what do I have to do
now in order for things to be better in the future?

On the equilibrium model we can recognise a causal chain of events that can
in turn lead to a prescriptive strategy. Of course, the gap model does
identify a causal chain and a prescriptive strategy based on the future
which really makes it an equilibrium model, but of course it is not
presented as such.

Our beliefs are not only relevant to how we see ourselves in the future, but
also about how we act as causal agents. It is not enough to believe that
things could be better, but also how can we can make things better?

If this is accepted, we can immediately infer that there are some forms of
pain that can be managed through our beliefs. We can also ask: What role and
effect do substances (medicines and drugs) play in creating personal
harmony? Do these external aids act in the short term, so we have to keep on
taking them on a regular basis if we want long term effects? Do they
supplement, suppress or initiate beliefs that are helpful to create personal
harmony? Are beliefs necessary at all in creating personal harmony? And Can
we just create personal harmony through substances, medical or otherwise,
thus act on the physical pain? And of course, do beliefs act on the brain in
the same way substances act on the brain to create personal harmony?

We can safely assume that to understand personal harmony we have to
understand how the brain works and on a larger scale, how the human body
works. But these are big issues, too big for this essay anyway. So we have
to be less ambitious.

We can use the second law of thermodynamics as a model to understand what is
happening in the brain and body. Of course, there are those who think that
thermodynamics are involved in living systems. Schrodinger pointed out that
(Life:Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) a cell has to create internal
order and organization to keep away from thermodynamic equilibrium, which
means death. We can see this idea hinted at by Spinoza, admittedly in a
different context, in postulate 6: Each thing, as far as it can by its own
power, tries to stay in existence. And postulate: 39: (i) Things that
preserve of the proportion of motion and rest in the parts of a human body
are good; and (ii) things that alter that proportion are bad.

What is interesting about this model is that a living open system must have
its own regulating system to maintain order, but at a safe distance from
thermodynamic equilibrium. Personal harmony may be said to be thermodynamic
order which is achieved by interacting with the environment. However,
interacting with the environment can be of two kinds: stopping the
environment from causing us harm or redistribute scare resources to increase
our energy input. For example, Postulate 13 states: When a mind imagines
things that lessen or hinder the body's power of acting, it tries its utmost
to recollect things that exclude their existence.

Of course, when we're interacting with the environment to redistribute
resources, we are thinking of such things as food, other digestible
substances, cloths and other form of protection. But as I have tried to
argue before, these physical substances need to be administered on a regular
basis to maintain their benefits in the medium to long term. We need to eat
more or less everyday otherwise the human body will be on its way towards
thermodynamic equilibrium. How much and what we eat are two different

Furthermore, if we accept that an open system needs a regulating mechanism,
maybe something akin to a thermostat, then it follows that we also need
information. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if the seat of
personal harmony is the brain then we are dealing with information. Which
brings us back to the question whether medicines (or other substances acting
on the brain) do away with our beliefs or influence our beliefs. First of
all we have input information from the cause that has created the negative
imbalance in us. We need information to assess our state of affairs and then
we need information to plan a future strategy. For example, information from
past experience or the experience of others. However, information on its own
is not a sufficient causal agent to influence the future.

The information we need to create personal harmony needs to be supported by
acts and behaviour. In other words, beliefs lead us to action otherwise they
are occupying space in our brain for nothing. For example, thermostats
regulate room temperature by receiving information from the surrounding
environment and then sending relevant information to activate heathers or
fans. Except there is one little problem: the future. We can assume that
thermostats do not think about the future, but we do. Human speculation
about the future tends to pan out different from what we anticipated or
wanted. Of course, I am not saying that it will always pan out differently,
but that the future is a serious threat, if not discrepancy, for personal

If the future tends to present certain inconsistencies with our plans or
desires, does this mean that we constantly have to adjust our methods and
strategy for personal harmony? On an extreme interpretation of this question
we might want to consider the possibility that we constantly making
adjustments to our personal harmony. And on the other extreme, it might very
well be that personal harmony is just a form of self deception, without
knowing that it is self deception.

I therefore think that personal harmony is first and foremost a state of
mind based on beliefs, and in some cases, knowledge. This is consistent with
the second law of thermodynamics and other systems that see the brain (mind)
as a monitoring and managing system. And in our case pain management. I don't
think that the gap model is consistent with the way we really do create
personal harmony. Of course, as I said earlier, the gap model is indeed an
equilibrium model, using different language and metaphysical putty to fill
in gaps. In reality the gap model is doing a balancing act so familiar with
the physical and natural world.

Of course, for some, accepting this balancing act its self distressing and
melancholic, but at least we now have a context for reference.

Take care


*Spinoza at


Friday, March 23, 2007

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: How do you know somebody loves you? + Walk San Rafael

+++++ some of you would have already received this email, but because I'm
using a new system I'm not sure who got the email or not. From the four
control addresses I use I only received the email in one of them. And that
does not include the yahoo group. Apologies in advance, Lawrence ++++++

Dear friends,
Don't forget that this Saturday, 24 March, we're going to San Rafael for a
relaxing walk in the country side. Of course there will always be an
opportunity to stop for a hot cup of coffee or what ever takes your fancy;
I'm sure most bars will probably have what you want.
These are the details: meet at Nuevos Ministerios RENFE , 9.30am to catch
the 10.08am train to Segovia; we get at San Rafael at around 11.30am. Don't
forget you will need to get a ticket and we also meet near the ticket office
in the main hall. Monica and Sonia tell me that they will be travelling in
the front carriage so I guess we can all head in that direction. Those who
are going by car need not prepare any special welcome for those of us
travelling by normal means although any effort would be greatly appreciated.
Talking about understanding, I once again had to forego writing the essay.
As some of you know last Friday my PC gave up the ghost and decided enough
was enough; there might still be hope of the machine. In the meantime I had
to get a new PC and now I am using the most expensive software to go back to
the equivalent of the stone age for computers; manually copy and paste. In
their infinite wisdom those who developed the new PC system decided that we
are better off paying 200 Euros for what was once a free feature of a word
processor. It took me some time to find a work-around for a simple, but
expensive feature.
On the subject of love for fellow human beings, this Sunday we are
discussing the subject: how do you know that somebody loves you? Of course,
love could mean different things to different people, but how should we
understand, somebody? Is there a difference between somebody and someone?
Should we read more in the body part than the 'one' part? We all look
forward to finding out on Sunday, but maybe on Saturday we'll have a test
run of how things ought to be.
See you Sunday or Saturday,
Take care Lawrence
**********HOLIDAY FLATS********** Mayte; Almería (Villa de Níjar);
Paloma; Marbella (near Elviria);
+++++++++MEETING DETAILS+++++++++ SUNDAY 6.00pm START at Molly Malone's
Pub, probably downstairs---- -Email: -Yahoo group >> < -Old essays: -Group photos: -My tel 606081813 -<<<<<>>>> metro:
: buses: 21, 149, 147

Friday, March 09, 2007

What is civilization?

What is civilization?

A civilization is a living biological system. More about systems later. In the meantime we can approach the question: “what is civilization?” by taking a quick look at how we use and what we mean by civilization.

In our common use language, civilisation means cultural or intellectual refinement even good taste ( Or: intellectual or spiritual enlightenment, as opposed to brutishness or coarseness ( civilization, which comes from Latin, originally meant being a member of a town (city) and governed by the laws of that community.

We also use civilization (Wikipedia:civilization {the article}) in a broad sense to mean human society as a whole, as in “A nuclear war would wipe out Civilization.” it seems to me that in this sense, we are trying to distinguish between what is normally accepted as a human way of life or behaviour. Of course, an all out nuclear war would wipe out everything whether it was civilized or not, except maybe for a few cockroaches. Another example is to say coming back to civilization after some time in the wilderness.

But a technical meaning of civilization tends to remain faithful to the original roman definition of civilization, where people live in cities and get their food from agriculture. “civilizations are also characterized by a social elite, with inherited status inherited, determined largely from birth.” (the article) Presumably, in today’s capitalist societies this social elite would be those who are mega rich and maybe in the ex-communist block it would have been those who controlled influential networks of party members. Except, of course, that the demise of the communist system means that we are now limited to what research can be done in the field. However, if we take present day Cuba and North Korea, it is clear that power there has been transferred in the tradition monarchical method; i.e. keeping it in the family. The US presidential system has, on the other hand, demonstrated that it is the moneyed classes that have access to power. And in spite of the perceived political differences between the two political blocks, none seem to want to reform the system to make it less dependent on corporate and personal financial donations.

One of the on-going debates is what makes communities civilized as opposed to not-civilized. the modern need to be politically correct has led some to dilute the term civilization to include bush-people and similar tribes. But as the article points out, whilst everyone lives in a culture and society, not everyone live in a civilization.

Some of the characteristics of a civilization have been identified to include, apart from living in cities: a proportion of the population not devoted to agriculture, thus giving rise to division of labour; institutional control of food, by governments, ruling classes or bureaucracy; complex institutions such as education; complex forms of economic exchange; material possessions; development of technologies and finally development of arts and especially writing.

A moral dimension of civilizations is the influence these have on other communities. For example, the expansionist policies of the roman empire meant that many communities were displaced, enslaved and sometimes obliterated. However, civilization based on a strong religion justify similar activities on the grounds that they are spreading the word of god or some such dictum. However, what is clear is that civilization have both positive and negative effects on people.

much as we might detest such unethical policies, we are where we are today, because such unethical policies were sometimes practiced in the past. What is good about our society, from freedom of speech to medical advances, we owe to people whose rights and well being were trampled upon by the juggernaut western civilization. An encompassing term (western civilization) that includes amongst others, roman, Christian, Spanish, French, English, Italian and more recently American civilizations. The reason I have left Greek civilization out is because although such scholars as Plato, homer, and Aristotle have been studied through out the ages, it was not until recent times that we started including Greek civilization as something worth considering. Precisely at the same time when pirates and marauding invaders were becoming affluent enough to appreciate the meaning of respect and social elitism. Greek civilization offered these people a ready made mythological ideal of a civilized folk they could emulate, at least in word if not in deed. And, as they say, the rest is history.

However, we are at a serious disadvantage when we discuss civilization. We just don't know what it is like to be alive in one of these past civilizations? Sure, historical texts and archeologically studies can bring us closer to these people, but this no closer to know what it is like living in Madrid from reading a tourist guide. To use a rather banal example, what was it like to have a tooth ache in roman times? I don't mean the pain or the treatment, but the human angst. Did one feel old, seriously handicapped, did toothaches coincide with the advancing of age at the time; maybe in the same way we think of Parkinson disease or heart disease as a problem that arises from the advancing of age?

A second disadvantage is that we can only judge a civilization from what we inherit from them; what I will call the legacy of a civilization. These are usually the monuments which we go and visit as tourists or the texts we read as under graduates or the artefacts lovingly looked after by dedicated curators in museums. Sometimes, what we have from a civilization is nothing but the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Another disadvantage is that we inevitably consider other civilizations from the vantage point of our civilization. Genghis Khan is regarded as a civilizing emperor for the Mongol peoples, however, from our point of view we might consider him as a barbarian. We might consider Queen Victoria or the Reyes Cathólicos as civilizing monarchs. The question is, can we overcome this subjectivity when we consider civilization? I don't, of course, mean adopting politically correct terminology, or administering self flagellation as a punishment for the deeds of our ancestors. What I mean is finding a philosophical and scientific explanation to what is civilization, at least a tentative or quasi philosophical or scientific explanation?

What I want to do now is to suggest areas where we can look for this object explanation of civilisation.

The question about what was it like to have a tooth ache in roman times is not as banal as I wanted you to believe. Moreover, I exaggerated the disadvantages mentioned above, it is true that these are legitimate disadvantages, but there are at least two very important advantages. These two advantages are what we share in common with members of other civilizations: evolution and genes. I want to argue that not only are evolution and genes common denominators in civilizations, but the only determining denominators of civilizations.

I started by saying that a civilization is a living biological system. Systems theory was proposed and made into a science by Ludwig von Bertalanffy (and others) between 1945-1955. For reference I am using (wikipedia;systems theory) and some of the material on the web site of The Primer Group*. A general meaning of a system in systems theory is, “a configuration of parts connected and joined together by a web of relationships.”

Von Bertalanffy came up with systems theory partly as a reaction to halt the rampant reductionism that was taking place in the early twentieth century. The idea was to study the relationships within a system ''from which properties of wholes emerge.'' To this end all possible disciples and sciences were to be employed in the modelling and analysis of systems.

Of course, I am not trying to be ironic is appealing to genetics (reductionism par excellence) and systems theory. To begin with, what we call generics today had not been discovered yet, although inherited trait (Mendel) and survival of the fittest (Darwin) had been round for quite some time.

For our purpose, we are interested in living systems theory; which is, ''open, self-organizing systems that have the special characteristic of life and interact with their environment. This takes place by means of information and material-energy exchange.'' (tpp14). James Grier Miller (tpp05) identified eight living systems of varying organisation and complexity. The cell was identified as the principle component of living systems; the eight systems are: organs, which are groups of cells; organisms which are fungi, plants and animals; groups of organisms, organisations which are made up if groups; communities; societies and supranational systems.

Living systems theory is concerned with how these biological systems maintain themselves and how they develop and change (tpp 05). If the processing of material-energy and information ends, life also ends. (tpp 14). A living system is also a self organizing system which is able to maintain a steady state because, “open systems …. exchange inputs and outputs of matter and energy with their environment.” (tpp14).

This exchange of energy operates in many kinds of systems such as population dynamics or species in evolution. However, this movement of energy has led some to model living systems as thermodynamic systems with the biological character of adaptability. And adaptability is defined (Conrad tpp05) as the use of information to handle environmental uncertainty. The final step of a living system is the, “struggle for survival to be essentially competitive for free energy, that is, energy that is available for work.” (Odum, tpp05).

We can safely assume, on this model that agriculture, and the supply of water, as the source of energy for the living organism of civilization: i.e. human beings. And by simply looking out of the metaphorical window, we can see that to transfer the agricultural produce to the mouths of the members of the civilization requires a complex and precise machinery. Hence, we don’t just need energy to grow the food but also to supply the food where it is needed. Thus, one requirement for civilization is the ability of the system to provide food for its members on a regular basis.

And because the supply of food requires a complex machinery it immediately introduces the idea of division of labour. This economic concept implies two important principles: the first is that some people are not directly involved with the production of food and the second is that people have to cooperate together. And maybe it is here that we get the erroneous idea of working for the survival of the group and which Dawkins has showed us is not the case.

Seeing civilization as a living system, also involves transfer of information. We can understand this activity in a conventional way. For example, the farmer would want to inform the people who want his or her produce that they are now available. But most probably in a civilised system the produce has to be delivered via brokers and agents and transported long distances. Hence, information is more complex than we might imagine. A system of payment has to be introduced and so on. The point is that information gives rise to some form of complex language and then some form of writing which is a more permanent way of holding information.

However, in 1960 (tpp05), Miller proved through experiments the hypothesis that information entering a single channel from an other living system at first increases but then starts to fall behind the rate of output of the transmitting channel, until the second channel breaks down or becomes confused through information overload. What this means is that the more we send out information those receiving the information must have the capacity to process this information at the same rate it is being received otherwise they would eventually become confused or the system breaks down. An angle to this overload, is when a system receives conflicting commands. “The more different the signals are, the slower its decision making.” Information overload can physically break down the system and conflicting messages can equally compromise a living system.

Hence, a second source of demise for a civilization is the failure to process information which, as I have mentioned above, is needed to adapt to the changing environment. I understand this to mean, that information can be compromised through inadequate means of communication, inability of the language to transmit new concepts and ideas, an inability of the people to adapt to new forms of information or even the unwillingness of those in control to allow such adaptation. I would say that religion based civilizations come to an end because of their inability to handle new concepts; I am thinking, for example, of Galileo and subsequent scientists.

There are, however, limits to this Newtonian model of civilization. First of all, it does not explain why certain civilizations or their influence seem to linger on even after they have long ceased to exist. In other world, how should we interpret and explain the legacy of other civilizations. The classical example is of course the Greek and Roman civilizations. The second problem with this model, is that it does not fully explain the role of the individual.

We know for a fact that the individual is the product of genes in an evolutionary process. The question we have to ask ourselves is how does the individual fit in a living system. The point is not that the individual has to change to fit within the civilization system, but that the civilization system reflects the evolving individual. We also know that the individual tries to survive against competition and we also know that one of the best strategies to survive is to cooperate.

Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (TSG; 30th Anniversary edition), spells out the best strategy for the individual to adopt for survival (in a group). He calls this the Evolutionary Stable Strategy (TSG p 69,;(ESS)). He defines ESS as, “a strategy which, if most members of a population adopt it, cannot be bettered by an alternative strategy.” In other words, the best strategy for an individual to adopt is the one the majority have adopted. Which probably explains why nasty regimes still have a large following. It probably also explains why there are so few geniuses and visionary leaders in any given society or civilization.

But the reason why the strategy is stable is not (TSG, p72), “because it is particularly good for the individuals participating in it, but simply because it is immune to treachery from within.” Which also explains why pacts and conspiracies (TSG,p73) do not survive, because they constantly “teeter on the brink of treachery from within.”

In the context of the Selfish Gene, treachery means cheating. For example, someone might accept the help of others, but never help others. But how can we interpret treachery in the context of a living system?

One way we can interpret this is to remind ourselves that conflicting commands (signals) reduce the efficiency of the system. in our case, the individual or, for all that matters, groups within the target civilization. Hence this is one way of compromising the civilization. We can safely say that the more channels a message has to pass through, the more the chances are it gets corrupted or overwhelmed with noise. This might arise through making the system more complex than it needs to be.

But the system might be compromised because, “often altruism within a group goes with selfishness between groups.” (TSG, p9) Dawkins gives trade unions as an example of this feature. But it can also be politicians who compete aggressively within their ruling party, or managers within an organisation and so on. Thus the pursuit of greater wealth by one group, might easily compromise the whole system.

Of course, maybe a civilization will prosper if positive manipulation was used. In fact we can find this idea of positive manipulation on page 59 of The Extended Phenotype, R Dawkins, 1999. The question this passage answers is, how can a cricket make a female cricket go to him without having to use force. The answer for the cricket is to sing for the female. Admittedly, the context is a bit different from ours, but the principle is the same. The best way to make people do things for us without using force, which is not very efficient anyway, is to reward them with emotional satisfaction. Which probably explains why civilizations tend also to have a thriving art and literature culture, a luxury goods industry and other pleasure activities such as gastronomy, recreational facilities and decadent dwellings. Making people feel good is a good way to make them do what you want.

Hence, a civilization is a complex living system which is constantly at the behest of competing interests. civilizations are changing systems with the various groups within it having to constantly adapt to new situations. It is not surprising that one of the early pre-Socratic philosophers, Heraclitus of Ephesus (c. 535 - 475 BC) should have advocated that everything was in constant flux. It is that evident that anyone can see it; and everyone usually does.

As I said, one of the shortcomings with the living system model is that it does not explain why civilizations or their influence seem to linger on or to have a legacy in other civilization when it is clear that the original civilization has disappeared. For example, I have just referred to Heraclitus, who lived during the Greek civilization, more than 2500 years ago to enforce a point which I had arrived to from scientific thinking less than sixty years old. Why does it make sense?

Dawkins in the selfish gene might have an answer to this question. Dawkins introduces the idea of a replicator, something that, “conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation.” (TSG, p192.). Dawkins calls these units Memes, which “ just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body…… memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via processes which in a broad sense, can be called imitations.”

I think that this partially answers our query why we inherit certain legacies from a civilization that has, for all intents and purposes, disappeared. Memes require brains to survive. However, the legacy of a past civilization is not found in brains but in archaeological artefacts, documents, or scientific inferences. For example, bone structures can tell us about certain health and nutritional condition of a person. Although memes survive in brains, why do memes from other civilizations survive?

These artefacts or legacy from other civilizations are none other than sources of information, or rather information about the civilization. In the context of the mathematical theory of communication (Shannon; Information Theory) information is physical. Hence, it must in the context of living systems, have been part of the energy input and output that a living system employs to maintain itself. Strictly speaking, this information is data. To become information we need a code to interpret the data; this code also validates the data to become semantic information (see L Floridi; Philosophy of Information). Which explains why we can understand some monuments, such as the pyramids in Egypt, but not others, for example the face statues on Easter island.

This legacy serves a number of purposes.

This legacy has a curiosity value. At our stage of development, we can afford to indulge ourselves to be interested in these curios and artefacts. They certainly have an economic value in terms of tourism and cultural standing. Even you must admit that knowing what Henry VIII used to eat by examining the remains of his chamber pot is interesting and entertaining.

Our ability to interpret the legacy from other civilization can help establish which societies were civilized and which were not so advanced. On the one hand, having access to information from a past civilization means that they have also transmitted the code in a permanent form for us to be able to use it. On the other hand, just because we don’t have the code it does not mean that these people did not leave a permanent code. Maybe, we can interpret a lack of code not to mean that these people did not leave a code, but maybe that we are not advanced enough to know what the code is.

Another purpose this legacy serves is that it might teach us something about how civilizations develop, prosper and die. We might even be able to recognise the early signs of civilization decay. But this depends on whether our civilization is advanced enough to learn from the information left to us by other civilizations or whether we are only advanced enough to just process such information to entertain ourselves.

Take care


11 March 2007

* The Primer Group:


tpp05: Applications of Living Systems Theory James Grier Miller and Jessie L. Miller

tpp14: The Living Systems Theory of James Grier Miller, By Elaine Parent

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Social Integration

Social Integration

The closest we come to an official definition of social integration is the
United Nations Social Development - Part C* (1995) document(1) which states:

''We commit ourselves to promoting social integration by fostering societies
that are stable, safe and just and that are based on the promotion and
protection of all human rights, as well as on non-discrimination, tolerance,
respect for diversity, equality of opportunity, solidarity, security, and
participation of all people, including disadvantaged and vulnerable groups
and persons. (.....and so on.)"

If people were paying attention to the lessons in 1789 and in 1995 they
would have known we already have a well established philosophy and political
theories on social integration: otherwise called egalitarianism. This
concept forms part of the more general subject of the theory of justice.
(see the Stanford Encyclopedia; egalitarianism)

Irrespective of which theory we are looking at, egalitarianism, the UN
social integration or whatever, we find two fundamental recurring concepts:
equality and disadvantaged. Different commentators might use different words
to convey the same idea, for example, fair opportunities, respect for others
and so on. As far as we are concerned, however, it does not make any
difference what they are called.

I will nail my colours to the mast at this early stage and say that there is
only one type of disadvantage a person can have in life and that is to be
born with physical or genetic problems or to develop such problems in the
course of one's life. Every thing else is human caused and probably
"society" caused disadvantages. So when I say disadvantages I will have
this distinction in mind, and would call physical problems as natural

It is therefore ironic that the member states of the UN should say ''We
commit ourselves to promoting social integration,'' when the disadvantages
they wish to remove are in the majority disadvantages they have themselves
created through faulty or ill thought out policies throughout the ages. The
fact that in 1995, these states got round to talking about centuries old
disadvantages suggests that they really did not pay any attention to the
lesson of 1789. But then why should they? After all, the French revolution
could be said, like all revolutions and civil wars, to be just a local
affair and nothing to do with foreigners. Today we use more diplomatic
language and call this "not interfering in the internal affairs of other
nations." I call this the non-interference principle, which could easily be
interpreted as you abuse your people the way you like, and we abuse our own
people the way we like.

I must admit that I have not read the whole UN document, which runs into a
very large number of pages, but it would be curious how the UN proposes to
accommodate the non-interference principle with clause (o) of the accord
which puts social integration in an international context: Promote
international cooperation and partnership on the basis of equality, mutual
respect and mutual benefit.

For example, would a state that oppressed minorities, such as women or free
thinkers, be regarded as equal? And although the document is the essence of
political correctness and moral standing, it does not mention such groups as
single parents or homosexual people. Some states see single parents, exclude
for now widowed spouses, and homosexual people as normal members of society
with special needs. Others see the same groups as the essence of evil and
would happily let these people be eaten by wild beasts (metaphorically
speaking). Could it be that before we can speak of social integration and
international social integration, we have to establish some sort of
universal state enlightenment?

Maybe, the international context is a bit tricky, which might explain why
out of fifteen clauses only three are aimed at the international application
of social integration.

Clause (k) does, however, speak of the various forms of the family. I take
this to also include families made up of one father and many mothers, the
nebulous extended family, foster parents and adoptees. But to give the
benefit of the doubt to the draftees of the agreement I will also include it
to mean, single parents and gay parents. However, consider this news that
comes from Britain:

BBC NEWS (28/02/2007)
Mothers face 'job discrimination'
".....A mother with a child aged under 11 is 45% less likely to be employed
than a man, the Equalities Review will find."

And this has nothing to do with being a single parent. So once we make
allowances for incompetent and arrogant political and economic policies,
human nature and maybe lack of foresight on the part of some mothers, what
are we left with?

Like many commentators, I would say that the system (whatever that means) is
flawed. But I don't mean flawed in the sense that it is corrupt or unjust, I
have already made allowances for that, but rather in a conceptual way of

By conceptual flaw I mean the way we think and approach a situation. To
explain what I mean by conceptually flawed I want to consider the following
analogy: the process of buying fruit (especially apples). Supermarkets know
that most people are dazzled by shinny things. We seem to have a natural
bias to select shinny things, the fact that we seem to receive this
information about shininess sooner than other reflections, plus the fact
that shinny things are not that common, might have something to it. Shinny
things, however, stand out. And shinny things that are also red, just have
our total attention. Of course, when we take those apples home and bite into
them they taste of nothing. Sweet fruit, has a natural progression of
redness. It is not the hue nor the colour of redness that counts, but the
tone of redness.

All colours have tone. If you want to know what tone is, try this. Take a
pencil with a good sharp point at the end. On a sheet of white paper, tilt
the pencil so that only the side of the point touches the paper, but not the
point itself. Now, apply pressure on the tilted point and move it from left
to right and in a downward direction on the paper. As you do this, gradually
release the pressure as you go down the paper. What you get is a tone
spectrum; the colour is the same but the tone goes from dark to light.
Alternatively to the pencil experiment check the site below from About.Inc

The conceptual flaw, in this apple example, is looking at the shine and
colour and not at the tone of the colour of the fruit. If you can recognise
tone graduation, your success rate at picking ripe fruit should increase
dramatically .

Before I come to discussing the conceptual flaw and offer an alternative
suggestion, I want to point out some of the sources of this flaw. I have
already mentioned that, except for natural disadvantages, the only
disadvantages that exist are human made. Hence, what do we mean by
integration? This is usually interpreted as equality. Egalitarianism speaks
of equality and social integration also speaks of equality.

In English the word integration gives us an image of movement towards a
unity or 'body.' Bringing someone or something into the fold or even
absorption. We can now ask two relevant questions; Who is or who has to
change their position? And what is the nature of this change?

The answer to these two questions is probably relative to what we're talking
about. If we are talking about those people who have physical problems, it
is quite evident that it is society who has to change; and some changes have
been made. The question is what are legitimate changes and are there any
limits? It is one thing to have access to normal public spaces and an other
to expect people with physical problems to have access to public spaces that
might prove dangerous to every one using these places. And especially
dangerous to those with physical problems.

Let me take two examples. What ought to be done with a person who is
confined to a wheelchair, but they also want to experience a good night out
at the cinema? If things go well the situation would be difficult to
inconvenient for all. In an emergency the situation might prove dangerous.

The second example, is someone who wants to read a book, but have sight
problems. Do they have to deprive themselves from buying books? Some might
point out that there are charities who provide, books for the blind, either
in a spoken form or in large print?

It might be argued that by providing ramps and spaces in theatres (at least
in modern buildings) or books for the blind we are practically solving the
problem. But we are practically solving the problem because we are looking
at the situation with flawed philosophical concepts.

A person with physical problem is not integrated into society by being
provided by ramps and wide spaces. To begin with this person would still
have to confirm that there are such facilities and secondly that such
facilities are not only accessible within the theatre, but accessible, as
able bodied people have access to theatres, from home or where ever they
happen to be. When I'm at work and at the end of the day I want to go with
my partner to the cinema I don't call the cinema to find out whether they
have doors that open or flights of stairs that lead to the hall. And I don't
check with the bus company if their buses have wheels. I just go to the
cinema. We can argue on similar lines for those people with sight problems.

You might argue that what I'm pointing at is utopia or cloud cuckoo land.
Yes but that is because we are still thinking with those flawed
philosophical concepts. The point is that charity and adaptation are neither
economic policy nor a political strategy. First of all, to have books
prepared for people with sight problems requires money and people to do this
work. Charity and charity like policies depend on the benevolence of
individuals (and there are many of such people). But such programmes as
books for the blind require a steady budget and skilled people to make most
books available to those who need them. Integration ought not to depend on
asking for favours or benevolence but through the exercising of one's

The concept that is usually linked to cultural integration is equality. But
this concept is itself not that clear. Hence when we agree that mothers
ought to have equal opportunities what do we mean? It is clear, that
whatever we mean by integration, it is at least (in Britain) 45% wrong. That's
quite a big margin to be wrong about something. We do however think that
when facilities for the disabled are installed in buildings we are somehow
approaching closer to that magical state of equality. But why should the
"disadvantaged" be made equal to the advantaged? Does equality mean the
majority, hence to be integrated into society means to fall in line with the

However, equality introduces another kind of problem. Take the case of the
disadvantaged women with children in the labour market. It is one thing to
point out that 45% of these women are discriminated against, but this does
not tell us anything about whether having a right to work implies having an
obligation to employ someone? Hence, does having a right immediately creates
an obligation? Secondly, since giving someone the opportunity to exercise
their right to work is itself not rewarded, why should a company employ
someone who is disadvantaged? The act itself of integrating someone who is
disadvantaged does not have a direct bearing on the bottom line. To use some
technical language, integrating disadvantaged people in a company does not
create good will value on the balance sheet; employing exceptionally
talented people does directly contribute to the good will value of a
company. So what obligation does an employer have to employ a disadvantaged
person when all that matters is the bottom line; and in the modern business
world only the bottom line matters. Sure, there are government policies that
try to help integrate disadvantaged people in the mainstream business world.
But it is also evident that with a 45% deficit it is not enough.

The UN document, for example, has such concepts as pluralism, diversity and
tolerance. At face value these concepts do not seem to fit well with the
idea of integrating with the majority nor with equality. Being homosexual
and becoming like the majority does not exactly work. Being an atheist does
not exactly work in a theistic society. The majority is by definition
incompatible with pluralism and diversity. The meaning of majority implies
that the largest group of people are all of the same opinion even if we
allow a reasonable margin of deviation. But this happens if we take the
concept of majority and society to mean some sort of unified being. However,
I would argue that society and majority are not some being with some sort of
an ontological status. There are only individuals on this Earth, ideas such
as majority and society are only conceptual extractions we are capable of
doing with our brain. Such ideas might help us with our daily thinking, but
they shouldn't assume more status than they actually have.

The essence of 45% women being discriminated against is not that companies
discriminate against women, but that a manager, a director or an HR
consultant did not want to take the risk of employing a woman with a child
younger than 11 years old. In the same way that I don't take the risk of
buying apples which are super shinny. On a wider picture, therefore, it is
not that society needs to integrate disadvantaged people, but that we, as
individuals, have to tolerate, accept, allow diversity and have pluralistic
attitudes. Social integration is not the business of governments, but it
ought to be the obligation of individuals.

The conceptual flaw is therefore, not that laws, norms or policies are
usually discriminatory, or at least those apartheid type of laws are not
that common now, but that individuals do not come from a mass production
conveyor belt, all conforming to the same specifications. It is not that
laws are usually discriminatory, but that people are all different, all
unique, all have individual needs and capabilities. The flaw itself is to
imagine that laws and norms should be applied the same irrespective of the
individual to whom it is going to be applied to or the circumstances of that
individual. On the contrary it is laws and norms that should adopt
themselves to the individual.

This idea that the law should adopt itself to the circumstances of the
individual is not new. In fact it dates back to 1529, although some would
say that it goes even further when chancellors, who were put in charge by
the king to hear petitions from the citizenry, did not have legal training
and did not follow common law precedent.

I am of course referring to the legal principle of equity, which was created
in the English common law system. The idea behind equity is fairness and
justice, given the circumstances of the case. Equity tries to achieve
justice by ruling certain judgements, which and when statute or judicial
precedent would not allow such a fair judgement. (Wikipedia:equity) Consider
this definition of equity from the website:
n. 1) a venerable group of rights and procedures to provide fairness,
unhampered by the narrow strictures of the old common law or other technical
requirements of the law...

The problem with equity is that those who advocate equity must themselves be
equitable. For example, one of the first imaginative uses of equity was for
lawyers to create trust instruments. These are legal instruments, when
property is legally owned by one person, but the beneficiary of that
property is an other person. This was a legal way of avoiding property tax.
One owned the property but did not enjoy its benefits, and the other enjoyed
the benefits but not owe the property; so what are the government going to
tax, the property or the benefit?

But the principle of equity is very sound, irrespective of the creative
imagination of lawyers. For example, today we owe it to equity (in Tort law)
for the idea of receiving damages when injured by someone else. (Donoghue
(or McAlister) v. Stevenson [1932] AC 532, 1932 S.C. 31, All ER Rep 1). In
Donoghue the plaintiff with a friend bought a soft drink from a bar and when
the friend went to pour the rest of the drink a decomposed snail came out of
the bottle. Donoghue said, having consumed some of the drink, that she felt
sick and asked for damages from the bottling company. Before Donoghue, the
law only allowed damages to be paid if there was a breach of contract. This
case allowed damages when there wasn't a contract. This is also a very
entertaining case.

What the principle of equity establishes in the common law legal system is
precisely the idea that it is the law that must adapt to the individual and
not the individual to the law. Of course, I'm not saying that the present
state of equity is what I am advocating should be applied. What goes on in
equity courts today is of little import to us. However, what I'm advocating
is that equity type philosophical concepts solve the problem of flawed
concepts. If you like, norms and laws are the equivalent to colour and hue,
but equity represents tone.

Furthermore, the centuries old principle of equity demonstrates that human
beings have the conceptual tools to administer fairness over rules, laws,
conventions and dictates. Being able to do what is fair and just is not only
within our conceptual grasp but also within our capacity. We do not only
practice the law of the jungle.

The equitable principle is not incompatible with personal just rewards or
accumulation of personal wealth. Of course, it is beyond the scope of this
essay to establish the details and functions of a system based on this
principle of equity. But one line of thought could be to reward more those
who are directly involved in the creation of wealth and value to a company
than those who simply buy an inactive shareholding in the company. This will
probably also reduce the sometimes reckless forays into the stock market. It
might even take such markets to there original philosophy which was to share
ownership risks and not just to become super rich.

After all is said and done, the real problem about social integration is
that it does not take into consideration the individual. It refers to the
disadvantaged or disadvantaged groups, but it does not identify the mother
that needs a fair day's pay for fair day's work. Moreover, it only
establishes the idea of a right, it does not establish do-able obligations.
Social integration shines and looks pretty, but it lacks the bite.

Take care


(1) World Summit for Social Development
Copenhagen, 1995
Economic and Social Development at the
United Nations : Department of Economic and Social Affairs : Gateway to
Social Policy and Development : Social Summit : Agreements; Part C:
Commitments; Commitment 4

(2) Painting Color Class: Tones or Values
©2007 About, Inc.,


© of the respective authors,
™ of the respective owners,
® of the respective registered owners.

Philosophy, Social Issues, Classical Philosophy, Citizen Philosophy, Applied Philosophy, Non-Political Meeting, Non-Religious Meeting,