PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Friday, September 07, 2007

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: The need for intellectual thinkers + News

Short essay + one news item

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing "The need for intellectual thinkers."
However, if you think that this is a open and shut case for thinking
that we will always need intellectual thinkers, then I suggest you check
out the Financial Times article I refer to in my essay. The answer is
yes, we will always (until the foreseeable future) need intellectual
thinkers, but as I try to show in my short essay there is a twist to
this yes. But don't take my thinking for it.

In the meantime, Christine has asked me to bring to your attention the
opening of her art photos exhibition on the 13th September at 20.30h.
The details and relevant links to the Gallery and our photo album page
are as follows:

Galería Barbarín

Christine Rendina y Sonia Casero
Inauguracion 13.09.07. 20.30h.
del 13.09.07 al 11.10.07

Entre el 13 de septiembre y el 11 de octubre la Galeria Barbarin (Avda.
de Manoteras, 10) inaugura su segunda temporada 2007/08 con la
exposicion conjunta de dos artistas: Christine Rendina (fotografia) y
Sonia Casero (pintura).

Información de contacto
Avda. Manoteras 10, A007
28050, Madrid
Tel/Fax: +34 913846128
Cita Previa: +34 639 602 682
Lunes a viernes de 16h a 21h
Sábados de 11h a 14h
Autobus: 174 y 150 desde Plaza Castilla
Metro: Virgen del Cortijo (prolongacion Linea 1, desde Plaza Castilla)

PhiloMadrid Photo Album

take care



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

Paloma; Marbella (near Elviria);

+++++++++MEETING DETAILS+++++++++
SUNDAY 6.00pm – 8.30pm at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs----
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[could do with a second check]

The need for intellectual thinkers

Intellectual thinkers existed and maybe exist because they offer new
solutions to established problems. But they also exist because we know
about them. By definition we would not be able to call someone an
intellectual thinker unless we knew about them and maybe what they
thought. The condition of knowing about someone might seem like an
analytical truth, and therefore irrelevant. I do not think so.

The term intellectual thinker can cover a number of meanings or
synonyms; for example, great thinkers, men of letters, geniuses, great
minds, and intellectual giants. I do not propose discussing the
subtleties of each of these terms. What is important for us is that we
have a good idea of the set of people we are concerned with.

However, there is one thing that needs clarifying. The need for
intellectual thinkers does not mean whether past intellectual thinkers
are still important (for us today). Whether someone who was a superstar
in their time ought still to be a superstar today depends on the scope
and programme we ascribe to intellectual thinkers. All I want to say at
this point is that intellectual thinkers are victims to the paradox of
redundancy (my idea, although I'm sure some out there must have reached
the same conclusion). More about the paradox later.

Who is an intellectual thinker and what makes an intellectual thinker? I
started by saying that an intellectual thinker is someone who offers a
solution to an established problem or problems. So the 'who', must
surely depend on those people who have access to the problems of the
day, those who have access to the means of communication of the day, and
those who are by definition, prepared to challenge accepted wisdom of
the day.

I know it sounds strange to suggest that one of the conditions for being
an intellectual thinker is to have access to problems of the day. Surely
we all have access to the problem of the day. Maybe what is endearing
about Einstein and the whole marketing industry based around his name,
is that he was a mere clerk in a patent's office. Hence, we wrongly
conclude that if a clerk can come up with such genius then there is
still hope for us. Of course, there is no such hope. Einstein had genius
in him long before he applied to work at the patent office. With
hindsight we can see the relevant stepping stones that led him to theory
of relativity.

But to have access to a problem I also want to mean to have the right
approach to a problem. What Einstein, for example, was trying to solve
was no less in the public domain than the news in the morning edition of
the local newspaper. The difference is that he took a rather subjective
look at the problem in the same way that intellectual thinkers have
always done before him and since; Zeno, Descartes, Newton, Popper and
Dawkins have all took a personal perspective which was different from
the crowd. This of course does not mean that they were right but that
what they did gave us a new perspective on how we see the world around
us. This is very similar, for example, to mining. Sometimes a mine
become inefficient or impractical to extract minerals from it, until
that is new technology comes along. Intellectual thinkers give us the
opportunity to bring meaning to a problem at the relevant time.

Once again, having access to the means of communication might be obvious
to the point if being ridiculous to mention it. Be that as it may,
communication is a vital and necessary condition for us and intellectual

Communication is a vital means of sharing information with others.
Unless I tell you what I'm thinking you won't have access to that
information. But communication, as Dawkins pointed out, is not about
sharing information but about manipulating others. Newton's thinking
about gravity and celestial bodies was not about telling us a good
story, but about stopping us from thinking some ridiculous mumbo jumbo.

Telling the people out there is important whether we believe that
intellectual thinkers are being altruistic or whether they are trying to
change the way we think. However, there are still people in the twenty
first century who believe that we are the centre of the universe; we
just might be, but not for the reasons they think we are. Or that the
stars come out of someone's giant saltshaker to help us navigate at
night. The reason why these people believe such nonsense is probably
because they don't have access to the world's great thinkers or maybe
they are prevented from having access to the world's great thinkers.

By definition, an intellectual thinker goes against received wisdom. I
say by definition because otherwise there won't be any new knowledge or
new ideas to speak of. If everyone thought the same were would we get
new knowledge? When Wittgenstein came up with the idea that language was
at the core of philosophical problems, he was suggesting a completely
new idea. It is not that language was never an issue in philosophy, but
what makes Wittgenstein important is that he showed us how language is
central issue in philosophy like no one else before.

Which brings me to the paradox of redundancy. You will remember that we
are not really discussing whether past intellectual thinkers are
relevant today. However, this paradox is a consequence of intellectual
thinkers being different and why past thinkers ought not to be relevant
today if we accept the paradox.

The paradox is straight forward; intellectual thinkers help us solve
pressing problems and issues of the day; even if by day we can imply a
period of a few decades. Thus, once we accept the solution then that
knowledge becomes main stream and in due course the status quo. In which
case the problem has been solved, the solution adopted into use and the
intellectual thinker has become redundant. Of course, he or she might
still be an interesting subject to study from many points of view.
Einstein is a very interesting character in the history of science,
philosophy of science, and social history. But he solved the theory of
relativity; moreover, for all intents and purposes he only solved that
group of problems. And what is more, he is not going to come up with new
ideas for new problems. The most we can do is find new interpretations
and new solutions using his science.

Take for example Descartes, he solved for his contemporaries and beyond
the experience we have between us as a thinking being and us as a body.
Today we speak of the I and of my body without any hesitation. Mind and
body are common everyday words in our vocabulary. Descartes cannot keep
solving the same problem as if we were in some Groundhog Day movie.

The paradox also arises from the simple fact that intellectual thinkers,
at best, only solve a small group of problems. Descartes did not solve
the problem of stopping pain which we feel during medical intervention.
It is unlikely that, for example, Einstein can solve for us the problems
with global warming. His science might help us understand what is
happening to the Earth's atmosphere (I speculate here, I don't know),
but will never tell us how we should deal with the big culprits for
global warning.

In reality, of course, life is not that straight forward. Euclid will
always be relevant, and so will Spinoza and Machiavelli. We can always
go back to Machiavelli and by substituting words like prince to prime
minister or president, advisors to political cronies and the populace to
lobby groups; we wouldn't see any difference between Italy of the
renaissance and a country in the European Union.

What is more serious is: why aren't certain intellectual thinkers more
positively prominent in our collective awareness? In the same way,
maybe, that Newton is not more positively prominent in certain religion
based cultures. Of course, I'm not going into list building on who
should or shouldn't be more prominent. The point is that if there are
intellectual thinkers out there and we don't know about them, then why
don't we know about them?

This leads me two issues I wish to consider. Given that we do need
intellectual thinkers (to generate new knowledge away from the herd) how
can we make the channels of communication flow with their knowledge? The
second question is, are we going to need intellectual thinkers in the

Communication needs at least two fundamental things: intention to
communicate and the tools to communicate.

The intention need not only be the intention of the thinker to
communicate what he or she is thinking, but also the intention of the
authorities and the intention of the individual observer. A sort of
formula that follows this pattern; intention to communicate, intention
to allow communication and intention to receive communication.

Of course, another factor must be added to this element of communication
and that is storage of the message being communicated. This is such an
important factor that those who control the storage of messages from
intellectual thinkers, lets us call it a database, will also control the
message and hence access to the intellectual thinker. Not forgetting for
an instant that the message is not there to entertain us but to change
our ways and our thinking.

Thus, the old model of database was the library, be it the great library
of Alexandria, the British library, the Senate library or the Vatican
library. Why do I mention these libraries? Under the old model some of
them practically contained or contain all that has been published (BL
and the SL are depository libraries) Others held all that was worth
knowing at the time (Alexandria library), and some hold documents that
can explain the course of modern history (VL). However, accesses to
these libraries has always been a matter of privilege, exclusive
conditions or strictly out of bounds.

Furthermore, the medium that held these messages was not exactly that
very convenient. True, the printing press revolutionized communication,
but it still took a lot of hassle to replicate a book or a document.
Then there are the artificial, as in man made, restrictions such as
property rights, membership fees and academic qualifications before
being allowed access to these databases.

Today the library model is being replaced by the digital transfer model.
The message is now written and transferred in digital form. Making it
very easy, quickly, effective and efficiently to transfer a message
between two or two billion people. It is no wonder that there are
governments who want to control, if not ban, access to the internet.

So in order to have messages of intellectual thinkers flowing through
the channels of communication there must be free access to the databases
and to the tools that access these databases. If we need intellectual
thinkers then we also need to access their thinking.

So, far we have assumed that when we speak of intellectual thinkers we
seem to imply some solitary individual, locked away for months thinking
and contemplating the universe or the nearest cobweb, which ever came
first. We can just about imagine Einstein scribbling away at the theory
of relative between sandwiches during his lunch hour; I have no idea
what he did during his lunch hour.

Fortunately, the individual will still be their; which is quite
reassuring to know that. And we now that from an article that was
published in the Financial Times* on the 31st August 2007. This article
tries to tell us how future decisions will be made and arrived at. And
by implication how we are going to think in the future. For those who
cannot wait to read the article the answer is the statistical algorithm.

I will not describe this article, it is too long for that, however I
will leave you with these two quotations:

"But evidence is mounting in favour of a different and much more
dehumanising mechanism for combining human and super-crunching
expertise. Several studies have shown that the most accurate way to
exploit traditional expertise is merely to add the expert evaluation as
an additional factor in the statistical algorithm."

"The most important thing left to humans is to use our minds and our
intuition to guess at what variables should and should not be included
in statistical analysis."

The impression I got from reading this article was that in the future
there will be literally more "intellectual thinkers" contributing to
solve a problem instead of the solitary eccentric doing the thinking in
a quiet room. Of course, the article, as the last quote shows, tries to
leave us on a positive and optimistic note. But in the meantime it seems
that the intellectual thinker is dead, long live the intellectual thinkers.

Take care


*How computers routed the experts
By Ian Ayres
Published: August 31 2007
Financial Times

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: The need for
intellectual thinkers + News

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