PHILOMADRID

PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Thursday, August 26, 2010

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Shame

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Shame.
Unfortunately I was a bit busy this week and could not get myself to
write something about the topic.
In the meantime look forward to meeting you on Sunday
IF YOU DON'T GET AN EMAIL BY FRIDAY PLEASE LET ME KNOW

+++++++++MEETING DETAILS+++++++++
SUNDAY 6.00pm – 8.30pm at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs----
-Email: philomadrid@yahoo.co.uk
-Yahoo group >> philomadridgroup-subscribe@yahoogroups.co.uk <
-Old essays: www.geocities.com/philomadrid
- Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com/
-Group
photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo
-My
tel 606081813
-metro: Bilbao : buses: 21, 149, 147
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Tertulia with Ignacio and friends: Every Thursday, from 19:30 to 21h, at
Moore's Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal).
http://sites.google.com/site/tertuliainenglishmadrid/
from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Shame

Thursday, August 19, 2010

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Secrecy

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing Secrecy.
However, I must confess that my short essay this week is more a draft
than my well thought out opinions on the subject. I am therefore not
trying to keep anything away from you if you cannot make heads or tails
of it. It's just the summer heat playing old harry with my thinking
process, once again.
See you Sunday,
Lawrence

IF YOU DON'T GET AN EMAIL BY FRIDAY PLEASE LET ME KNOW

+++++++++MEETING DETAILS+++++++++
SUNDAY 6.00pm – 8.30pm at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs----
-Email: philomadrid@yahoo.co.uk
-Yahoo group >> philomadridgroup-subscribe@yahoogroups.co.uk <
-Old essays: www.geocities.com/philomadrid
- Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com/
-Group
photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo
-My
tel 606081813
-metro: Bilbao : buses: 21, 149, 147
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Tertullian with Ignacio and friends: Every Thursday, from 19:30 to 21h,
at Moore's Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal).
http://sites.google.com/site/tertuliainenglishmadrid/

Secrecy
To be honest with you, I never really considered how important secrecy
is to philosophy before. It struck me when I started reading the entry
for secrecy on Wikipedia and a few lines down the article there was
this, "Animals conceal the location of their den or nest from
predators." QED
This basically means that the subject is vast and huge and anywhere we
start will be a drop in the ocean. Given this situation after looking
into the structure of secrecy I want to consider a very specific issue:
what is and is not legitimate for a government to be secretive about?
But first let's have a quick look at the make up of secrecy. As I see it
there are two issues here: 1) information and 2) morally. You might also
ask what about evolution since even animals use secrecy to survival in
the wild. Maybe, but I am assuming this in the context of information.
Indeed, how right was Sir Francis Bacon when he wrote that "knowledge is
power." If a fox knew where the moorhen is nesting he will have a feast
for dinner. And if the polar bear knows where the seal is going to
surface she will have a wonderful picnic for lunch. If we knew how the
stock market will play out tomorrow afternoon we'll make a handsome
killing to celebrate with champagne in the evening.
However, this sort of useful information is very hard to come by, let
alone predict. Indeed we normally do not expect this sort of information
to be shared that easily, if shared at all. In fact we all have
information that would be helpful to others but chose not to share with
anyone. For example, it makes no sense to share passwords of email
accounts or pin numbers of bank accounts. We normally don't share
intimate information about ourselves or our partner with outsiders.
Even trade practices and technology know-how are not quickly shared with
others. And we certainly do not expect our government to share military
secrets with those who wish us harm or who might be careless with our
security.
But at face value this seems to fly against the belief that cooperation
is the best policy we can adopt to progress and survive. How can we
cooperate if we don't share information with others. If we discover some
efficient process to produce food abundantly, how can we, as rational
moral beings not share this technology with others?
However, this chain of thought assumes that we are being asked to share
our technology whilst everything else remains equal. But in cooperation,
indeed, the act of cooperation mean that not everything remains equal,
but rather we are now equally better off.
We might also argue, that competition means that we are better off a
cost for others. Indeed this is the idea behind the zero sum game. But
even the zero sum game assumes that other things remain equal. It seems
to assume that if I win and you lose that will be that and go home and
live happily after.
This idea is no less logical than the idea that once we share equally
our profits we can home and live happily after.
The chances are that our profits will soon disappear and that will need
replenishing. And losers will develop a better strategy to win next
time. The fact that we make a profit or the fact that we win or maybe
lose means that we now have a different set of information which can
change the course of future events.
I am using information here to include a wide range of epistemic states,
from data to knowledge. What matters for us is that we have the
information what we do with it is an other matter.
Sir Francis was right and our belief in the idea that knowledge is power
has been proven true many times since Bacon wrote those words. We can
thus far agree that we seem to have a right to our own information and
knowledge and that we also have a right to use such information. Which
of course, by default, we also seem to have a right to be secretive with
our cherished information. Think of our personal information and
knowledge as the ultimate in property rights.
Under perfect cooperation, morality and ethics, would probably not be
required since no one will be better off or worse off than the others.
And the benefits of progress would be shared with those in the cooperative.
However, we can understand why we need to have the concept of right and
wrong or good and bad if we live in a perfect competitive state, where
we always apply the zero sum game. The idea of taking advantage of
others would be very natural in a completive state and the concept of
injustice and unfairness would easily take root in this environment.
But here is the dilemma for us. How can our legitimately acquired
knowledge be the source of unfairness and injustice. Sure, if I knew how
to read the stock market correctly I would be taking advantage of the
situation. And if I indeed take advantage of my knowledge it would
probably be at the cost, indeed at a high cost, to others. But why
should that concern me?
Well, we can approach this in a pragmatic way and argue that it is ok
for us to take advantage of our personal knowledge, but no more. We
cannot however steal information, In the real world the situation is
complicated with such things as insider information and intellectual
property rights. Or maybe even compromise. I take advantage of my
knowledge and you take advantage of your knowledge. So how can we have a
moral dilemma if this arrangement does not give rise to injustice or
unfairness. After all this seems to be quite a reasonable arrangement.
The problem of secrecy is that it is a very attractive and impressive
tool we can use to take advantage of others with very little cost to us
in many cases. It is very efficient because it works 24/7 and it seems
that it does not cost us much resources. Keeping our mouth shut can be
all that we have to do.
Secrecy is ideal in competition because the raison d'être of competition
is the end product. And it is ideal because in the model of competition
there is always room, for example, to cheat or exploit weaker players.
In a zero sum game what matter is that we win. Competition does not look
at the methodology of how we come to win. Of course, you might object
that I am really giving a simplistic description of competition, if not
an erroneous description.
You might legitimately point out at the edifice of business and criminal
law that deal with those who cheat. But this is my point. Under
competition we always create counter measures against cheaters after the
event. As they say, we are always one step behind those who take unfair
advantage of the system.
In the same way that those who advocate that we gather all our personal
wealth in the town square and apply the Solomon code of dividing
everything equally amongst those present, are destined to oblivion.
Those who advocate that we look at the bottom line and not the
methodology are themselves probably destined to oblivion together with
the black box itself which competition seems to employ.
The issue is that competition, in its methodology has a built in flaw
because cheating is always possible to take place, even if we do punish
it after the event. Look at it this way, even if the law punishes drunk
drivers who injure others and even give compensation, this is irrelevant
if a victim loses their life or one of their limbs.
In the ideal state of cooperation, we start off with defining the
methodology, however, the methodology itself does not impose any limits
on how much wealth we generate nor will it make it possible to
discriminate against someone in the cooperative. You will also notice
that this ideal state only distributes the wealth it generates.
Of course, in the world we live in, not all competition is faulty since
we have a lot of evidence that, in its own way, has been useful and
brought a degree of development. Nor cooperation is perfect, we might
spend too much time on how to do things than actually doing them. Think
of the endless business and committee meeting many people have to attend
just to buy a paper clip.
Thus information is relevant for secrecy because information itself is a
very powerful tool that we can easily use to our own advantage. And
morality is relevant because in a zero sum game it is always open to us
to actually use any information we have to our own exclusive advantage,
but at a cost to others.
As I said at the beginning, I would like to consider the issue of what
is and is not legitimate for a government to be secretive about? I don't
think it makes much sense for us to go into great detail into which
document or which piece of information should be made public or kept
secret. For example, going into the merits of whether the deluge of
document s from Afghanistan should or shouldn't have been leaked to
wikileaks.
In the real world governments, of course, have to compete with other
states not to mention the various interest groups competing for
attention. I imagine no one will object to the idea that, like the
moorhen, it makes a great deal of sense to be discrete sometimes.
However, as I have tried to argue, if the existence of a biological
system, such as a moorhen or a government, depends on the competitive
methodology then there is always an in built scope in the method to
cheat. Or to use some other term, maybe to act unfairly. Now, maybe, the
fox and the moorhen have no choice but to play the zero sum game and
maybe adopted courses of action that amount to cheating or tricking
their subject of interest.
The question we have to ask ourselves is what reasons do governments
have to be secretive? As far as legitimate information held by a
government the reasons are probably more or less the same as the moorhen
and the fox: survival, if not of the government, at least of the state.
Before I move on and develop this issue, I want to revisit the idea of
cheat. The meaning of cheating, as I have already discussed, is
basically to take unfair advantage of others. But in this meaning I want
to include hiding information, for example, relating to mistakes and not
just to taking advantage of others or, worse, using unethical methods to
obtain an objective.
The answer to my original question "what is and is not legitimate for a
government to be secretive about?"seems to fall into place. But to
really make this issue more focused, I really want to consider secrecy
by governments that involve their own citizens. Basically we can be at
ease with information that generally benefits citizens, the state, or is
basically beneficial all round. For example, tax policies that are being
planned. Indeed many governments apply taxes on certain goods within 24
hours to prevent hoarding or even to start collecting the money early.
However, because the government, like the moorhen, operates in a
competitive environment and given the scope to cheat, what is to stop
the government from being secretive about information that is harmful or
unjust to people? The problem with this question is that the devil is in
the detail.
But once again we might fall in to the trap of asking or trying to
identify what type of information can and cannot be harmful. For
example, does the government have the right to be secretive about
unofficial policies regarding the treatment of some diseases, or age
group? Not only is this way of thinking cumbersome but irrational. The
end might easily justify the means: i.e.: saving huge amounts of money
is more beneficial than telling people that that they are not going to
be treated. This follows the pattern of looking at the bottom line and
not the methodology?
As I have argued, for a reasonable or rational agent what matters is how
we get to the result since a valid methodology would not preclude
maximising the result. I would therefore propose that what the
government are not entitled is to keep any information secret that can
possibly show the actions of the state to be prejudicial to the
individual. It would be a start, anyway.
Whilst it is acceptable for a government to be secretive about the exact
amounts of money they intend to invest to improve a health service, it
is not acceptable for a government to be secretive about health policies
towards specific diseases, or policies towards certain groups in
society. It the first case, it does not make sense to be too liberal in
advance about the amounts of money the government is prepared to spend
since companies might adjust prices to take advantage of this money.
However, information that can show the government is abusing or
discriminating against individuals cannot be kept secret I have 319
stories and .
Of course, what should happen after we are given the information from
the government is an other matter.
All the best
Lawrence

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Secrecy

Thursday, August 12, 2010

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: The most important word in any language is Why. + news

Essay + Messages from Pilar and Miguel

Dear Friends,
This Sunday we are discussing: The most important word in any language
is Why.
I believe that this topic is rather deceptive. How can we disagree with
such a truism? In my short essay I try to show that to get to this
truism we have to cross the philosophical equivalent of the Rocky
Mountains and the Grand Canyon.
Fortunately, Pilar's and Miguel's messages will keep you in Madrid.
Enjoy and take care
Lawrence

IF YOU DON'T GET AN EMAIL BY FRIDAY PLEASE LET ME KNOW

+++++++++MEETING DETAILS+++++++++
SUNDAY 6.00pm – 8.30pm at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs----
-Email: philomadrid@yahoo.co.uk
-Yahoo group >> philomadridgroup-subscribe@yahoogroups.co.uk <
-Old essays: www.geocities.com/philomadrid
- Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com/
-Group
photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo
-My
tel 606081813
-metro: Bilbao : buses: 21, 149, 147
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Tertulia with Ignacio and friends: Every Thursday, from 19:30 to 21h, at
Moore's Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal).
http://sites.google.com/site/tertuliainenglishmadrid/

--------------------messages-------------------

Dear all,
I highly recommend you to visit Federico Fellini exhibition (at Caixa
Forum) I enjoyed it so much. There are a lot of information and
interesting photographs.
You have time enough until December 26.
They are going to project a few films:
La Dolce Vita (on September 30, 20.30)
El jeque blanco (on October 7, 20:30)
81/2 (on October 14, 20:30)
They are free.
I want to go to watch these films. If anyone is interested let me know.*
See you on Sunday,
Pilar
*I'll forward your email to Pilar. Thanks Lawrence
---------------------------------------
Hola tertulianos,
Espero que estéis pasando un buen verano. La interesante conferencia de
Pedro Torrente del pasado 27 de Julio nos inició en las matemáticas de
la navegación y en el uso del sextante, y motivó después una animada
tertulia (podéis encontrar aquí* su presentación). Gracias Pedro por el
tiempo dedicado a preparar esta conferencia y por compartir tus notas, y
buenas travesías futuras :)
Si queréis dar una conferencia en la Tertulia o sabéis de alguien que
quiera hacerlo enviadme un mensaje. La próxima reunión será
previsiblemente en Septiembre; os enviaré la convocatoria cuando
tengamos la conferencia.
Buen verano a todos,
J.Miguel
In mathematics you don't understand things. You just get used to them.
-- Johann von Neumann
*
http://groups.google.com/group/tertulia-de-matematicas/web/Cateto%20a%20Babor.pdf?_done=/group/tertulia-de-matematicas?hl=en&&hl=en

---------------------------------------

---------------essay-----------------

The most important word in any language is Why.
Indeed the most important word in our language is why. However, why
could also be the most dangerous word in a language.
It has long been accepted in English that the word why is a linguistic
motivating force for scientific enquiry. Why, we are told, leads us to
think about "cause" and "cause and effect" are indeed the basis of
scientific enquiry.
Moreover, what makes scientific enquiry desirable is that it will help
us understand how things work. And this is just one step away to making
things work for us and the way we want them to work.
But the subject of the discussion raises two questions: 1) is the word
why actually the most important word in all languages? Of course, this
question has a social/linguistic interpretation in the sense that do all
languages have the equivalent language component of the word why in
English? In other words, does why mean the same over all languages?
2) what evidence do we have that the word why in a language causally
links those speakers of the language to scientific enquiry? Is there a
causal relationship between the word why in a language and "the pursuit
of scientific enquiry" in that community of language speakers?
Of course, enquiry per se is not interesting for this particular
discussion since it seems that most biological systems have a sense or
instinct of enquiry. Cats and dogs will enquire whether something in
front of them is edible. A shark will enquiry if a dark object above it
is a seal or a piece of flotsam.
However, scientific enquiry is purely a rational enquiry meaning that we
seek to find causes, understand how things work, and, most of all,
understand processes beyond what we see in front of us. An enquiry
beyond the here and now. Indeed our natural language is a rational
progression of our instincts of communication originally reserved for
day-to-day survival and procreation.
But enquiry can only be scientific if it is also objective. Take this
example of a why question: why should I eat the sandwich in front of me?
In my enquiry I can ask: who made it? Do I like it? Have I eaten this
before? Will I enjoy it? Will my girlfriend be happy if I eat this
sandwich that she prepared for me? And so on.
But so far there is nothing objective nor scientific in my enquiry about
the sandwich in front of me. For that to happen I have to ask questions
such as: is it nutritious? Is it too salty? Does it have a lot of
calories? Will it affect my cholesterol level? What about harmful bugs?
Does it have salmonella.
We all agree that although the first set of questions are interesting
and relevant only the second set represent the semblance of a scientific
enquiry. Although the statements "I'll eat the sandwich because my
girlfriend made it" and "I'll eat the sandwich because it includes
nutritious ingredients" are for all intents and purpose, structurally
the same in terms of language, their meaning and implications are very
different.
Therefore, a relevant philosophical question we can ask is whether there
is something in the meaning of why that will make us think of
objectivity? In other words, does the word why lead to a rational
enquiry (scientific enquiry)? We can even ask a milder version of the
question: does the word why also lead to a rational enquiry? Indeed, we
can go the whole hog and ask ourselves: what came first, rational
enquiry or the word why?
Even if we stick to the scientific meaning of why (also: objective and
rational meaning), i.e. the causal enquiry of an event or a state of
affairs, I don't think we can arrive to an objective enquiry in the
meaning of why. If why means a motivation to enquire the causes of
something it does not imply that that enquiry has to be objective,
rational or scientific.
I would go further and argue that as long as the meaning of a word meets
our needs, then we have no reason to change that meaning. Thus if why
means at least the most relevant meaning for us, a scientific enquiry it
does so because this meaning has served us well. Now, human nature being
utilitarian at heart, we can conclude from this that science has served
our society well. However, there is nothing to stop a society from
establishing the meaning of why to be "enquiry into divine mystery" or
"enquiry into personal opinion". Why different societies would establish
a different meaning of why is beyond the scope of our subject at hand.
However, we can be sure a priori that someone is benefitting from that
meaning; who and how many is immaterial for us now.
I would argue that an "objective" meaning of why would require an
objective (rational ) methodology of (scientific) enquiry for why to
motivate scientific enquiry. This implies two things: 1) we must first
have objective methodology and 2) why might be necessary in a language
but not sufficient for scientific enquiry. If I had to give an analogy I
would compare why to the accelerator pedal/lever in a car, it is
important and it is necessary, but not sufficient for car to go forward.
I started by saying that why is not only important but also dangerous.
Left to its own devises the word why could lead us to the incongruity I
tried to illustrate with my sandwich. There is no doubt that the word
why does lead, as a linguistic consequence, to enquiry, but not
necessarily scientific enquiry. Now whether we take the view that the
word why can be high jacked or it could be flawed it can easily lead the
enquiry to undesirable consequences.
Let's take once again the case of the sandwich. If it makes me sick
there is nothing to stop someone from asking why and after careful
examination discover a dangerous strain of salmonella; but the person
can also ask why and conclude that it is divine retribution for writing
philosophical essays. Moreover, there is nothing to stop someone from
saying that anything good that happens to me is because the chairman of
the party wants it that way and anything bad that happens to me is
because I have transgressed the guidance of the chairman.
How can we, so to speak, get the chairman out of the meaning of why so
that a why always leads to scientific enquiry? First of all, the
language itself must be clear and robust enough to hone in on the
meaning of the word with little or no ambiguity. Let me give you some
neutral and innocent examples of how complicated this issue is. In Italy
(at least when I was there) Free Pizza did not mean free pizza but self
service pizza restaurant. In Italy, or the part of my experience, the
word "free" meant "Libre" + "self service" as opposed to "gratis"+
"waiter service". There is no reason why free should not mean self
service in Italy that's the nature of how natural languages develop.
Yesterday, I tried very hard to persuade a shop assistant that I wanted
some salt free sunflower seeds. Yet he kept giving me sunflower seeds
that were sprayed with a saline solution because these type of
sunflowers are known in Spain as "pipas sin sal" as opposed to seeds
caked up with slat. I eventually found what I wanted. I am in no doubt
that sometime in the past it made sense to use the term salt free to
refer to salt sprayed, probably it has to do with stopping the bugs from
getting to the seeds. In Germany alcohol free beer is always alcohol
free and in Britain tea is always with milk.
However, basically what we are asking when we say that why is the most
important word in all languages is that why means the same in all
languages. Now, it is well and good for natural languages to develop the
meaning of a word for themselves. But what we are trying to establish is
a universal meaning of a particular word (concept). This is not in
itself impossible, we already have passport, stop, kilometre, check-in,
but to establish a universal meaning of why that's really challenging.
Not least because why leads us to make a value judgment.
As I said earlier there is an element of utilitarian forces influencing
the meaning of a word (e.g. why). As long as the meaning of a word
serves us well there is no reason why we should change it. But how
utilitarian is the meaning of why if it does not always lead to
scientific enquiry? Indeed, does scientific enquiry benefit the majority
of people if not all the people in a society?
Hence, if why in some language implies a divine explanation of an event,
the relevance of why in our language does not hold any ground in this
other language. Therefore, unless why across languages motivates a
scientific enquiry when enquiring the cause of something, then does the
statement that "why is the most important word in any language" still hold?
If the meaning of the word why can only explicitly imply scientific
enquiry, if and only if we have a valid scientific method for enquiry,
what is a scientific method of enquiry to go with it? However, it is
easier said than done to say we first need to have a valid scientific
method. And secondly, that today we seem to have settled on an empirical
probabilistic method supported by peer review is, itself, not an
infallible methods, many times we get it wrong.
But consider these two examples: there is a high probability that every
time I eat something with a toxic strain of salmonella I become sick.
And: every time I become stick it is because I have displeased the
founding chairman of the party (who died seventy years ago).
Linguistically, the second example is more precise and certain than the
first example. Or this example, if in the real world my employer were to
ask me: I can pay you some months or I can pay you all months, choose
which option you want. Although I propose to you that for practical
purpose the language, or rather the meaning, of both statements (being
sick and my employer) are the same somehow we are inclined to believe
that the probability statement about salmonella is true and my employer
is just pulling my leg.
I would argue that the reason why we would accept the probability
statement about salmonella to be true is because we also have a language
structure to support the scientific interpretation of the word why. That
language structure involves such tools as "how to", "what if", "what are
the chances?" "what ought I to do?" "what should I do" and so on.
In other words, we not only need the linguistic tool to motivate enquire
(why) but also the linguistic tools to motivate a valid methodology. How
do we investigate "feel bad" after eating an egg sandwich? How can we
today repeat the same conditions in the sandwich that made me feel good
last week?
The difference, therefore, between a scientific method and an
attribution to the whims of the chairman, is that we can always try to
replicate the events considered in the scientific method. We just cannot
do that with the whims of the chairman. In fact there is nothing we can
do about the whims of the chairman.
However, there is one thing we can do with the scientific method and
that is to try and predict future events; i.e. causal sequences. Now, we
all agree that if there are things that are difficult for us to achieve
one of them is predicting the future.
But consider, once again these two statements, 1) if you eat salmonella
infested food you will probably become sick. And 2) if you break rule
number one the chairman will make you feel sick? No doubt, 2) is
linguistically more certain that 1) and there is nothing we can do about
it. Yet 1) makes more sense than 2) (at least for a linguistic community
whose meaning of why is indeed a scientific enquiry; well for some
anyway). Why should this be the case?
I would argue that we have developed our instinct not only to accept why
as "what is" (cause) but also the associated language tool "how to"
(function). It is not enough to know that salmonella is making me sick,
but also how to get rid of salmonella and how to recover from such an
infection. You might argue that even in the example of the chairman we
might well ask what makes us feel bad and what do we have to do to make
us feel good.
The crunch of a "how to" exercise is that it has to work in the real
world. A how to exercise to keep sandwiches free of salmonella means
that after this we don't get sick. And the trick is to do it today, and
then repeat it tomorrow and the day after and so on. However, it is not
just the applying of any "how to" sequence of events that matters, but
rather applying the necessary and sufficient conditions of events. Or
rather the right sequence of events are applied irrespective of whether
we know what they are or not. And the only way we find out what we're
doing is right is by actually doing it. And then learn from that.
And here again we need the supporting linguistic tools to help describe
and understand what is happening when we apply a how to sequence of
events even if sometimes things don't work out. When a scientific how to
sequence of events fails we don't interpret this as salmonella behaving
in a mysterious way, they might do, but whatever way salmonella behave,
in principle that behaviour is not logically excluded from our state of
knowledge.
Some might object that the Heisenberg uncertainty principle logically
excludes us from knowing certain things in the micro world. Indeed, but
in this case we know why we don' know and moreover, it does not preclude
us from accurately predicting the probability of certain events.
However, when we say that the chairman sometimes makes me feel good and
sometimes bad, but when we enquire we are told, well the chairman works
in mysterious ways. This sort of thinking is logically excluding us from
going beyond the statement itself (the chairman works in mysterious
ways). How, I ask, can we investigate the statement "well the chairman
works in mysterious ways" and then find a solution to that undesirable
state of events. The chairman might work in mysterious ways but if my
sandwich is infested will salmonella, not even the chairman can prevent
me from becoming sick if I eat the sandwich.
Put it this way, given a seriously infested sandwich with salmonella, I
can most probably become sick whether there is a chairman or not. But
all things being equal, if there is a chairman, I can become sick with
salmonella even if I don't ingest a strand of DNA from a salmonella bug.
But this latter situation is just straight forward science fiction: for
anyone to be sick there must be a cause, indeed for anything to be
anything there must be a cause. Of course, it does not follow that if I
have the bug I'm going to be sick, but if I have the same symptom known
to be produced by the bug then most probably I have the bug.
To put it in a different way, reasons attributed to the chairman can
never be objective because we cannot make a probabilistic analysis of
the whims of the chairman. Therefore, if why requires an objective
methodology to be useful for us, how to requires an understanding of
probability if things are to happen in the real world.
Now given the nature of the physical brain and how we accumulate
knowledge and probably a few other million factors, we simply cannot
always know the whole causal process of a phenomenon. But we need not go
into all that. What is important for us is that if we want to achieve
something (a how to) what we need to know are the sufficient conditions
that will bring about what we seek.
In other words, it is not necessary for us to be perfect, but know
enough to bring about what we want for our satisfaction. For example, we
might not have total knowledge on how the body fights infections, bust
as long as we can make effective antibiotics to deal with the next
infection we're home and dry. Anyway, whatever perfection means I don't
think we can achieve this.
Hence, a how-to itself requires a linguistic tool kit to help us go
about our business: probability, chance, risk, maybe, confidence, and so
on are parts of that tool kit.
The issue with why is that we have to make a journey from our brain into
the real world out there. However, what matters is that the meaning of
why motivates us to take the right path for that journey.

Take care
Lawrence

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: The most important
word in any language is Why. + news

Friday, August 06, 2010

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Do we really become what we think?

Do we really become what we think?

Dear friends,
This Sunday we are discussing: Do we really become what we think?
Don't forget that this Sunday, and for the rest of August, we'll be
meeting at 7pm because Molly Malone's opens at six thirty.
In the meantime it is a bit early to start writing essays, unfortunately
I do not function very well with all this heat around. However, I did
manage to get some ideas together.
The word –become- is itself open to two interpretations: become as in
our work career or become as in our persona? In a way it does not matter
which way we interpret this word since I imagine the process is the
same; more or less.
The question does give the impression that what we think is somehow the
same for every one and more important of all a process that might be
objective and rational. The problem with our epistemological state of
affairs is that it all depends on the information we feed our brains
with. And indeed, do we all think the same way?
Thus if we think we have what it takes to become a certain person, with
a certain type of character and, yes, maybe a certain type of social
achievement than it is a matter of filling in the details and joining
the dots. If our thinking is, however, lousy then there is much hope for
us.
But, I suggest, that it is a big step to move from thinking to becoming
what we think. Firstly, of course, I would argue that it is false to
assume that the way we think is necessary objective and rational.
Secondly, we still have to establish that all brain activity of a
certain type is thinking of a certain type. But that's an issue for a
later date.
One of the reasons why our thinking might be flawed, at least in the
context of society, is that the so called society does not train us to
be objective and rational, but generally society trains us to be
conformists and obedient. Objectivity is not, at face value, compatible
with the status quo of a society. Objectivity implies that sometimes
there might be a need to disagree with society.
I am using society here in a rather open meaning: not only do I mean
with society whatever we normally consider society to be (even if this
is a chimera) but also such institutions as the business community,
religion, social classes and castes, and every other institution and
association we come across.
If we take the institution of education, as an example, these past few
decades this has become the plaything of do gooding politicians and
social engineers. Every so often someone or a group of political or
social thinkers comes up with yet another education formula.
And such formula will fail by definition because at the basis of modern
education the logic is to exclude the weak either those who fail to
grasp the supposed knowledge package students are supposed to learn or
more crudely exclusion is because of lack of economic means.
Thus, thinking is not only, generally speaking, not objective and
rational, but our training in thinking has been in avoiding failure,
instead of how to achieve success. We are basically trained to know what
and not to know how. To know what information haze been accumulated but
very few are allowed to discover how to achieve the next bit of
information. Einstein, for example, achieved the next bit of knowledge
that is the foundation of modern science during his spare time.
But the paradox is that by being able to think in terms of achievement
rather than avoiding failure, this does not make us self centred but
rather more cooperative. Success is always achieved with the cooperation
of others.
If we become what we think then it matters a lot to examine what we
think and what information we use to think with. For the time being I am
more confident that we become what we are tainted to think, of
ourselves. Of course, some actually do make it out of the gravitational
grip of their society but there is always some price to pay; and all of
this is in conformity with the norms of physics. If we become rich and
famous we lose our privacy and if we become non conformists we pay the
price of rejection.
Take care

Lawrence

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from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: Do we really become
what we think?

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