PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Friday, September 30, 2011

from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Science vs Magic + ESSAYS

Update: Essays by Miguel and Mark
Good morning,
For some reason or other, my email did not download Miguel's essay last night so I sent my weekly
email without it. And I got Mark's essay very late last night: so you might say we're at an
equilibrium between bad luck and good luck!
In the meantime I hope you will forgive me for a third email this week, however it has all been for
a good cause.
So without further ado the essays from Miguel and Mark:

----------------Miguel Essay------------------
For reasons that come next, rather than Magic vs. Science Iʼd like to write about Magic and Science.
Iʼll need for it this definition of the noun Magic, found in the Merriam-Webster dictionnary: "an
extraordinary power or influence seemingly from a supernatural source", slightly rephrased to: "an
extraordinary power or influence seemingly from an unknown source". This is necessary as
"supernatural" is truly conflictive, especially when compared to "unknown". If you admit this change
it is more likely that youʼll share some of the ideas exposed here.

I see Science as coming from Magic: it is her daughter rather than her nemesis or oponent (the use
of the feminine is intentional). We saw the reason for this in our past meeting: Science is unable
to explain itself, or put in another words: the fact that Mighty Science works is mysterious,
miraculous and ultimately magical, as it is an extraordinary power seemingly from an unknown source.
If one is familiar with Science, a conclusion will eventually become apparent: Science is the art of
coincidence. You manipulate signs, do experiments, formulate hypothesis, make abundant mistakes and
finally arrive to a theory, a linguistic construction made up of words and other signs. It has the
power, if it is a sound one, to accomplish this remarkable feat: when fed with some statements and
logic, it will produce another statement thatʼll match the same one youʼd have used first to
describe a phenomena. Newtons' theory says that gravity pull at ground level is 9.8mts/sec2, then
you measure and find it to be 9.79. Fantastic, really: we have a procedure, a conceptual machine of
sorts that produces coincidences or quasi-coincidences: Science.
Science is very useful as it provides economical ways to get many things we want: better crops, cell
phones, drugs, efficient transportation, etc. Nevertheless, the fact seems to be that no one knows
why it works, or equivalently: Science and its methods work by pure Magic.
You will find many attempts, performed by scientists and philosophers, to deny this. All are
defective for a similar reason: once an explanation is there, how do you account for explanationʼs
explanation? Magic again. One famous argument about the source of Science was given by Immanuel
Kant. This is an extract of a comment on Kant's Philosophy of Science, as found in the Stanford
Encyclopedia of Philosophy (brace yourself...):
"The feature of Kant's conception of natural science proper that is most immediately striking is how
restrictive it is. It requires that cognition (i) be systematically ordered (ii) according to
rational principles and (iii) be known a priori with apodictic certainty, i.e., with "consciousness
of their necessity" (4:468). Because properly scientific cognition must satisfy these strict
conditions, it requires "a pure part on which the apodictic certainty that reason seeks can be
based" (4:469). But since Kant identifies pure rational cognition that is generated from concepts
with metaphysics, it follows that science proper requires a metaphysics of nature. He then specifies
that such a metaphysics of nature could consist in either a "transcendental part," which discusses
the laws that make possible the concept of a nature in general — "even without relation to any
determinate object of experience" (4:469) — or a "special metaphysical" part, which concerns a
"particular nature of this or that kind of things" for which an empirical concept is given."
Pretty intimidating isnʼt it? Notice the word apodictic. Sometimes, I wonʼt say itʼs the case here,
fancy wording points to an inability to provide conclusive arguments: it is one of the many tricks
with which Language dazzles and thrills us. "Apodictic" stands for something that has the nature of
absolute certainty. Kant says that, to do Science, mind should have the power to know things in such
a way, then he embarks on a search for the source of this power and eventually he thinks he finds it.
Without elaborating on the soundness of his argument, the list of magical items at work here is not
1. Kantʼs brain ability and his commentatorʼs to devise such involved statements
2. The formation of ideas in the mind, in general
3. The nature of the relationship between ideas and words
4. The existence of Language itself
Interestingly, hardened advocates of Science attack Magic with furor: a case of the daughter
despising her mother by not wanting to recognise her. This gives away a clue of what might be at
work here: could it be the drive for power and psychological security? Some people feel sick when
near to a precipice. In the same way, being bathed by Magic and be her product is unbearable, an
ordeal for most of us.
It is so unthinkable that we go to great lengths to hide and deny it, so that we can have some sense
of control and familiarity. We have devised amazing (i.e.: magical) tools for the task, all sharing
a common trait: they are useful for some limited job, but thru self-deception they are believed to
work also outside their nominal range.
The most conspicuous of them all is Language. With its undeniable usefulness here and there,
Language beguiles us into thinking that it is equally useful everywhere. The modest and obedient
gobetween, the one that helped us everyday to represent objects with other, more affordable ones
(words) has mutated into a juggernaut that stealthly rules over us. It has taking away from us the
freshness of pure experience, making us believe that once we know the name we control the named
object. The usurper has sent to oblivion the speechless contemplation of Magic.
Built up on this core tool, other, more elaborate ones, eventually appeared: Reason, Logic,
Philosophy, Science, Religion and Political theory. All are children of Language, with their own
stock of fancy words. They share with it all its useful powers, but also his fundamental flaw: the
tendency to rule outside its scope and the crippling of the hostʼs ability to recognize that he
lives in a sea of Magic.
A series of words in the form of a scientific explanation may produce a useful coincidence, but not
much more. To extrapolate this and try to rule out Magic with the same trick is not only logically
unjustified, it closes the door to a world of wonder and amazement.
To shake off the grip of Language and wake up from the dream of Reason is not easy. This can be
verified with a little experiment. Some time ago I shared this sonet with friends; please read it
now carefully and take note of your reactions:
No he calpeado jamás un tedillo
Ni he garbellado nunca un pelote
Sin embargo bardindos en yusote
Enseforé tranquilo en los punillos
Bardindos de coljores acrepidos
Bardindos de corte bortegado
Bardindos que crupían seferidos
Sin que nadie zigueriera sus comados
Con la diepra que da la mersinga
En corteles de porma antigados
Cafo un bardindo demidorido
Lo perco, lo damo, lo entretago
Aferio sus placias de Coringa
Y sormo ¡bardindo!, ¡bardindo tado!
What did it inspired you? Did some distinct images came to your mind? Some of my friends thought of
flowers, some of landscapes, I thought it had an ancient scent... But none of us, none, said:
"nothing". The fact is, that to make more apparent the grip of Language, the sonet was designed to
have no meaning, or the minimum one. And there it was the grip: even in the presence of meaningless
words each of us had been inspired and prodded to produce even more words! Imagine then the effect
of words with so called meaning, the ones we use in our everyday life, a life in which everything is
draped by a thick coat of words, a life that is second hand, linguistic rather than magical...
To pit Science against Magic is like pitting the foam with the entire ocean
Miguel G Palomo, Madrid 29th September 2011


Hi Lawrence - a few last-minute musing below. Wish I could be there.
Nicaragua is at once confronting and wonderful. Will send an update.
The title of this discussion is interesting in itself: Science vs Magic.
Let's look at the term 'Magic' first. The oxford dictionary defines
it as "The power of apparently influencing the course of events by
using mysterious or supernatural forces". The word is often used to
explain that which cannot be explained rationally; but it is often
used to describe things that can never be explained by science. That
is, supernatural. Beyond nature.
So why do people continue to believe in magic? Yes, there are things
that science cannot explain, but that does not mean that science won't
one day be able to explain it. Science explains very well why the sun
rises each day in the east and sets in the west. We no longer need to
sacrifice innocents to appease the gods to ensure that tomorrow the
sun will rise. Likewise for earthquakes, lightning, rain, disease,
The belief in magic fills a void in many people. It gives hope that
there is more to the world that just what we can see and experience, a
divine realm. Science, on the other hand, is a souless ogre,
responsible for pollution, war, and the inumerable modern malaises
that plague our society. But this is dangerous. Science is not an
"organization", nor is it an "ideology", or "cult". There is no CEO
of "Science inc".
Science is the search for truth and and to explain why things are the
way they are. It is a truly global pursuit, that uses peer review and
evidence. Those people who criticise science point out that science
is alway changing it's theories, e.g Newtonian physics beiong updated
by Einsteinian theories. Yes! That is science in action! It does
not dogmatically hold on to any theory if a better, proven one comes
along. How many religious fundementalists can match that?
In fact, a belief in magic is dangerous. Think of the dark ages, and
the witch burnings of Salem. And it is still happening: The Catholic
church stil beatifies people into saints. And what is the requirement
for beatification?: it has to be proven that they have performed a
miracle! We need to be alert to those who promise things, or think
they know what's best for the world, whose ideology is
non-evidence-based (e.g. prayer, homeopathy, mysterious voices, tea
leaves, entrails, a "holy" book, evil spirits etc etc)
I say forget magic. Yes, there is still so much we don't know, but
let's pursue the truth and get to the nature of reality with science.
At least we won't be fooling ourselves. As Carl Sagan was fond of
saying "it's more wondrous and subtle than we could have ever

---------------------------------end Mark----------------
News from Miguel for today Friday and Carlos, Thursday next week.
Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing; Science vs Magic.
As far as philosophy is concerned I fail to see any direct connection between these two activities.
Of course, we can interpret magic to mean something we stand in awe and wonder of but have no idea
of what is going on. That is quite an acceptable meaning for day to day use of the word magic in the
context of science.

However, if by magic we mean that some process or event is influenced by some sort of powers that go
against the functions of the physical world, and there is only the physical world, than is should be
regarded as a serious failure in the epistemic make up of those who believe in such supernatural
Indeed the issue between science and magic is one of epistemology. Science tries to explain how
thing work and why they work through observation, methodology, statistical analysis, and experiment.
Sometimes, we do not succeed and sometime what we try to measure is beyond our capacity.
On the other hand, magic, and by magic I don't mean music hall entertainment shows of stealth of
hand, but the sort people believe to be supernatural powers, is an attempt to explain gaps in our
epistemic state of mind, or rather state of the brain.
Of course, this does not mean that why the brain would want to fill such gaps in one's knowledge or
how the brain arrives to such gap filling, is not interesting. Anything about the brain is always
interesting and of extreme importance to humanity.
However, the bottom line is that science is about the brain interacting with its environment, whilst
magic is about the brain interacting with gaps in its own function.

Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao


+++++++++MEETING DETAILS+++++++++
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
-Yahoo group >> <
-Old essays:
- Blog:
tel 606081813

Estimado tertuliano,
Espero que hayas tenido un buen verano. Por si fuera de tu interés te envío información de la
conferencia siguiente:

Mathematics with a human face, impartida por el prof. Edward Frenkel, catedrático de Matemáticas en
la universidad de Berkely
Viernes 30 de Septiembre de 2011, 19:30, en la Residencia de Estudiantes, c/Pinar 21-23 Madrid

Más información en
Aprovecho la ocasión para enviarte un cordial saludo,
P.S.: Si quieres impartir una conferencia de contenido matemático envíame un mensaje de correo para
tratar los detalles.
Si quieres darte de baja en esta lista de correo envía otro con "Baja" en el campo "Asunto" del mensaje.

Hi Lawrence:
Here is our invitation to our next event, poetry. We hope to see you /and or your members.
Estimado Socio ó Simpatizante:
Te invitamos a la conferencia que vamos a ofrecer el próximo día 6 de Octubre, jueves, a las 20:00
horas en el Café Comercial, en la Glorieta de Bilbao, en el primer piso.
Esta vez va a ser un recital de poesía de dos muy buenos y acreditados poetas, Gonzalo Escarpa y
Jesús Urceloy. El Título del recital es: El Humor en la Poesía. El Humor en La Libertad.
Como siempre el recital es gratuito, aunque es obligatoria una consumición.
En breve vas a recibir el Programa Anual de las actividades del Club, que este año está muy completo
con 12 eventos mensuales en diferentes lugares. Este año tenemos 10 programas socio-culturales, y
quisiéramos invitarte a participar en ellos.
Espero que sea de tu interés. Aprovecho para pedirte una opinión, quién crees que merece ganar el
Premio a Promotor de La Libertad en España 2011? Cualquier persona u organización sirve. Para
confirmar asistencia, contestar a la encuesta ó cualquier pregunta dirígete al: (PLEASE ASK ME FOR
DETAILS – thanks Lawrence)
Adjunto encontrarás el Curriculum de los dos poetas.
Saludos cordiales, hasta pronto.
J. Santiago R. Samaniego, Presidente
Club del Hombre Libre

from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Science vs Magic + ESSAYS

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