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Thursday, April 10, 2014

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: How relevant is the past?

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: How relevant is the past?

Many politicians, business people and probably us have justified many of
our actions by appealing to some event or some lesson from the past.

Of course, we are all familiar with the problem of induction: what
happened in the past does not mean that it will happen in the future. In
my few paragraphs I try to identify a different problem: the relevance
of the past is a direct function of the quality of information we have
about the past. Whilst we cannot make the problem of induction disappear
we can try an tame its viscous bite!

In the meantime, Ruel has sent us a link to his essay, but before
anything else, Alfonso would like to share with us his complete works
which we can find on his website:

Querido amigo Lawrence:
Se acaban de publicar mis Obras completas
www.obrascompletasalfonsovallejo.com
Un pequeño regalo por tu forma de ser y pensar.
Un abrazo
Alfonso Vallejo

And from Ruel:
Hello Lawrence,
Here is the link to the essay I wrote on Sunday´s PhiloMadrid topic:

http://ruelfpepa.wordpress.com/2014/04/08/how-relevant-is-the-past/
Always,
Ruel

Finally my essay:

How relevant is the past?

The past I am thinking of relates to our history, personal past, our
social past, our political past, and, maybe, even the past of our
civilization. And as for the relevance of the past we need to ask
ourselves four questions: is it our personal past, as opposed to some
collective past? What can we learn from the past? And when should we
give up the grip the past has on us and move on? And the fourth
question, what the quality of information we have about the past?

In our context, our past is our memory. Either literally, what we
remember, or think we remember, or what we have collectively recorded,
or think what we have recorded, of the past. Therefore, our past is our
experience, and what is our past is what we remember of it.

This means that our history, i.e. our past, is our empirical journey on
this planet, following the cause and effect flows of the physical world
and therefore, in principle, our experiences can be explained by
empirical methodologies. Indeed, a lot of our empirical journey can be
explained or identified through various sciences, such as archaeology,
forensic archaeology, medicine, our genes, etc.

Of course, just because there is a lot we can find out about us that is
independent of our memory, it does not mean that we can find out
everything, nor fully explain why it happened nor why we acted in a
certain way. Nor does it mean that we have to find out. But the more we
can explain our past the more legitimacy we give to how we should or
ought to behave in the future. Learning from the past does not mean,
doing what we did in the past!

For example, the fact that trains and buses are very often late,
explains why I might over compensate by leaving very early for an
appointment. On the other hand, the fact that in the past some people
let me down it does not necessarily justify that that I become paranoid
about trusting others. Thus, the challenge is not, necessarily, not to
trust anyone, but to be more intelligent when it comes to trusting
people. But because these two examples are accounted for empirically,
they are, therefore, valid examples to learn from and maybe to change
the views we formed after these events.

Compared to our personal past, our collective past is very complex. Our
history, and more importantly, our collective memory, is more difficult
to account for and to establish its veracity. But our collective past,
and our collective memory, is no less empirical than our personal past.
Thus the questions, "what can we learn from our collective past?" and
"what influences ought we give up from the past?" are just as valid for
a society, or a country, as for us personally.

Thus because the past is an empirical event we can always try to tease
out information from the forensic evidence available today: this not
only makes the past relevant today but makes the past a valid source for
new lessons in life for today. For example, evidence from recent
excavations in London suggests that during the Black death people (also)
died from the more serious pneumonic plague, that is passed directly
from human to human, instead of the bubonic plague (rat) fleas to humans
was. This changes out views of past history and maybe reinforces modern
need to control pandemics.

This explains why malevolent dictators or individuals go to great
lengths to hide evidence of their crimes. They also understand the value
of misleading information, withholding information and basically
fabricating information. Some would also go so far as to create myths
and dogmas to thwart any attempt of empirical investigation.

One implication of this is that accounts of the past do not necessarily
hold all the real information about a past event. Basically written
accounts can at best give a representation of the actual events, or
maybe have the status of hearsay evidence, and just downright
fabrication. Basically we shouldn't believe what we read or are told.
But this of course does not mean that the past is irrelevant. On the
contrary, the past is very relevant, what might be irrelevant are our
accounts of the past that we inherited from the past.

We can, therefore, safely assume that our past becomes relevant the more
we can confirm the quality of our information about the past.

Best Lawrence




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from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: How relevant is the past?

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