PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Friday, June 27, 2014

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: What is an idea?+ NEWS

Essays + NEWS

Dear Friends,

Please read the details for the Summer changes to our meeting below.

In the meantime this Sunday we are discussing: What is an idea? Despite
the popularity of this the term 'idea' in philosophy through the ages,
our understanding of the term 'idea' today is very much different from
that of the past. So what makes the 'idea' so important in philosophy
and for us? These are some of the issue I try to look at in my essay below.

Ruel has also sent us the link to his essay:

Hello Lawrence,

Below is the link to what I wrote on Sunday´s PhiloMadrid topic:

See you on Sunday,



In July (NOT this Sunday) we will be meeting on SATURDAY at the Centro
Seogviano at 6.30pm. The centro will be closed in August, we'll organise
meetings for drinks later, and in September we will also be meeting in


From David Butler - visit to the British Cemetery Madrid
If you are interested in the modern history of Madrid this is the place
to start with.
best Lawrence

Redacto el presente mensaje tanto en español como en inglés con el
objeto de comunicarles que llevo una visita guiada más antes de los
calores del verano
El punto de encuentro será la entrada del Cementerio y la hora será a
las 11.00 horas
La fecha:-
sábado, día 5 de julio y daré las explicaciones en español.
Si prefiere hacer la visita en una fecha no programada y siempre que
formen un grupo de un mínimo de 8 personas, avíseme a <>
se pone la dirección.
I am writing this note in both Spanish and in English to inform you that
before it gets too hot I will take one more guided visit round the
Cemetery, open to all who are interested
We will meet at 11.00 a.m at the Cemetery entrance
Saturday, 5th July : the visit will be in Spanish
If you would like a visit on a different date and you can form a group
of 8 persons or more, let me know at <>

-----from Lawrence

What is an idea?

If ever there was a term in philosophy that has changed its meaning and
subject matter over the millennia it must surely be "idea".

Plato's meaning of the term 'idea' was something what we might call
today a blueprint. However, Plato's perfect blueprint would have been
made up of a real object. A blueprint of a plane is not the same as a
constructed copy of that plane. Indeed we would agree that a blueprint
seems to be more perfect than the actual construction of the plane. And,
moreover, the very nature of constructing something from paper plans
introduces in the process natural errors, such as the accuracy in
cutting a metal panel, or just simple human errors, e.g. loose screws.
So the representation of the blueprint is never as perfect as the
blueprint itself.

An equally more modern analogy might be the DNA coding in a gene, which
at face value seems to be more consistent than human made blueprints.

But even early modern philosophers (Descartes, Locke, Hume, etc) linked
the term idea to mental imagery or mental reconstructions. What is
important for us here is that ideas are mental objects or experiences
and there is no hint that they are representations of things out there.
For example, we now accept that words themselves carry meaning, but that
the two are not a single entity. Indeed we distinguish language parts
into semantics and syntax, but what is clear is that the language we use
is very much in the public domain. But we all agree that ideas are in
our private domain and we now accept them to be in what some would call
our mind, although for pedantic like me it would be the brain.

Today we use the term idea as a semantic tool to convey the equivalent
mental states of beliefs, opinions, mental plans and even
representations of the world out there; for example, having a good idea
of the metro plan of stations, etc. But what is the difference between
ideas and these related concepts such as beliefs, opinions, mental
(memory) images of things out there, plans and so on?

Indeed the ubiquitous meaning and use of idea, which in ( is quite a
few screens long, suggests that this is a very versatile term for us.
Two things are immediately different about the term idea from some other
terms firstly, ideas do not seem to carry emotional effect, consider: I
believe I should visit the countryside vs my idea is to visit the
countryside. The use of 'idea' here is close to meaning I have a plan
and it seems like it is a good plan, whereas 'believe' carries the
emotional passion of a self aware person. The second difference is that
in the modern use of idea the prime meaning of the term is that it is a
mental event first. By analogy, the use of the term 'idea' is like using
the term "a can of cola" as opposed to "a bottle of cola" the word 'can'
defines the receptacle of the cola.

An equally important reflection is that when we use the term idea we do
not usually use it to reflect a long temporal endurance. For example,
when I say 'I have a good idea of the plan of the Metro in Madrid' this
would be relative to me being familiar with any changes the Metro might
make to the network. But when I say 'I believe that the Metro in Madrid
is a very efficient transport system' I mean this irrespective of
whether I use the Metro (often), whether I will ever use the Metro again
or even whether I will remain in Madrid for the rest of my life.

But as I said, an idea is always linked to a mental state or event, and
it is this feature of the term distinguishes the term since ideas always
belong and originate from us as self aware individuals, unlike say
believes that might be the influence of propaganda. People still believe
thing, even though they might never have originated a belief in their
life (maybe I exaggerate here) but most can generate ideas even if they
amount to nothing.

The surprise might seem that this term has quite a historical ancestry
and yet the meaning has changed more often than a wind vane. But there
is one consistent feature about the term 'idea' and it is that ideas
happen in the mind or brain.

Ideas also feature heavily in problem solving situations: I have a good
idea of the Metro plan is a solution on how to get from station A to B,
but I believe the Metro is a very good system, is not a solution to
anything. Similarly, 'my idea is to go from A to B which is closer to C'
is a solution that might need further investigation from my part, but
'my opinion is to go from A to B then C' is just that an opinion which
does not imply I any further action.

It seems that we are not only conscious that ideas are mistaken but that
they imply in their meaning "you might be mistaken" or "maybe you are
not 100% correct" whereas "I know the Metro plan very well" leaves not
margin of error, unlike "I have a good idea of the Metro plan...(but I'm
not necessarily up to date with all the stations)"

Maybe it is not surprising that the early philosophers interpreted the
term 'ideas' very close to images or mental representations since their
life was mainly one of visual sense perceptions. We can safely assume
that Plato did not come across such concepts saying "mind the gap" when
leaving the Underground train (the equivalent on the Madrid Metro is
more convoluted). Nor did Locke or other past philosophers for that
matter, have a smart phone, as our modern day philosopher, Alfonso
Vallejo, keeps reminding us. This complexity in our lives must clearly
reflect and influence our thinking and hence our ideas. I would
therefore contend that it is not surprising that the term 'idea' is a
very important one, given it direct reference to the brain, but that the
meaning should change given the increasing evolution of our experiences
into more knowledge laden experiences; mind the gap presumes how trains
and platforms function etc etc.

What I find most fascinating about the meaning of the term 'idea' is
this seemingly uncertainty built into meaning of the term. "I have a
good idea" does not imply I have the best idea! So how do we arrive to
this implied uncertainty? My inclination is to think that our
experiences are always consolidated with probabilistic certainty. Thus
unconsciously we include this important uncertainty into the meaning of
the word 'idea'. This is a factor that does not seem to exist in the
meaning of 'belief', 'I know', and 'opinion' and so on. But such ideas
are always subject to further confirmation.

Best Lawrence


tel: 606081813 <>
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every Thursday from 19:30 to 21h at
Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: What is an idea?+ NEWS

Thursday, June 19, 2014

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Is democracy obsolete? + News

Dear friends,

I do not recall whether today's topic "Is democracy obsolete?" was
proposed because of the investiture of the new king of Spain. But for
our purposes what matters is whether democracy is indeed obsolete or is
it one of those cases that we've been labouring under the wrong
illusion. In my few ideas I enclose with this email I argue that what is
obsolete is the way we discuss democracy in philosophy.

In the meantime Ruel has sent us the link for this essay;

Hello Lawrence,
I wrote a short essay on Sunday's PhiloMadrid topic and here is the link:
Thanks and see you on Sunday.

And finally Encarna would like to share with us the Programme for the
"Dia de Segovia" at the Centro Segoviano on the Saturday 21 June 2014 –
programme link here:


Is democracy obsolete?

The issue is probably not that democracy is obsolete but rather has
there ever been democracy; despite the justifiable belief that democracy
is the best method of government from a bunch of really nasty options.

The reference point in any discussion on democracy is usually Greek
democracy, usually meaning Athenian democracy. It is, however, very easy
to romanticize political models especially from the past. The problem
with Greek democracy is that it was only open to the rich, thus
excluding slaves and women. And participation in the public manifest of
democracy, that is elections, was only limited to the rich: no surprise

Indeed this Greek model of democracy survived well into the twentieth
century and only recently have the EU ventured into breaking the other
condition of only citizens of the city had the right to vote. Today EU
citizens can in theory vote in other countries for mayors and EU
parliamentarians, but even then it is not always a smooth ride.

But even this so called right to vote in other EU countries is not
really a right since the state controls the functions of the mayorship
and therefore, not a right to elect a legislature. And the right to vote
for the EU parliament is a function of a treaty and not a sovereign right.

Fast forward a few centuries and we come across the Magna Carta and our
first reference of democracy in modern times. This was the first
document that led the way to the Westminster model of parliament; it set
governments under the rule of law and guaranteed that a representative
majority govt did not abuse minorities*. But once again we are not
talking about people like you and me but the landed gentry and the
titled. In other words the average person and women had no place in the
Magna Carta.

It wasn't until the 1900's that British workers had a functioning
official party to represent them in parliament in the form of the Labour
party. However, throughout the 19c the need to represent workers (no
longer called slaves and serfs) evolved with the evolving condition for
voting qualification that resulted in more people having the right to vote.

But it wasn't much later and well into the twentieth century that
universal suffrage was introduced throughout the world. However,
elections are the public face of democracy, and we know this because
even the worst of dictators hold elections. Or the super elite countries
hold elections for the head of state such as the election of the pope
at the Vatican.

In all the models we have of democracy all exclude someone and other,
but the objective is always to consolidate power. Even the brave cry (or
slogan) of "no taxation without representation" is one taken out of
context, it was a slogan for the moneyed people in the America colonies not
to be taxed by the English king for their trade. There are many people
who are taxed even today and who do not have a vote; most important of
all are foreign citizens and corporations.

But there is more to democracy, basically the separation of powers and
the rule of law. One of the principles of the Magna Carta is that the
majority does not abuse the minority. But it is curious that none of the
constitutions speak of the minority abusing the majority.

If this was the case there will be a need for an institution to oversee
the various powers of separation. Maybe today this happens in a naive
and dilettante way with the various international courts, the EU
institutions and the UN. But the whole edifice is very slow and creates
many obstacles for the individual to seek justice that justice is
certainly not seen being made.

For us the question has to be whether democracy has become obsolete in
real life because of some coup against the principles of democracy or
simply through natural evolution?

No doubt today there are some setbacks in the various democracies that
have adopted the Westminster model. Two reasons for this situation are
first the transition of identifying individuals as all citizens and not
only the moneyed few or landed gentry even though money will always buy
privilege thus creating a two tier society. The second is the transition
from political freedom to economic freedom. No doubt today we are
politically free but not all are economically free.

But despite these setbacks the democratic model is by far the best
political form of government. The alternatives do not take the
individual as relevant and the system is always there for the protection
of the few. Indeed, non democratic systems are also based on dogma to
consolidate the privileged: for example North Korea, China, most Middle
East states and of course the Vatican.

From the perspective of theory democracy has always been discussed from
the political philosophy perspective. This, no doubt, reflects the
function of the old model of democracy i.e. the participants of
democracy were always economically free so the programme for these
people was always to consolidate their power. But today we are all
politically free, since this has very little cost anyway, but the
objective for everyone today is to achieve economic freedom.

Hence, in the past we discussed democracy in the context of political
philosophy, but today this is more than probably an obsolete approach.
Today, military alliances and treaties are the least important; this is
of course not to say that they not relevant, far from it. Today the most
important treaties are commercial in nature: the most important of which
is of course the European Union, followed by other treaties such as the
WTO (World Trade Organisation) and the Kyoto Agreement.

The irony is that today's business model is still basically the feudal
system model admittedly with a few bells and whistles. But in today
market place all goods and services, without exception, are based on
technology and therefore based on sound science. The paradox is that
technology requires cooperation whilst feudalism only requires
aggression with an unreasonable dose of whimsy on the part of the feudal

Thus, when King Felipe VI of Spain says that we need to invest in
science, technology and investigation this is not a project, but a fight
for survival. Today democracy survives first and foremost on
intellectual property.

Despite the questionable status of democracy throughout the ages, and
the inevitable attraction of democracy, there has always been one
consistent factor through the ages until the arrival of the industrial
revolution. Basically, those elected to the various forms of parliaments
or senates were always elected in their name for their individual
privilege. Sure, once in parliament they came together to settle the
issues of the day using the majority rule.

I am inclined to argue that the demise of democracy, not as a theory but
as a practical tool, arrived when people stopped electing members of
parliament and started to elect factions to parliament. Indeed, I would
go so far and argue that political parties are incompatible with
democracy. Not only do parties turn the chamber of parliament into a
metaphorical pit for packs of hounds to snap at each other's legs, but
most important of all parties pre determine the decisions of a member of

Democracy is all about freedom of the individual and a consciousness of
what is morally right. Political parties are about coercion and self
interest the very same principles Greek democracy, and all other
democracies, are supposed to fight against.

In a democracy, members of parliament ought to be unaligned and vote as
free agents with only their moral conscience to guide them. With all due
respect to independent MPs, it is quite alarming that in today's
democracies the only person in parliament that qualifies as being free
and has the power to act according to their moral conscience is the
constitutional monarch.

* Magna Carat is the birthright of all English-speakers – Telegraph

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813 <>
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every Thursday from 19:30 to 21h at
Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Is democracy obsolete? + News

Dia de Segovia - Saturday 21 June 2014

Programme for the Dia de Segovia at the Centro Segoviano on the Saturday 21 June 2014

Right click on image and then use magnifying glass to view content. Thanks

Thursday, June 12, 2014

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Dreams + News

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing Dreams.

We can talk about the dreams we experience at night and we can talk of
dreams in a metaphorical way such as ambitions. In my few paragraphs
below I ask why there does not seem to be a connection between the two
types of dreams such that we can achieve our wakeful dreams.

In the meantime Ruel has sent us a link to his essay:

Hello Lawrence,
Below is the link to the short essay I wrote on the topic for Sunday's
PhiloMadrid. I decided not to write a more comprehensive one because I
remembered I already wrote something on a similar topic--"Is Life a
Dream?"--more than a year ago.
See you on Sunday.

And finally, Miguel has sent us details about the next Mathematics Tertulia:

Estimado tertuliano,

Te invitamos a asistir a la próxima Tertulia de Matemáticas el próximo
Lunes 16 de Junio a las 19:00h en El Centro Segoviano de Madrid, en la
que D. Javier Sánchez González hablará de la La Lacería Árabe

Por otro lado, el próximo Viernes 13 de Junio a las 20:00 en La Casa de
Granada de Madrid D. Javier pronunciará la conferencia "Arquitectura
Andalusí y Mudéjar".

Saludos cordiales,
Tertulia de Matemáticas

-- Lawrence - Dreams

We can speak of dreams in two ways: either as physical events in our
brain or in a metaphorical manner to refer to our ambitions and long
term desires.

I would say that today dreams as physical brain events have been
successfully become the study subject of medicine and other biological
sciences. Hence, if sleep dreams are the subject of philosophy today
they would be within the context of philosophy of medicine and science.

Of course, this does not mean that we know all there is to know about
dreams; far from it. Nor that we have answers to basic questions such as
are dream experiences like conscious experiences? Or are dreams random
brain events or structured brain events? And then there is the role
played by memory.

What is clear about dreams is that the average person can easily
distinguish the difference between a dream experience and a conscious
experience. What is also clear about dreams is that we can dream about
ourselves in dreams, as the principal actor, we can also dream about us
being someone or something else, but we never dream as another person.
The "I" in the dream is always the "I" in the conscious wakeful life;
but never the "I" of, for example, the Queen of Sheba. In other words,
the Queen of Sheba does not invade my brain and starts to deam using my

It should, therefore, not be a surprise that even in the metaphorical
use of the concept "dream" we imply the non existence or the
improbability of our ambitions. Ambitions that are beyond our reach in
the same way that flying as we do in our sleep dreams are beyond our
reach in wakeful life.

Indeed, to describe the idea of something being difficult to achieve or
close to impossible to achieve we would use expressions such as
childhood dreams or I dream of becoming/achieving/... etc. We also
accuse people of living in a dream world, having a pipe dream, or to
tell them to "dream on" when they propose something impossible.

We also mustn't forget the most important dream of the 20th century i.e.
the American Dream. This slogan was probably the first successful
national advertising slogan that people prescribed and acted upon.
Indeed the slogan and ethos is couched in a causal language such as work
hard, have opportunities as other and, indirectly, don't deviate from
the prescribed path for example by smoking pot keeping long hair. In
reality the value of the American dream ethos was not that everyone is
able to become socially mobile, but rather that only a few could reach
the American dream thus giving them social status and exclusivity above
the rest. If this was not the case they would have called it the
American Human Right; but then again the grand project of the welfare
state has been misused, abused and finally ransacked in the same manner
as the American dream has been misused, abused and people ransacked off
their wealth.

Today this idea of an American dream has evolved or morphed into such
expression as, the dream house, dream husband, dream car, dream holiday,
dream wife etc. Except this time one only needs to work hard to maintain
a credit line open.

It is quite curious that what we dream for in our conscious life does
not feature too regularly in our sleep dream. Sure sometimes we actually
do dream of driving our dream car, and sometimes we do dream of a
solution on how to achieve this, but never on regular basis. And when
these dreams happen they tend to happen when we heavily think about
these dreams in our conscious life. Maybe we think very hard of our
dream holiday during the day and then at night we dream of being in that

My point is that there does not seem to be an established biological
mechanism to consolidate our conscious dreams (ambitions) with our sleep
dreams; maybe a way to work out how to achieve our dreams –sort of
to-do-list or flow chart. I am thinking of a kind of biological
mechanism that consolidates our memories when we sleep.

Quite legitimately, some people want to know how they can determine the
content of their dreams, or what their dreams mean, especially given
that dreams tend to be a daily experience. On the hand our real life
dreams are equally as slippery as our sleeping dreams.

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813 <>
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every Thursday from 19:30 to 21h at
Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Dreams + News

Friday, June 06, 2014

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Intent is Magic

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Intent is Magic.

Intention features heavily in our life: we find intent in the context of
law, philosophy and personal relationships.

The traditional big issues have been: under what conditions are we
responsible, or not, for our acts, are we all fated to act the way we
do, and did we really intend to act in such a way?

But then there is another type of intention, the sort when we act out of
good intentions but the "unintended" consequences have very bad effects
on others. For example, introducing technically altered crops to
increase yields, and the unintended consequence is that the supply of
these crops are only available from a monopoly. Can we say that the
company intended to set up a monopoly or increase the yield of crops? In
other words, do we also intend the unintended consequences? And if not,
is this an acceptable way for those in authority to escape responsibility?

In the meantime we have the link to Ruel's essay below:

Hello Lawrence,
I wrote a short essay on Sunday's PhiloMadrid topic and here is the link
to access it:
See you on Sunday.

Finally, Miguel has sent us this message below, if you want a copy of
the mentioned documents please let me know and I'll send them to you. I
don't know how to attack PDF's to the blog post.

Estimado tertuliano,

Te adjunto el mensaje remitido por el matemático y también tertuliano
Nicola Mingotti, que acaba de ser premiado por la Societé de Calcul
Mathématique y la Fédération Française des Jeux Mathématiques por la
resolución de un problema de matemática aplicada.

Desde aquí le enviamos nuestra enhorabuena más cordial y las gracias por
compartir la noticia.

Saludos cordiales,
Tertulia de Matemáticas

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813 <>
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every Thursday from 19:30 to 21h at
Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Intent is Magic


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