PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Thursday, April 30, 2015

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Can we understand the Oriental mind?

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Can we understand the Oriental mind?

With the rise of China as a world super power we have more reasons than
ever to be sceptical about super powers these days. There is nothing
mystical or romantic about the Orient as I try to argue in my essay.
Indeed, with the three biggest countries in Asia making up a substantial
part of the wealth and population in the world super powers ought to be
held to account and not romanticised about.

In the mean Ignacio and Ruel have also shared their ideas with us before
the meeting, but first:

As you know this Sunday we are also expecting a group of friends and
philosophy students from Amsterdam to join us for the meeting. Given
that we are going to be a large group maybe those who intend to come to
the meeting would arrive as soon as possible. Apart from needing time to
organise the welcome and to get the drinks we will also need every
minute to enable as many people as possible to participate.

------notes from Ignacio
Can we understand the oriental mind?
Even dealing with this topic you will see I can't help but using the
analytical way:
Higher community sense. Everything done on "behalf" of the community is
the one that counts and matters. The individual at the service of the
community. The needs and desires of the community are the important ones
and not the individual ones. Avoid individual desires. Individual
fatalism. No community fatalism. No avoiding community goals.

Holistic approach. Holistic as based in some analytical approaches. OK
Other holistic approach is possible as in poetry. Poems are made to be
felt and not to be understand. Maybe it is the same with holistic texts.

-----link for Ruel's essay
Hi Lawrence,
I wrote a short essay on Sunday's topic. Here is the link:

----from Lawrence
Can we understand the Oriental mind?

Not so long ago, this subject would have been the equivalent of a day's
excursion into Buddhism, Taoism, Confucian thinking, Hinduism and for
the more daring a quick look at Shintoism.

This romantic view of the East has long disappeared today, if it ever
existed anyway. Simply associating today's thinking with antique
Oriental philosophy is not valid any more, mainly for two reasons. The
first reason is that when we talk about Asia we are talking about some
4.4 billion people which is approximately 60% of the world population,
distributed within 49 countries which approximately represent 30% of the
Earth's land area (Wikipedia:Asia).

That's a lot of Oriental minds and a lot of the Orient to consider. And
although, strictly speaking the Orient emphasises East Asia, we tend to
overlook that Asia stretches from the Middle East to Japan, and
including South East Asia such as the Philippines and Indonesia. With
the help of Wikipedia and millions of other websites on the internet we
now have immediate access to information about these peoples and these
countries than ever before. Basically, with all due respects to the old
masters the average person today with a connection to the internet would
know more about an Asian country in five minutes than the masters could
imagine in their life time.

The other reason why the romantic view of Asia, especially from the
perspective of our topic, does not exist anymore is because we now know
that our mind is nothing more than just the public manifestation of our
brain. And all human beings have a biological brain which is the same
for all. In other words, any differences in thinking and beliefs must be
cultural and circumstantial to one's environment. Of course, there is no
need to say that although we all have the same biological brain it does
not mean we all use it for the same thing.

The fact that we all have the same biological brain means that we are
biologically equal and therefore, can even tentatively arrive at some
universalisable postulates about the Asian mind (brain) as anyone else.

For example, a classical difference commentators usually point at,
between the Asian and Western thinking, is that the Asian mind tends to
favour the group mentality ((1); Japan) or collectivism ((2); China)
compared to individualism of western attitudes (2). We are more likely
to see ourselves as causal agents responsible for our lives whereas an
Asian person would more like see themselves as a participant in a "team"
with a priority towards team success. Let's assume for the sake of the
argument that this concept of "Asian" makes sense, the evidence is that
the cult of the individual in the East is not that much different from
the West. Kings and emperors in Asia still rule in their name, but
disguised as divine rule, and dictators like Mao Tse Tung was always the
first amongst equals. Contrast this with the concept of the separation
of powers in modern democracies of the West where the individual (at
least in theory) holds just one type of power in a collective of powers.
The West is no stranger to collectivism anymore than the East to

We must also distinguish between a collective mentality as a product of
the characteristics of the brain and a collective mentality as a
survival strategy, maybe in the form of acquiescence and servitude. No
doubt being competitive and individualistic is no less a survival
strategy than collectivism.

Another difference some might point at is the entrenched system of
hierarchy (9) in Asia. Ridged hierarchal systems exist is all walks of
life including the class and caste systems of India, or the company
hierarchy in Japan and South Korea. Indeed, Korean Air Cargo Flight 8509
that crushed in the UK in 1999 (see Wikipedia (9)) was partly attributed
to the "hierarchical" culture of the East when the first officer did not
challenge the captain who was following faulty instruments. Since then,
the airline has trained its crews to have a more "free atmosphere" in
the cockpit, thus making it one of the safest airlines. The hierarchy
system might still be present in society but clearly this case
demonstrates that reason and rationality are just as part of the Asian
mentality as any other place where human beings live.

However, the biggest challenge for the Asian mind it seems are the
concepts of personal identity and free will; both Western concepts that
imply personal responsibility and personal merit. We just cannot accept
that we are only free and responsible to the extent that we follow
orders and do what we are told. Such one sided approach will go against
the long held beliefs of harmony and order in nature (eg Spinoza) or the
yin yang complementary opposites in Chinese philosophy; and in modern
parlance, stable chaos. There is nothing puzzling about the idea of
having only duties that leads to severe inequalities; if one is free
only to obey orders than one is neither free nor acting from freewill.
Compare this with the one sided Zen conundrum of the sound of one hand
clapping, which basically only leads to confusion.

Clapping does mean and implies a sound made with the hands; but it is
not necessary to clap with two hands, one can make a sound with one hand
by striking it against one's thighs for example. People who have a hand
missing are no less able to clap at the end of a concert than a two
handed person. Today we can solve many paradoxes that once seem mystical
by using analytical philosophy and language analysis to solve them. Thus
understanding the Oriental mind should be no different than
understanding any mind given that minds and brains, as I have argued,
are the same and our range of philosophical tools apply equally well to
all minds. The challenge is not the mind but the content of the mind.

I have argued that if there is any difference between the Asian and the
Western mind it must be cultural rather than biological. Sure the
environment for an Asian mind might be different from a Western mind to
the extent that we each develop and reinforce certain traits to deal
with specific issues: for example language, risks, threats, climate and
geographical topology. But despite all else, the Asian mind can excel as
much as any other culture in such matters as: mathematics (India),
technology (Japan), culture (China), complex organization (Japan)
commerce (Taiwan), art (India, Japan and China to mention the obvious)
hospitality (SE Asia) and so on.

Having established that there is nothing to prevent us from trying to
understand the Oriental mind I also want to argue that any cultural
differences are no different from other cultures in the West. On the
other hand, culture, and religion, ought never to be used as an excuse
to disadvantage people or to justify inequity.

One of the very most important functions of the brain is to initiate
action. Indeed actions are clear opportunities to understand what the
mind is thinking. This does not mean behaviourism since behaviour can be
induced by all sorts of things that do not involve the free will of a
person (alcohol, drugs, lack of water and so on) whereas actions are
accounted for by rational arguments (culture, religion, tradition,
superiority complex, money and so on). Hence, what sort of activities
can we look at to help us understand the thinking of the Asian mind?

Today Asian people are key players in global affairs and more than ever
directly compete with the West for dominance. Compare this with the
perennial subjugation of people in Africa; where is the "Japan" of
Africa? A quick look at the GDP figures in Wikipedia (List of countries
by GDP (PPP)) the International Monetary Fund gives the following top
five countries by position (2014): 0 – The EU; 1 – China; 2 – USA; 3 –
India; 4 – Japan; 5 – Germany. With China, India and Japan collectively
representing the leading economies of the world our exercise is not so
much to understand the Oriental mind but to hold the oriental mind to
account for their actions. Admittedly a similar exercise has not been
terribly successful when the West was the dominant force in the world.

Let me take three indices to test the accountability of the Oriental
mind or rather the top economic powers: China, India and Japan. And
these indices are democracy/transparency, income and health.

The democracy index by The Economist Intelligence Unit (Wikipedia: (4))
gives for 2014: China as Authoritarian regime; Japan as Full democracy
(lower band) the same as most EU countries and USA; and India as Flawed
democracy (upper band) the same as Italy, and Portugal. Transparency
International (5) gives China for 2014 a Score of 36 and India 38 (the
higher the score the more transparent), Japan 76 and to compare the USA
74, the top country is Denmark with a score of 92. Basically, excluding
Japan, S Korea and some SE Asian countries the bulk of Asia is corrupt
and not too keen on democracy; but the same can be said of other

For my "income" index I am taking an unusual index the
"inequality-adjusted human development index" which is described in
Wikipedia as "the HDI can be viewed as an index of "potential" human
development... (6)." The most telling of this index is that no data is
available for China for 2013, Japan is ranked 19th with an index of
0.799 (the higher the number the higher the potential); India 0.0418;
USA 0.755 together with Spain whilst Norway has the highest IHDI with
0.891. I chose this index for the simple reason that earnings and wealth
indexes give an account of existing "wealth" whereas a potential
development index addresses that aspect of human beings of future
development and improvement. Thinking and planning complex actions for
the future is what makes us human beings, especially morally responsible
free agents. In other words the more "potential" and opportunities we
see ourselves as having the stronger is our sense of survival and the
keener our sense of self worth will be.

I left the health index for last because I started by arguing that given
we are biological human beings in principle there are no conceptual
barriers to understand the Oriental mind or any other mind. Biology is
the most universal characteristic we have and from this we can
universalise that all human beings will need health care sooner or
later, directly and indirectly by virtue of being a biological systems.

Although the Universal health care index (see Wikipedia (7)) is a good
indictor it in not a perfect one on the grounds that under some systems
individuals will still have to make compulsory payments to their health
care. The tax based systems which is probably the most equitable model
mainly include the following countries: United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland,
Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece and the Nordic
countries. In India the reality is that quality health care is available
to those who can pay and in China patients have to pay a large
percentage for their treatment.

Another interesting indicator is the "Health expenditure - General
government expenditure on health as % of total expenditure on health
(2011)" as shown in the WHO: The World Health Statistics 2014 report
(8). This particular index is interesting for our purpose because it
reflects the political commitment to health care and hence a direct
measure of the value placed on one of the basics of human rights.
Unfortunately, the index is given by the World Health Organization in
regions, which might hide the efforts small countries who do take health
care seriously. The expenditure percentage for the South-East Asia
Region is 36.7% an increase of 4.7 points from 2011, but still the worst
of all regions, whereas for the European region it was 73.9% for 2011
and 74.2% for 2000, the best region of all. No doubt the figures for
Europe reflect the present unnatural recession plus the failed
privatization programmes in countries that were once the stalwart of
free health care.

As I have argued, health care is the best measure we can use to evaluate
empirically the rhetoric, as moral agents, from facts, we are equally
biological beings; so what's the moral principle behind not hurting a
grass hopper when the population has no access to a health care system?
Moreover, empirical measurements of our actions can give us a good
indicator of our rationality and morality. If we are indeed moral agents
then this should reflect in how we interact with each other. After all,
our sense of morality and our faculty to act stem from the same
biological source, the human brain, hence our mind.

To sum up I would argue that it is possible to understand the Oriental
mind, and we are also justified to feel puzzled and disappointed when so
many people with rich cultures and wealth are subjected to extreme
inequalities as most indexes demonstrate. The facts show that the Asian
mind is no more superior or inferior than any other mind. But it is
evident that the two major countries in Asia, India and China and the
largest countries in the world, leave a lot to be desired in the
morality index despite their rich culture and tradition in philosophy.
As a side issue, looking at the global figures for all indicators we
might conclude that being a super power, and I include the US and Russia
here, is not always compatible with being a bastion of morality.

I would, therefore, argue that we are more likely to succeed in
understanding the actions and beliefs of the Oriental mind if we dropped
the adjective "Oriental" and just tried to understand groups of people
as just people. In the meantime, what is the sound of two hands shackled
behind a person's back?

Best Lawrence

0) An interesting video on linguistic perceptions between East and West
West and East, Cultural Differences pt1
Produced by the Korean Educational Channel (EBS).

East vs. West Cultural Comparison
April 10, 2014 - Paul Tokonaga
Humble mind and looks at the big picture (1),

What defines the Japanese character?
By Casey Baseel
Lifestyle Nov. 01, 2013
Group mentality

3) Collectivism
The History Corner
Mike Zickar
Bowling Green State University

4) Wikipedia: Democracy Index
The Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy index

5) Corruption Perceptions Index 2014: Results
Transparency International

6) List of countries by inequality-adjusted HDI

7) Universal health care index

8) WHO The World Health Statistics 2014 report
"Health expenditure - General government expenditure on health as % of
total expenditure on health (2011)"

9) Korean Air Cargo Flight 8509
(also check YouTube for other information)

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813 <>
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every
From: January 15 at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Can we understand
the Oriental mind?

Friday, April 24, 2015

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Be water, my friend

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Be water, my friend.

Many of you would have recognised this as a quote by the
American/Chinese actor, Bruce Lee.

But all quotations tend to be given by definition out of context and
certainly free from an elaborate explanation by the speaker. This might
be a drawback, but as I say in my few paragraphs on the topic, we still
need special skills to understand advice, and what is a quote if not
some advice to share or to follow?

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

Hello Lawrence,
The link to the essay I wrote on "Be Water, My Friend" is:
Thanks and see you on Sunday.
All the best,


Be water, my friend

Don't get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it
grow, be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like
water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water
into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes
the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.
Bruce Lee: A Warrior's Journey (2000); here, Lee was reciting lines he
wrote for his short lived role on the TV series Longstreet
( and this is a link on Vimo with
Bruce Lee repeating the quote )

I cannot say that I am familiar with the ideas of Bruce Lee and
certainly not versed in Asian ideas and philosophical thinking. But the
full quote from the actor is on the one hand suggesting that we should
be open minded and on the other we should behave by adapting to the
situation. Basically, the kernel of the advice is to blend in or go with
the flow, and to keep an open mind.

From our perspective our main issues are personal identity,
behaviourism and the philosophy of learning. But an issue that we need
to settle is whether "becomes" in " (water) becomes the cup" is a
behavioural becoming, that is it behaves like a cup (it does not) or
whether it becomes a cup by stealth or deception? Of course water does
not become anything it just stays water and its "function" is to occupy
the space of cup according to the dictates of gravity and molecular
motion in a pre defined shape.

Maybe the most important aspect of this quote is "Don't get set into one
form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water." This
is certainly something we can follow and do with our brain and certainly
something we should strive to achieve. Being ridged in mind and unable
to change one's outlook is clearly a strategy that has many drawbacks.
The most serious of which is learning: to learn means to change one's
perspective, beliefs and mind. We cannot change and become something
else, whether we wish to change our character or to deceive others,
without learning how and what to do.

An interesting observation is the human phenomenon of people looking up
to role models and paying more attention to celebrities than anyone
else. The phenomenon of the celebrity (see our meeting on the
Personality Cult) can be a double edged sward. A celebrity is a powerful
magnet to attract the attention of people (at least the fans) in a very
short time, but on the other hand the sound bites might be meaningless,
irrelevant and maybe naive.

It is bad enough when professional people give us advice, and the advice
of our friends can be as helpful as a quote from the bible or a hungry
rattle snake, but what is evident is that we need to be clever enough to
take advantage of good advice from who ever. But if we fail to learn the
skills to take good advice our brain would be no better than an empty
cup filled with epistemological effluent, also known as mumbo jumbo,
after all not all liquids are water.

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813 <>
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every
From: January 15 at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Be water, my friend

Thursday, April 16, 2015

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Is Artificial Intelligence a threat? + News,

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Is Artificial Intelligence a threat?

So by the time you receive this email, it would have gone through and
processed by a myriad of Artificial Intelligence systems. It is the
marvel of the human brain that we can exchange a few million electrical
impulses between us and make things happen in the real world, for
example turning up on Sunday for the meeting. But deep down what we are
afraid of is that our washing machine might one day decide to murder us
in the middle of the night. This won't happen but it does not mean that
the washing machine won't kill us. In my short essay I try to argue why
our washing machine is not a bosom friend and why shouldn't think it is,
useful as it maybe.

In the meantime Ruel has sent us the link to his essay followed by news
from Miguel about Maths tertulias and from David about visits to the
British Cemetery in Madrid.

----Ruel's essay
Hello Lawrence,
Here is the link to the essay I wrote:
See you on Sunday.

---------------From Miguel
Estimado tertuliano,
Por si fuera de interés te anunciamos la conferencia adjunta.
Saludos cordiales,
Tertulia de Matemáticas

------ British Cemetery in Madrid visits
Redacto el presente mensaje tanto en español como en inglés con el
objeto de comunicarles el programa de visitas guiadas al Cementerio
Británico, los sábados por la mañana a las 11.00 horas - el punto de
encuentro es la entrada del Cementerio

sábado, día 25 de abril, con las explicaciones en español
sábado, día 9 de mayo, con las explicaciones en inglés
sábado, día 30 de mayo, con 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 <please send me a
private message and I'll pass it on to David>

se pone la dirección.

I am writing this note in both Spanish and in English to provide the
programme of Saturday morning guided visits to the British Cemetery, all
of which take place at 11.00 a.m - we meet at the Cemetery entrance

Saturday, 25th April : the visit will be in Spanish
Saturday, 9th May : the visit will be in English
Saturday, 30th May : 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 <>
for details of location.
David Butler

-------------Essay Lawrence

The problem with artificial intelligence is that it is tainted with an original sin. It is a child begotten from human pride in believing that we can create an intelligent system that is perfect and certainly more intelligent than us. But although we cannot create a system with perfect intelligence we can create a system that is more efficient than us; and certainly more loyal than human beings.

There are a number of limitations of artificial intelligence that confirm that AI cannot be a perfect intelligent system. The first of these limitations is precisely the limitations that we human beings have: our knowledge about the world is based on probability because we are limited to the induction method of thinking. It is not that we cannot say anything with certainty about the physical world but that we cannot say a priori when we have reached an infallible level of certainty. In other words, we cannot say whether a hypothesis is certain about the world in advance before trying to prove it or refute it, and how many empirical examples does to take to refute or confirm a hypothesis before it becomes certain knowledge? Thus, if AI systems rely on inductive reasoning to “learn” then they have the same learning weaknesses as us.

As a methodology AI has the same empirical limitations as us. Of course we have to distinguish here between AI methodology and AI application in say machines (Machine intelligence). If 2+3=5 as an example of AI methodology then 2€ in Bank account A and 3€ in Bank account = 5€ in my bank is an example (although not very imaginative) of applied AI. Thus, although two plus three will always be five there is no reason to suppose a priori that the amount of money we have in our bank account is always accurate. This is the empirical curse of induction, we are condemned to always having to verify the future.

The other important limitation of AI is that without exception until now, AI is always applied to solve human problems especially our interaction with the world we live in. And even then, the nature of the problem is in doing things better, quicker, accurately, longer, repetitively than us and in awkward situations that are uncomfortable for us. For example, accurately filtering out digital and white noise when we are having a conversation with someone else on our mobile phone.

But before we continue, although very relevant to the previous paragraph, it is important to distinguish the difference between AI as a methodology and AI as an application. As I have already indicated we encounter AI in machines, thus our experience of AI and our myths are based on how machines interact with us. So referring to our question the “threat” part is of course a threat to us. We are afraid that some machine might become independent of human control and start doing things to harm us. For example, we don’t worry too much, if at all, that one day a machine that has an AI operating system, for example a machine in coal fired power station, will decide to stop power production because of climate warming. We don’t make AI to be a moral agent; at least not yet. But we are afraid that “somehow” a machine in a power station might “decide” to send out a power surge through the grid to fry the electronic chips in our pc’s and electro domestic hardware.

So one of our first tasks is to get rid of the Hollywood impression and myths on how AI can be a threat to us. The threat is more likely to be the problem of induction if a system is based on data gathering for its operation or a fixed database. And in particular, can an AI system handle or deal with such events as a “black swan” (see Nassim Taleb) or a “dragon-king” (see Didier Sornette)?

Basically, and I mean very basic, a black-swan is an event that happens so rare that we do not even consider it in our calculations; this is akin to the problem of induction but with some new important twists. And dragon-kings (are an even more complex idea) are events (mainly but not exclusively negative events) we can predict a priori by the very nature of a given system. This sounds very similar to determinism but here the problem is that the event is due to the very nature of the system and it is predictable; for example by using pneumatic tyres we can predict a priori that tyres will have punctures. Sornette has successfully predicted certain events, for example in the stock markets using his methodology to predict not only what will happen but also when it will happen.

Indeed, the first limitations of AI systems are the limitations we impose on the system, never mind philosophical limitations. What we choose to include in the AI system and what system we use to solve a given problem will itself determine the kind of failures of the system. Added to this is the very likelihood of human errors, carelessness and unfortunate random event.

For example, the auto pilot of the crashed plane in France was not build to recognise a malevolent procedure from a benevolent procedure by a pilot. Indeed the plane is designed to recognise and maybe prevent illegal moves by the pilot (i.e. protect the plane from the pilot concept of plane design) but clearly if we accept the official version (and this is key) of events the auto pilot was not built to recognise intentional legal manoeuvres by the pilot with illegal consequences. And yet all the relevant information was available to an AI auto pilot to distinguish malevolent from legal actions: why turn off the auto pilot when there is no emergency, the weather is good, and this part of the journey is usually flown by auto pilot, and given the speed, height and location of the plane the new instructions won’t lead to an airfield, why all these changes when there is only one crew member at the controls (there are ways to detect this) etc etc?

The question is not whether the AI system, in this case, the Auto Pilot can identify a legitimate move by the pilot but whether the AI system can identify a morally sound legitimate move by the pilot. The captain would immediately have recognised that the new change in the course of the plane was an illegal and immoral manoeuvre and would have acted to prevent the outcome. In the official version of events the pilot entered legitimate new instructions but was not designed to question the morality of those new instructions; it would however, have questioned the legitimacy of say increasing the speed of the plane beyond the capacity of the engines.

And this goes back to the original sin I started with; we believe we can build a perfect system when in reality the system is built in our imperfect image. And one of those imperfections is that we tend to give more value to behaviour rather than intentions. Indeed the legal profession do recognises this weakness in human beings and therefore actively emphasise the importance of “intention” as a necessary condition in the type of outcome in a legal case.  AI systems mimic behavioural patterns of human beings and not intentional acts of human beings. The auto pilot is very good at maintaining height and speed but not very good at determining whether the new instructions are morally or legally legitimate, a mistake by the pilot or a clever way to bypass the safety features of the system and thus intentional instructions to crush the plane. Hence, AI systems are basically systems that “ask” what is being done and how can it be reproduces? Whereas we humans most times also ask, or should ask, “why is it being done?” and “is it good for me?” And as reasonable (in the legal sense) and rational (in the philosophical) sense we can answer these questions independent of whether we are asked or not.

Before our washing machine can try and murder us in the middle of the night there are other issues that AI systems can become a threat or a risk to us. The singular most important feature of AI systems is that these systems require physical inputs and outputs to function; no private language problems here. Hence, the quality of the output (e.g. keep the plane flying straight) depends very much on the quality of its inputs. Thus, if the system does not have a sensor to input the relevant information for example an infra red sensor and a camera to check whether there is a live second pilot in the cockpit the system cannot decide whether the new manoeuvre is suspicious in the first place. Once again AI systems are limited not only by our choice of what we want the system to do but by our foresight of what our system ought to do.

The question Turing asked was whether a machine is intelligent? In other words can a machine use intelligence to solve human problem?

From our perspective we mustn’t confuse the term Artificial Intelligence with any notion of human intelligence; what we are talking about is basically computer software that is incorporated in machines to interact with the environment and “...takes actions which maximize its chances of success” (Wikipedia: Intelligence/Artificial Intelligence). Sure, this is like all roads lead to Rome but it does not follow that all these roads are the same.

I have also been using the term AI systems to include the notion of input/output algorithms within a machine designed to achieve something for our purpose. Thus, if Gilbert Ryle put to rest the ghost in the machine argument, i.e. the idea that the mind is not some entity working in parallel with the body, we need to put to rest the idea that there is some “genius in the machine” when we talk about AI. What there is, are a group of algorithms and routines, manifested as electrical patterns, that manage the digital computer in the machine. No doubt these routines and digital interactions can achieve amazing things and do require the hard work of some of the human geniuses we can ever meet, but there is no genius in the machine. The genius is some engineer that is underpaid in some impersonal office trying to make a decent living.

The problem with the Turing test is that the interaction with the machine is just a language behaviour interaction. But even if somehow we can build a machine that looks like our closest friend it will still take more than just behavioural performance similar to my friend to establish an intelligent machine. There are, for example, common experiences and shared emotional experiences that it would be unlikely that a machine can use and incorporate into a dialogue successfully. To begin with language exchanges are also emotional exchanges and emotional exchanges need not always manifest themselves into language acts but that they may manifest into physical acts; eg a hug, a pat on the back, a smile etc. An AI system will probably won’t be able to interact as if it was a live person because it takes more than just a code to establish a moral emotional system. If this was possible personal computers would be more user friendly.

Thus the threat here is that AI systems probably cannot be designed to interact as human being by virtue of the fact that human beings can over ride any regulating code or system based purely on emotional impulse rather than a logic circuit or algorithms. Indeed Godel’s first incompleteness theorem reinforces this argument with the claim by Godel that it is always possible to create formal statements that cannot be proved by the system but nevertheless, a human being can still make sense of the “Godel Statement.” The threat here is that an AI system can mimic a behaviour but it is unlikely to emotionally react and give you a kiss on the cheeks or solve a problem just because we are getting emotional. As I said there is no danger that our washing machine might want to murder us but nor will it surprise us with a kiss. And nor will it stop colours from running just because we get very angry.

The problem for us is that we have this bad habit of anthropomorphising inanimate objects just because it makes things easy for us to relate to these objects. AI based machines won’t be having intentional actions independent of us unless we program them to function in a certain way when they detect a certain empirical input. And we can understand things much better if we describe a machine that has broken down or a machine not fit for purpose to be evil or bad rather just a machine malfunctioning. A malfunctioning machine takes away the emotional outrage we are so addicted to.

The other big problem is that we tend to play loose and dirty with language. Artificial Intelligence is just a term some scientists gave a certain engineering activity and problem a few decades ago; AI is just a name and there is nothing else to be implied from these two words put together. This is a quirk of English that we can build these elaborate noun groups. There is nothing intelligent about machines we have designed and built to try and solve our problems and they are artificial simply because these machines don’t grow on trees.

To conclude, AI systems are not a threat, what is a threat is the human component part of the system. Speaking for myself I am not afraid that an AI machine might want to kill me, but I am afraid that I might be killed by such a machine.

Best Lawrence
(typos corrected  19/04/2015)

tel: 606081813 <>
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every
From: January 15 at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Is Artificial
Intelligence a threat? + News

Thursday, April 09, 2015

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: We don’t get it.

Dear Friends,

This weekend we are discussing: We don't get it.

As I try to demonstrate in my short essay this innocent looking
expression is not that innocent. Behind this expression there is a
language complexity that digs deep into the key issues of philosophy.

In the meantime Ceit has sent us a link to her ideas on her topic and
Ruel also kindly prepared for us his regular essay:
I don't want to clog up the email too much, so I put my beginning ideas
Hello Lawrence,
I wrote a very short essay on Sunday's PhiloMadrid topic. Here is the link:
Thanks. See you on Sunday.

We don't get it.

So the phrasal verb "to get it", like most phrasal verbs, has a number
of meanings and each is determined by the context. Thus "to get it"
could mean, amongst many, to obtain something, to achieve something, in
pure slang to have a sexual encounter, to bring something or fetch
something etc. I will focus on one specific meaning which is "to
understand"; meaning that we understand a problem or a description given
by someone or a lesson or an issue. Most times we use this expression,
"I don't get it", when we does not understand or appreciate something
that is obvious; for example, a hint by someone that they are
romantically interested in another person.

There are three issues I would like to explore: 1) does the role played
by context imply that language is an empirical phenomenon and thus we
cannot say anything a priori about language? 2) What is the relationship
between formal language (We don't understand) and informal language (We
don't get it)? and specifically to our discussion 3) How do we convey
meaning, and can we really convey meaning between two speakers of
different natural languages? However, there is a little problem here
issues 1 and 2 have been indirectly discussed for centuries within the
confines of philosophy of language and epistemology. Basically, the
topic is so wide that it is neither the scope of this essay nor my
intention to explore the history of language in philosophy that is
relevant to our topic. Hopefully I might be able to make some coherent
observations on some specific issues.

Question 3) concerns us because we are an international group and
therefore by default many of us have a different native language and
most of us speak or need to speak other languages. Issues about
translations (and interpreting of course) in philosophy seem to have
migrated to linguistics under the subject of Translation Theory. But of
course issues don't just migrate. One thing that has happened is that
translation and translated works have become so important in our global
world that translators have encountered certain problems of conveying
meaning that they cannot wait for philosophical argument to solve their
here-and-now problems.

What role does context play in language? For our everyday exchanges with
other people context is everything. We can understand others with or
without valid grammar language acts as long as we have a context;
grammar can be easily substituted for hand signs and pointing. But hand
signs, pointing and grammar will get us no where without a context.
Given, therefore, that we do not have a context for our subject
expression can we say anything about it? Or is the expression "we don't
get it" just a meaningless bunch of signs that look like an English
expression, has the structure of an English expression, uses English
words well accepted in English, but it is not English since we do not
have a context? It's as if our expression is an answer to something but
we do not know what the question is.

However, context is not grammar and it is not even vocabulary, so what
properties does context give to a language structure to give it meaning?
Context is not even an "ingredient", even a metaphysical ingredient like
a grammar rule or word. Context is a state of events in our environment
where we have an interest in communicating our ideas with other people
and vice versa. If we're not interested in a football match we neither
care about the match nor have any desire to express any ideas about it.
But if we are interested in a football match, than yes, we would be
interested in exchanging our ideas with others. In other words, context
comes from outside, it's a sense perception and an empirical input to
our brain, and yet it has no linguistic properties. But it does seem to
be the necessary condition for meaning.

If we need context that is an empirical phenomena to give meaning to a
language act, then language itself must be an empirical phenomenon:
human natural languages are precisely that, human hence empirical. There
is nothing universalizable about language beyond what can universalise
about human beings. But is language an inherited biological organ (like
eyes and muscles) or is it a highly evolved function in us (such as
running very fast like a cheetah or seeing the colours of the spectrum)?

Chomsky's idea that we inherit some sort of universal grammar, as a
representative of language, is no doubt a complex issue, but it's
unlikely to be the case on the grounds (there are many valid arguments)
that even grammar is not a physical structure; running is not a physical
structure of the biological being and neither is grammar even a sense of
grammar. So we don't inherit running any more than we inherit some sort
of grammar, and even more a language.

Thus, having the capacity to process empirical information and stimuli,
including language which is also an empirical phenomenon, does not mean
that we also inherit language any more than we inherit the principles of
mathematics. Language (and maths) is a by product of our capacity to
process certain type of empirical information and how to react to it.
Basically we don't learn a language but rather we learn how to process
certain empirical stimuli (which we do call language) and learn how to
react in a give way to achieve a certain reaction in another person
(which we call communicating). So what kind of empirical stimuli must we
receive to react with the express "We don't get it"?

Since our expression is a valid language structure with equally
sophisticated grammar components (e.g. phrasal verbs) then what it
grammar? But since out title does not come with a context, and therefore
not meaning we must conclude that it is the grammar part of this
expression that gives it respect and legitimacy. We already know that
the "it" does not refer to anything specific partly because it is part
of the structure of the phrasal verb. By the way, if we ever need
evidence that we do not inherit some sort of universal grammar it is the
phenomenon of the "phrasal verb", it takes a English native speaker
(ENS) a life time to manage these grammar structures; non-ENS who do not
live the language seem to have an endless problem knowing the use and
meaning of these structures. Besides many phrasal verbs are based on
culture (e.g. knock me up – UK= wake me up – US=impregnate) so the
problem goes beyond rules, words and meaning.

Grammar is usually referred to as the set of language rules which we
employ to coherently communicate with others. The held belief is that we
need to use grammar rules in order to construct a language act (a
command, a question etc) so that others can understand us. The
assumption is that the rules are there to give meaning to language acts,
but as I have argued we can arrive at a meaning with gestures and
pointing as long as we have a context. I grant you that this is
primitive, and it is certainly limiting, but still it is meaning without
grammar. Maybe I am forcing the point and maybe the king is not nude,
but certainly down to the boxer shorts.

If grammar is rules, then surely what grammar gives us is predictability
and not meaning. The very meaning of rules is to predict which of our
actions are acceptable and which are not. Footballers know that if they
break the off-side rule there will be certain consequences; they know
this without having to commit any off-side infringements. The rules do
not make the game more enjoyable or more of a football game than if the
rules are not followed. The rules are there to predict what actions on
the pitch are allowed and which are not; and the spectators are the
first to appreciate this difference.

Hence, given that communication is all about influencing others
(Dawkins) rather than exchanging information knowing the rules will
enable us to predict the type of actions we want from others. It is not
that we apply grammar to concoct a meaning, but rather grammar will help
us predict and influence the actions (maybe even behaviour) of others.
We and the other person understand the structure of the grammar and the
definitions of the words used, plus we are conscious of the context
(world around us) that creates a meaningful exchange. But of course
predict does not mean knowing what the future is like, but a high
probability that things will turn out our way.

Hence, when a friend of mine spends half an hour trying to explain a
situation and I reply, "I just don't get it" I am not trying to convey
meaning I am trying to predict a reaction from my friend; we both know
what the expression means but that's the least of my problem. Knowing my
friend, the first reaction would certainly be, "Are you dim or
something?" Meaning, what's there not to understand? So apart from
predicting that my friend will be exasperated at my failing I also
expect them to try and explain the situation again.

From a philosophical language point of view the expression "We don't
get it" is both complex and clearly a language problem of the first
order. However, what is clear is that although language itself is
complex, it is certainly not as clinically sterilized as linguist and
philosophers might want us to think. Language acts are not like painting
by numbers, but more like a wrestling match that is choreographed but
still loose and dirty.

This brings me to the other issue of the relationship between formal and
informal languages in a given natural languages such as English. No
doubt our expression is an informal expression in English which we are
more likely to use in our everyday life than the formal form. "We don't
understand that (i.e. the issue in question)". One of the reasons why I
would normally use this expression with a friend is basically because
relationships amongst friends are usually informal. Whereas the express,
"I don't understand what the problem is" is something we'd leave for
formal situations.

It should be evident that although the meaning might seem to be the same
between "We don't get it" and "We don't understand that", but if meaning
is to be measured by the predictability of the reaction from the other
person, this similarity is only true at the surface. It's quite an
accepted reaction from a friend to react with "are you dim?" (and
without implying to insult me) but I wouldn't imagine in a formal
situation the reaction to be "are you stupid?" or some such reaction.
That would be an insult of the highest proportions; there is nothing in
the formal expression to suggest an insult might be part of the reaction.

No doubt this issue of formal/informal language requires an in-depth
analysis but we can tentatively say that informal language is not some
sort of reflection of formal language (e.g. a parallel language), but
that these are distinct language functions within a body of a natural
language. This should not come as a surprise since the contexts are
different. No doubt, however, that the subtle structures and meanings
with their implications are usually only relevant to native speakers and
very advanced users of a language. One of the implications of context is
of course the social context. Language is more than just words and
grammatical structure. Language is also context including social context.

Hence, being able to apply a language in both its formal and informal
functions gives added information to the other person; and if a second
language learner is not aware of the subtle nuances they might give away
more information then they intended to. This might create a situation of
doubt in the other person if they are not alert to the skills of the
speaker. For those learning a second language being able to master both
the formal and informal functions of the language is more important than
say speaking with an accent. In any case, one can pick up an accent
after a few sessions with a competent acting tutor, but one cannot bluff
one's language skills. And this is why expressions like "We don't get
it" are more complex than the superficially formal equivalent "We don't
understand that".

So what is the translation problem for us? A traditional issue has
always been, whether we should translate the language structure
(grammar, words etc) or whether we should translate for meaning. The
ideal option would always be to translate for meaning, but this comes at
a high price. The translator needs to be very familiar with the language
being translated; otherwise the nuances of that language might easily be
lost. Secondly, there is a difference between what the person is saying
and what the person actually wants to mean: understatements, innuendos,
veiled insults etc. These are not always easily evident. Thus the formal
expression "we don't understand that" can be translated by simply
looking at the words, but not so "we don't get it". And this requires
being skilled in both functions.

So how should we translate "We don't get it"? The question here is not
only the context in general, but within that context the intention of
the speaker. Maybe when I say to my friend, and using the correct
intonation, "I don't get it" I want to tease my friend more than I want
to understand the problem. And this betrays the weakness of the argument
that somehow we inherit some form of a common language (grammar). An
inherited language does not account for the intentions of the speaker.

We can all run without learning how to run, but we really need to work
hard to learn a language. We mustn't be betrayed with the ease children
seem to learn languages, both their native language and some other
language. For children, learning their native language is an exercise in
survival until, that is, adults come along and destroy any chances they
might have had by filling their brains with dubious philosophical

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813 <>
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every
From: January 15 at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: We don't get it.

Friday, April 03, 2015

from Lawrence, PhiloMadrid meeting: No meeting Sunday 5th + Topic for 12th

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we do not have a meeting because of the Easter holiday. In
the meantime the topic for the 12th April is "we don't get it".

Have a good holiday

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813 <>
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every
From: January 15 at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, PhiloMadrid meeting: No meeting Sunday 5th + Topic for 12th


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