PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Thursday, June 04, 2015

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Things I don’t know about myself + News

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Things I don't know about myself.

Despite the first person singular setting of the topic this should not
preclude us from generalising about human beings even if it is at a
probabilistic level. I mean, given that it is things I don't know about
myself this limited interpretation might reduces the topic to some kind
of isolated entity. I'm so unique, like everyone else, that we cannot
say anything that applies to everyone or most people. But language
enables us to interpret this "I" into "we" and into the realms of
possible trends and patterns of human philosophical problems and issues.
In my short essay I explore the subjective nature of the issue at the
collective level.

Ruel has also sent us the link to his essay, but first news from Norma
who will be signing her children's book this Saturday at the Feria del
Libro at the Retiro.

-----News from Norma
Dear Lawrence:

El sábado 13 de junio de 19: 00 a 21:00 Norma Sturniolo firmará en la
caseta de la editorial Anaya n º 213 "El León que quería tener amigos".
Es un libro donde bajo el ropaje de un cuento de humor para niños
encontramos ideas como las siguientes: la queja y la autocompasión nos
desgasta y no nos sirven de nada, los prejuicios nos perjudican,a veces,
no conseguimos algo que queremos porque realizamos la conducta opuesta a
la necesaria, un cambio de actitud puede favorecernos y otras ideas más
que encontrará el que compre el libro que contiene las tres B: Bueno,
Bonito yBarato ( solo costará alrededor de 7 euros)
Best wishes,

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


Things I don't know about myself

There are many things we don't know about ourselves, and even more we
cannot be expected to know about ourselves.

For example, our medical condition is far beyond us unless we're
medically trained or have a particular interest in a condition we might
be suffering from. A class of things we usually don't have access to is
the "real" opinion of friends and relatives. Very few people are honest
with us to tell us what they really think of us. And yet these two
classes of information could really help us become a healthier person
and better person.

Of course, having access to a sophisticated health care system will help
us keep good health and remain in good form. But this is a far cry from
being able to fix one's self on the go and in real time. Likewise, not
seeing someone over a few months might be a telling situation about
one's friendship with that person. Sure friends and acquaintances drift
for no reason or maybe due to a radical change in circumstances. But if
it is just a matter of person incompatibility surely it would be better
to fix disagreements than lose a friend.

So what could it be that we don't know about ourselves and that is of
philosophical interest? So far the observations I've made are part of
normal life and things that are really out of the control and reach of
our epistemological state. Even if we knew in advance about our health
or relationships and try and do something about it, it does not follow
that we can actually fix things to the better.

Maybe what we don't know about ourselves, might hurt us less than what
we think we know about ourselves. But even this aspect of what we know
about ourselves has a "real life" scenario that serves us well. The
first that comes to mind are food intolerances and allergies. Once again
medicine can help, but usually there are limits to what we can be done.
Hence, knowing we're intolerant or allergic to some things means having
to be on guard and alert to what we eat. This could even be a life saver.

Our aesthetic values are certainly things we tend to know very well even
if we cannot say why we like some things and not others. But sometimes
we take this ability to be clear about aesthetic values too far and can
lead us to believe that what we want is also good for us. This attitude
in some people can very easily stem from an overconfidence effect (see
Wikipedia). "The overconfidence effect is a well-established bias in
which a person's subjective confidence in his or her judgments is
reliably greater than the objective accuracy of those judgments,
especially when confidence is relatively high." By Pallier et al "The
Role of Individual Differences in the Accuracy of Confidence Judgments".
The Journal of General Psychology. (Wikipedia link "overconfidence effect").

This belief may be due to over confidence in one's sense of moral
superiority or judgement or one's superior position over others; a sort
of Appeal to authority fallacy and the person in question is the
authority. We observe this effect with very successful and popular
people, people who achieved greatness and power. For example, elected
politicians who equate what they want to what is good for them (and
others); many judgements on austerity tend to be tainted this way.

Another way this want-equals-good fallacy can happen when people try to
follow a trend or a fashion, this is also known as the bandwagon
cognitive bias. I have personally observed this phenomenon in fashion
and personal styles, when it is clear that some people follow a trend
because they are convinced that in doing so they will look attractive.
From a more professional observation some people are clear that the way
(method or content) they want to learn a second language is what is good
for them. In some cases some of these students are right and a welcome
surprise for teachers. But in most cases these students commit the basic
gambler's fallacy; they haven't learnt the language till now so all they
need to do is take the same teaching programme and do the same exercises
as they did in the past. In most cases it also follows that what a
student wants also happens to be what the relevant authorities
prescribe; but the prescribed methods transcends into a personal "want"
thus becoming independent from the origins of the method.

One cannot blame these students, who in a way reflect a common bias in
society, because the relevant authorities also practice a form of
gambler's paradox with education and most other policies. Usually
governments demand more exams, better exams, more homework, more
supervision, more testing, more teachers, or more money. But never more
freedom for children to express their creativity, more adaptability of a
system to children's needs, more scientific based learning system and
certainly never an education integrated with the working lives and needs
of the parents of the children.

I wouldn't necessarily describe this disposition to convert and
transcend what the authorities prescribe into a genuinely held personal
want as a case of succumbing to a form of appeal to authority fallacy,
nor to some form of Stockholm syndrome, for those who believe that we
live in an oppressive state. But I do believe that it is rational to
play it safe, even though we might be wrong, especially on matter that
we are not familiar with or are not curious journalists or inquiring
philosophers. Thus as teachers we have to be more tolerant when a
student tells us they want more grammar, or as philosophers when a
friends consults a fortune teller about their prospects of finding a
perfect partner.

Hence, it's quite possible that there some direct causal transition from
"I know what I like," or "I know what I want," to "what I want is good
for me" or "will do me good". Indeed this want-equals-good fallacy is so
widespread that we can see it everywhere if only we paid attention. For
example, not liking a type of food or unable to eat a type of food, we
sometimes get the reaction from others with, "but it's good for you," or
"it's just in your mind that you don't like it," or "once you try it you
will like it!"

Our topic also suggests another big issue in philosophy: the
subjectivism-objectivism debate. It is not my intention to discuss these
issues at length, but we are familiar with the issues: the
epistemological issues usually take the form "how can we have any
knowledge if we only have subjective experience?" And the
metaphysical/objective issue (ontological issues) is usually described
as "what is real?" or "what is reality independent of our subjective

What is of particular interest for our topic here is precisely: how can
there be things about us we don't know given that knowledge is
subjective knowledge? How can we be excluded from knowledge about
ourselves when all knowledge is based on subjective experience? And how
can others have objective knowledge about us when all their knowledge is
based on subjective experience? Is objective reality possible and
knowable given there are only subjective beings?

Indeed, how many times have we been to the doctor and we quietly reacted
to any advice with "How does she/he know what is good for me?" or "the
doctor just doesn't understand my problem!" This language, I suggest,
betrays our bias towards subjectivism over objectivism especially when
we disagree about things that concern us personally. We might compromise
and change our opinion whether a new jet fighter needs radar system X or
radar system Y, but when it comes to having the flu, many of us are in
no doubt about whether we need antibiotics or seven days in bed drinking
chicken soup. This subjectivism-over-objectivism come-what-may position
is many times wrong, but this does not mean that we are always wrong
when we stick to our subjective guns.

Although today no one will go so far as to argue there is only
subjective truth, it does not follow that our knowledge about the
ontological existence of objects in reality is always true. Sometimes we
are right based on our subjective instinct when the perceived objective
judgement of others is totally wrong. In any case what is true
objectively and what is wrong subjective is not a yes-no type of
problem. Our ontological knowledge of reality depends on our methodology
of measuring things, human errors in our application and collection of
data, and of course our state of knowledge at the time. And sometimes we
might be wrong simply because others made a mistake and hence our
expected outcome did not happen.

But those who take the subjective position in our topic question fail to
realise that our body is also someone else's objective reality. Thus
there is objective knowledge about us that we don't necessarily know
about. What is more interesting however is whether the things we don't
know about ourselves are also important for us. In other words, can we
live without the things we don't know about us?

Best Lawrence

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

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Things I don't know
about myself + News

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