PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Friday, May 19, 2017

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: The emptiness of our souls

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: The emptiness of our souls

In my very short essay I dispel the idea that somehow this is a
religious topic based on some hard core theology. On the contrary I
anchor this topic in the laws of nature as people like Spinoza argues it
is, except many people found it more convenient to look empty concepts
rather than the emptiness inside us.

The beauty of natural languages is that they can change and morph into
whatever we eventually want them to do. We might be forgiven if we
compared language with a magnetic compass where north is where we want
it to be.

Our topic is a case in point. The soul in the title cannot be the
technical theological meaning of soul since no one has yet been able
find a soul in a way we can understand it. For example can we at least
make a mathematical model of a soul? So whatever a soul is we certainly
don't know anything about souls. Hence, by soul we probably mean a
metaphorical soul. And this is why I say language is like a magnetic
compass where North happens to be where we say it is; we just change
meaning and application to fit our experiences and needs.

But even so just because language can be manipulated at will it does not
mean that we are incoherent, at least not always. Whatever the soul
might be, what we know for sure is that if we feel empty it does not
matter where or what is empty, what matters is how we feel. Language,
after all, is there to help us and not to constrain us.

Except of course that sometimes we don't have the language to describe
what we are feeling and experiencing. We can safely assume that it's
only these past few score years that we are beginning to understand how
the human body functions and how our psychological makeup reflects how
we feel.

So the question is what do we mean when we say that our soul is empty?
We can begin by assuming that what we really mean by soul is our feeling
of well being. Hence, by soul here cannot mean some metaphysical
structure such as a spirit but rather our very own self. That is, the
conscious self, to be precise, where we perceive feelings that can be
described in a language form. The necessary and sufficient conditions
for humans to function are that information must be converted into a
medium we can access; language is one of them, maths is another and of
course pictorial representations is another.

Indeed, emptiness is a negative concept in our language and as I have
tried to establish this has nothing to do with physical spaces. In our
context emptiness can stand for feeling physically bad, in which case
this would be a matter for medical professionals to deal with, to
feeling sad or unhappy. Maybe an unfulfilled life, failed career
prospects, loss of friends and lack of a partner. These are issues that
maybe as not directly cause by biological malfunctions but rather by
negative information we receive from our environment. There is nothing
sick about feeling bad for not having a partner but still we feel very
bad about it just as much as a tooth ache makes us feel bad. How do we
fix these non biological inequities in us?

How do we deal with loss of career satisfaction, lack of friends and
failure to meet the right partner?

If taking liberties with language can cause us to lose direction in
life, we have a second serious problem to contend with. No matter how
much we profess to be rationalists or even spiritual, when the push
comes to shove, we are all empiricists. When we have a tooth ache we all
want the pain to stop so we go to a dentist and when we are feeling sad
or empty we all want to change our lot to be happy; exactly as Spinoza
said we will. And when we are unhappy, or empty, we are firm believers
of causality. And we act and behave in such a matter that we think a set
of causal events will fix our emptiness.

If we are sad because we miss the presence of a partner, then we do our
best to meet people either in person or on line. We can safely conclude
that if someone cannot find a suitable partner it is not due to lack of
opportunities. The same with careers or economic prospects; of course
just because we have access to more opportunities and more information
it does not mean that we are going to succeed. And it certainly does not
mean that the causal chain of events will always end us the way we
wished them to end up.

Basically what I mean is that our empirical instinct sometimes forces us
to believe we need to do something, whereas in most cases we need to
learn something.

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: The emptiness of
our souls

Thursday, May 11, 2017

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: The truth about the truth

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: The truth about the truth

This topic is certainly something that is the concern of philosophy, and
indeed it is and has been since the dawn of time. but even still, we can
still ask what is this thing we call truth?

The truth is not some ingredient like chocolate is an ingredient in a
chocolate cake. Truth, therefore, cannot be a metaphysical problem, but
it is an epistemological problem. In other words, truth is not something
about the world, but something about us.

There are three issues regarding statements of facts that are presented
as true: 1) the language used to convey the information in the statement
of fact, 2) do we have the necessary and sufficient information to make
a statement of fact true, 3) do we have what it takes to understand
statements of fact.

Maybe item 3 above is the hardest for us; and it is hard because this
depends on our individual knowledge and experience. For example, if a
pastry chef tells us that we need ¾ cup (volume US) of cocoa chocolate
for a good chocolate cake but we have no idea what a US cup is in litres
(volume) then we have no idea whether it is true or not that we need ¾
cup chocolate for a decent chocolate cake. Today we are lucky because
within five seconds we can find the answer on our mobile phone which is
0.1774412 litres (volume).

However, life is not as simple as making chocolate cakes. Consider the
political uncertainty in the US by with the election of a populist
president. The political uncertainty associated with the current
president is not one of comparing this president with past presidents.
This would be unfair, since the world changes and presidents have to
deal with the world they find it. The problem is rather the rhetoric of
the president is not something we are familiar with. On the one hand we
appreciate the language used by the president is an appeal to our
emotional instinct, but many of us also understand that most of this
rhetoric is false.

Incidentally the rhetoric used by the President is also the same sort of
rhetoric used by the supporters of Brexit in the UK and the failed
candidate in the recent French presidential elections. In many cases the
language (item 1) used in politics is one that makes it difficult to
verify (item 2) and to understand (item 3). And I use politics because
there is nothing more important and directly more relevant in our life
in modern society than politics.

Of course, the language used by politicians exploits another problem
with the truth: there is a difference between statements of facts that
have taken place in the past and statements of facts that are still to
take place. Statements of facts that still have to happen fall foul of
item 2 above; we just don't have enough information to understand what
is meant when it comes to future facts. But this discrepancy, known as
the problem of induction, has not stopped philosophers from creating a
work around which we call the scientific method or statistical forecasting.

So one of our problems is how to represent the world around us into
information we understand and act upon it. After all, a condition of
understanding is knowing how to use the information. Indeed, this
appraisal is one of the most basic tests in assessing the progress of
someone learning a second language. And this is why filling in the
blanks type of exercises are not a reliable test. People are more
tolerant about syntax than about semantics. We are more interested in
what people want to tell us than how they tell us.

Of course, this idea does not always go down well; in the age of the
internet we want quick access to information (eg a message from our
loved one in an SMS) than whether that message is written in the correct
syntax (ungrammatical text). In the past, when information was more
difficult to convey, syntax was more important than anything else; we
wanted to make sure the receiver had all the information. Today. A
simple LYAL can mean a huge volume of romantic emotion (Love You A Lot).
A side issue is at which point would semantics fail when syntax is out
of order?

We can safely say that the truth is a mental (epistemological)
representation of what happened in the real world in the past or
happening now). This information is primarily conveyed with "truth" type
language: it is windy outside; the allies invaded Normandy on the 6 June
1944. But we also use this form of language to make statements of fact
about the future: the EU creates stability in Europe (simple present
form also confirms the future); building a ten foot high wall will keep
illegal immigrants from entering the country.

It would be nice if that all statements of facts were like historical
statements of fact; these statements are a fair representation of past
events and the three criteria mentioned about would be satisfied. But in
the real world we also function, maybe even mostly function, with
beliefs. So in a way both the President's supporters and the Brexit
supports are justified in rejecting negative statements of facts about
their respective policies; after all even experts are not immune from
the uncertainty of the future.

Beliefs about the future can still be reasonable because they are the
product of the scientific method; of course scientific statements of
facts do not create the future but rather helps us better understand
statements of facts about possible future events. So once again,
science is there to help us understand what is going on around us in the
world and not to make the world around us go one way or another (that's
another matter).

But the truth can sometimes also be deduced from given known facts or
given known language. We know from facts that building a wall won't stop
the so called illegal immigrants. What would limit haphazard migration
is stability in the countries people feel they have to leave. If in
these countries people had a stable government with equitable wealth
distribution and law and order they wouldn't have the urgent need to
leave. Ironically, foreign millionaires and billionaires in Cyprus,
Malta, Monaco, London and Switzerland are not called illegal immigrants.

Language again can be a source of facts; based on meaning rather than
events. The suggestion that a deal with the EU can be better than being
a member of the European Union is just a failure to understand the
meaning of membership, deal and most of all, European Union.
Incidentally countries don't make deals they arrive at agreements.

The truth about the truth is that, the truth is about us and our
perception of the world around us. It is powerful not only because we
learn something new but also because it directly affects our emotions
and in most cases can lead us to action: we can be happy, we can be,
sad, angry, elated etc etc. But truth (ie statements of fact) is also
very weak because truth becomes truth when we believe it is the truth.

ITMT the truth may or may not be something we are prepared to accept,
but facts happening in the world will go on as if our opinion does not
matter at all.

Best Lawrence

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: The truth about the

Friday, May 05, 2017

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Do we inherit experiences from our ancestors?

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Do we inherit experiences from our ancestors?

At face value this question falls within the province of science
especially biology moving on to psychology, neurology and genetics. So
what is the philosophy of this question?

As a topic this is quite an interesting one and even popular; indeed a
quick search on the internet will list quite a few articles including
popular style article. One reason, maybe, why this subject should be
interesting is that the more we move into large cities the more we
become anonymous individuals. But our past is something very much our
own and very much a fact of life and reality. Our past is ours and we
are not that anonymous in the past. The question whose life is a fact
and whose reality are we talking about?

Of course, by experience we cannot mean the actual sense perception when
a causal chain of events are happening in real time that later we can
call experience. By inherited experiences we can mean memories of the
experience, effects of the experience, and of course biological changes
to our body as a consequence of the experience which are then passed on.

Regarding the nature nurture debate, our parents, or even ancestors, can
only pass genes that are present in them at the time of conception.
Later gene changes can probably only be passed by complex circumstantial
events. Maybe say (and I am speculating here) a virus that affects one
of our parents, say by changing a gene, will also affect us by virtue
that we have inherited 50% of the genes of our parent.

However, what we know for sure is that a foetus can affect and maybe
change genes of the mother; after all a foetus is a foreign biological
body in the womb and hence in principle can affect adversely the mother.
This might for example happen when the foetus inherits a gene from the
father that causes a change in a particular gene (eg a blood/bone marrow
genes) via the foetus the gene is passed on to the mother. This chain of
causal events in well documented in the medical literature.

But there is also another route where an experience is passed on to
future generations. Family behaviours, maybe, such as rituals or as
memes can and do affect future generations. For example, cooking
traditions is a good case in point. When a member of a family has high
blood pressure it is very common for the family not to use salt in the
food. Of course, some members of the family might inherit high blood
pressure, but not necessarily all children of the parents will inherit
this disease. However, those with normal blood pressure might get used
to food without salt and this way of cooking will be passed on by this
particular person. Indeed it might be argued that this family do in fact
experience the perception of their ancestors; eating unsalted food is a
unique experience.

Returning to the theme of experience we might be forgiven in thinking
that by experience these have to be some sort of action packed events.
But not necessarily, since our mental events (thinking) are also
experiences and physical experiences. Of course, not all cases of
intelligent parents manifest themselves in intelligent children, or even
more intelligent children. There are more factors that shape
intelligence besides genes; our environment and circumstances play a
huge role.

There are many ways that our ancestors affect us and our behaviour
today. Of course, those who have children today will be affecting future
generations. But this does not mean that we are determined or wholly
determined by past generations. It only means that some traits, due to
experiences of our ancestors, might affect us. But we are as likely to
be affected by the experience of our ancestors as much as our new
experiences, including experiences of our partners.

But even then some experiences might be unique and therefore very hard
to repeat them or to be repeated. Not many people can claim to have
inherited experiences from one of their ancestors who had visited the
moon. But many experiences are practically the same: I have already
mentioned food without salt. Another experience is living in hot or
cold climates: the temperature is the same, how we cope with it is the
private experience.

Indeed, the domain of our topic is biology and related sciences, but
language is the domain of philosophy. Clarifying what we mean by such
interesting questions as our topic is the scope of philosophy. If the
devil is in the detail, philosophy must surely be the devil; maybe?

(note there are many more articles on the subject)
Memories Can Be Inherited, And Scientists Might Have Just Figured Out How

The Bad News: Trauma Can Be Inherited. The Good News — So Can Resilience

Los gusanos tienen marcados en sus genes los traumas de sus tatarabuelos

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: Do we inherit
experiences from our ancestors?


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