31 March 2007

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: How do we create personal harmony?

Dear friends,

Sorry for sending the essay on How de we create personal harmony? so late.

I am also including the details/mailing for Thursday again:

Isabel has managed to get some information about the events Thursday, holy
week (5 April), in Morata de Tajuna.

Morata - Enactment of the Passion of Christ:
These are eleven staged enactments, and we are told that the one in the Town
Hall square is the best. For some reason, the person Isabel spoke to at the
Ayutamiento thought that there might be some changes because of the summer
time. No specific details were give. However, the event will probably start
between 8.00pm and 8.30pm and finishes around 11.00pm and 11.30pm.

Buses - Line 337:
Buses leave from Conde Casal every hour, except that there isn't one at
5.00pm. The return buses are also regular with the night buses running at:
23.10, 00.25, and 2.40am. The only thing we have to find out is where the
return bus-stop is in Morata.

We can fix the details of where and when to meet this Sunday during the
meeting. In any event there are a couple of good bars in Conde Casal should
things not work out.

See you soon


**********HOLIDAY FLATS**********
Mayte; Almería (Villa de Níjar);


Paloma; Marbella (near Elviria);


+++++++++MEETING DETAILS+++++++++
SUNDAY 6.00pm START at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs----
-Email: philomadrid@yahoo.co.uk
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-Old essays: www.geocities.com/philomadrid
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-My tel 606081813
-metro: Bilbao : buses: 21, 149, 147


How do we create personal harmony?

There are two prominent models the human beings. One is the Spinoza type
model were we try to balance positive and negative forces. And a state of
harmony would exist if we did manage to achieve this equilibrium. Of course,
this model is not exclusive to Spinoza. Some oriental thinking also ascribes
this equilibrium model for example the yin-yang model of balance.

The second model is the religious type model (the gap model), specifically,
the monotheistic model, where the human being is a unity. If a person can be
said to be in the grace of god then he would achieve personal harmony, and
if not then that person would have something missing. Hence, on this model
personal harmony can only be achieved through spiritual fulfilment and grace
from god. Without which the person would be missing something. In a way this
religious model is also similar to Plato's theory of forms. The human being
is a representation of some more perfect whole; that is there is something

The religious model is more prescriptive than descriptive in the sense that
it does not try to explain what is happening with personal harmony, but how
to achieve personal harmony. The Spinoza equilibrium model, is as
descriptive as it is prescriptive. once we know what is going on and how
things work, we can then find a way to achieve harmony.

Hence, if the question is to be understood as prescriptive, then we can
answer it by seeing what people do in general. Some people achieve personal
harmony through prayer and spiritual meditation, others through spending
sprees, others employ drugs and some apply more imaginative strategies. We
can of course discuss the ethics of each strategy, but this would hardly
provide a philosophical analysis of what is at issue here.

It is not within the scope of this essay to give a full analysis of the
structure of human beings. I will only try to give a rough idea of how we
can understand the idea of harmony in the human being. I am therefore not
interested in a prescriptive analysis but more descriptive analysis;
understanding what is going on and what problems we expect to find.

Harmony, is just a word describing a human experience. There is nothing
magical about the word itself, which means that we can use different words
and expressions to describe what is essentially the same experience.
Alternative words and expressions to harmony might be inner peace, personal
tranquillity, at one with god or nature, feeling good or on top of the
world. The list might be endless. To be in harmony means that we do not feel

I do not think that harmony necessarily implies being happy, but it
necessarily implies not being sad or troubled. And I do not think that being
happy is a sufficient condition to achieve personal harmony. Maybe, having
personal harmony might itself cause happiness. Harmony in a way can act as a
gateway to happiness. Anyway, Spinoza* sort of prescribes a way towards
harmony in Postulate 42: Cheerfulness cannot be excessive, but is always
good; melancholy, on the other hand, is always bad.

I would also say that we appreciate personal harmony during or immediately
after a troublesome or tumultuous period in our life. Maybe, after the loss
of someone important to us, or in a situation where we experience personal
danger, a crisis or a life threatening situation. There are many causes why
we would seek and value personal harmony. On the equilibrium model, we have
to balance against the melancholy.

Losing a partner or a parent is one of them, losing one's pet gerbil might
not readily qualify. The cause of the disequilibrium must be quite
substantial. Which in turn might explain why we place so much value to the
concept of harmony since it is associated with major traumatic events. As
memory aids, traumatic events are very good at helping us remember our state
of being at the time.

Does this mean that personal harmony is only relevant for such traumatic
events or is it more common in us, except we just do not notice? Maybe we do
require some sort of personal harmony when our pet gerbil dies, but not
enough to have a long lasting impact on us. If we look at children when they
do actually lose a pet gerbil or a favourite toy, they do seem to go through
some eventful trauma. And the idea for them to come to terms with such
events does require a big effort. However, I would not have though that by
seeming to forget about it soon after is a sign of their low moral standard,
but rather of their underdeveloped sense of space-time emotional experience.
They forget quickly because they are constantly coming across new
experiences every day.

I am sure we all agree that personal harmony is a state of mind rather than
an additional object which some how manifests itself in us. I therefore
reject the argument that personal harmony fills any gaps or void in us to
make us whole again. That we might refer to 'filling a gap' or 'make us
whole again' as metaphors is of course a matter of language convention and
not a physical event. But even as metaphor I am not convinced that we are
filling any blank spaces or making something more complete. There is nothing
missing because the causes of what makes personal harmony necessary is not
the absence of something but an imbalance in the brain.

That personal harmony tends to follow some personal trauma suggests that
this experience is closely linked with pain. And in this case I want to
argue that pain can be physical or psychological; the pain itself is
physical, but I use psychological as a language tag to refer to a type of
pain. We could therefore say that personal harmony is a form of pain
management. We could leave the topic at this point and assume that what
follows is a matter for physiology to take over and explain. And maybe fix.

However, what makes personal harmony a legitimate philosophical issue are
two things. The first is that personal harmony is based on our epistemic
state of mind or beliefs. And secondly, we value personal harmony because we
see it transcending over a long period of time into the future. Hence, our
beliefs are always a legitimate philosophical concern and value judgments,
especially about the future, are always of interest to philosophers.

Starting with the second point, this future transition of personal harmony
means that the kind of happiness or tranquillity we experience is beyond
everyday pleasure. I would argue that the meaning of harmony implies a state
over a period of time. Pleasure is more temporal and short term. No matter
how much I might enjoy a strawberry ice cream I know for a fact that the
pleasure I am going get from a cone of strawberry ice cream is not going to
last long into the night.

This idea of personal harmony applying over the medium or long term means
that it depends on our ability to project ourselves into the future. Not
only does this mean that we can see ourselves having positive experience in
the future, but also that what we do now has a long term effect. So, the
first thing we seem to do and need to do to create personal harmony, is to
project ourselves into the future. Maybe, we would ask ourselves such
questions as would life be like in six months time? Or what do I have to do
now in order for things to be better in the future?

On the equilibrium model we can recognise a causal chain of events that can
in turn lead to a prescriptive strategy. Of course, the gap model does
identify a causal chain and a prescriptive strategy based on the future
which really makes it an equilibrium model, but of course it is not
presented as such.

Our beliefs are not only relevant to how we see ourselves in the future, but
also about how we act as causal agents. It is not enough to believe that
things could be better, but also how can we can make things better?

If this is accepted, we can immediately infer that there are some forms of
pain that can be managed through our beliefs. We can also ask: What role and
effect do substances (medicines and drugs) play in creating personal
harmony? Do these external aids act in the short term, so we have to keep on
taking them on a regular basis if we want long term effects? Do they
supplement, suppress or initiate beliefs that are helpful to create personal
harmony? Are beliefs necessary at all in creating personal harmony? And Can
we just create personal harmony through substances, medical or otherwise,
thus act on the physical pain? And of course, do beliefs act on the brain in
the same way substances act on the brain to create personal harmony?

We can safely assume that to understand personal harmony we have to
understand how the brain works and on a larger scale, how the human body
works. But these are big issues, too big for this essay anyway. So we have
to be less ambitious.

We can use the second law of thermodynamics as a model to understand what is
happening in the brain and body. Of course, there are those who think that
thermodynamics are involved in living systems. Schrodinger pointed out that
(Life:Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) a cell has to create internal
order and organization to keep away from thermodynamic equilibrium, which
means death. We can see this idea hinted at by Spinoza, admittedly in a
different context, in postulate 6: Each thing, as far as it can by its own
power, tries to stay in existence. And postulate: 39: (i) Things that
preserve of the proportion of motion and rest in the parts of a human body
are good; and (ii) things that alter that proportion are bad.

What is interesting about this model is that a living open system must have
its own regulating system to maintain order, but at a safe distance from
thermodynamic equilibrium. Personal harmony may be said to be thermodynamic
order which is achieved by interacting with the environment. However,
interacting with the environment can be of two kinds: stopping the
environment from causing us harm or redistribute scare resources to increase
our energy input. For example, Postulate 13 states: When a mind imagines
things that lessen or hinder the body's power of acting, it tries its utmost
to recollect things that exclude their existence.

Of course, when we're interacting with the environment to redistribute
resources, we are thinking of such things as food, other digestible
substances, cloths and other form of protection. But as I have tried to
argue before, these physical substances need to be administered on a regular
basis to maintain their benefits in the medium to long term. We need to eat
more or less everyday otherwise the human body will be on its way towards
thermodynamic equilibrium. How much and what we eat are two different

Furthermore, if we accept that an open system needs a regulating mechanism,
maybe something akin to a thermostat, then it follows that we also need
information. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if the seat of
personal harmony is the brain then we are dealing with information. Which
brings us back to the question whether medicines (or other substances acting
on the brain) do away with our beliefs or influence our beliefs. First of
all we have input information from the cause that has created the negative
imbalance in us. We need information to assess our state of affairs and then
we need information to plan a future strategy. For example, information from
past experience or the experience of others. However, information on its own
is not a sufficient causal agent to influence the future.

The information we need to create personal harmony needs to be supported by
acts and behaviour. In other words, beliefs lead us to action otherwise they
are occupying space in our brain for nothing. For example, thermostats
regulate room temperature by receiving information from the surrounding
environment and then sending relevant information to activate heathers or
fans. Except there is one little problem: the future. We can assume that
thermostats do not think about the future, but we do. Human speculation
about the future tends to pan out different from what we anticipated or
wanted. Of course, I am not saying that it will always pan out differently,
but that the future is a serious threat, if not discrepancy, for personal

If the future tends to present certain inconsistencies with our plans or
desires, does this mean that we constantly have to adjust our methods and
strategy for personal harmony? On an extreme interpretation of this question
we might want to consider the possibility that we constantly making
adjustments to our personal harmony. And on the other extreme, it might very
well be that personal harmony is just a form of self deception, without
knowing that it is self deception.

I therefore think that personal harmony is first and foremost a state of
mind based on beliefs, and in some cases, knowledge. This is consistent with
the second law of thermodynamics and other systems that see the brain (mind)
as a monitoring and managing system. And in our case pain management. I don't
think that the gap model is consistent with the way we really do create
personal harmony. Of course, as I said earlier, the gap model is indeed an
equilibrium model, using different language and metaphysical putty to fill
in gaps. In reality the gap model is doing a balancing act so familiar with
the physical and natural world.

Of course, for some, accepting this balancing act its self distressing and
melancholic, but at least we now have a context for reference.

Take care


*Spinoza at http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/pdfbig/spinoza.pdf


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