29 June 2007

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: The power of change + Cuenca.

Dear friends,

Enrique has suggested that on the 7th July we go for a day trip to
Cuenca. So far this is the information I have about transport.

Madrid – Cuenca
leaves Madrid 8.50am arrives 11.16am price Euros 10.25 one way 20.50
probably return.

Cuenca – Madrid
Last train leaves Cuenca 18:55 arrives 21:26. There is an earlier train
at 16.20pm

BUS (autores):
Madrid - Cuenca
Normal 8.00am arrives 10.30am price return ticket euros 18.10.
Express 10.00am arrives 12.00pm price return euros 24.70.

Cuenca – Madrid
Normal leaves Cuenca 18.30pm arrives 21.00pm
Normal leaves Cuenca 20.00pm arrives 22.30pm THIS is also the last bus.

Please note that I have no idea whether we have to book or anything. We
can discuss this on Sunday.

Talking about day trips, this Sunday we are discussing 'The power of
change.' I'm sure a day out to Cuenca would be a welcome change.

See you Sunday

Take care



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[I did not have time to do a final check of the essay. Please accept my

The power of change

From our perspective, change can come in two different forms. Change
which we initiate and change that is forced on us. What do we mean by
change? And what are the main problems with change? The context of our
discussion is change in our life from every day language to metaphysical
meaning of change.

Change has also interested and preoccupied philosophers throughout the
ages Heraclitus famously gave us the idea that the world is in constant
flux. Something which Parmenides tried to reject.

Plato's theory of forms can also be interpreted as a theory of change.
Although the forms themselves do not change their representations in
this world do change. For example the idea of a triangle is of an
unchanging and perfect 3 sided polygon, however when we draw a
representation of a triangle on apiece of paper it is not perfect, hence
the representation changes. This platonic idea of an unchanging form but
a changing representation might come useful for our debate.

In contract to the unchanging forms but changeable representation we
have the world of the second law of thermodynamics which is a changing
process from an active energy system to entropic equilibrium were
temperatures, pressures and density even out. (Wikipedia: second law of
thermodynamics). Entropy in physics is the measurement of this evening
out process. Of course, the second law officially only applies to closed
or isolated system, one with a fixed amount of energy. In practice it is
questionable whether there could ever be such an isolated system, apart
from the universe. The other side of the coin is that to stop a system
from disintegrating into pure entropy, we have to keep feeding with
"energy." thus the change takes place on two fronts, entropy and
changing a system from reaching pure entropy.

Aristotle's Ship of Theseus story is another angle on change which is
equally relevant for us; does changing the component parts of an object
also change the identity of that object? If the planks and the wood of
the ship are changed over the course of the journey, is it still the
same ship that started the journey? Are we the same person after the
some thirty or fifty years experience?

We even find change in the predetermined and fated world of a divine
universe. On the one hand we are asked to believe that a god has fated
the world to be as it is and on the other, we are told that we can bring
our own salvation by making the necessary changes in our life.

Newtonian physics explained changed around us. Newton explained why the
Earth goes around the sun and how solar systems travel in a galaxy.
Today we have reached the ultimate idea of change: the quantum idea that
the observer by the act of observation causally changes what is
observed. But this idea of the observer changing what is observed does
not only apply at the quantum level. For example, when we have our photo
taken we tend to pose for the occasion or at the very least become
conscious of the event if we are aware of this.

Since we are particularly interested in change that affects us, I would
say that the most challenging change would be that of a change of
personal identity. As a subject, personal identity is an important
debate in philosophy and psychology. John Locke suggested that personal
identity cannot reside in the body nor some metaphysical entity, but in
some special consciousness. Later on it was argued that memory is the
seat of personal identity. Today, personal since we are particularly
interested in change that affects us, I would say that the most
challenging change would be that of change to our personal identity.
Personal identity has been an important subject in philosophy especially
philosophy of mind and psychology. John Locke personal identity is
regarded to be psychological continuity. (Cambridge Dictionary of
Philosophy, second edition 1999).

Some philosophers have pointed out personal identity (Butler and Reid)
is indefinable and nothing else can be said about it. Personal identity
can also be linked to the brain and thus personal identity is linked to
physical identity.

The problem for us stems from our beliefs (knowledge) about ourselves
and that what happens to us could be caused intentionally or by external
causes. For example, we speak of "having changed," but we also accept
that we are also the same person.

On the one hand we recognize that we change over time, but also we
believe that we are the same person. We can say that one's personality
might change but maybe not one's personal identity. This would, however,
introduce a gap between philosophy and psychology. If we accept that
personality changes, which can sometimes be a good reason to seek
psychological help, we have to explain why ''personhood'' does not
change. In which case we can ask, to what does personal identity
attaches, to the person or personality?

We can accept and explain that one's personality can change, maybe due
to experience, circumstance, or disease. However, at least on a
metaphysical and epistemological level, the person does not change.
Somebody, who was once shy and is now an extrovert, hasn't morphed into
a different person. The old person certainly hasn't died, to be replaced
by the new. Nor has there been a break in space time in the person.

We are inclined to think that personal identity and personhood are more
permanent, which suggests that there is more to these characteristics
than psychological continuity. Nor does it depend on memory, because
someone who looses their memory does not lose their personhood or pi as

The consequences of accepting changes to personhood and personal
identity are that we are not the same person we were this morning. Which
takes us back to the Greek philosophers; flux. Thus, an idea of a
permanent personal identity is very similar to the idea of Plato's
perfect forms; they do not change. Plus of course, it challenges
Descartes, because he won't be able to tell us 'what exists today' today
is the same as 'what existed yesterday.'

That changes in our life take place is in no doubt, even if we cannot
settle the question of personal identity. But surely, if personal
identity is not affected, then changes in our life must only be due to
physical changes. Let's take an extreme example of physical change.

Someone with a debilitating disease such as Alzheimer's disease is
affected physically. So much so that for all intents and purpose such an
unfortunate person would ceases to be the person one used to be. This is
the introduction paragraph from the Alzheimer's association web site:

Alzheimer's (AHLZ-high-merz) disease is a progressive brain disorder
that gradually destroys a person's memory and ability to learn, reason,
make judgments, communicate and carry out daily activities. As
Alzheimer's progresses, individuals may also experience changes in
personality and behavior, such as anxiety, suspiciousness or agitation,
as well as delusions or hallucinations.

Such a person is not the same person that lived a reasonable and
rational life but today he or she is suffering from a disease, in the
same way one would still be the same person during a toothache. For
practical purpose, we stop functioning as a human being when afflicted
with one of these debilitating diseases. What can we say about personal
identity in such severe cases? Thus to suggest that the actions of
someone suffering from Alzheimer's disease is a normal person but
behaving in an unreasonable or obnoxious way is an idea based in sheer
stupidity or callous insensitivity.

What is important for us is that these extreme cases of diseases suggest
that personhood and personal identity are more linked to the physical
self than what we are prepared to admit. It makes no sense to speak of
personal identity when discussing severe cases of Alzheimer's disease
for example. It is not that maybe these unfortunate patients do not have
a personal identity but that to speak of identity is irrelevant. Helping
them and looking after their needs is relevant.

The other extreme example would be a person who, no matter what happened
to them, they would not change. This is such an extreme case that the
only person I can think of and who can fit these requirements is a god.
If god is unchangeable, then how do we explain the belief held by a good
number of people that they can influence a god through prayer? Surely,
if a god fated one to be inflicted with some disease then praying to
this god to stop this ailment would be the same as asking this god to
change their mind. If this god did change after our pleas and prayers
then surely he or she would be displaying a weakness very common in us?
Change! And change is a sign of imperfection. The only conclusion we can
draw from this is that either a god does not function this way or there
is no such perfect being.

The power of change implies causality. Change itself has a meaning of
causality. We can further define causality to be (at least for now)
something or some process that replaces x(a) at time t0 to x(b) at t1.
we can read x(a) and x(b) to mean something like x being an object or
thing with property or quality 'a' or quality 'b.' thus a can containing
beer (x(a)) would be turned/caused to be x(b) by my causal action (plus
gravity and fluid mechanics etc.) of emptying the contents in a glass.

As an analogy, if not a model, we can easily argue that in a normal
human being, personal identity assumes the role of Plato's perfect form;
it is unchangeable. And if you like our personality is just a
representation of our personal identity. However, when we are affect by
disease or some other physical disability we become a ''closed'' system
which can best be explained by the second law of thermodynamics. "How
much" and "for how long" we oscillate between a state of forms and a
state of entropy is a different question from what we are concerned with
here. What is relevant is that change brings about this oscillation.

So what is happening when we change? What do we mean by change in our
context which does not imply a contradiction or a paradox?

We can therefore interpret change in our lives as being caused by some
external factor that brings about a certain given characteristic or
trait. Of course, I did say earlier that we can initiate this change but
that is just a convenient way of looking at things. In reality we are in
constant interaction with the environment around us, sometimes changing
the course of events and sometimes events changing our course. It is
unlikely that we can bring about change from within us in vacuum. In the
same way that we probably cannot create a private language in isolation.
And if we seem to be able to do these things it is probably because of
disease in one case and hallucination in the other.

The power of change itself is of course neutral, being in effect a
physical change. Even when we speak of a personality change what we mean
is a change in the way we interact with our environment, especially with
other people. probably these changes also happen or are reflected in
some way in our brain or body; of course, these changes need not be due
to disease, but other physical causes.

What do I mean by physical change is neutral? Especially when our
actions and decisions are value laden and directly affect others in many
ways. We can give many examples of non neutral cases, for example
leaving one's partner, changing jobs or making others change jobs,
moving house and so on.

Instead of interpreting value judgments or moral values as based on some
divine rule or an apriority imperative, we can interpret them as being
based on probabilistic information on how others will react to our
intended action. Thus, leaving one's /married/ partner can be
interpreted as breaking god's divine command of a united couple never to
be divided. Or, as a probability that a partner will be hurt, off
springs might suffer materially and emotionally, one might reduce one's
chances of finding a new partner and so on. Taking all these things
together we then decide to do one thing or another. But this rational
process must go on, consciously or unconsciously, when we interact with
our environment.

Thus moral values might be regarded as shorthand for our calculations
when assessing a situation based on some information we have. For those
familiar with computer programming, moral values are like sub routines a
program calls when it reaches a certain state or receives a certain type
of information. Thus, when I do a spell check of this essay, my word
processor calls up a subroutine /or sub program/ and does the checking,
prompting me at the same time to do various things or decide various
actions. Likewise, when I feel unhappy in my work I call up the
subroutine, which I call 'what shall I do with my life?' (wsidwml) and
try to resolve this painful situation. Of course, both the spell check
and my wsidwml routines are not fallible. But not being fallible does
not mean it does not work properly. What we have to distinguish is
between what are the limits of our subroutines and when our subroutines
are broken down? No laws, no imperatives, just subroutines; you might
say that we are a collection of subroutines with an attitude. Maybe!

Thus the power of change is that it sometimes has the capacity to
reorder ourselves and our environment. And this is what makes physical
change neutral; the changes follow their natural course of evolution
which is independent of our intentions. We might intend to change our
job and succeed. For all intents and purposes and for accounting needs
we can say that we wanted to change our job and we succeeded; thus on
the liabilities column we enter 'want new job' and in the asset column
we enter 'have new job.'

In reality, our desire for a new job was just a small step in the whole
process. This can be explained by following Neal Armstrong's sentiments,
and say about our desire for a new job as being; one small step for
causality, but one giant leap for us.

What this means from our value-judgment-laden point of view is that only
the right change will bring about the desired result. From a neutral
point of view, a change will have the result associated with it. thus if
we have the right qualifications and the right experience, we're the
best candidate, the process has not been rigged, and so on then that job
will most probably materialize. However, we'll certainly be up the creek
if we left our present job to apply for one which we are not qualified.

and the need to have the right change for things to happen links with
the need to establish whether we are operating a system within its
specifications, beyond it limits, or whether the system is broken. And
to do this we need information that can be converted into knowledge
about what we are concerned with. For example, if under a fair system
/to use the analogy with fair dice in probability theory/ we get the job
it would be reasonable to assume that the system worked according to
specifications. However, if our system fails to give us the desired
results then it is reasonable to assume that there is something flawed
with the system. For my purpose I am assuming that our knowledge and
beliefs about of the system are also to be part of the system and not
just some aspects of it.

In an open system, like us human beings, change can have both positive
and negative effects. Some external cause can be quite overwhelming and
impossible to control. However, there are many instances when we can
change the course of events in our favour. It should not come as a
surprise if I say that knowledge plays an important part in all this.
Apart from being aware of what is going on around us, with knowledge we
would be able to help ourselves by knowing what can be done and what is
likely to fail.

Which is probably why we have change; we know very little. If everyone
knew what they have to do and where they have to be, we'd all be in the
right place, at the right time, doing the right thing.

Take care

1 July 2007

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: The power of change
+ Cuenca.

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