27 October 2011

from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Differences + news

News from Asun and Miguel
Dear Friends,
This Sunday we are discussing: Differences.
A curios subject, since the topic encompasses a huge number of possibilities: from disagreements, to
defences in opinion, differences between two objects, differences between two ideas, or more for all
that matter.
In the meantime Miguel and Asun would like to share to following with you:
----Estimado tertuliano,
Por si fuera de interés te envío información sobre la reunión anual Martin Gardner:
http://matematicas.montes.upm.es/fernando/g4g/ (la página contiene varios ambigramas
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambigram>. Por ejemplo el logotipo queda invariante si se gira 180º
alrededor del centro)
Saludos cordiales,
-----Asun's friend would like to rent the following: ALQUILER LOCAL/LOFT PARA TERAPEUTAS
Details here (PhiloMadrid Picasa site): http://tinyurl.com/loft-pinto


Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
PS don't forget that Ignacio and friends are now meeting at Triskel Tavern (San Vicente Ferrer 3) on
Thursday at 7:30pm.
from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Differences + news

20 October 2011

from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Can protest politics change anything?

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Can protest politics change anything?
The facts and the evidence suggest that yes, of course, protest politics can change a lot of things.
However, what is of particular interest to us here is what is the tipping force that transforms a
protest into a change? And following this we have investigate whether the change is for the better
or for the worse?
There is a prima facie difference between running away from something and running towards something.
Thus, by definition, protest politics is usually running away from something. Which is well and
good, but unfortunately this is not that terribly interesting on the grounds that those who are in a
bad situation already know about it and do not need the protesters to tell them about it. And in
anycase we might run but to do what?
But as always, the key factor, in my opinion, is not the protest, but the information conveyed by
the protesters. And even more important the information conveyed by those who oppose the protesters.
Then there is the interpretation we put on this information.
Indeed, without information there won't be anything, politics, change or development. Which probably
explains why those in power busy themselves trying to give information that is full of "wow" but
many times very little "Ah!"
Indeed, those in power or politics are in the business of information. Of course, this does not mean
that we are given the right information, useful information, told the truth or worse, told anything.
Whilst protest politics does bring change the kind of change probably depends on who can interpret
the available information correctly. In the meantime, those who ignore protesters do so at their own
risk and peril.
See you Sunday

Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
PS don't forget that Ignacio and friends are now meeting at Triskel Tavern (San Vicente Ferrer 3) on
Thursday at 7:30pm.
from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Can protest politics change anything?

14 October 2011

from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Random Events + news

Dear Friends,
This Sunday we are discussing: Random events.
And despite my intentions to spend a lot of time on my essay, non random events militated against
that happening; so in all honesty I cannot really say I am happy with the result. We'll see what you
In the meantime Margie would like to share the following message with you:
Hi Lawrence,
I see you keep going with many interesting topics. How wonderful. Could you please let everyone know
about the next Mad Open Mic, there is still time to register? Thank you. Margie
The 8th Mad Open Mic: Captured Words
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Free and open to the public.
Cafe Concierto La Fidula
Calle Huertas 57
Start up 9pm
To register and for more information: www.elasunto.com/mkd.htm and click on the open mic icon
Best Lawrence
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
PS don't forget that Ignacio and friends are now meeting at Triskel Tavern (San Vicente Ferrer 3) on
Thursday at 7:30pm.

Random Events
In our quest to make sense of the world around us we have had to perform some very spectacular
mental gymnastics. Of course, I have no idea what it is like to be a bat let alone a cat nor even an
other human being. But whilst the world is probably just as chaotic and confounding for a cat as it
is for us, I am quite confident that a bat or a cat are not as perturbed by the whole situation as
we are.
And to confound the situation what we perceive as a chaotic environment, we are assured by
astronomers that our world does not get better than this: indeed they tell us that we live in that
part of the solar system that can be described as having the goldilocks effect. Not too hot and not
too cold, just right.
Does this mean that the first thing we did with our rational brain is to complain about our
situation and the chaotic state of the world we live in? That human beings can be ungrateful so and
so's is not in doubt, but we are also inquisitive beyond the necessities to cope with nature.
So making sense of the world around us is not only justifiable but in my estimation necessary for
our progress and tranquility. On the other hand seeing things in perspective might be more fruitful,
than marching head into irrationality.
Throughout, the ages two prominent theories have been put forward to help us understand all this
chaos: fatalism, usually described as a function of the will of a god, or determinism, usually
described as a function of the laws or regularities of nature. And despite the problems these
theories present to those who advocate free will we sort of manage to live with the paradoxes.
The real problem for philosophers and scientists and every one else is the issue of random events.
We can live with god and we can live with laws, but randomness? Maybe even out of duty we have to
ask ourselves: are there such things as random events? And what do we mean by random events anyway?
Now, if we had to search the meaning randomness we get as many meanings as there are contexts and
ideas, so this is not going to help us much. Suffice it to say, that despite the fact we cannot
really pin a meaning, we know how to use the word in our day to day conversations. So, one possible
meaning is the strict meaning of random that it is: something that happens which is not predictable.
In our daily life we might equate random with a chance meeting in the street with someone we haven't
met for decades. Or maybe the result of a fair lottery draw. In science we might consider a random
event to include a mutation of a gene, a collapse of an atomic particle, result for a non linear
calculation etc.
We might say that these events are not only unpredictable but also cannot be predicted by doing an
investigation into what could possibly have been the causal chain of events for them. We might know
what and why something happened but we cannot tell why a specific event took place when it did and
how it did, and where it did. For example, we know why a number comes up in a lottery draw but not
why a specific number came up.
So, although we might be privy to an explanation, these events take place without any specific
causal chain. Things just happen.
Or we might opt for a weak definition of a random event, something like: although the principles of
causality and a causal chain of events are not violated in random events it would be difficult or
near impossible to find out what really happened. And so since we cannot predict the event before or
after it occurrence it is as good as being random.
In the first case we cannot explain why something happened because these is nothing to explain,
whereas in the second case there is an explanation but we do not have access to it.
What bothers most of us is of course the idea that things just happen. Not only do we want things to
have a cause, but most important of all for us is that whatever happens to us, good or bad, we can
ascribe some sort of responsibility to something or someone. We want to blame something or someone
for any misfortune or get credit for any good fortune.
The philosophical question that is worth investigating and which only science can answer, is what
evidence do we have for the strong interpretation of random events, and how common are they? Is it
really possible for something just to happen? It is one thing to say that a gene randomly mutated
because we have no idea of what is going on, but an other because it just happened.
An alternative idea would be not that things just happen, but that things happen independent of our
epistemic state of mind. In other words, things don't happen not the convenience of our
understanding. So the situation is that we either can understand how an event happened or we cannot.
But just because we cannot explain an event it does not mean that it has no pedigree. Nor does it
mean that it must have some specific type of pedigree. This could very well be analogous to trying a
real experiment on another planet in another galaxy to see if tossing a fair coin, heads or tails
would tend towards 50% in the long run. Except that no such experiment is going to take place any
time soon on another planet in another galaxy. So, for all intents and purposes we are just excluded
from this knowledge. Sure we can build a model to see how things would probably turn out, but we can
also build a model to see what it feels like to eat as much as we want remain healthy.
Although some events just might happen, it would not be practical for the universe to be made up of
random events. One of the drawbacks of there being more random events than causal events is that
there would be no stability or consistency. And the logical conclusion of this must surely be that
even randomness would be subject to randomness. But that does not make sense because randomness is
already random. Nor does this mean that randomness is a linguistic property. We may chose to give
the word many different meanings but we cannot choose how events happen: either an event is caused
or it is random or both, but it cannot be a meaning of a word.
Therefore, irrespective of how long we haven't met our friend, and how random the meeting might be,
there are at least three consistent events: 1) we were both still in existence (i.e. not dead) when
the chance meeting took place, 2) we were in existence at the same time and 3) in the same place.
Yet, other things being equal, my being alive, had no causal effect on my friend being alive or dead
at a certain time nor being at a certain place at a certain place, and vice versa.
Hence to conclude, I am inclined to think that random events are possible, sometimes things just
happen, but also it is not possible for the universe to be made of only random events. As for our
concern about the chaotic state of the world we live in, if it feels too random it is probably
because we complain too much. In the meantime cats don't seem to have this concern with random
events. At least not the cats in my model of the universe.

Best Lawrence

from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Random Events + news

07 October 2011

from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Collective Guilt (2 essays)

Dear Friends,
This Sunday we are discussing: Collective Guilt.
We are also lucky because Simon has sent us a short essay about his topic. I also wrote a few
paragraphs and although I did not read Simon's essay before I finished mine, we seem to coincide on
some ideas.
In the meantime don't forget that Ignacio and friends are now meeting at Triskel Tavern (San Vicente
Ferrer 3) on Thursday at 7:30pm.
Take care

Hello Lawrence,
This Sunday we will discuss "Collective Guilt". I was influenced by the previous topic suggestion,
"How our actions affect others", to choose an "ethical" topic, perhaps getting wider
participation......all opinions being equal.
I have become curious recently about what we mean with statements like:
"The banks are guilty of causing the crisis".
"The ........(fill the gap with a country) are guilty of starting the war and should be made to pay".
"We are all guilty for overspending". etc
To discuss "Collective Guilt" it might be thought that we must analyse the concept of "Guilt", but I
am reluctant to widen the topic in this way.
A reductionist analysis - e.g. guilt as manifestation of socialisation, guilt as a sum of
neurological stimulae in the brain, etc - adds little or nothing to our everyday use of the word.
Guilt, guilty are basic concepts in social life, law etc.
Let's keep to an "everyday" understanding. We all experience and assign guilt on a daily basis. One
could say people "import" and "export" guilt regularly.
(Like countries, some are net importers and some net exporters !)
Example: we are waiting 30 minutes in the plane on the runway at Barajas.
When the 2 latecomers arrive we stare at them....at least, I do. We feel they are guilty ! We want
them to feel they are guilty !
As they are 2, this seems to be a case of "collective guilt".
(One side track here: I take an "atomistic" view. In "Collective, or Group, guilt" I take it to mean
that all the individual members are guilty, not that some conceptual entity "The Group" is guilty,
but its members are innocent.)
Is it ever reasonable to assign "guilt" to a group ? Or accept "guilt" if we belong to some groups ?
Starting at the general end:
- Are the British/Spanish guilty of the crimes committed as "imperialists" ?
Which ones ? It does not seem likely that guilt is inherited but what happens if you are
unintentionally benefit from past (or present) injustices ?
- If we look at atrocities in World War II should we blame a nation, or active participants, or
particular parts of the armed forces, or only individuals ?
What are the criteria ? Active participation ? Benefits ? Closeness in time and place ? Collusion ?
Intentionality ? in this case, of the group or the individual ?
What does the law say ? Isn't simple membership of ETA a crime? The "Conspiracy" laws in the UK seem
to go in the same direction.
Can we make sense of this ? If we give up and go to the bar early will we be collectively guilty of
negligence ?
See you on Sunday,

Collective guilt
Does the guilt culture need a big rethink or does it still have a purpose in our society?
The issue is not whether to stop chasing those who do wrong but rather how to stop or minimise wrong
doing. However it has long been accepted that in any equitable system there will always be a
minority who will cheat. Thus, one might question the very idea that wrong doing can be eliminated
or reduced.
Nevertheless there is a fundamental issue about guilt that we must first address. Is guilt a means
to pursue wrong doers or a means to stop wrong doing? The obvious answer is both. But is that really
the case?
I would argue that in real life most of us are more interested in not being harmed than in how
others feel. Indeed society is prepared to lock up wrong doers irrespective if they feel guilty or
not. Indeed I would go so far as to say that those who are more concerned that people feel guilty
rather than in being secure either live a charmed life or making a living out the guilt culture, or
And this is why I asked the question whether the guilt culture needs rethinking. It seems that the
feeling of guilt has not made much difference to our safety. Crime and wrong doing are still every
hour occurrence.
So how does this fit with our theme of collective guilt?
It seems to me that there are two kinds of collective guilt: a guilt that a group feels for itself
and a guilt that is imposed on a group by others.
But like personal guilt the cause of collective guilt is always the infringement of some moral law.
Of course, the first issue here is what constitutes a moral law? And secondly, how can we ascribe
guilt to a collective group if moral transgression requires an intentional act based on free will?
But going back to the two kinds of collective guilt it is worth observing that there are very few
instances of collective guilt being felt by a group of itself. I am sure that there are quite a few
instances but the one we most remember is of course the collective guilt felt by West Germany after
the war or maybe by a sizable group of white people in South Africans.
But if we take the German guilt, we do not find say the Japanese going out of their way to feel
collective guilt for the part they played during the Second World War.
On the other hand the issue of collective guilt in some societies is just non existent: for example,
the Russians for the pogroms or the genocide by Stalin.
As for imposed collective guilt we can find many examples or attempts to impose a collective guilt
on a society. Some would apply collective guilt on the British for the destruction of Dresden. Many
apply collective guilt on Israel for their policies towards the Palestinians. Maybe one of the worst
infringements of a moral law was the rape and pillage of Africa by Europeans, not to mention all the
other continents.
My point about the relevance of guilt, whether the purpose of guilt is to make someone or some group
feel guilty or to change or prevent bad behaviour? Since the Second World War there have been many
genocides. Some have passed unnoticed and some have resulted in individuals being held to account
for their actions.
But the bottom line is still the fact that genocides have happened since the Second World War, are
going on now and will certainly continue in the future. So what's the point of collective guilt if
it seems to have no effect on how we behave towards each other? It seems that some societies are
prepared to infringe moral laws irrespective of whether they feel collective and others are prepared
to learn from past mistakes, probably irrespective of whether they feel collective guilt or not.
Maybe guilt and collective guilt in particular, was never meant to change the way we behave, but
rather to establish some moral or maybe some quasi legal authority over the other community.
This will certainly confer an advantage to one group over another group. So maybe guilt is one of
those primitive and primordial instincts that we have been employing over the millennia to cause or
protect ourselves against others and at the same time give us some sort of advantage over those we
deem guilty of transgression.
But there is also another interpretation of guilt including collective guilt. Rather than having the
function of conferring an advantage over others, it is signal or warning for us that a particular
person or group are dangerous -maybe unsocial- and we should therefore deal with this group with
caution, if at all. So maybe the primary purpose of guilt is not to demand remorse or punishment,
but rather to signal our own weakness in the situation. Because we do not have the means or the
courage to stop people from transgressing a moral law, we label such transgressions with guilt.
Maybe the linguistic purpose of guilt is basically to insult those we deem hostile, instead of
calling ourselves moral cowards. After all when we (society) do catch someone and overpower them, we
have no compunction is causing them harm by putting them in prison or take away their life,
irrespective of whether they are guilty or not.
So to defend my point, will China experience or have collective guilt imposed on her for its
questionable dealings in Africa for pure economic gains? Admittedly the way China exploits Africa is
not the same as the Europeans did centuries ago, but nevertheless it is exploitation of a modern kind.
The chances are that collective guilt on China won't be imposed any time soon, in the same way that
Europe today only pays lip service to collective guilt about Africa. In both cases the people of
Africa are practically powerless when these economic powers or their local representatives pillage
the continent with impunity.
But if guilt is no better than a warning sign, and has the function of an insult at best as a result
of moral weakness, where does this leave the whole edifice of our morality that depends so much on
guilt, remorse and punishment?
Indeed, is morality a product of human weakness or a product of rational agency?
Take care

from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Collective Guilt (2 essays)