24 November 2011

from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Partyless democracies

Dear Friends,
This Sunday we are discussing: Partyless democracies.
Needless to say that this is a topic that is very much on the agenda today. In my short essay I try
to argue that partyless democracies are not really possible, but this does not mean that we cannot
find a system that would keep everyone happy.
What is for sure is that this Sunday we'll have a really head start in discussing democracy,
certainly before the professionals.

Take care and 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.
Partyless democracies
For the past few decades there has been an erosion in popularity for political parties. As long as I
can remember the outcry every after election has been one of failure of parties to protect the
interests of the people and an even much louder voice against the inequity of electoral systems.
That these voices have a legitimate complaint is in not in doubt, but not necessarily for the
reasons they espouse.
For all intents and purposes, political parties today are as potent in the arena of politics that
matters as eunuch in a harem. They have the custody of power when in government but every day we see
their influence being eroded on the international arena of politics. And today what matters is only
the international arena of politics.
And as for democracy, since when have political parties done anything useful for the people? Most of
the major reforms in our society have always been the result of public revolt or public outrage, be
it the right to vote, health care, labour safety, bank charges on debit cards etc.
Of course, like eunuch political parties do wield some power. But this power is only useful for
petty politics or ingratiating favours.
By nature political parties represent special interest groups. In modern politics the main interest
groups are those who advocate social engineering for the benefit of low income earners or groups
that want to protect money generating institutions. Such a duality is not new in history nor nature,
what is new for modern politics is that once in power a party is expected to be the champion for the
whole nation. No doubt, this ought to be the mission statement for all governments but very
difficult to accomplish with blinkered eyes of partisanship.
Today, we are in the paradoxical situation where socialist parties preside/ed over social inequities
or unemployment records of over 20 percent. Even those conservative parties who advocate promiscuous
-never mind liberal- economies are, and some have presided, over the complete bankruptcy of their
financial systems.
The lesson from this is not that party A is better than party B, but that all parties today have no
clout in things that matter. That is the running of their country.
Maybe the problem is not necessarily one of incompetence or evil intentions, but maybe a sign of the
times. The nation state is today a concept of very little consequence when most people have to
function at the continental or even global level to survive. A large part of today's wealth is
generated by multi nationals whose seat of power is most probably in another country or an other
continent. Never mind, that some countries they only survive from handouts give away the powers that
be in other capital cities of Europe.
Basically, the status of a political party these days is probably somewhere between the status of a
bridge club -a sense of collective purpose- and the idealised status of a language exchange meeting
-admirable intentions but way too difficult to implement.
In my estimation, democracies do not fair better than parties. The paradox of democracy is that we
use our freedom and liberty to tie ourselves with a minority interest group. As I have just said,
parties are but a minority group with similar interests or vested interests.
Take for example gender discrimination (25 November being International Day for the Elimination of
Violence Against Women: please not that in English this is not the same as Domestic Violence, which
also includes children and men. And the real victims of DV are children by far.) Just under a
century ago women got their right to vote. Today we also have legislation and ministries, with all
the trappings of authority and pomp, to promote equality for women. But you ask any woman who goes
to a job interview what question she dreads most. No, it is not, How is your English? but rather, do
you plan having children? In many countries this question is illegal, but in most countries most
employers find a way to ask it.
Today, all parties profess that they fight for gender equality. But as I have said in the past, men
do not fair much better than women. When it comes to discrimination, men are not asked whether they
plan to have children. The idea that men would bother themselves with such issues of their life does
not even occur to most employers. But isn't this attitude as unacceptable, as a woman being asked
whether she is planning to have children?
And yet gender discrimination ought to be quite a straight forward affair to control. The starting
point is to ban institutions that are based on gender discrimination, whatever lofty ideas they
might have of themselves in society. If there are any exclusions they ought to be based on proven
medical or scientific grounds. So gender issues are issues that, at the very least, affect 50% of
the population if not more, and yet we still venerate institutions that actively promote gender
If parties are the eunuch in the harem, democracies are the concubines of some dark emperor. Today,
many democracies seem to be more concerned at protecting the interests of institutions that want to
ransack the wealth of a nation, than in the interests of wealth creation and those that help create
such wealth. It is no wonder, therefore, if I am anywhere near the truth, that we question the
validity of party politics and electoral systems. However, we still value democracy above all else.
I guess that the pampered life of a concubine is always much better than the harsh life of a slave.
The real question for us is how to select a group of people to lead us, and basically do the dirty
work for us, and yet have the real interest of the whole society. Maybe democracies are like knowing
a second language, we can be very good at it but we'll never be perfect. And being good at something
might be good enough for some.
But like a second language we can always cheat our way to the right outcome. Hence, I cannot think
of a way to elect the perfect objective government without the need for parties, so I'll have no
choice but to employ one of philosophy's dirty tricks. I want to show that the problem with
democracies is not that we don't have a way of electing an objective government - or Partyless
government - but that the problem is a philosophical issue with the electoral systems per se.
The objectives of an electoral system are to find a transparent way to account for our choices, an
efficient way to select between different candidates, and that the whole process is a fair and true
reflection of our wishes.
The biggest flaw of any electoral system is that it uses mathematics to determine the value of our
wishes. However, by its very nature a mathematical value based on addition must always add up to a
unique and determined value. If we take the simple sum 1+1+1=3 the value 3 is always greater than
the individual numbers i.e. 1. So given that electoral systems always try to establish those
candidates with the highest number of votes it will always be the case that the winning candidates
will individually have a lower value than the collective sum of votes. The alternative system tried
so far have been even worse than this: a dictatorship or a feudal system.
This discrepancy arises from the fact that our choice, in a sum of different choices, will always be
a minority. The only way our choice can be said to have equal value as others is when everyone
totally disagrees or when everyone totally agrees, anything in between the individual choice will
always be in a minority.
In other words elected parties or elected candidates will never, by definition, represent the whole
of society. And this cannot happen because we employ mathematical criteria based on number values
and not on some other criteria, for example freedom or liberty values which are the basis of a
democracy. And secondly because the meaning of "to be free" is precisely to have the possibility to
But we can approach the issue from another philosophical point of view. So far we have a system of a
collective body of voters (forget those who cannot or do not vote for now), who choose individuals,
who in reality do not represent themselves but a minority interest group, and these elected
individuals/group lead the nation. Put in another way, we have a unit (all voters) and from this
unit some members (party) are selected to lead the whole unit (all voters). Another approach might
be instead of selecting the party, we select what the party intends to do: so instead of electing Mr
A or Ms B, we electing Policy A or Policy B.
Maybe governments in democracies shouldn't be elected on what we wish but on what freedoms and
liberties political parties are prepared to offer society as a whole. No matter how insane this idea
might seem I am sure that no party will ever propose policies based on discrimination against women,
or some such policy. However, under this approach we can actually measure whether the policy has
been implemented by applying the falsifiable test. If an institution discriminates against women,
then we know that the policy has not been implemented correctly. Today we only need to pass
legislation to pass the verification test of equal opportunities, we don't need to confirm that the
opportunities are actually applied or really exist. Legislation of equal opportunities is evidence
that confirms that a policy of equal opportunity has been implemented.
The second philosophical issue we have with parties, democracies, and electoral systems is this. The
original models of electoral systems were to select individuals to parliament. And these individuals
where for all intents and purposes members of the landed gentry (i.e. the same interest group).
Maybe the original partyless democracy. It is not until the mid 19th century, and really the 20th
century that individuals got together to form parties to represent specific interest groups. But the
first past the post system (FPTP = simple majority; similar to what we use to choose a topic, but
our system is more sophisticated) was still kept as a reference model. And, when the candidates in
an election morphed into representatives of parties then it became necessary to find an electoral
system that represented party interests and not person preference. Proportional voting (PR) was
supposed to achieve this all just electoral system.
It should be clear by now that if we choose to elect individuals we are discriminating against
parties, and if we choose parties we discriminate against born leaders. In other words if we are
counting sheep we cannot complain that we have no wolves in our flock of sheep. Indeed, PR can
easily lead to prime ministers who are bland party creatures, such as some recent PM's in certain
European countries I dare not mention. And the FPTP system can easily result in exotic political
animals at the head of government, for example Bush junior and Mrs Thatcher.
The philosophical defect we voters suffer from is that we engage in a system that is has
discrimination as part of it's DNA and expect the progeny to be all fair and just. At least harem
concubines who produced a male progeny for the emperor had real authority, respect and wealth. The
question that we still have not answered is what are the chances of the present political system
creating a fair and just progeny when justice and fairness are not found in the DNA of the system?
So the first problem we have with parties is that parties exist because not everyone has the same
values and the same choices. Thus, parties are members (call them members y1, y2 ..) of a set (call
it set X), but it is the set (X) itself that makes up the population (voters and all). So as long as
a set (X) is made up of unique members (y1, y2..) no individual member (y1 or y2....) can itself
also be the set (X). This is because a democracy (X) has more than one member (y) and each member is
unique (Miguel might give us the technical language for all this).
So a party can never represent the population perfectly, because there is a very high probability
that someone will disagree with that party and therefore create an other member to the set. Thus as
long as we all have different values for whatever reason we'll always be unable to have a fair
partyless society. A partyless democracy means that we all agree; if we disagree it will be chaos.
And for the same reasons I used against electoral systems we can use for democracies. Along as these
are individual unique democracies on this Planet, an individual democracy will always be in a
minority. Thus the values of one democracy might not necessarily equate to the same values of
another democracy: somewhat like a translation, something is always lost in a translation. An since
democracies are more or less an open system there will always be positive and negative influences.
Meaning that some democracies might be strong and other might be weak, some might be rich and others
might be poor, the same as voters.
Maybe, as I have argued, a more equitable system would be one that offered us more opportunities of
personal freedoms, and the protection thereof, and then we chose amongst these options rather than a
choice based on minority interests.
So, instead of voting for individuals or parties, we vote for policies and then find a method to
employ the people capable of implementing these policies. Indeed, the policies might even come from
some sort of Political Turing Machine! If we cannot distinguish whether a proposed human right was
created by a machine or a human, then that right must be objective and universal.
This system might not be partyless, nor perfectly democratic, but at least we know in advance what
the parties are going to be working on: today we have to wait days, weeks and even months to have an
idea of what an elected party is all about.
In other words, we tell the parties what policies we want implement, and they, the parties, make us
an offer, to implement those policies, we cannot refuse.
Take care
from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Partyless democracies

20 November 2011

from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: News and Sunday’s topic

Dear friends,

Last week I forgot to include details of Miguel's maths tertulia this coming Tuesday. As it so
happens Carlos also sent me details of his meeting on Thursday.

In the meantime the topic for this coming Sunday is: Partyless Democracies.

I'll try, not promising, to write something on the topic.



-----------------------Miguel event 22 November -------------
Estimado tertuliano,
Te adjunto el enlace con los detalles de la próxima Tertulia de Matemáticas, que se abrirá con la
conferencia Konseku: números, teselados y espacios sin fronteras
Esperando verte por allí, aprovecho la ocasión para enviarte un cordial saludo,
P.S.: Si quieres impartir una conferencia de contenido matemático envíame un mensaje de correo para
tratar los detalles
Si quieres darte de baja en esta lista de correo envía otro con "Baja" en el campo
"Asunto" del mensaje
Números, teselados y espacios sin fronteras
por D. José Miguel García Palomo
Ingeniero de Telecomunicación
Martes 22 de Noviembre de 2011 a las 19h
Círculo Salmantino
c/ Santa Cruz de Marcenado nº 13, 28015 Madrid

-----------------------Carlos event 24 November-------------
Estimado socio o simpatizante:
Esta vez va a ser una conferencia del doctor en medicina. Dr. José Tomás Ramos Amador, Jefe de
Servicio de Pediatría del Hospital Universitario de Getafe. Su título es:
Libertad de elección de futuro con VIH perinatal.
En la segunda parte de dicho evento, se ofrecerá un taller de creatividad titulado:
La Libertad Creativa
donde se reúnen escritores, artistas y poetas para decirnos cómo iniciarnos y tener éxito en estas
artes. También se solicitará votación respecto a quién debe recibir el
Premio al Promotor de la Libertad 2011.
Como siempre la conferencia es gratuita (aunque es obligatoria una consumición). Este año el
programa de actividades del club, está muy completo, con 12 actos culturales, en diferentes lugares.
Espero que sea de tu interés. Aprovecho para pedirte una opinión, ¿quién crees que merece ganar el
Premio al Promotor de La Libertad en España 2011? Cualquier persona u organización es apta, no hay
requisitos adicionales para merecer el premio.
Saludos afectuosos y hasta muy pronto.
Santiago Samaniego, Presidente
Madrid, 7 de Noviembre de 2011
Libertad de Elección de futuro con VIH Perinatal
Intervendrá el Doctor:
José Tomás Ramos Amador y Taller de Creatividad: La Libertad Creativa
Cómo crear y disfrutar de ello en Libertad, intervienen escritores como Eduardo Luis Junquera y José
Luis Segovia
Artista Plástico: Milton Castillo
Poeta: Gonzalo Escarpa
Jueves 24 de Noviembre de 2011 a las 20:00 horas
Glorieta de Bilbao nº7 (Madrid)
Título en Medicina: Universidad Complutense de Madrid, 1977 - 1983. - Tesis Doctoral Facultad de
Medicina Universidad Complutense de Madrid : Leída el 19-10-1993. - Especialidad de Pediatría.
Hospital 12 de Octubre Madrid (1984-1988) - Médico Adjunto de Pediatría-Sección de
Immunodeficiencias Hospital 12 Octubre, Madrid hasta Junio 2006 - Jefe de Servicio de Pediatría
Hospital Universitario de Getafe, Madrid desde Julio de 2006 - Director de 7 tesis doctorales
Universidad Complutense, Madrid- Investigador Principal de 18 proyectos de investigación - Autor y
coautor de 78 capítulos de libro y 214 publicaciones (112 internacionales) hasta Septiembre 2011-
Revisor de varias revistas y abstracts de congresos internacionales y españoles - Miembro y
Representante español del Steering Committee del Grupo de Ensayos Clínicos Pediátricos de PENTA
(Pediatric European Network for the Treatment of AIDS) desde 1998- Asesor del Plan Nacional del SIDA
y Consejería de Sanidad de la Comunidad de Madrid.
EDUARDO LUIS JUNQUERA: Autor de ensayo, novela, libros científicos y teatro.
MILTON CASTILLO: Artista plástico y músico, Nacido en Tegucigalpa, Honduras 1977- Egresado de la
Escuela Nacional de bellas Artes 1996. Ha realizado diversas exposiciones pictóricas en países de
centro américa como, El salvador, Guatemala, Panamá y también en Italia y España. Actualmente vive
en Madrid donde sigue trabajando el arte activamente con proyectos tanto plásticos como musicales.
Gonzalo Escarpa: Licenciado en Filología Hispánica. Dirige el Laboratorio de Creación La
Piscifactoría de Madrid. Fue becado por la Fundación Antonio Gala en 2002 y trabajó como coordinador
de la Fundación Centro de Poesía José Hierro desde 2003 hasta 2008. Actualmente trabaja como
mediador cultural y colabora con instituciones coordinando y ofreciendo recitales y talleres en
plataformas como el Instituto Cervantes o La Noche en Blanco. Imparte clases de forma continuada el
Laboratorio de Creación Poética en varios espacios culturales. En los últimos tiempos su trabajo se
centra en el estudio de la poética escénica, las tecnologías de la oralidad, los componentes
visuales de lo literario y la experimentación intergenérica, elementos que confluyen en un género
que denomina 'perfopoesía'.
¿Quienes somos?
Somos un grupo humanista y ecléctico que busca mejorar las capacidades del hombre actual para de
esta forma mejor contribuir a la sociedad, ello mediante el análisis, el ajuste y la adaptación a
los grandes cambios sufridos en la sociedad en los últimos años respecto al ser humano, sus
responsabilidades grupales y su imagen como individuo.
1. Alcanzar el verdadero y profundo conocimiento personal y profesional del hombre y la mujer
2. Promover el liderazgo e integridad personal
3. La igualdad total de sexos y el respeto mutuo
4. La preparación para que tanto el hombre como la mujer asuman un papel activo y emprendedor en la
sociedad a todos los niveles.
Estamos a tu disposición, cualquier aclaración que necesites ontacta con nosotros en el teléfono
615268045 o en cfargases@yahoo.es
(*) Asociación declarada de Utilidad Pública Municipal


from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: News and Sunday's topic

17 November 2011

from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Is psychology a pseudo science?

Essay by Simon
Dear Friends,
This Sunday we are discussing a rather challenging topic: Is psychology a pseudo science?
Fortunately, Simon has written a short essay for us and he has also sent us an article from The
Guardian that links very well with our subject.
Whilst confessing that this is not a subject I have given much thought about, the question I would
explore is this: is it possible that the more we learn about the human body and especially the human
brain, the more psychology seems to deal with superficial issues or seem to be lose its relevance?
So, although, what we call psychology is a science, its mission is either being eclipsed by emerging
sciences such as genetics and neurology, or maybe the issues in psychology can be solved by non
traditional methods.
Indeed, maybe psychology is just one of those activities, like politics and religions, where it is
more susceptible to evolutionary change than say philosophy and mathematics.
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.

I am including a article from the Guardian below.
I will shorten this "essay" with minimal definitions:
"SCIENCE", as we have discussed this recently, we can take a sort of vague consensus view that it
must include experimentation as a means to test theories, with peer review of the results......
"PYSCHOLOGY". Its definition and exact borders are not of specific interest for the purposes of this
discussion, I suggest, as our conclusions may be applied to related disciplines. I point instead, at
an example, SEE BELOW, at a piece of work generally described as "Psychology" (article published in
today's "Guardian" 15 November 2011). This is more interesting, anyway, as we can discuss these
"PSEUDO SCIENCE". I think there are 2 strands of meaning. Firstly as a generally derogatory term
implying unreliability or the trivial nature of the subject matter.
Secondly there is a more technical definition based on the lack of falsifiability of its
propositions. Famously, the philosopher Karl Popper labelled psychoanalysis as "pseudo science"
because he believed that no experimental or clinical outcomes would require the theory to be
amended. (Some philosophers and scientists have subsequently complained that things are not so
simple - that falsifiability can be almost as elusive as "verification", that contrary data must
sometimes be sidestepped when building a new theory...and others). Nevertheless the lack of
"falsifiability" remains one of the main criteria when accusations of "pseudo science" are made. I
use the word "accusation" as it is generally used to try to disqualify the field of supposed
knowledge, although some philosophers of science have recognised that "pseudo science" may develop
into "real science", for example alchemy to chemistry.
So, in a minute, we can decide whether "unreliability", "triviality" or "unfalsifiability"...or any
other supposed hallmarks of pseudo science can be discerned in the work described below.
But first I put forward some personal opinions (3)
-Triviality is not a "technical" objection to research; there are many "real science" Phd s on very
narrow areas sitting on dusty shelves of little or no interest to anyone. On the other hand
triviality or irrelevance is a fair criteria for general criticism. Above all
all findings should be aware of their limitations and specificity; for example it seems to me that
much of the original theorising around IQ and other aptitude tests was over ambitious, and probably
-One of my objections to much written in the social sciences is not just that it is not
"falsifiable" but that it hardly says anything at all. To say that people with few resources are
likely to suffer "feelings of relative depravation" does not take us very far down the road of
-Finally I return to an obsession of mine with language use, specifically for words related to
"inner states", intentionality etc. It seems to me that this category of words can cause massive
confusion if used in experimental language - as conditions, predictions, postulated causes or
whatever - because they follow a different dynamic. For example I do not believe that the statement
"A good family life makes people feel more fulfilled" can be tested in the same way as " X % of the
population say they sleep badly after watching a horror film". If falsifiability in the social
sciences is our main concern then our subject matter should be behaviour (including "verbal
behaviour" ie speech) and not "inner states" or other such psychological entities.
That's all from me. Here is the article......
To see this story with its related links on the guardian.co.uk site, go to
Daniel Kahneman: 'We're beautiful devices'
Called the world's most important psychologist, Daniel Kahneman inspired the trend for
pop-psychology books, won a Nobel in economics and has devoted his life to studying the logic
of irrationality
Oliver Burkeman
Tuesday November 15 2011
The Guardian


The Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman lives in an airy penthouse on the 14th floor of
an apartment block in downtown Manhattan, not far from the Eighth Street subway station. But never
mind that for a moment. Instead, without thinking too hard about it, try answering the
following question: roughly what percentage of the member states of the United Nations are in
Africa? (I'll wait.)
The correct figure isn't what's important here. What matters is that your answer is likely to be
lower than if you had first been informed that Kahneman is 77 years old, or if I had claimed his
apartment? where he lives with his wife, the British-born psychologist Ann Triesman ? was
60 floors up, and near the 86th Street station. This is the phenomenon known as the "anchoring
effect", and it is typical of Kahneman's contributions to psychology in that it suggests something
rather disturbing about the human mind: not just that we're susceptible to making skewed judgments,
but that we're influenced by factors more subtle and preposterous than we could ever imagine.
Kahneman's new book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, is a meaty memoir of his life's work that describes
countless such cognitive quirks ? but don't imagine that reading it will cure your irrationality.
"It's not a case of: 'Read this book and then you'll think differently,'" he says. "I've written
this book, and I don't think differently." Kahneman, whom Steven Pinker calls "the most important
psychologist alive", is twinkly and energetic. But beneath the surface, he is a pessimist. And he is
allergic to the notion that his book might be mistaken for self-help. It's his first work aimed at a
mass audience, and he hated writing it: "I really did not want to disgrace myself in front of my
colleagues, and I worried the public wouldn't like it if it read like a textbook. Also, I really
don't like old men's books, and I felt I was writing an old man's book." Eventually, in despair, he
arranged to pay four younger psychologists $2,000 each to review his manuscript anonymously, and to
tell him the brutal truth: should he bother finishing?
They liked it. So did I. It's hard not to: Kahneman's approach to psychology spurns heart-sinking
tables and formulae in favour of short, intriguing questions that elegantly illustrate the ways our
intuitions mislead us.
Take the famous "Linda question": Linda is a single 31-year-old, who is very bright and deeply
concerned with issues of social justice. Which of the following statements is more probable: a) that
Linda works in a bank, or b) that Linda works in a bank and is active in the feminist movement? The
overwhelming majority of respondents go for b), even though that's logically impossible. (It can't
be more likely that both things are true than that just one of them is.) This is the "conjunctive
fallacy", whereby our judgment is warped by the persuasive combination of plausible details. We are
much better storytellers than we are logicians.
If any of this sounds familiar, it's because Kahneman and his collaborator Amos Tversky, who died in
1999, are the primary inspiration for many of the past decade's pop-psychology books ? the
publishing phenomenon that brought you tipping points and freakonomics, the wisdom of crowds, black
swans, and "predictable irrationality". It is a trend that one unimpressed reviewer of Kahneman's
book labelled "the effect effect". In the early days, academics took a similarly sniffy view of
Kahneman and Tversky's research: Kahneman recalls one well-known American philosopher turning his
back on him at a party with the disdainful words: "I am not really interested in the psychology of
stupidity." That soon changed, though, as the pair's influence spread rapidly throughout the social
sciences, culminating in 2002, when Kahneman became one of a handful of non-economists to win the
Nobel prize in economics.
"The psychology of stupidity" is not, in any case, a very apt summary. Kahneman's point isn't that
we're all wildly bizarre or idiotic, but that our mental apparatus, which works so well most of the
time, sometimes leads us astray in predictable ways. "We're beautiful devices," he says. "The
devices work well; we're all experts in what we do. But when the mechanism fails, those failures can
tell you a lot about how the mind works."
In Thinking, Fast and Slow, he presents this as a drama with two "characters": System One, which is
the domain of intuitive responses, and System Two, the domain of conscious, effortful thought.
System One ? the kind of mental ability celebrated in Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink ? kicks in
without our needing to think about it. The problem is that it always tries to help, even when it
shouldn't, and that it works with whatever it's got, which isn't always the most sensible information.
The biggest challenge this posed was to economists, most of whom assumed that people were basically
rational and selfish and acted in their own best interests. The work that won Kahneman the Nobel
showed otherwise. For example, we hate losing things more than we like gaining them, which is
why people refuse to sell their home for less than they paid, even if it makes financial sense to do
so. Similar biases make us behave strangely where risk is involved, too: if forced to choose between
being given ?500 for certain, or a 50% chance of winning ?1,000, most of us will opt for the sure
thing. But if the choice is between losing ?500 for sure, or a 50% chance of losing ?1,000, most of
us will take the gamble.
Then there's the much-cited thought experiment involving tickets to the theatre. Suppose a woman
plans to buy a ticket for a play costing ?40, but en route to the theatre she realises she has lost
two ?20 notes in the street: would she still buy the ticket? Most people, when asked this question,
assume that she would. But what if she bought the ticket in advance, then arrived at the theatre to
find she'd lost it? In that case, people assume she'd go home without buying another ticket ? even
though the scenarios are financially identical. As Richard Thaler, another leading light in the
revolution that became known as behavioural economics, told an interviewer, Kahneman and Tversky's
research meant that "rationality was fucked". Kahneman, on the other hand, likes to say that you'd
need to study economics for years before you'd find his research surprising: it didn't surprise his
mother at all.
Kahneman was born in 1934, the son of Lithuanian Jews, and grew up in France. Life was generally
good until 1940, when German forces swept in. He recalls drawing, around that time, "what was
probably the first graph I ever drew", showing his family's fortunes over time ? "and around 1940
the curve crossed into the negative domain." His father was captured during a large-scale sweep of
Jews in France, but somehow escaped being sent to a concentration camp and was let go instead. ("The
story of my father's release, which I never fully understood, also involved a beautiful woman and a
German general who loved her," he wrote.) The family kept moving across France. "The feeling was of
being hunted," Kahneman recalls. At one point their home was a chicken coop at the back of a pub. In
1944 his father died of insufficiently treated diabetes, six weeks short of D-day. As soon as the
war ended, his mother took the family to live in Palestine, in what would soon become Israel.
Kahneman was drafted into the Israeli army in 1955, where he served as an infantryman for a year ?
"it was a very tense time, but I never fired a shot in anger" ? then worked as a military
psychologist. One of his roles was to evaluate new recruits by watching them perform the "leaderless
group challenge", in which teams of eight men had to transfer themselves, and a large log, over a
6ft-high wall, without anybody, or the log, touching the wall. The task was designed to reveal the
participants' true character, and thus demonstrate who had the making of a future leader. As a
method of psychological evaluation, it wasn't much good: Kahneman made predictions, but follow-up
research revealed them to be little better than guesses. What the experience taught him, in the end,
wasn't how to spot a future hero, but rather how hard it was to expunge his own confidence in his
predictions. "We knew as a general fact that our predictions were little better than random
guesses," he writes. "But we continued to feel and act as if each particular prediction was valid."
Confidence is a feeling, not a logical conclusion reached after analysing statistics. Kahneman would
later encounter the same phenomenon among investment advisers, who clung to their belief in their
abilities even after it was demonstrated that their stock-picking skills left their clients
no better off than rolling dice.
The intellectual relationship that defined his career began in the late 1960s at Hebrew University
in Jerusalem, when he met Tversky, a young colleague. Kahneman describes their bond as "magical",
and it sounds much more like a loving friendship than a scholarly collaboration. For several years,
the two spent hours every afternoon in freewheeling conversations, examining their own hunches and
intuitions, gradually developing the list of biases and fallacies for which they became famous. "He
got up late, and I was a morning person, so we started with lunch, and took it from there," Kahneman
remembers. "This kind of collaboration is very unusual in science. We were just extraordinarily
lucky, and we knew it." The editor of the journal to which they submitted their first major paper
rejected it; their work seemed too frivolous for the academic establishment. "Psychologists really
aim to be scientists, white-coat stuff, with elaborate statistics, running experiments," Kahneman
says. "The idea that you can ask one question and it makes the point ... well, that wasn't how
psychology was done at the time."
With hindsight, however, those single questions seem anything but frivolous. The irrational traits
they uncovered are, to pick one notable example, hugely important in understanding the causes of the
current economic crisis, which has its roots in (among others) the overconfidence bias and the
illusion of skill. If we can't hope to correct such biases in any lasting way, we can perhaps seek
to cultivate some humility about the limits of our mental powers. Being the puppet of subtle
psychological influences we cannot even recognise is annoying. But at least we can try to remember
that that's what's likely to be happening. Well, it's a start.
from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Is psychology a pseudo science?

10 November 2011

from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: What can we do without money?

Dear friends,
This Sunday we are discussing: What can we do without money?

Of course, we cannot do much.
If we lived in some jungle we probably wouldn't need any money at all, but then our scope in life
would be quite limited. And even in jungles they do have some form of money, anyway.
The thing about money is that it is an adaptation of strength and stamina in the jungle and a means
to store wealth today for future use. I think that this is clear and obvious. The problems start
accumulating when we forget this basic feature of money.
But it is also obvious that if we live in a city or a modern society, there is practically nothing
we can do without money. But I also need to qualify this statement: it is one thing for us to have
money to do something and another that money is needed to build the infrastructure for what we want
to do.
Thus a visit to the park around the corner, might not cost us, personally, any money, but it
certainly costs money to the community to build and maintain the park.
And from our personal experience, we also learn that money tends to cluster, maybe in the way that
solar systems tend to cluster towards the centre of the galaxy. This is another way of saying that
left to our own devices, money tends to move towards those who already have money, or at the very
least, towards a select few who are in the centre of the action.
But the power of money depends on the value we put on it. And maybe it is here that we can engage
into some philosophical discussion. What gives money its value?
At face value this looks more like a question in economics rather than philosophy, but I will argue
that it is a philosophical question none the less. Values change, and they change because we change
them, or they are changed as a consequence of our actions.
The biggest drawback money has is that when we use money or transfer money for goods and services we
are transferring a material commodity (gold, bites on the bank's computer, currency notes, etc) for
a metaphysical entity (value), the good or service itself is practically of no consequence. What I
value is a very subjective and personal decision, but my money is something objective and can be
verified by others.
And here is the paradox, if you like, about money. If our values are not in line with the objective
value of money we will be depleting our stock of money unnecessarily. But this irrational (not in
the economic sense of irrational, but philosophical sense) depletion of our stock of money, also
implies an irrational increase of someone else's stock of money. And the paradox is that once we
start with this slippery slope of thinking, we must reach a point where even if we had money we
still won't be able to do anything with it because we have destroyed any value anything might have
had. This is beyond the ravages of inflation, I must add.
A house that we paid half a million Euros for a year ago, and now is not worth more than a hundred
an twenty thousands Euros, is not only a house not worth anything, but a house of cards.
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: What can we do without money?

04 November 2011

from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Do we suffer too much?

Essays – Eva and me

Dear Friends,
This Sunday we are discussing: Do we suffer too much?
On the one hand pain and suffering are a private and subjective experience, but on the other hand we
have a great capacity to recognise suffering in others. But does this affect the way and the amount
we suffer?
In the meantime Eva has sent us a few ideas in Spanish on the topic and I have considered a few
issues on my own.
Take care and 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.

¿Sufrimos demasiado?
Definición del Diccionario de la Real Academia Española de la Lengua:
Sufrimiento definicion: Paciencia, conformidad, tolerancia con que se sufre una cosa.
Sufrir: Del latín.sufferre. Sentir físicamente un daño, dolor, enfermedad o castigo. Sentir un daño
moral. Recibir con resignación un daño moral o físico. Sostener, resistir, aguantar. Satisfacer por
medio de la pena.
¿Quién no ha experimentado alguna vez en su vida, que ésta se vuelve demasiado"pesada",
"angustiosa", "dura" y por qué no decirlo a veces "insoportable"?
A menudo me acuerdo de Jorge Manrique que decía en "Las coplas a la muerte de su padre" .-"Nuestras
vidas son los ríos que van a dar en la mar, que es el morir.-". Porque pienso que el sufrimiento del
hombre, es grande e innecesario e inútil en la mayoría de los casos. La metáfora queda establecida.
¿Dónde va a parar todo nuestro sufrimiento?
Hace años leí un libro que fue tildado como "Existencialista" y es el que ha motivado el título de
la "discusión" que nos ocupa. El título, aún hoy me sigue pareciendo interesante. "La insoportable
levedad del ser" de Milán Kundela. Trata de un hombre y sus dudas existenciales. El libro relata
escenas de la vida cotidiana pero trazadas con un hondo sentido trascendental. Me pareció sórdido y
no me gustó, pero la esencia del libro es muy interesante. La existencia humana, su devenir. ¿Cómo
aborda el ser humando su existencia única e irrepetible en cada uno de sus actos y momentos? La
existencia humana se va tornando demasiado pesada.
Nuestras vidas soportan muchísimas cargas que hacen que "emocionalmente" a veces nos sobrepasen.¿Qué
hacer cuando esto ocurre?, nadie nos prepara ni nos dice cómo canalizar el sufrimiento. Es por ello
que algunas personas deciden "irse voluntariamente".
En el sufrimiento pienso y valoro a Víctor E. Frankl en su obra .-"El hombre en busca de sentido".-
(defensor del Fundamentalismo). El ser humano aprende más del sufrimiento que de la felicidad, es
indudable, y ante la adversidad y para salir de ella, ha de haber construido un mundo en base a
muchos valores, no a uno sólo como indicaban los Fundamentalistas. De esta formar será fácil
soportar las adversidades por las que el ser humano ha de pasar. Sufrimiento que tenemos por partida
doble, por un lado el de ser humano como individuo y por otro cómo miembro social.
¿Es necesario el sufrimiento para saber que existe la felicidad?.
¿Sufre el hombre mucho?. Si diría yo, y a modo de conclusión añadiré que estoy de acuerdo con Carmen
Martín Gaite en su libro "Lo raro es vivir". Donde expresa de un modo conciso cómo lo verdaderamente
singular e insólito no es sufrir si no vivir.
La pregunta queda en el aire para todos vosotros.
Suerte que para algunos de nosotros el sufrimiento es más llevadero gracias a Naomi Campbell

Do we suffer too much?
Suffering is of course connected with pain, however, what we are interested in is the emotional or
psychological suffering. Pure physical pain is a biological function, but pain associated with
emotional or psychological distress is a different matter.
By suffering I will primarily associate it with emotional/psychological suffering. For example the
trudge of commuting in the morning, or the stress we experience at the end of the month when we are
waiting for the pay cheque to reach our bank account. But there are more serious cases of suffering:
humiliation, exploitation, oppression and the feeling of unable to change the world around us.
Suffering, can be a matter of intensity, or the number of issues that cause us distress. And maybe,
like biological pain, emotional or psychological pain must have the function of a warning system to
draw our attention to the negative situation we find ourselves in.
Maybe, the –too much- factor kicks in when we reach a hypothetical threshold of pain we cannot
tolerate. Thus, first and foremost, suffering can act as a gauge of pain tolerance. But we also have
to account for the fact that we can also judge the amount of suffering we see other people
experience. We can easily identify, people who are distressed, people who cannot tolerate a
situation there in and people who feel defeated by what surrounds them.
Maybe today we suffer too much because our life today is more complex with more possible positive
experiences and thus more possible disappointments. Another issue is that today the chances are that
we come across more people in our lives than what our early ancestors did. And we know that coming
across people we don't means that we are always on a survival alert.
And to prove my point all you have to do is to wonder in Sol on a Saturday evening and try not to
think whether someone is after you wallet or handbag.
The question from all this, is that given we are today more exposed to situations with the potential
to suffer some negative effect, are we increasing our threshold of emotion pain, or reducing our
threshold? In other words, are we becoming more tolerant or less tolerant to suffering?
If we think that we are becoming less tolerant it might be that we are inundated by situations that
not only manifest themselves into suffering, but also in the intensity of the suffering. Thus it
takes us less time to reach our threshold of suffering and by default, suffer too much.
On the other hand, there is enough evidence around us that suggests that we are becoming more
tolerant. Indeed, a visit to Sol is itself is evidence that we are becoming more tolerant of more
people around us. And the crowning jewel of this evidence is the popularity of low cost airlines.
Indeed, are low cost airlines evidence that maybe we are dulling down our capacity to suffer to the
extent that we are just unaware that we are suffering?
from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Do we suffer too much?