Thursday, December 26, 2013

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Winter solstice

Dear Friends,

This Sunday is the last meeting for 2013. As tradition has it is the
time we exchange greetings of good wishes and prosperity for the new
year; so Happy new year if I don't see your this Sunday. The subject for
our last meeting is: Winter solstice.

Of course, this is not an attempt to introduce astronomy into a
philosophy meeting, although those who can explain the astronomy are
most welcome to come and tell us about it. But rather a topic that ought
to make us think a bit harder than usual about us and the environment
as, indeed, Christmas time is supposed to make us think a bit harder
about our behaviour. Having said that, I have a feeling that God and
Jesus are behaviourists!

In the meantime Ruel has prepared an essay for us and I have written a
few paragraphs on the topic:

Hello Lawrence,
Below is the link to the essay I wrote for Sunday´s meet-up.
Hasta Domingo.

Winter solstice - Lawrence

The Winter solstice in the context of philosophy must feature in two
contexts: our ability to gain knowledge from our environment and our
recognition that we are also part of our environment.

It would this be a folly to assume that somehow we can disengage for our
environment and more importantly have nothing to learn from our
environment. Indeed our more progressive advancements have always been
achieved by taking into account the world around us. Today we call that

This period is also linked with festivals and festivities which in the
Western world we call Christmas. It goes without saying that what we
call Christmas and what Christmas is supposed to represent are as far
apart as any two opposing celestial poles.

At best Christmas today is a prompt for some people to remember that
they have a conscience and that they ought not to abuse others so much.
At the vulgar level Christmas is just another occasion to spend and have
as much fun as possible; although the fun part is more valid for the end
of year celebrations. Indeed the Winter Solstice was a prompt way back
in the mist of time for merriment given that the harvest had long
finished and winter was a quiet time to be warm at home with hardly any
labour activity in the fields.

Today we work most of the days of the year, there is always something to
do at the office, we keep warm and cool with modern temperature changing
machines, also know a central heating and air conditioning, and light is
available artificially. But the link is always there learning about our
environment and interacting with our environment to our advantage.

However, our economic environment today is not necessarily at the mercy
of the seasons but by economic cycles. Peak periods of our goods and
services we are selling, slow periods for sales, seasonal peaks and
seasonal lows but it seems that even this is changing. The boom bust
cycles we have been having these past thirty years or so resemble more
the biblical seven lean cows eat the seven fat cows that the quarterly
seasonal change.

The question we may ask ourselves is whether the regularity of the
Winter/Summer Solstices have been over taken by some oscillating duality
over a period of years that bring prosperity and destruction in a more
violent measure then the growth and harvest of the fields? And we cannot
blame the weather for this oscillation especially when the weather, all
things being equal, seems to be on a linear increase of heating up.

However, there is one rule that does not seem to have changed much over
the ages and that is: when the times are good a few have it extremely
good, and when times are bad only the majority have it very bad.

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every Thursday from 19:30 to 21h at O'Donnell's
Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Winter solstice

Friday, December 20, 2013

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Are we puppets? + News

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Are we puppets?

Well, if we are puppets we are a strange set of puppets since there is
more to human beings than just performing to a tune. And as I try to
argue in my short essay it all depends on whether we can recognise
ourselves that we are behaving like puppets.

In the meantime Ruel has sent us a link to his essay:

Hi Lawrence,
Below is the link to the essay I wrote for Sunday´s PhiloMadrid.
Thank you.
Hasta Domingo.


In the meantime, Helena is looking for a bedsit or share accommodation
with others in a safe area of Madrid hopefully not expensive. If you can
send me an email I'll pass it on to her.

And finally, may I take this opportunity to wish you all the best for
the holidays;

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every Thursday from 19:30 to 21h at O'Donnell's
Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)

Are we puppets?

Nature does not care about life; including human life.

And as always in philosophy my statement is based on language and our
application of language. The idea of nature that we have is one of some
entity or structure we call "nature" that somehow we imagine is
responsible for the order and happenstance we go through within our
environment. Of course, there is no such entity manipulating things in
the environment, like there is no ghost in the machine. Thus the idea
that "nature does not care about life" (and its opposite) makes as much
sense as to say that "the present king of Frances does not like baked
beans." There is nothing to care about life, apart that is from us, and
there is no king of France not to like baked beans.

Just because a language utterance is grammatically correct it does not
follow that it also makes sense. Likewise the question "Are we puppets?"
needs further clarification. Nature, god, nor the aliens are pulling
some invisible strings to make us do one thing and not another like a
puppeteer does in a puppet show. Having said that we are not very sure
about the aliens, though!!

What we know so far is that atoms get together to form other structures
and a few more structures until one of these structures is some living
entity; i.e. an autonomous structure or entity that can interact with
its environment. And of course, we are such structure.

However, it is still very useful to have such language tools or words as
"nature" in our language without which we wouldn't be able to exchange
ideas about our environment efficiently and coherently. We think we know
what our topic means, but should we consider puppet to mean manipulated
or determined? The difference is important; manipulation means we can do
something about it, but not necessarily if we are determined. I will
argue that one does not necessarily exclude the other.

What is sure is that living entities or systems have one very basic
predefined purpose and this is the very basic imperative: survive. And
although this imperative is the core of our function and our existence
it is not the only function a biological entity is preset to achieve.
Other competing functions might include, although in my opinion they are
never the core function: reproduction, seeking pleasure, avoid pain,
curiosity, information gatherers, socialize with agreeable company,
accumulate resources especially ones that are necessary for survival and
so on.

Thus the instinct to survive is so powerful that a rational person would
always choose to behave in such a way so they survive. This does not
mean that some don't freely choose to risk dying, for example soldiers,
fire fighters, participants of extreme sports, or for some accumulation
of mental reasons to actually do away for their life. Taking risks is a
rational process anyway, especially when there is a valid cause behind
it; and tragedy is the name of the game of life.

It, therefore, does not take much for those who can position themselves
in a group in such a way that they can take better advantage of the
resources available in that society or simply take advantage of the rest
of society. In other words the difference is very small between being a
living entity and a living entity that manipulates us.

Thus, if we are puppets, and I will take this to mean manipulated as
well, it is because we perceive a threat that is beyond our capacity to
overcome it. I would therefore argue that the first cause of any
manipulation of others is caused by our sense of inability, as
individuals, to overcome these threats by others. If we are puppets it
is because we start life thinking that we are puppets.

And this is why nature, the atoms, the gods and probably the aliens do
not care much about life: there is no mechanism to neutralise any
threats to our life. What crazy puppeteer would allow their puppets to
destroy each other? The only home grown defence we have against threats
to our life is cooperation. To begin with, if we are busy helping each
other, we'd be too busy to try and destroy each other. Indeed,
cooperation is the best defence against manipulation. But are we really
like the puppets incapable of getting together to persuade the puppeteer
to change the act a bit?

Best Lawrence

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Are we puppets? + News

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Memories + News

Essays on Memories + News

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing "memories" which is quite an apt topic so
close to the end of the year. Unfortunately, I cannot make it this
Sunday but Ceit kindly offered to chair the meeting for us. I'm sending
the email today because I'm also not sure whether I will have access to
the internet tomorrow evening. However, irrespective of the internet
situation, I can assure you that I will be doing my best to have happy
memories over the next few days!!!

In the meantime Ruel has written a short essay on Memory which he posted
on his Facebook page which I understand can be accessed without sig-in
on Facebook. I will post his permanent link next week.
Ruel Pepa - Memories
I am including a few ideas of my on at the end of this email.

Finally, Helena is looking for a bedsit or share accommodation with
others in a safe area of Madrid hopefully not expensive. If you can send
me an email I'll pass it on to her.

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every Thursday from 19:30 to 21h at O'Donnell's
Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)


Although biological sciences have a long way to go, memory, especially
human memory, is no longer an out-of-bounds topic for researchers. The
most important thing we know today about memory is that we can be wrong
about what we think we remember. We can even make up memories to fill in
any gaps when memory fails us or simply create memories when there was
nothing to remember. And if this is not enough, we can, to a certain
degree, successfully, suppress any unpleasant memories we might have. In
other words, human memories are more dynamic than your average hard disk
in your computer.

We now also know what we have to do to reinforce our memories from the
short term (a few seconds) memory bank to the other forms of stable
memories. What is clear, however, is that philosophical issues about
memory are not the same as medical issues about memory.

For science the basic issue is how memory works and the causes when it
does not function properly. From a philosophical perspective, memory is
an issue whether we faithfully recall what we experienced in the past,
followed by the role memory plays in self consciousness, personal
identity and knowledge. For example, is the ability to remember
something (a fact) necessary for us to claim that we know that thing? Do
I have to cite, on demand, the formula to obtain the circumference of a
circle to be able to say that I know how to obtain the circumference of
a circle? Even more seriously, how much are we allowed to forget about
ourselves before our actions become incompatible with our personal
identity or self consciousness?

Indeed we are always forgetting things, some more serious than others,
and I don't just mean forgetting our wife's or husband's birthday or
anniversary. It is more an issue of forgetting large chunks of memory
regarding ourselves without any perceptible natural causes. How many
chunks of memory loss does it take before we have no personal identity
to literally speak of? But then again, are all memory failures also
medical cases or candidates for medical probing?

Another issue is whether "memory" and "personal identity" are immune
from the principles of inductive reasoning? If five months ago I claimed
to be an analytical philosopher, and presented arguments on topics
following this genre, does it follow that today I must also be an
analytical philosopher? And if I am no longer an analytical philosopher
could I ascribe this change to some non causal random event? Is it
reasonable to assume that my past memories will always cause my personal
identity? Of course, I am not saying that I will never acquire new
memories (knowledge?) that will not make me change my personal
identity, but rather can there be a change in personal identity without
a change in memory? For example, it is quite reasonable for someone to
be an analytical philosopher and then one day that person falls in love
with a continental philosopher and becomes a militant Nietzschean‎
philosopher! No doubt, this change of fortune will have an effect on
this person's personal identity, but can we also conclude that if there
is a change in someone's personal identity there must have been a causal
change in the memory of that person? Of course, I am assuming that there
are no medical problems with the person in question.

Could medical conditions relating to memory also highlight a dualism in
us? If we lose our memories or unable to access our memories, does this
imply that we have also lost our personal identity? And if we did lose
our identity what has happened to us, and what is the ethical status of
our body without a personal identity? The duality here is that we seem
to have to entities: the body and our identity via our memory. But
unlike the mind body duality, which of course is not really a duality at
all since when the body dies so does the mind, in the body
personal-identity duality, the body stays alive, but it is the personal
identity that dies.

There is, however, something repugnant about the argument that personal
identity is causally linked to our memory data base. A practical
consequence of this argument would be that a malevolent ruler can easily
decide to wipe off the memory of her or his subjects and turn them into
physical automata maybe reprogrammed with an enslaving mind set type of

However, in the real world we have enough on our hands dealing with
negative memories; the loss of our favourite fountain pen or the
distasteful obfuscation of a faceless pen pusher comes easily to mind.
Maybe the antidote to negative memories is to over compensate with
positive memories: meeting nice people would be a good start, travelling
is always a must and having achievable goals are always helpful. And
although we can safely assume that both positive and negative memories
shape our personal identity, can we also say that negative memories also
make us negative people, at the very best, or worse evil people? And do
happy memories make us better people?

In the meantime, it is curious how charity campaigns to help victims of
Alzheimer disease or old age insist on selling the "steak" but forget
the "sizzle" completely. Their new campaign should say: help someone
save their good memories; or investigating to help people save their
good memories.



from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Memories + News

Thursday, December 05, 2013

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Patriotism

Dear friends,

I did not get the impression that this Sunday's topic, patriotism, was
intentionally proposed to coincide with the Spanish constitution day
holiday weekend. But patriotism is back in fashion it seems.

Only this week the editor of an internationally respected newspaper was
asked by a member of parliament whether he loved his country. And this
week was the first week of operation of a law in an European country
that would make the burning of the national flag a crime more serious
than starting a property bubble and the downfall of capitalism as we
know it!

So is patriotism still relevant today and what is patriotism today, anyway?

In the meantime Ruel has sent us a link to his essay and I have prepared
a few paragraphs on the subject:
Hi Lawrence,
Here is the link to the essay I wrote for Sunday´s PhiloMadrid.
Hasta Domingo.
Thank you.

Patriotism - Lawrence

We can argue that patriotism is a feeling of affection and support to
one's nation that we muster when our country is threatened by foreign
forces. Its twin concept, nationalism, is usually employed by one
faction within a nation, usually those in power, to identify enemies
against the state from within the nation. Nationalism is usually
employed in civil wars, revolutions, putsch or some such internal

Thus, I would argue that patriotism is a more respectable concept simply
because it is directed against foreigners; or to be more proper like and
politically correct, against those outside from our national tribe.

Of course, patriotism is a basic biological instinct to identify and
protect one's tribe. It makes sense to rally with one's kin to defend
one's group when threatened by other tribes. We are programmed to defend
ourselves and our kin. Other 'tools' we have for such self defence
include, language, customs, rituals, accents. And on a more biological
level, race, physical build, skin colour, and maybe hair colour and
style. And finally hidden beyond our perceptions we find genetic makeup.

We can all accept that biological systems are amoral in a biological
setting and an instinct to defend one's kin is basically that, an
instinct; lions defend their pride, primates defend their troop and bees
their hive. Bees do not have to confirm their patriotism to the hive,
although any deviation from their function an individual bee would soon
be ousted from the hive or worse. Thus, patriotism in the state of
nature is an instinct. The question is what is the status of patriotism
in a state of human kind?

However, patriotism amongst human beings is a different matter. Most
modern countries include large sections of the population that are not
indigenous to the country they live in. Migration also happens to be a
natural phenomenon for example to find new resources and as a
consequence to enrich the genetic makeup of tribes. Thus the idea to
appeal to patriotism to defend against foreigners ought not sit very
well when at the same time most countries allow foreigners to settle in
the country.

Patriotism, as a concept in modern society has to compete with vested
interests such as international trade and business, international
treaties, alliances, and more complex issues include religious beliefs
and exchange of knowledge, such as scientific and technological
knowledge. Thus to enquire of someone's patriotism one has to qualify
this by asking who's country, what patriotism; condone past injustices
or even present injustices, the country that sell its national assets to
corporations from other countries? Or parrot patriotism: my country
right or wrong just because the government of the day says so? And all
this before we enter such big issues as do we support our country's
football or cricket teams? Presumably, someone who does not give a cat's
whiskers for football or cricket ought to be in serious trouble!

Today only those peoples who are totally oppressed do not have access to
other people or at least information about other people. Anyone who has
had a Coke, Pepsi or Heineken beer has been baptised into the community
of international civilization. Today there are very few isolated tribes,
if any, mainly thanks to loggers or gold diggers, that survive in
isolation that makes patriotism a relevant issue. Thus, I would argue
that the function of patriotism today, apart from the world cup so that
all teams are guaranteed a certain number of supporters, serves more as
an alarm system than a personal indicator of one's loyalty to one's
country. If one is asked by one's country to affirm one's patriotism
this is a sure sign that something serious is wrong with one's country.

Today many people in a country are probably second generation kin of
immigrants; work for an international company, buy many things made
abroad, and our security depends on entrenched international alliances.
Today it would be more apt to ask, who is the patriot: the one who burns
the national flag because they've just been made unemployed or the
minister who sells off the nation's assets that were paid for by taxes?

Best Lawrence

See you Sunday,

tel: 606081813
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every Thursday from 19:30 to 21h at O'Donnell's
Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Patriotism

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