26 February 2015

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: The joy of breathing + NEWS

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: the joy of breathing.

Sometimes the practitioners of democracy throw a curved ball at the gate
keeper to see if they are paying attention. The joy of Breathing is not
only a philosophical curved ball, but a spinning ball with a chaotic
wobble. In my few paragraphs I argue that the meaning of this phrase
might have nothing to do with language after all.

But first some news and then Ruel's essay link then my essay:

----message from Miguel
Tertulia de Poesía dedicada a la poetisa norteamericana Elisabeth Bishop

Estimado tertuliano,

Te invitamos a la próxima Tertulia de Poesía, dedicada a la poetisa
norteamericana Elisabeth Bishop

Día y hora: Domingo 1 de Marzo de 2015, 19:00h
Lugar: Cafetería del Hotel Conde Duque, Plaza del Conde del Valle de
Suchil 5, 28015 Madrid

Como siempre, puedes traer y leer algún poema propio o ajeno inspirado
por el tema.

Saludos cordiales,
Tertulia de Poesía

------message from David
Friends / Amigos del Cementerio Británico, Madrid
The baron Theodore de Budberg, who died in 1916 and whose tomb in the
British Cemetery has been restored by the efforts of the Russian Church
in Madrid, was the last Russian Ambassador before the Bolshevik
revolution of 1917. The front page of ABC newspaper of 11 March 1916 (
scanned and attached ) shows the esteem in which he was held.
The Russian Embassy will commemorate the 99th anniversary of the Baron
de Budberg's death at the British Cemetery ( Madrid ) on 10th March at
13,15 hours.

This message is so that any Friends of the British Cemetery who wish to
be present for this historic reappraisal of a diplomat recognised in his
day for his statesmanslike qualities may attend.

El barón de Budberg, fallecido en 1916 y cuya sepultura en el Cementerio
Británico ( Madrid ) ha sido restaurada por la Iglesia Rusa en Madrid,
fue el Embajador de Rusia previo a la revolución bolchevique de 1917. La
portada del ABC con fecha 11 de marzo de 1916 que acompaña el presente
mensaje demuestra el prestigio de este diplomático tan reconocido en su
día por sus grandes calidades de estadista. La Embajada Rusa celebrará
un acto conmemorativo el día 10 de marzo a las 13,15 horas por el 99
aniversario del fallecimiento del barón de Budberg : les aviso para que
los que lo deseen entre los Amigos del Cementerio Británico acudan para
conmemorar a dicho diplomático tan reconocido en su día.


-----Essay link from Ruel
Hello Lawrence,
Here is the link to the essay I wrote on Sunday's PhiloMadrid topic,
"Joy in Breathing".

See you on Sunday.
All the best,

-----my short essay

The joy of breathing

The ambiguity of language knows no bounds. Which is quite well for us since philosophy is first and foremost about disentangling the vagaries of language and language use. In our case the challenge is making sense of a valid utterance in a natural language to, hopefully, an equally valid meaning.

But a valid utterance does not mean that it is also a meaningful utterance; grammar is not the end game, meaning is. The missing link between the structure and the meaning is of course the context. And we are given no context for our topic: the joy of breathing.

We can construe this phrase in the context of metaphor - to breathe may be interpreted here as being alive. Thus, from –the joy of breathing- we end up with -the joy of being alive. But we have no reason to assume that this is the meaning intended and not some other meaning. An alternative meaning would be the literal meaning of “joy” and “breathing”: the pleasure we derive from breathing, in this case the acts of inhaling and exhaling air. Again, there is no reason from the topic title to suppose or to speculate that what we are breathing is nothing but fresh air. That is we have no reason to suppose that from this statement we can interpret it as: the joy of breathing the aroma of freshly baked bread.

If we did go the metaphorical route and assume breathing to mean alive, then this would be a matter of fact whether being alive is indeed joyful. It would be joyful if we were deriving some pleasure from life, or being happy, which is basically the same thing. Our frame of mind, might even override physical experiences by imposing a circumstantial context to neutralise any pain or sadness. For example, under the sad circumstances of the passing away of a good friend or when going through a difficult time when we are seriously ill. But the statement of the topic does not even give us a hint that this is its legitimate meaning.

But we are still hypothesising here since the phrase itself does not have enough information to extract any “meaning DNA” for us to culture and evolve into a full meaning. Maybe this is a very important difference between a strand of a functioning DNA and a valid language utterance; the DNA has information to extract meaning, i.e. its function and context, but somehow language needs to convey the context which is not always part of the message (utterance/phrase) as in our case.

Admittedly, DNA (and here the topic is not only too complex for us but also not within our scope) is a self contained structure that once we know that the chemicals and patterns are DNA we know that the context is human (biological) life. Hence, knowing that what we have in front of us is biological matter we don’t need to try and understand the strand of DNA by looking at typewriters or Ming flower vases. A phrase in our natural language is very easy to identify, contrary to a few DNA chemicals and a pattern, but that does not tell us whether the phrase is part of an essay, a poem or a legal contract. For all we know the-joy-of-breathing might very well be a sub clause in multi million euro contract for a super star.

Even taking the meaning of the words at face value, it won’t get us too far and we cannot just apply them in a language game in the same way we would apply a strand of DNA to see what it is of. Breathing is something we do every second of our life; but it is not something we necessarily enjoy every time we breathe. Breathing is something we do but don’t normally pay too much attention to it, although there are some occasions in determined contexts when we derive great pleasure from breathing. Now compare the joy of breathing with the joy of love making.

If we had to enjoy every act of breathing it would suggest that there is something wrong with our state of health or state of mind; we really do not want to spend too much time being conscious of enjoying breathing, we want breathing to function normally every time all the time. Love making is different; this is a perfect self contained message, like a DNA strand, the context is clear because the context can only be one and it is a scarce event in our life. There is no metaphorical meaning here! Sure, not all acts of love making are pleasurable, but every act is a scarce event in our life compared to breathing; even for those who are super active at this activity. We’re not involved in love making every second of our life all the time!

Is it a surprise or a coincidence that love making is causally linked with our real DNA and genetics hence the phrase, the meaning of “the joy of love making” is self contained? But breathing is part of the mechanism of a biological system; hence the idea of associating joy with a functioning mechanism without further elucidation is just meaningless. Moreover, it is sufficient for all instances of a biological system to be alive if that system is breathing, but love making is neither necessary nor sufficient for every instance of a biological system to be alive. A biological being needs to breathe to make love but not the other way round. I grant you that there will be many disappointed creatures about but that’s a different story.

Could it be that the meaning of utterances like –the joy of breathing- and –the joy of love making- depend not so much on the language but on the scarcity, or not, of the activity? In other words, after the few successful tries at breathing in our early life, the law of diminishing returns kicks in and we derive less pleasure from the act of breathing; after a few hundred successful attempts at breathing the novelty wears off and we just want the process to go on, hopefully, for a very long time. Not so with love making, love making is so scarce in our life that the law of diminishing returns might not have time to kick in during our life; and then dementia or obesity take over. Hence, the joy of love making has a self contained meaning and context attached with the language, but not so with the phrase “the joy of breathing”; it was such a long time ago that we got any joy from simply breathing that it ceased to have any meaning.

So what matters for us is that language utterances do not generally make sense if they don’t include a context. But language utterances that purport to describe a specific biological event are more likely to make sense without an explicit context. For example, “we need to drink from the fountain of life” just makes no sense even with a context. However, “we need to drink clean water” makes all the sense in the world even without a context. The “we” and the “water” immediately imply biological system (i.e. these are the components of language DNA), but what on Earth is a “fountain of life”?

However, we are on more dodgy ground when we represent the biological world in terms of human emotional experiences and human language. Again consider “the joy of breathing” (no idea and no meaning), ”the joy of sex” (biological experience), and “the joy of love making” (very human emotional context, but do dogs make love?). The point is that the more we introduce human characteristics to a language utterance the more we need to provide a context. Or, the more we stick to biology the more redundant are emotional words for the meaning of an utterance.

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
philomadrid@gmail.com <mailto:philomadrid@gmail.com>
Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com.es/
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every
From: January 15 at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: The joy of
breathing + NEWS

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