29 July 2015

From Lawrence - meet for a drink this Sunday at 7:00pm

Dear friends

Given that the Café Comercial has closed I suggest that this Sunday we
meet outside the corpse of said cafe in Bilbao at 7:00pm and then decide
where to go for drinks. We'll wait about 15 minutes after 7pm and then
go somewhere. Those who arrive late can send me an sms at 606081813 for

See you Sunday.

Best Lawrence

From Lawrence - meet for a drink this Sunday at 7:00pm

23 July 2015

from Lawrence, SATURDAY (JULY & SEPT) PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: The Function of Art Today

Dear friends

To end the season this coming Saturday we are discussing: The Function
of Art Today.

Next week I'll send out the email to meet on Sundays for drinks during
August. Presumably the same set up we had last year was fine: meet 7pm
Sunday at the Cafe Commercial inside. Let me know if this is ok.

In the meantime Ruel has sent us the link to his essay:
Hello Lawrence,
Here is the link to the very short essay I wrote on Saturday's topic:
Hope to see you soon after your vacation.
All the best,

The function of art today is probably the same as it has always been
over the centuries and millennia. Art, as in paintings and sculpture,
conveys messages in the visual form. The message itself might be to
visually please the viewer. But today art is ubiquitous in the form of
advertising, packaging, graphic design and multi media. Art has always
been an important element in commerce especially in retail and fashion.

But of course, art is not only imagery and visual, art can be music and
literature and these also play a key role in today's commercial world.

Hence, art is not only paintings in a museum or an opera at the theatre.
Every day we make aesthetic decisions when we go to work or meet
friends. The clothes we wear are an elaborate dance of shapes and
colours not only to look attractive or stand out from the others, but of
course to identify the function they are supposed to perform. Fashion is
a personal statement of our aesthetic values and this is true even if we
profess that we are not interested in fashion. Anything we wear is a
statement about our aesthetic values. And rejecting fashion is no less a
fashion statement than being a slave to the latest trends.

The biggest challenge for us today is to understand aesthetical values
because we are constantly being exploited in a society where money is
the first value we hold sacred and art plays a key role in parting with
our money. And the challenge is to make the spending of money a pleasant
experience hopefully to repeat the experience.

In the meantime art has an important place in our life today, the only
danger is that art works so well and is so successful that we might be
mesmerised by the art but fail to evaluate the function of the gadgets
we need for our life.

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
Thursdays at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SATURDAY (JULY & SEPT) PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: The
Function of Art Today

15 July 2015

from Lawrence, SATURDAY (JULY & SEPT) PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Our past is our future

Dear friends,

This Saturday we are discussing: Our past is our future.

Unfortunately, I was not able to write a long essay today, but did put a
few ideas together which I am including below. But first the link to
Ruel's essay:

Hi Lawrence,
The link to the short essay I wrote on Saturday's topic is:

Thanks and all the best.

-------a few ideas from me:

Our past is our future

From a purely philosophical perspective, the first issue we come across
is a hint of determinism. The idea that the past (events) determines
future events is well engrained in our minds whether we subscribe to
causality or fate. From a psychological perspective this is further
entrenched by the fact that we think we remember our past. Maybe not
remember the past in detail but certainly we remember the key events in
our past. We might remember the day we decided what subject to study at
university, maybe the exceptional experiences we had at work or with
friends and so on.

There are also exceptional events we can point at in our life that
literally changed the course of our life. And it is these events that
persuade us that there is a clear path between our past and our present
and by extrapolation our future. However, whilst there is no denying
that certain events in our past did change the course of our life, there
are also many events that changed our life but were not part of our
life. Recessions, change of governments, new technologies and maybe a
nice cake shop that opened in our neighbourhood.

Despite what seems to be obvious path between our past and our future
there is also a flaw in our thinking. Part of the flaw is that, of
course, we have no justification to extrapolate anything into the future
from what happened in our past. Sure there are those decisive moments
and if we trained as a philosophers it will be very difficult to start
flying aircraft, but this has more to do with our sphere of influence
than some open maelstrom of causality.

And the other part of the flaw is to assume that only our past events
influence what is to come in the future. As I have argued that there are
many events that influence our future that have nothing to do with our
past. But to exclude these events from our causal biography is a serious

Maybe the function of our past is not so much to determine our future,
given that there are events that we experience independent of our life,
but rather the past is a source of learning and experience. And hence
our past determines how we act when presented with new situations in the

No one (excluding diseases of course) can take our experiences away from
us and only we are privileged to access the memories of those
experiences; in this respect we actually have an import level of
privileged knowledge. "Being there" is a different type of knowledge
from "knowing about being there". Learning is also a more relevant
function for us that can easily determine our future. And the nice thing
about knowledge is that it doesn't deteriorate and always leads to
acquiring new knowledge that we can use next time round.

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
Thursdays at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SATURDAY (JULY & SEPT) PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Our
past is our future

10 July 2015

from Lawrence, SATURDAY (JULY & SEPT) PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Universal morality

Dear Friends,

Just when we thought that the 21st century would a unifying time for
everyone and every on this Earth the beneficiary human achievement, we
discover that the life of the average is fraught with uncertainty as
much as it was 100 years ago. And our ability to create economic chaos
and debt dwarfs any successes and progress. Our topic Universal Morality
is not new for philosophers, however today we might have certain tools
to overcome some issues. But as I say in my short essay there are some
issues about a universal morality that are not easy to overcome.

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

Hello Lawrence,
Didn't have much time to write a more comprehensive and longer essay on
Saturday's topic, "Universal Morality". Nevertheless I came up with
something and here's the link:
Thanks and see you on Saturday.

Universal morality

The perennial problem in society has always been doing what is good. Why
should we do what is good and avoid evil? And yet experience tells us
and studies verify that given half a chance we have no compunction in
acting and doing bad things if it gave an advantage over others.

By morality I mean acting to do what is good and to avoid doing harmful
things to others. I will, therefore, won't go into a debate about the
difference between morality and ethics and certainly not into what is
good and what is evil. However, whichever way we look at morality there
will always be a fundamental problem with converting principles into
action at the actual time of need. In other words, actually doing what
is good when the situation requires that we do good.

For me it is irrelevant that an action in past was good or bad, although
acts that result in good being done are always majestic and necessary
for the fabric of society. What matters for me is what is done here and
now when the situation requires that we do good and avoid harm. Thus
morality is a practical problem first and foremost. This might suggest
that a topic like universal morality is a topic best discussed in some
other discipline since the here-and-now is not usually associated with

Of course, the mistake we make is to assume that philosophy is going to
do the acting for us; philosophy can no more do any acting for us as
much as a cookbook can do a shepherd's pie. The discourse on morality
has always been on some universal codes or principles. A code by which
we are supposed to abide by as if we were some programmed moral robot.
However, moral codes of organisations cannot have that universal
element, and one of the key reasons is that what is good for the group
is precisely only good for the group and not necessarily for human kind.

So what is universal morality and where can we expect it to come from?
The value that universality has is that everyone is covered by it and
that everyone will act the same way in the here and now. Indeed we make
the term universal work very hard: we expect the term to apply to
everyone, past present and future, at all times and for all good/bad
situations in the universe. But is this universality possible, or is it
a grand ambition on our part or is it one of those monsters Descartes
talked about in his dreams?

One of the arguments put forward why sometimes we do not act to achieve
what is good is because the people we will be doing harm to are not part
of our group. Group identification including such things as race
classification, religion or political allegiance can lead us to choose
and act one way or another. We can escape the well recognised influence
of group push morality by having a group of all groups like a set of all
sets. Thus, if we all acted morally at the level of the set of all sets
then we will all be practicing the same code or the same principles, but
this time with everyone involved and not only a few members of the
group. And the beauty of this argument is that it also solves Russell's
paradox of the set of all sets, requiring a set of its own. But we can
overcome this paradox by virtue of the fact that our Earth is our limit.
Until we meet other aliens we need not bother whether our principles
apply to all the living creatures in the universe. What matters for the
here and now is that morality applies to all human beings (the set of
all sets) on Earth now (practical).

Of course, by having a universal set of all sets (human beings) we will
also need a universal principle or principles. As I have already argued
moral or ethical codes for a group (a set) are not suitable for a
universal morality (at the level of the set of all sets) by virtue of
the fact that these codes apply to those within the group. It might
always be argued that some groups, such as religions, believe that
everyone should belong to their religion or governed by their morality.
Once again we come across an issue of what we mean by universal.

Universal morality is not universal because we all believe that certain
principles are universal. Or because we believe in some higher authority
that would impose such universal principles on us. By universal morality
or moral principles, if we are looking for principles, we mean
principles that they always activate action at the here and now without
fail. Hence, basing morality on some metaphysical authority figure that
seems to apply moral principles randomly does not qualify as a universal
morality. For example, a moral system that allows such functions as
miracles is not valid for our purposes since miracles do not always
happen when someone needs a miracle to save them from a serious
situation. Either miracles happen when someone needs a miracle or the
system is biased and random. We are look for something more robust and
more predictable than that.

For our objective of finding a binding universal morality we need to
address three issues: 1) what qualifies as a situation that requires
activating a universal moral principle? Indeed what makes an act or a
situation moral? Since morality is closely associated with value
judgement we must distinguish between a judgement of morality and a
judgement of good taste or approval. Hence, is a picture of a frontal
nude person an immoral picture or simply something we disapprove off or
something we find distasteful? 2) How do we measure what is good? What
yardstick should we use to decide whether something is morally correct
or not? For example, is helping someone who is involved in an accident a
morally good act? But what about having to perform first aid on someone
when it is obvious that we don't not know anything about first aid? 3)
What gold standard should we apply for a universal morality? Who is to
say that acting in one way was morally good but not in another? For
example, is charging money for food or health care a gold standard in a
universal moral system?

We need to remember that a universal morality must satisfy two necessary
conditions; the first is that we can identify in advance a state of
affairs as qualifying as a moral situation and hence proper to act to do
good. And secondly the outcome of our act is itself reasonably
predictable. I grant you that these are very stringent conditions but to
compensate we can argue that not all situations qualify as requiring
some form of moral act. For example a frontal nude picture can be
excluded from an exhibition on the grounds of bad taste and not
morality. Whilst universal morality might not solve whether a picture is
immoral or needed, it will certainly help us with what is reasonable.
For example, helping someone who had an accident does not mean we have
to fix their wounds, but it does mean calling the authorities who can
maybe help fix the person's wounds. A universal morality does not issue
imperatives based on rational validity but rather issues the imperative
that we ought to act rationally.

Today we do have the methodology to establish not only what yardstick we
should use to decide what is moral, but also the methodology to
establish the gold standard we need and hence what is reasonable.
Science and biological and medical science in particular, offer us that
methodology. And although the word science is itself a loaded concept as
much as universal morality, the part we are interested in is the
scientific method and not necessarily the scientific paradigm at a given
time. For example, medical experiments on concentration camp prisons by
the Nazis or by the Soviet authorities on mental hospital inmates fail
the morality test not because we find them abhorrent (we do and should
do and they are) but that they failed to follow the scientific method.
Even at the time it was reasonable to know that these experiments did
not qualify as science.

I grant you that if we adopt the scientific method as our gold standard
we will be applying a system that is constantly changing and evolving.
Indeed, the product of the methods does not always result in the desired
outcome. Hence, some people might argue, with some justification up to a
point, that the Nazis and the Soviets did not seek formal consent from
their victims hence they did not follow today ethical standards. Not to
mention that the idea of consent in medicine did not exist at the time
(maybe it did during the experiments in the Soviet Union). But then
again at all the relevant time there was the doctrine of the Geneva
Convention and not signing to the convention is not itself an argument
for not knowing about universal moral principles.

A more serious objection would indeed be that the desired outcome we
expect from the fruits of science do not always materialise. On the one
hand we are assured that the divine authority does know what it takes to
bring about the effects of miracles. It is just that miracles are a
reward and not an automatic benefit. But this, at best, makes miracles
as whims or at the very minimum something unreliable. At least products
of the scientific method are the cutting edge of certainty this method
can give at a certain time and failure is the result of the absence of
knowledge. Absence of knowledge is not the same at lack of will to apply
that knowledge; even though in today's political climate there are many
politicians who would like to withhold the benefits of science from the
general population.

Hence, by science we do not mean replacing an old man with a long white
beard, long white hair and wearing a white robe with a young man having
short hair clean shaving and wearing a white coat. By science we mean
the scientific method that requires objective data and that scientific
conclusion can in principles be reproducible. This would answer for us
issues with for example food production, health care, universal suffrage
and many other issues that affect our lives directly.

For example, we know that monopolies and oligopolies are not good for
economies, so why do governments allow monopolies to develop in their
country? We know today that most of the population will require medical
care at some time in our life, so why do some countries only operate
private health care insurance contracts? How can an insurance contract
be valid when we know in advance that the insured will develop some risk
that requires medical care? Would an insurance company cover a car
driver knowing that the driver will crash every twelve months? The
insurance model of health care is therefore incompatible with a
universal morality; it is neither good for business nor health care. It
might be ok for greed though.
Nevertheless, the hardest test for a universal morality is still
converting moral principles into actual actions at the here and now.
Indeed, a universal morality must function as a rational instinct rather
than an emotional whim.

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
Thursdays at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SATURDAY (JULY & SEPT) PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm:
Universal morality

03 July 2015

from Lawrence, SATURDAY (JULY & SEPT) PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Living off the grid + News

Dear friends,

Don't forget that in July and September we meet on Saturday at 6:30pm.
And this SATURDAY we are discussing: living off the grid.

Apart from being good with one's hands a person live off the grid needs
to take certain things into consideration. One of these difference is
living off the grid and enjoying the call of the wild. Ruel, Ceit and I
have written an essay for us which you will find after the news sent to
us by Miguel:

Estimado tertuliano,
Por si fuera de interés te anunciamos la siguiente conferencia:
"El futuro de Internet: Retos y oportunidades"
Vinton Cerf, Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google.
Miércoles 8 de Julio de 2015 a las 12:00
Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingenieros de Telecomunicación de Madrid
Salón de Actos del Edificio C "López Araujo"
Saludos cordiales,
Tertulia de Matemáticas


Hello Lawrence,
The link to the essay I wrote on Saturday's topic is:
Thanks and see you on Saturday.
All the best,

A few quick thoughts on the subject:

"The grid" normally refers to the supply of electricity, but can also
refer to any network in which a recipient of goods or services is added
to a list or file for reference. Living off that grid means not being
identifiable to any authority. While we might not be surprised by
criminals choosing to hide from the grid and its overseers, why would
more or less normal people choose a lifestyle away from the comforts of
community utilities?

For some, the very thought that some authoritative body knows what they
use in terms of resources and can charge them money for it is
unacceptable. While some services might be farmed out to experts, as
long as energy can be gained by any other means we should not trust a
government or other large body to provide it. This is the fundamental
reason for leaving "the grid", a lack of trust in the greater society
and culture, which includes people you do not personally know, not to
mention government. How much energy we use and what for are private
matters when the users are private people. One household should not need
so much power as to necessitate the intervention of government or a
multinational corporation.

Another factor is the idea of self-reliance. In some parts of the world,
people have a rather romantic idea of doing for themselves and having no
dependence on anyone else, at least for day-to-day survival. The food
you eat you've grown or hunted yourself. The clothes you wear are at
least cut by your own hand. All your machinery has been set up and can
be maintained by your own hand. This is the ideal for people who leave
the surveillance and responsibility of the state authority.

While it sounds like a peaceful, pastoral existence, we must remember
that survival for a person in the wilderness depends on much effort by
the individual, perhaps less if there is a group. Living off the grid
pushes humanity back to a less "civilized" time, when simple survival
was in question, rather than comfort. A certain amount of food is
necessary to have in case of famine; a source of water must to kept
clean and available; shelter must be maintained against the elements. In
modern society, with large numbers of people gathered in groups, this
work is all delegated to many individuals over time. None of us have to
worry about every facet of our physical survival and are at liberty to
be more intellectual or imaginative. Going off the grid may have an
appeal to the ego and to nostalgia (fauxstalgia?), but it can also be
seen as a devolution to a hunter/gatherer or beginning agricultural
state. Is the need for personal privacy so great that we would give up
so many comforts?

---------- Lawrence
Living off the grid

Before our ancestors organised themselves into farms and dwellings
everyone and every tribe lived off the grid. So what was once, even a
few thousand years ago, a normal way of life is still an instinct felt
by some people today. But today people who try to be self-sufficient
they are considered as eccentrics or simply weird.

Being self sufficient from modern industrial utilities maybe more than
just an instinct or a strange personality. Today's instinct to live off
the grid might reflect a political statement; a statement of maybe
wanting to be independent from the state. Most conventional thinking
would quickly associate this with living close to being an outlaw. The
desire to create one's energy, one's foods and so on might lead to a
desire to live beyond the reach of the law.

In some cases living off the grid also means living outside the economic
cycle of the country. Now there are many people living outside the
economic cycle and we usually call them "the poor" or "street people".
But the difference between these people and those that live off the grid
is that those who live off the grid create things that also have a
monetary value. And in a capitalist society this would have the same
effect as the black market. The government does not collecting taxes on
these valuable things and the financial industry is not creating money
against these products. Living off the grid also means living outside
the financial system.

We therefore have more restrictions to keep these people who want to
live off the grid under control. The least of these restrictions is
planning permission to build anything on one's own land. There is always
a valid reason to need planning permission for example to stop people
creating hazards to the rest of the community. Just because a piece of
land is ours it does not mean we can build a DIY nuclear power station.

However, there is also a language aspect to this. When we talk about
people living off the grid we usually come across the concepts of
creating something for "free" and "public property." Public property
does not mean that it belongs to everyone so that we can help ourselves
to a chunk of whatever it is and use it for whatever we fancy. Some
people do think that public property does mean that; and in a roundabout
way many are politicians. Public property usually means that no one can
use that property for personal use. Except some governments take the
view that public property means that it belongs to the government and
hence can be disposed of by the government. This is a betrayal of how
people think of public property. No doubt this is also a great
opportunity for corrupt politicians to abuse the population by depriving
them of the public property.

Creating something for free is more contentious. We might not have to
pay a special shop or utility company but nothing is free; just because
something does not cost money it does not mean that it doesn't cost us
anything. First and foremost to manufacture something we need energy, we
need tools and we need resources. But why should we be allowed to take
resources from the land for free? Living off the grid does not mean
living on a deserted planet; with no social responsibilities.

But there are also other costs, such as the reliability and risks
involved in doing something ourselves or having it done by
professionals. Of course, it is great fun and satisfying to live in the
wild for a while and explore and exploit nature. Those primordial
instincts might be dormant but they are not dead. In the meantime the
question someone living off the grid must seriously ask themselves is:
what happens when things go wrong?

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
Thursdays at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SATURDAY (JULY & SEPT) PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm:
Living off the grid + News