23 February 2018

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Are our genes in charge (of us)? + News

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Are our genes in charge (of us)?

But first a message from Miguel:
Estimado tertuliano:

Te anunciamos la siguiente conferencia: El Modelo del Grupo Genérico en
Criptografía: demostraciones automáticas, por Miguel Ambrona (IMDEA
Software/UPM) http://blogs.mat.ucm.es/doctorandosmat/
(Seminario 27 de febrero: Miguel Ambrona)

Saludos cordiales,

Tertulia de Matemáticas

Si quieres:
- impartir una conferencia en la tertulia envíanos un mensaje de correo
para tratar los detalles
- darte de baja en la lista de correo envía otro con "Baja" en el campo
"Asunto" del mensaje.
- difundir una noticia de contenido matemático puedes enviárnosla

Back to our topic: Are our genes in charge (of us)?

This is an old problem in new clothes; precisely the clothes of
biological science and genetics. And the old problem is: do we have a
free will or are we determined? The "I" we talk about when we ascribe
desires, wants, mine, me, needs, choice and so on is the same I that
thinks that in many cases we are pursuing something we arrived at
without influence. Sure sometimes we have no choice in what we do or
what we want, but at the mundane level what I want is what I get. If I
want a chocolate ice cream that's what I get.

So why should genes make any difference?

Today we accept that indeed our gens play an important part in our life,
but not the whole part. We are as much determined by our genes as we are
by our environment. And whilst we have little or no option to change our
genes, we certainly have more scope to change our environment.

We don't need to know much to change our environment. A lung full wail
at night would bring one of our parents rushing to see what our problem
is. So it is quite justifiable that we should be concerned about our
genes, because if they do what they are supposed to do, then yes, they
are in charge of what we do. Or at the very least they are in charge of
some serious aspects of our lives. Sometimes the genes are in charge and
sometimes we (I) get to be in charge of some things.

But we can take a different perspective on this question. What if our
genes are some sort of evil deceiver? The same sort of evil deceiver
Descartes talked about. What if my genes are determined in such a way
that I think this chocolate ice cream is very good but in reality the
ice cream is contaminated with some dangerous bacteria? Why should our
genes able to "tell" us whether an ice cream is sweet and chocolate
flavoured but not whether our ice cream is contaminated with something?
There is impressive evidence that some dogs can detect some cancers in
people. Why can't we? At least with chocolate ice cream!

We can understand why we might like chocolate ice cream, it tastes nice.
But why are we unable to taste some sort of toxin, such as salmonella,
which in the scheme of things is more serious since it can kill us but,
not ice cream with a taste of chocolate. Sure salmonella might very well
be a very clever form of bacteria, but why can't we be sufficiently
clever to detect the bacteria before the damage is done. Today we are
able to discover what caused the food poisoning, but that is ex post.

We can argue that our genes are deceiving us in the part that they are
in charge of us by affecting that part of us that we are in charge of.
If genes are partly in charge, they are fully in charge of that part.
Let me give an example. I like oranges and by definition I enjoy orange
juice. So I once entered a pub with friends and asked for an orange
juice whilst at the same time I saw a large jug full of orange juice. By
the end of the evening I was rushing to the A&E with super cramps in my
stomach. It transpired I had a light form of the bacteria from the
orange juice; nothing that wasn't solved by the following day. Today I
know that citrus fruits are very susceptible to salmonella (similar
nasty bugs) and seeing a jug of orange juice in open warm air is an
alarm warning.

But this idea of the genes being some evil deceivers assumes that the
effects of genes are only negative. Sometimes the bit we are in charge
of, tells us to stay away from a certain type of food, but the part the
genes are in charge, maybe the emotions, they are telling it looks good.
And it happens to be true.

So far it seems that just because the genes are sometimes in charge it
does not automatically follow that this is bad for us. And sometimes we
override the genes and the conscious "I" goes against what the genes want.

But there is a problem here. We haven't established that the "I" part,
the part we perceive to be the home of free will, is somehow an
independent entity from our genes; the very same problem Descartes
identified. If we accept that whatever the "I" encompasses, there is
only one set of genes involved. But this implies that some genes get
their way one day and another group of genes get their way irrespective
of whether the "I" is also genes.

Therefore, are our genes in conflict with each other?

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com.es/
MeetUp https://www.meetup.com/PhiloMadrid-philosophy-group/

PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Café Madrid
Calle del Meson de Panos in Opera

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Are our genes in
charge (of us)? + News

16 February 2018

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Is the future predicable?

Dear Friends,

You might have already discovered that we last discussed the topic for
this Sunday, "Is the future predicable?" in May 2016. We also discussed
in the past: "Does the past determine the future?" and "Our past is our
future"; details below.

I therefore don't think much has changed about the future these past few
months since we last discussed the topic. The future is still
unpredictable, we still cannot come up with the winning lottery number
and we still don't know whether we need an umbrella in two weeks time.

But we also accept that the scientific method is still the best method
to make educated predictions, and we also accept that human made systems
have their Achilles' heel. And so the world goes on. Of course, this is
nothing about whether the future is predictable but more about our
relation to other events in space and time.

But maybe there is one aspect about the future that keeps changing: Our
expectations of the future (future events).

How we perceive what the future might be like is constantly changing
with our changing experiences. And this is one aspect about human-future
that can lead us to conclude the future is not predictable: our
perception of the future. Our disappointment about the future is not
because the future is not predictable but rather that future reality
does not coincide with our perception of what the future should be like.

Is the Future Predictable?

Does the past determine the future?

Our past is our future

Take care

tel: 606081813
Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com.es/
MeetUp https://www.meetup.com/PhiloMadrid-philosophy-group/

PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Café Madrid
Calle del Meson de Panos in Opera

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Is the future

08 February 2018

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Punishment: Natural or Cultural

Punishment: Natural or Cultural

Dear Friends,

Our topic for this Sunday is once again: Punishment: is it natural or

We discussed this topic way back in February 2011. I am, therefore,
including my essay I wrote for that meeting but of course this should be
an opportunity to visit the topic once again.

Punishment: is it natural or cultural?
In biological animals (systems), who live in social groups, punishment
is a natural phenomenon. However, the type and form of punishment are
the product of culture.

That we, human beings, have also inherited this biological trait is in
no doubt. What is more curious about punishment in human beings is how
the type and form has changed and evolved over time.

Of course, when I say evolved we must keep in mind that evolution does
not happen to a timetable or schedule. Indeed, we do know that evolution
takes place over time, over very long periods of time. Thus, a human
punishment in one society, might not have evolved in another. Or, of
course, a punishment would have been selected out of a society.

A punishment, therefore, might be on its way out and in the process of
being replaced by a different one. My belief is that the more we
developed sophisticated rational and, maybe even, moral societies, the
more a punishment would reflect this new state of affairs. Thus, to use
vulgar language, the more barbaric a society the more barbaric would be
the set of punishments in that society; and vice versa. I would even,
for example say, that capital punishment is a reflection of an immoral
barbaric society. The question is whether abolishing capital punishment
would make society more dangerous. My inkling is that it does not.

An analysis of punishment must address the question of purpose: why do
we resort to punishment? Indeed, we can resort to punishment as a method
to influence and change the behaviour of others. Or, even more common,
to express disapproval.

Answering the question of purpose, we can say that punishment is
something we have inherited from a pure social-biological state, which
has long lost its Raison d'être in a society based on reason and
morality. Punishment, is something that works fine at the biological
dimension and since this is an important part of our existence, it is
something we cannot avoid doing, in the same way we cannot avoid
running, sleeping, breathing and so on. Also punishment might be seen as
another weapon, another tool, to dominate and oppress others.

I am in no doubt that punishment, as a means to change behaviour, is
very inefficient and ineffective. It is so inefficient that I doubt if
punishment was ever intended as a means to change behaviour. I mean
thieves still take other people's property even after this crime has
been punished by death, exile, long prison sentences, and in modern
times prison with probably behaviour counselling. Yet, there are still
thieves out there, at this very minute, taking the property of others.
And if you are not convinced children still misbehave today in the same
way their parents did when they were children.

On the other hand, as a means to change behaviour punishment is not
easily dismissed as I might have suggested. Even, Machiavelli mentions
the usefulness of punishment for the Prince. The difference is probably
a question of time; I mean it is a question of time before a punishment
becomes inefficient or counter productive.

It is therefore, also evident, that changing behaviour and expressing
disapproval are not the same thing. Changing behaviour, at least, has
the lofty objective of changing a person's behaviour maybe even for
their own good, if not the good of society.

But if punishment is to be employed as a means of disapproval, then this
raises some difficult issues. The very first of these issues is this
question: why should I care whether you disapprove or not? And if the
answer is because "I will punish you" then punishment can be reduced to
might is right.

The irony, about punishment is that it is very closely associated with
justice. Now, whatever our opinion about punishment might be, we can all
agree that punishment is something physical, something we manifest in a
physical form. And by this I include psychological type of punishments.

And the irony is this. Justice is something that is based on reason and
rationality; forget for the time being such fancy ideas as theology and
religious beliefs and keep to reality. Justice is something that we
expect in the future -we already know what the past is like- and any
rationale about the future must be based on reason and rationality, if
not morality.

Yet punishment is based, fair and square, on brute force and biological
instinct. And to cap it all, punishment by its very nature looks at the
past. However, what is the status of the idea that punishment is
backward looking, something that we do by looking at the past?

Well, we might easily argue that punishment is backward looking because
the act that gives rise to punishment must first take place. Maybe, but
is it the act that is being punishment or the fact that we know that the
act took place. Thus there can be no punishment until we know about the
act. Indeed this, we might also argue, it what happens: there is an act,
we find out abut it and then we administer the punishment.

Even laws , that are supposed to be the pinnacle of justice, follow this
model. First there must be a act (with or without intention), then the
judicial process and, if found guilty, the punishment is administered.

However, there are some laws to prevent us from doing some acts because
the act itself might be dangerous to others. To distinguish these two
laws, we might have laws based on the linguistic structure of "if you do
x, then y will happen to you" (theft or homicide). The second form of
laws follow the semantic form, "do not do x (because of g), but if you
do y will happen to you" (highway code type of laws, smoking laws).

We can easily see the justification for these type of rules and laws.
There might be a justifiable reason, but more importantly, the
punishment is given to the perpetrator only. Only those that are guilty
of theft go to prison, and only those who drive over 120 kph get fined.
In jurisprudence the principle is generally that a punishment is there
to take away a right of an individual; freedom, reputation, property and
so on.

But there is a type of punishment that is not only controversial in
philosophy but probably equally controversial in jurisprudence. This
punishment takes the form of taking away a right not because the act in
itself in illegal or even immoral, nor because it is an act we have
done, but simply because someone, we don't know who, might do the now
prohibited act, we don't know what or when.

You might have already guessed what I am referring to, for example,
taking a photo of a government building, buying digital recording media,
taking water on a plane or buying chewing gum. Taking photos in public
of a public place is one of those rights which is well established in
most democratic societies. But now, usually based in the excuse of
terrorism or personal privacy, this right is slowly being eroded on the
belief that some terrorist might take some photo of some building that
might be use in some act sometime in the future.

The frightening thing about all this is not that a terrorist might take
a photo that will be used to in a criminal act, but rather the belief
that taking away the right to take a photo in public from 45, 65, 300
million people it will stop a terrorist from taking said photo.
Thankfully the present British government is changing these policies and
laws hopefully by others that will enable 65 million people to exercise
their right and maybe at the same time help catch a terrorist or a criminal.

The same with digital storage media (tax for illegal copying), chewing
gum (clean roads), taking water on a plane (could be an inflammable
liquid used by terrorists). Consider taking water on a place, apart from
being an immoral act to waste water, it ought to be a crime as well,
testing for water can be very easily done; make the person drink some!

But the point about this third form of punishment , it seems to me, is
not so much the injustice of these laws, they are unjust, but that the
mindset of punishment (especially by authorities) prevents us, or at the
very least hinders us, from exploring rational and reasonable options to
an unsocial behaviour.

Earlier I said that the more rational we become the more sophisticated
punishment will also become. Of course, by sophisticated I do not mean
fairer or more just, but more complex or more far reaching, the digital
tax is a case in point. Indeed this complexity does away with the idea
of punishment and introduces the idea of justice and tax, two concepts
well within the sphere of justice.

This discrepancy between justice and punishment does not necessarily
arise, in my opinion, from the fact that some people are bad. But maybe
because unsocial behaviour is the product of injustice and punishment is
just a primitive instinct.

The question is not what shall we replace punishment with? Or how can we
stop punishment? The question we should be asking is this, if we want
justice shouldn't we checking is justice is actually being done? And we
don't achieve this by waiting for some unsocial behaviour to occur but
by introducing just systems in society.

The other question, we might care to ask, besides punishment being
natural or cultural, is whether punishment is futile or inevitable.
Futile maybe because punishment is counter productive, and inevitable
because we might still be primitive biological systems despite the
paraphernalia of rational agency.

Take care

tel: 606081813
Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com.es/
MeetUp https://www.meetup.com/PhiloMadrid-philosophy-group/

PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Café Madrid
Calle del Meson de Panos in Opera

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Punishment: Natural
or Cultural

02 February 2018

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Intuition

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: intuition.

We have already discussed this topic in March 2009 and again as
"Intuition or reasoning" in January 2011 and you can find my essay here:

There is no doubt that when we have an intuition of something we have
that intuition on something we are engaged in. We can be engaged about
something in deep philosophical thought, or technical knowledge. Or we
can be engaged about something in passing, for example an event that
attracts our attention in the news.

But is intuition the same as knowledge or true belief? Even knowledge
and true belief are not exactly the same: a true belief is something
that needs to be "objectively" confirmed. Knowledge is something that is
objectively confirmed. In other words we know because what it is we know
has been established by our methodologies of acquiring knowledge.

Intuitions do not even have the status of beliefs: I mean we are
prepared to fight and defend our beliefs, but are we prepared to fight
for our intuitions? And yet sometimes we put a lot of trust in our
intuition. Sometimes even more than trust, we can change our beliefs or
life on an intuition.

Sometimes our intuitions let us down; or simply do not explain events or
the future 100%. But why do we sometimes get intuitions right and
sometimes not 100% spot on? Maybe the best way to answer this question
is to investigate the knowledge and experience of the person.

And a second question is then how do we go from conscious experience and
knowledge to unconscious assessment of a situation?

One issue we can discuss is the scope of intuitions in our daily life:
why do we need intuition when we can have beliefs or even knowledge.

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com.es/
MeetUp https://www.meetup.com/PhiloMadrid-philosophy-group/

PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Café Madrid
Calle del Meson de Panos in Opera

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Intuition