28 February 2019

Cultural Intelligence by Rafael Carvajal

Cultural Intelligence by Rafael Carvajal.


When talking about cultural intelligence, it is important to know what we mean by culture and what we mean by intelligence.  It is necessary to have a clear picture of those two words, to be able to argue if such a thing exists and if it is recommendable. The words, and the concept they create together, seem to be self-evident; however, it is these seemingly simple ideas which tend to create the most confusion, so it would be useful if I define what these terms mean to me.

By culture I understand a very common human endeavor: to regulate the day to day affairs so as to create an appearance of continuity and discipline in what in reality is a mostly chaotic existence. I am speaking of the meaning of “culture” which encompasses human behavior and not the other meaning which has to do with knowledge and artistic aspirations. This “culture” is what decides which actions are appropriate at a given time and which are taboo or despicable. They are set by tradition and passed on from one generation to another in the home and in the schools. They tend to have geographical boundaries, although within a geographical area, there can exist many “cultures” due to religious, economic, idiosyncratic and many other factors like for example migrations. In any case, a “culture” is born when a group of people determine a set of behaviors which they consider exemplify the proper nature of their group conscience and decide to abide by those tenants. Anything outside of those pre-established patterns would be seen as noxious and reprehensible and would be discouraged and punished.

Intelligence is a pregnant word. Everybody thinks they nurture it at their bosom and almost no one will admit to lack its attributes. I think that to understand its nature, it is necessary to see that it has a double edge: knowledge and ability. A person who has accumulated a wide store of information in his lifetime, who has taken the time to know things, either in a singular on in limited fields, or in a plethora of different subject matters, can be said to possess intelligence, if they can apply the things they know to take advantage of the situations that arise in their life. There is also an innate capacity to solve previously unknown problems that some people evidence to a greater extent than others, much as that damages the democratic ideal that we are all equal. Like the pigs in “Animal farm,” some humans are more equal than others. So I would consider intelligence as the ability to solve problems effectively either by relating them to previously known information or by a built in facility to create innovative solutions.

If these previous definitions are accepted, then we could begin to see what could be meant by cultural intelligence and if it is important and desirable. We live in a world which is made small by the information technology, by the facility to travel and by the nature of our global economy. In our time, different “cultures” become aware of each other to an extent that had never been true before and, with much more frequency than ever, individuals and groups are faced with the task of interacting with individuals and groups of alien “cultures.” What is the “intelligent” way to face those challenges?

When deciding what is the “intelligent” approach to a culture difference, the most important factor to consider is the power relation between the two positions. An immigrant who arrives at a foreign country to work is in most cases defenseless against the cultural reality of their host country. In any case, they might have access to small population of compatriots with whom to maintain his cultural ties, but in his workplace and in the majority of his day to day affairs, they will be immersed in a culture which will differ greatly from their own, and it would be prudent and “intelligent” to learn to make the adjustments necessary to stand out as little as possible, given the retaliatory nature of the human nature against those who are perceived as different. The sooner an immigrant learns to assume, or at least feign to assume, the unwritten laws of this culture which is new to them, the sooner they will reap the benefits with which a culture rewards those who adhere to its designs.

The same can be said of a company who wishes to do business in another country with another culture. It behooves the investor to know the cultural nuances of the place where they want to invest their money. It is not feasible nor profitable to try to impose cultural values on would be customers; the people simply will reject the product or the marketing campaign and will not buy. The foreign investor needs to nurture the beliefs of their clients, if they want to achieve financial success. Money does not have an intrinsic culture, it is tabula rasa, someone who wants to increase their profits abroad, needs to forgo his cultural biases in favor of the targeted countries ones, or prepare to fail.

However, it is not always intelligent to acquiesce. The new global reality presents humanity with a cultural crossroad which is unparalleled and rife with possibilities. For the first time in history we are presented with the opportunity to compare and contrast the world’s cultures in a way that had never been available before. The most “intelligent” option would be to measure the different ways that human populations have resolved the problems of living, and choose the ones which are more attractive, feasible or expedite solutions best. We are no longer doomed to wear the cultural straitjacket we were born to; we can shop around for a tailor made culture. Knowing that almost all of the features of a culture are random instead of intrinsic, an individual can fashion their own set of values mirroring or mutating that that they see in their computer screen, in their television or in the movie theaters or other hot points of our globalized culture. Nobody is dumb to the colonization of the world by the information glut, and now is the time to take advantage of the mass culture to construct happier more satisfying lives.

Cultural intelligence is just a matter of weighing your options: knowing what to leave in and what to leave out. Sometimes the only choice is to give in to the dominant reality, but the possibility also exists of creating an individual cultural construct that satisfies you and the people that surround you. It is an eerie and exciting time, this 21st century, where the greatest evils and the greatest goods co-exist and Paradise and Armageddon are almost equally possible. 

Rafael Carvajal.

22 February 2019

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: The power of words

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: The power of words.

Although we think of words as the building blocks of language and the
source of meaning, is this enough to make them powerful?

You can find Ruel's essay here:
The Power of Words

and My essay here:
The Power of Words

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com.es/
MeetUp https://www.meetup.com/PhiloMadrid-philosophy-group/
Gran Clavel (Café-Bar): Gran vía 11, esquina C/ Clavel, 28013—Madrid

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: The power of words

The power of words

The power of words

There are two things we can say about "words". The word “words” is a heterological word, meaning a word that does not apply to itself; compare this with the word “word” which is autological. The other sure thing we can say about words is that words do not travel well.

I am interested in the second issue, although I shall argue that by words in the topic question we mean language. Interpreting "words" in the literal meaning of words, that is the singular syntax structures of a language, then this is of little consequence because words in and of themselves have no meaning. Even more, it is well accepted that this expression and other similar expressions in English are taken to mean: language, arguments and so on. Another minor issue is that the topic before us is in the context of a natural language and not necessarily language in a philosophical sense. For example, in a programming code in Information Technology syntax is all important; in Hexadecimal (#RRGGBB) programming code #000000 always means or rather has the effect of showing Black on the screen. In a natural language this is not always the case.

The first meaning of the idea that words, meaning here syntax structures, do not travel well is that words (or a word) used in a location do not necessarily retain their full meaning over long geographical distances. A "cold day" in Madrid might be a "nice day" in Oslo (I’ll come to translations later). Thus for Madrid a day in winter of 3 degrees at mid day is a cold day: a 3 degree day in winter in Oslo is probably a heat wave and maybe even a serious problem for the infrastructure of the city. In the same way that global warming is creating havoc in Siberia with the melting of the permafrost.

The meaning of words does not even travel well amongst cultures. A “Chinese lunch” in Madrid is not the same as a “Chinese lunch” in Taiwan (I do not know mainland China); pasta and pizza are even worse compared with Italy. But even with cities in the same country words do not necessary imply the same idea: “Taking a bus” in the centre of Madrid implies a regular service, all things being equal, and a relatively efficient service with a viable metro option. In Gijon “taking a bus” in the city centre implies, to a Madrileño at least, a relatively long wait to the extent that maybe it is much quicker to just walk to where you want to go to in the centre. But then again, to a Madrileño a real option is to “take a taxi” given that distances are so short in the city centre and cheap.

Words do not travel well in time. A “flight” from Madrid to Munich today is a matter of being in Munich for lunch and it’s not a take away meal at the airport. A “flight” from Madrid to Munich in 1960 might have taken longer, notwithstanding the customs checks.

And then words do not travel very well amongst languages; it is bad enough that words mean different things in different cultures, for example, appointment, evening, morning, agreement, good weather, menu del dia, and so on. The adoption of foreign words in a language is even more complex to the point that it might even be dangerous. But we do not need to go so far just consider the philosophical works written in different languages and then translated into English or vise versa.

Therefore, as already argued, for our purposes the question does not actually mean the literal meaning of “words”, i.e. these small groups of letters that may or may not have a meaning; sometimes we might think of words as the building blocks of a language. But due to the bad habits of the educational system, today we do think of meaning in terms of words of a single structure. Meaning is a different creature from the physical representation of the meaning in a written or spoken form.

You might wonder why go on about words do not travel well, and we certainly know that the question is about language and not literally singular words. Yes of course, but my excursion is to demonstrate that words cannot have any meaning whatsoever outside a context because these building blocks have no meaning in themselves any more than a brick can have the property of “castleness”.

Meaning, therefore, is very context driven and very much subject to extensive knowledge of the language and maybe even the culture of the language. The same words or word might easily have different cultural functions in say US English and British English (I assume this is the case for other natural languages) which explains why local humour is very difficult to teach to second language learners.

But there are other aspects of meaning that is not easily transmitted by the physical structure of the word; remember the autological/heterological distinction above? There is nothing in the words themselves to identify this property in words; this is something philosophers have invented. Knowing a language well also means identifying: innuendos, formality, intensity, annoyance, surprise, positive or negative implications and so on. But in real life we do not use language like a film script with instructions to actors: when to laugh, when to cry, when to look offended, when to feel romantic etc, etc. In real life we either get the message or we don’t!

In effect we should be discussing the Power of meaning rather than the "power of words" except that in our language this title is precisely what it means, but maybe society is not ready to discuss meaning. Thus "words" here include, phrasal verbs, noun groups (compound words), idiomatic expressions, sayings and proverbs and current language use (Brexiters, Brexit, global warming, the Magnificent Seven, etc) amongst many.

The power of words must, therefore, come from the use of our language at the right time and in the right context. What a live bullet is to a physical body, a well said language utterance is hundred times more powerful to our brain and intellectual understanding. A bullet can only kill us once; an offence or an insult will hurt us and stresses us every time we remember the incident. Of course, as I indicated above, words can have a positive or negative meaning: a kind word said at a moment in need can also serve a life time of comfort.

But is meaning in a context enough for a word/linguistic utterance to be a powerful instrument? Before we can answer this question we have to be clear about: what is the function of language? The answer to this question must surely be the biological meaning of communication: to get someone  to do something for us (Richard Dawkins). Language is what we use to influence others in a non contact manner: language, and therefore, the “words” of our topic, is something we use to influence the brain and mind of other people. This also explains why a thorough knowledge of the language we are using is so important: hearing doctors or lawyers talking in the context of their profession is good evidence of this claim.

To conclude, what are the necessary and sufficient conditions for language (words) to be a powerful instrument? Meaning is one condition and meaning makes us better informed. But to have power over us meaning must emotionally agitate and captivate the recipient of our linguistic message. Intellect makes us free, but it is the power of emotions that make us slaves or lovers.

 Best Lawrence

14 February 2019

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Knowing Other Minds

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Knowing Other Minds.

You will find the essays by Ruel and me at the respective links below.
In my opinion we have moved a long away from the duality issue of the
mind and body by Descartes, but unfortunately the technology that helped
us along the years still has its limits.

---By Ruel
Knowing Other Minds

---By Lawrence
Knowing other minds

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com.es/
MeetUp https://www.meetup.com/PhiloMadrid-philosophy-group/
Gran Clavel (Café-Bar): Gran vía 11, esquina C/ Clavel, 28013—Madrid

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Knowing Other Minds

Knowing other minds

Knowing other minds

This is an old issue in philosophy and the issue is very simple: how do we know that other minds exist since we only have access to our own mind? I won’t use the technical term for this issue, Solipsism” but this form of scepticism is, as I shall argue, a victim of the state of knowledge of past eras. As in many issues in philosophy and dare I say it, science, a lot depends on the language and vocabulary we use. The issue of other minds goes back to the dualism of the mind-body question; some might describe it as mind and materialism question and so on.

From a historical perspective, the “mind” part is the problem; no one disputes the existence of a body/materialism but the body thing is fraught with determinism and causality. Hence, the idea of free will and free actions is that we want people, including ourselves, to be accountable for their actions which might not be all that free after all. But how can we be held accountable and therefore responsible for our actions if we are determined?

The mind was supposed to solve this problem by giving it some sort of “non material” properties that somehow are not shackled by determinism but still preserves moral accountability. There are no “non material” properties of the mind because there is no such thing as a mind; what we have is a brain and how the brain functions. We can classify the mind-body problem with the “morning star vs evening star” question. Today we know that the evening star and the morning star are not stars but the same planet we call Venus. Just because we believe we are experiencing different events it does not follow that those events cannot be the same single event.

A more modern attempt to explain the problem at hand is the Turing test (Intelligence test). You will remember the Turing test is an experiment, even a thought experiment, when a human being has a conversation with a hidden machine by text only using natural language. If the person cannot distinguish whether the replies were from a machine or human being the test would have succeeded and the counter part is intelligent.

In a way the Turing test pitches our own mind (brain) against a possible machine. But off course this does not deal with the issue of the existence of a mind or other minds or something else. The problem with the Turing test is that machines are man-made hence we are not comparing like with like. At best a Turing test can demonstrate the ingenuity and cleverness of people to make machines.

Hence, the “other minds” problem ought to be the “other brains” problem; or at the very least the “other persons” problem. The advantage of this new question is that we are in no doubt that other brains exist, I mean really exist, and other people exist too. We know this because many tend to annoy us and drive us mad.

It is equally absurd to think that just because other brains, including our brain, can be investigated it is possible for someone to know what we are thinking and equally more important we can be open to total manipulated. But we do know what others are thinking and we do manipulate other people’s brains. The problem is that we cannot all know all the things people are thinking and we cannot manipulate all the people all the time.

The first fallacy is that just because in principle we can know something it does not follow that we can know everything there is to know. Moreover, not only we cannot know what, why and how someone thought in their past, we certainly cannot know how future thoughts will turn out. And all this without taking into account such things as quantum mechanics, multi variable non linear models, unknown variables and errors due to physical malfunctions. In effect we are more limited by our inability to access information than by anything else. The fact that we do acquire knowledge and information suggests that at best determinism has a minimal effect on our brain.

The second fallacy is that our brains are not sealed black boxes without any flow of information; our brains are process central of our perceptions and they are even the central junction signal box of our body. In reality we do not know what sort of information enters our mind and how we, i.e. our brain, reacts to that. When it comes to understanding the brain, information is king.

Even today when companies have all sorts of information about us, which even we are not conscious off, they have problems predicting what we want: take the new idea from Amazon of delivering unsolicited products, the best that can be said about this experiment is that they have a long way to go. (see for example: ‘Amazon, why am I deluged by unwanted parcels?’ https://www.theguardian.com/money/2018/apr/21/amazon-why-am-i-deluged-by-unwanted-parcels ).

Today the best we can do with knowing other people and how they will act are the various probabilistic models some of which even consider real time information. So up to a point these models do not conflict with our idea of moral accountability since such models do not identify individuals and they include a margin of error any way. If today even Google or Amazon cannot get their targeting right at the individual level when they seem to have 100% information about most of us, what chances do other institutions have at identifying the impossible?

So, what about the question that if we can know and understand the brain we can manipulate people? As I have mentioned we do manipulate people today and done so since forever. But once again there are limits: all things being equal no matter how long they manipulate my brain I’m not going to run a 3 minute mile. Advertising and marketing are disciplines with the sole purpose of changing our mind (brain) and manipulate us to buy the relevant products. Even then companies have a hard time maintaining market share. In reality there are limits to what can be done by materialism.

Of course, we generally manipulate other people’s minds through language: an offer of “free Pizza” can manipulate a lot of brains. But even the most recent political manipulation programme in democracy, the 2016 Referendum in the UK, that involved serious manipulation of information and misinformation by the extreme right wing factions had to compete with: people voting leave as a protest vote against the establishment, misplaced racial bias against immigrants, people who voted leave just for a change and the effect of education or lack of it. But these voters at the time thought they were doing the right thing; luckily we can still apply the principles of moral accountable and identify who is responsible for this democracy fail, and why.

A. J. Ayer, (1936: Language, Truth and Logic) proposed a “consciousness test” to distinguish from a conscious man and an unconscious machine: the answer was to distinguish from perceptible behaviour.  But have a look at this article, as an example, on why consciousness is not a good test of man-machine and even more the inadequacy of behaviourism: “Coma patients might feel pleasure and pain like the rest of us” in Medical Xpress https://medicalxpress.com/news/2018-05-coma-patients-pleasure-pain-rest.html. Today through Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) we can see the brain in action and some have used the technology to communicate with comatose patients by establishing a signalling language.

In conclusion, by removing the fancy “mind” factor from the discussion and stick to the reality of the brain we can see that the principle of moral accountability is not really threatened even though we can know a lot about the brain, body and people. However, because nature is what it is, our ability to know everything and our ability to manipulate everyone is just a flawed arrogance from believing in our infallibility based on a false context that we are immune from the physical world.

Best Lawrence

07 February 2019

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Is euthanasia ethically correct?

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Is euthanasia ethically correct?

Either by chance or design last time we discussed Euthanasia was on the
22nd February 2009. I guess we are now ready to revisit the topic but
this time we actually do have essays: one by Ruel and one by me!!

To keep this email short and because Google keeps telling me I'm running
short of email space, I posed my essay on the blog.

"Is Euthanasia Ethically Correct?" by Ruel

Is euthanasia ethically correct? By Lawrence

#euthanasia #ethics #pain #death #dying #state #healthcare #philosophy

In the meantime happy Chinese New Year 2019: don't forget the big parade
will be held on Sunday morning at 11am in Usera: Recorrido: Inicio c/
Marcelo Usera esq. c/ Olvido – Av. De Rafaela Ibarra – c/ Dolores Barranco.

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com.es/
MeetUp https://www.meetup.com/PhiloMadrid-philosophy-group/
Gran Clavel (Café-Bar): Gran vía 11, esquina C/ Clavel, 28013—Madrid

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Is euthanasia
ethically correct?

Is euthanasia ethically correct?

Is euthanasia ethically correct?

Euthanasia is the down fall to rational philosophy. Pain and death are the ultimate experiences in empirical philosophy and yet rational philosophy cannot handle let alone guide us through this morally fraught problem in philosophy.

The ethical issue is quite straight forward: our biological instinct repulses us against the killing of kin and kith and yet euthanasia is a rational justification to do what we, by nature, would find difficult to accept. And our justification to bridge this philosophical ravine is that other empirical phenomenon, pain. Pain distresses us and we are equally distressed by the experience of pain and suffering of other people. Pain in a huge motivator.

Historically, we dealt with death and killing as only justifiable in self defence, although some cultures do not necessarily put a high value on life. Inevitably this mind set has led to human sacrifice and capital punishment at one extreme and political abuse, if not outright institutionalised criminality, on the other.

It is now accepted that the austerity policies of the Conservative government in the UK has directly caused the death of 30,000 (2015: Royal Society of Medicine) although in 2017 The Independent wrote about “economic murder” to have reached some 120,000 deaths (1). But compare this with the following quote from the NHS website: The law: Both euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal under English law (2). (Although, this applies to the whole UK).

So what is different about euthanasia that makes it criminal yet the state, it seems, can murder people at will? In the realm of political philosophy we are as individuals subjects or citizens of the sate meaning that we are not free to decide on the fate of peers in the state. Politically, individuals do not have the authority or the competence to take the life others without the defence of self defence. So it is not just biological repulsion that stops us from euthanasia but also lack of political competence to do so.

We now find ourselves in a three horned problem: (1) our revulsion at killing our friends and relatives, (2) our natural distress of pain and (3) our political incompetence to decide when to take away the life of someone else. On the biological level we are moved by the quality and quantity of life of those close to us. On the political level we are rule takers and not rule makers. So why should euthanasia be an ethical issue for us: when our free will intentions are managed by biology and our freedom to act is curtailed by political coercion?

We can escape this impasse not necessarily by questioning the morality and ethics of euthanasia but rather by questioning the practicality of euthanasia. In particular instead of asking why or why not euthanasia we can ask: when is it possible to perform euthanasia?

What we cannot accept is the frivolous attitude of the state towards life, and in particular the exercise of power without accounting for its exercise. In other words, euthanasia is not a matter of ethics but a matter of empirical value judgement. And empirical value judgements can only be justifiably carried out with empirical evidence and facts available and understood.

Today we know that medical research, especially in neurology, can establish whether patients in a coma can be aware of their surroundings and might even be conscious anyway; behaviourism is not the best idea philosophers have ever had. Thus coma patients today should immediately be excluded from being possible candidates of euthanasia. Anything else would be criminal mischief making at the very least.

This leaves us with managing pain. We tend to accept that the management of pain is a medical issue and we even impose our moral dilemmas on the shoulders of doctors and health care workers. But this is really a tunnel vision form of conducting moral philosophy. Basically, if the killing of people is the sole domain of the state then it beholds the state to manage the causes where the death is a real option in the event when pain cannot be managed. And just in case people ask, I see no difference between an intentional act to kill and an intentional inaction to let die.

This means that the state has the moral duty to provide health carers with tools and medicines to manage patients to the point when pain ceases to be a cause for euthanasia. But even before we arrive at the point of unmanageable pain the state has to make sure that all possible means to cure or manage diseases are available to all before pain becomes an issue.
This can only mean universal health care for all on the basis that diseases and pain are universal to all human beings, meaning these are what every human being can experience and be affected with. But there is a political duty to provide universal health care, basically since the state reserves the right and competence to kill citizens the state ought to prevent unnecessary killing or possible causes that lead to unnecessary killing.

Hence, the moral dilemma is not whether euthanasia is morally correct, but rather: when is it morally correct for the state to kill citizens? Hence, when is it morally correct for the state to empower people to perform euthanasia? The state might have the political authority to kill citizens, but it does not have the ethical authority to determine what is ethically correct. What is ethically correct is dependent on the universal positive benefits for everyone; no utilitarianism here either. After all ethical principles can only have universal authority if they apply universally. And by universally we can only mean all human beings alive at any given time when a moral decision has to be made.

Justifiably some might object and say that this approach does not help patients today who are suffering untold pain now. This is true, but then again we are neither health carers nor politicians, and as philosophers we have no more authority than anyone else to kill others. But there are solutions. This first is for independent courts of law to guide and help affected people come to an equitable solution. This means people should have unfettered and immediate access to courts of law.

There should also be a real supervision of the government independent of those in charge of running the government. But there is nothing new here; at the very least ethics is also about accountability. Hence the issue is not really whether euthanasia is ethically correct but rather can humanity arrive at the correct ethics to guide us with euthanasia?

 Best Lawrence

(1)  These figures might even be way out of date.
Landmark study links Tory austerity to 120,000 deaths

(2)  Euthanasia and assisted suicide

#euthanasia #ethics #pain #death #dying #state #healthcare

© Lawrence JC Baron 2019