PHILOMADRID

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Friday, June 28, 2019

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: The use of language to manipulate people

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: The use of language to manipulate people.

Ruel and I have each written an essay on the topic, but I do hope you have your own ideas on the subject for Sunday:

The use of language to manipulate people by Ruel F. Pepa
https://ruelfpepa.wordpress.com/2019/06/25/the-use-of-language-to-manipulate-people/  

The use of language to manipulate people by Lawrence JC Baron
https://www.philomadrid.com/2019/06/the-use-of-language-to-manipulate-people.html


Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
philomadrid@gmail.com
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 use of language to manipulate people





Thursday, June 27, 2019

The use of language to manipulate people

The use of language to manipulate people


The function of language is to manipulate people. But what do we mean by manipulate? This issue was highlighted by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene where he gives a scientific definition of manipulation in the context of communication.

Basically the argument is that when we want to communicate with someone we send them a message with information so that they do something either directly for us or to change their mind about something. Thus manipulation might mean in this technical setting changing the mind set of people with information. For example, today like most of Europe we had a heat wave and the news announcers and weather reporters kept repeating how necessary it is to stay in the shade, not to exert ourselves and drink a lot of water. This advice was given not to manipulate our freedom of movement or to increase the profits of water bottlers. Since we know the context of this advice we know that this advice was given to help us avoid injury to ourselves. We can safely assume that this is a form of technical manipulation.

The other meaning of manipulation is the everyday meaning of getting people to act in some way or belief in something that does not reflect reality (or maybe the truth) and thus might act in such a way that maybe they would not do if they knew the real facts. In a way this malicious form of manipulation attempts to change or distort our context so that we would not believe we are being manipulated. We might be manipulated in different contexts from morality, politics, consumer products, history and so. I will argue that malicious manipulation is not subject dependent, but rather our awareness and knowledge of the given subject.

Natural languages, and maybe even other forms of language, are the most efficient means we have to transfer information, true or false, amongst us. The drawback of natural languages is that they tend to be very localised languages with a defined group of people who speak the language.  The implication of this disadvantage is that those who do not speak the language are excluded from the language games (Wittgenstein’s games) speakers of the language engage in. And by the same token speakers of a language have practical problems in sharing their information in their language with the rest of humanity. Sure, one might say that we can more or less translate many languages to reach a larger population, but the emphasis here is on the less in the "more or less" condition. How would one translate British expressions such as “a sandwich short of a picnic” or “the wrong type of snow”?

So what is it about our language that can either be used to manipulate us benevolently or malevolently? As I said language is very efficient at conveying information, but meaning and knowledge can only be conveyed if we understand the context and we have the skills to participate in the specific language games. If we heard two doctors talking to each other on a medical problem we might hear all the words they said but we still won’t understand anything because we don’t have the necessary medical language.

But there is another condition that is important for language: we are emotionally affected by the messages and information we receive. I don’t mean emotionally as in falling in love, or feeling sad or angry although some poor language structures of the King’s or Queen’s language might make us cry. By emotionally I foremost mean we are driven or motivated to do something about that information. Change our beliefs, become interested in the subject, go out and demonstrate or even give a lot of money to religious charlatans. I would argue that we are not manipulated by the information unless or until we do something about it; we might call this state of affairs language inertia, maybe even information inertia. Something similar when we want to do something on our mobile phone but nothing happens. An example would be when our non philosophical partner asks us to do the dishes and we just ignore them: that would be language inertia.

An important aspect of language is that we use it to learn: we gather information, add our input and then exchange it with others and wait for the feedback. This process goes on until we get the right feedback. Indeed this is the traditional form of teaching at schools; we did our work, the teacher was happy or disappointed accordingly and then we tried again. Except the problem here is that the manipulative language of our teachers signalled whether we were good or bad students. But this did not tell us whether the information the teacher wants us to learn is true or false (fact or false fact).

It seems that a necessary condition for malevolent manipulation is that the manipulative information must itself have an emotional force which matters-of-fact type of information does not usually invoke. This is why maybe religious ideologues spend a lot of time and effort trying to convince the population that the theory of evolution is false; who on Earth wants a monkey as a distant relative? Indeed, look at the emotional impact of the word “monkey” rather than primate. So why do these very same religious zealots not object to advice to drink water during a heat wave?  Especially when both the advice about drinking water and evolution are the results of the scientific method. I am inclined to argue that, as I said, advice on drinking water during a heat wave does not elicit an emotional up surge for the simple reason that we know instinctively that we need to drink water when it is hot. And we won’t readily change our minds about the necessity of drinking water.

The role of language in manipulating people is in providing the necessary tools to activate action or emotions or both in people depending on the intentions of the speaker. Although language is very efficient and very effective at manipulating people we still require mastery and skill of the use of language to achieve our manipulative objectives.

Best Lawrence



Thursday, June 20, 2019

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Great Achievements

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Great Achievements

No doubt we are all curious about the achievements of others and we all stand in awe of some master piece or monument. The attraction of this topic is that everyone and everything can be presented as a great achievement. But what are the philosophical issues for us? Ruel and I try to address this and many other questions in our essays.  

Great Achievement
Ruel F. Pepa
https://ruelfpepa.wordpress.com/2019/06/19/great-achievement/

Great Achievements
Lawrence JC Baron
https://www.philomadrid.com/2019/06/great-achievements.html


Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
philomadrid@gmail.com
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: Great Achievements



Great Achievements


Great Achievements

I will start by asking two questions. Whose great achievements? And where is the philosophy? I would say that the easier of the two questions is “where is the philosophy?” As for the first question we can start with ourselves. Thus what are our personal great (at least for us) achievements is a quest we can easily answer.

Thankfully the meaning of great achievements does not prevent us from taking our personal achievements even though others might not think our achievements are that great. After all, every human had the greatest of achievements which was winning the race for life. Winning a race against some 39-928 million fellow competitors (1) is no mean feat! Then for females being able to give birth to each and every human being is no doubt an individual great achievement for each mother and for womankind.

But most great achievements involved groups of people cooperating and working together. Of course, some works that we recognize as exceptional achievement might have been a good idea someone had, but even still it takes others to create the right environment for the individual to succeed. Sure Mozart and Beethoven individually achieved great works of art and music, but let’s not forget the instrument makers, the paper makers to write down the scores and of course the farmers who provided the food to keep these great men alive.

The “who” in our topic also requires a “how” and “why” to make sense of the “what”. The “when”, I would argue, is equally a necessary condition for our value judgments. As human beings we need a context to understand what is going on around us today. Maybe this wasn’t always the case but it is certainly the case now. In other words we need a “model of achievement” to ascertain what is an achievement and then what is a great achievement. The “when” factor might render an achievement as a normal event or a great event. For example obtaining a PhD degree at the age of seventeen is certainly a great achievement but not necessarily at the age of thirty.

But there is a discrepancy with the model idea of achievement. The further back in time we go the more disjointed these five conditions (who, what, why, when and how) become. To understand great monuments sometimes we need the help of historians, geologists and archaeologists to help us make sense of what we are seeing. For example the great aqueduct in Segovia in Spain is without doubt a great achievement but even today we still don’t know for sure (check article in Wikipedia) about certain details of the monument. Even the idea of calling a construction to deliver water to a city a monument is a bit strange: the Romans knew how to do monuments as much as they knew how to build aqueducts. And yet for us in the 21st century we elevated this construction to the great status of a historical monument. I would argue that we are prepared to call this aqueduct a monument because we are awed by what we see and yet we know very little on how it was built and its history. What was it like to go to work every day on the aqueduct? Who did the calculations? And so on……

We seem to have a bias of calling something a monument the older it becomes. The aqueduct in Segovia is certainly a monument but not the Autopista M30 around Madrid. Many might even curse this motorway as a disaster road; like all city ring motorways in the world.

It seems to me that we need two necessary conditions to establish something as a great achievement. Whatever is the object of this greatness it must not only be different but grandiose in conception. The other condition is that irrespective of our opinions and prejudices we still accept that this object is a great achievement. One might not like Mozart but one can still agree that Mozart was a great master of music. But is this true? How can we judge something if we don’t know anything about it?

Surely, one need not be an expert to appreciate great achievements; however, must one be conversant with the culture of the object in question to appreciate the achievement? For example, can someone who is not familiar with football (soccer) appreciate the greatness of Pele? Indeed those who are familiar with football today and at the time of Pele might say that today football is no longer the great game.

I started by asking “where is the philosophy?” in great achievements. Since we attribute great achievements to people our philosophical investigation must focus on the people who are responsible the achievement. An issue is the value of cooperation and team work. The workers of the aqueduct or the family and friends of Mozart, each of these “supporting” casts performed their work and role to make the endeavour a success.  Some might have been coerced by fear while others out of duty but what seems to be necessary is that achievements are the product of some cooperation.

What is clear is that great achievements require great thinking. Maybe this is the most mysterious part of all; how do we go from reasonable competent thinking to great thinking? This might even take us back to the duality of mind and brain. If we are only a material brain that should be fixed and determined, how can we increase knowledge by leaps and bounds into the unknown? The agent of knowledge must be more than just grey matter of the brain. And yet the brain does not seem to expand as a function of our level of knowledge. If this was the case then surely some politicians would have a brain not much larger than a peanut.

How we retain and apply knowledge is no doubt a mystery, but just because something is a mystery it is no reason to assume that this mystery can be explained by what we already accept as not being a mystery. Thus great thinking is not an achievement caused by a non material brain, it’s just maybe we still do not understand the brain or better still our thinking process. Indeed we do have a respectable model on how something new can happen from something that does not have the means to achieve that new thing. Quantum tunnelling in effect is a material world phenomenon when a subatomic particle passes through a barrier which by known classical science cannot happen.

An important philosophical aspect for us is that we might misinterpret the facts we perceive, i.e. great achievements, so that they fit into a context we already can understand. Thus we ought to avoid changing the facts to fit our present state of knowledge when we should be changing our opinion when the facts change.


(1)  What Is a Normal Sperm Count?
2005 - 2019 Healthline Media.

best Lawrence JC Baron

Thursday, June 13, 2019

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Why do people perceive ageing differently?


Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Why do people perceive ageing differently?

Getting and being old is always an important topic, but not necessarily in philosophy. So what are the philosophical issues for us? James, Ruel and I have discussed the topic in our respective essay and have tried to highlight the key issues for us.

Why do people perceive ageing differently? by James
PDF File: https://www.philomadrid.com/2019/06/why-do-people-perceive-ageing.html

Why Do People Perceive Ageing Differently? By Ruel F Pepa
https://ruelfpepa.wordpress.com/2019/06/12/why-do-people-perceive-ageing-differently/

Why do people perceive aging differently? By Lawrence Baron
https://www.philomadrid.com/2019/06/why-do-people-perceive-aging-differently.html

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
philomadrid@gmail.com
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: Why do people perceive ageing differently?




Why do people perceive ageing differently? by James

Why do people perceive ageing differently?

By James O’Doherty

pdf file:


https://drive.google.com/open?id=1b7ks-em7kSdb5ZkdT8vYtxbWmIM_nAHy



Why do people perceive aging differently?


Aging: Why do people perceive aging differently?

Aging is a process that starts from the day we are born. And although age plays an important role in our society it is also an arbitrary concept that in and of itself has no value.

Compare the role of aging with the mental development of children. Despite children being extremely intelligent, until we pack their brain with adult prejudices, it is also true that young children have difficulties understanding certain life concepts for example work and taxes. But there is no causal relationship why a child of six should not be able to understand certain things which we assume only adults can understand; for example maths or even physics. At the other extreme it is a fallacy to suggest that old people cannot learn new things. The only reason why elderly people cannot learn new things is because maybe they have some ailment, including emotional stress due to a disease that inhibits their mental learning process. But there are many lucky ones who just don’t care; in other words many elderly people have a big time attitude!

The problem, however, is not always the elderly person, but rather our use of the terms “learning” and “knowing”: for example, learning a new language. The erroneous use of the term “to learn” (a language or whatever), suggests that we have to reach a level of skill or competence that will be close to the language skills of a native speaker or expert. The language game native speakers of a language “play” go beyond the syntax and semantics of their language. So basically people can learn a second language to a proficient level for their needs irrespective of their age. But the idea of being able to speak a second language like a native is false in all contexts on the grounds that, at the very least, one can achieve such levels with many years of living in the relevant country probably from a young age. And even then one will be learning a single local language at a native level; this is not to say we don’t understand the language in other contexts.

Indeed age is not a barrier to learning something as long as people are not mentally impaired due to some disease from learning. After all learning is a subjective factor and determined by many motivating factors such as need, curiosity, future plans and so on.

One serious influence on our learning capacity is loss of memory due to normal physical development. Maybe, it is about time that medical science took loss of memory in people more seriously than simply blame old age. Of course, learning something does not necessarily mean that I have to be as knowledgeable as the experts or native users of the discipline. Context is king here: One does not need to reach the same level of knowledge as Einstein to understand the principles of relativity, but one will need to know more than Einstein if one hopes to get a Nobel prize in physics specialising in relativity. There can be, I would argue, no useful learning without a valid context.

So how people perceive aging depends on our social or personal biases about aging. We assume that older people cannot do certain things or learn certain things but these biases are based on a criterion, i.e. age, that has no intrinsic value at all. Having a developed brain, for example, has an intrinsic value since we can do certain things with a mature brain, e.g. understand the concept of work, which might not be available for a child who is still developing and growing up.

Moving on, some commentators see aging as a burden to society, since they argue elderly people are a cost burden and do not contribute anything to society. Apart from being an extremist form of political ideology, this thinking is inaccurate at best or simply false. Many able people are excluded from the labour market, i.e. not employed, simply because of their age; once again we find that valueless concept. Theoretically some countries have legislation against this form of age discrimination. But many enlightened retailers have discovered a causal link between employing elderly people on the customer side of the shop and increased profit; the elderly are more willing to help customers.

Clearly the idea that elderly people do not contribute to society or the economy is basically false.  Firstly, contributing to the economy need not be measured in terms of money but maybe some other criteria. Many elderly people tend to double up as baby sitters to their family, cooks for the extended family and running errands for all and sundry.

Of course, the most important loss to society from excluding the elderly is their knowledge, experience and skills that are not being made available and monetised by the rest of society. In the past the elderly were charged with sharing the knowledge and culture of the tribe. Of course, the internet today is helping people find opportunities to share their experience with the world. Maybe there is an innate need to seek the advice and stories of those who are older than us.

The trend in modern societies today is for people to live longer but the birth rate is slowing down. And although robots might fill some labour needs the reality is that the labour gap will have to be filled by immigrant labour. So why do companies prefer to employ young people rather than elderly people who are able to fill necessary gaps? And what are the consequences of elderly people living longer?

As I said above, one prevailing idea is that the elderly are a cost to the health care system. Even to the point of privatised heath care organisations see care to the elderly as a profit enterprise. Even if we exclude the moral and ethical arguments for treating the elder decently and respectfully there are still many health issues linked with the elderly that will benefit society.

The longer we live the more new diseases come to the fore with age. This means that we need to investigate these diseases now so that future generations will be able to benefit from new therapies for what might be considered in the future as normal diseases in elderly people. Thus investing in the healthcare of elderly people today will benefit them and future elderly people. It is also true today that there is more emphasis within efficient healthcare systems to prepare people for quality of life and maybe even independent life at old age. Physically independent people are also people contributing to society and the economy; quality of life also means being able to enjoy life.

So why do companies prefer employing younger people than older people? By definition, older people tend to have well established routines and maybe even entrenched work ethics. On the other hand young people do not come with an established work ethic thus they maybe be more malleable. And older people cost more to the company to make redundant or sack. However, young people are paid less and more often asked to do things which might be unacceptable for older employees with an established ethics.

There are also some unique characteristics of the elderly that young people will still have to develop or discover. Older people are already familiar with the songs of the Beatles. It seems to be a modern ritual that young people today have to be “initiated” to the Beatles by another compilation of their songs. The elderly amongst us would have heard all these songs and many other classics. Another thing about the elderly is that many have seen it, done it and said it all before. Sometimes, but not always, we are not impressed with the bombastic ideologies of some Young Turks.

The key philosophical issues for us are ethical issues related to our treatment of the elderly: excluding the elderly as opposed to finding new respected roles for them. In a politically and social context, are there competing interests between the elderly and the young? How many times have we heard someone say “older people should give the young a chance?”

And finally, there seems to be a conceptual issue with the idea of the Elixir of Life also known as the fountain of eternal youth. Youth is not always an advantage and we tend to make our major mistakes in life when we are young; from love matters, to careers and thence to political ideology. Wouldn’t it be better if we achieved eternal life when we know what we want, how we want it and why we want it?

Best Lawrence

Friday, June 07, 2019

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

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Envy

Can philosophers be envious? Probably, but let's find out on Sunday and of course you can always start with the essays by Ruel and I.

On Envy by Ruel F. Pepa
https://ruelfpepa.wordpress.com/2019/06/05/on-envy/

Envy by Lawrence JC Baron
https://www.philomadrid.com/2019/06/envy.html

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
philomadrid@gmail.com
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: Envy





Envy


Envy

Envy is an emotion that manifests itself when we yearn for something someone else has or possesses. It also seems to be a necessary condition that envy creates a want in us for something similar to what the other person has.

If my friends has a red ball, and I’m envious, I do not necessarily want the very same ball my friend has, any red ball of the same type or better will do. Our energy is not directed against the other person, but at the idea of us obtaining a “similar” object. Compare this with jealousy that directs our energy against the person. It’s not that I want to have a ball similar to my friend, but rather I don’t want my friend to have a ball.

We can agree up to point that envy is milder than jealousy. But what is the difference between envying something someone has and wanting something similar to what someone has? For example, I might envy someone because they have a certain mobile phone, and I might want one because it seems to be quite a useful mobile phone. But then I realise that I do not need a phone like that model, for me the money is just not worth it. However, I might want a model of the phone because it meets my needs, and it seems to be reliable for what I want to use it and so on. Envy need not lead us to aggravated behaviour other than an agitation for not having something. But this criterion is very weak and the barrier into jealousy is not always effective.

It is sometimes argued that envy is a positive force to motivate people to achieve personal goals such as career advancement. Thus we see our colleague advancing and we want to advance. There is a problem here. Under the meaning of envy we are not supposed to cause harm to the person we are envious of. Thus failure to obtain something might cause us anger and frustration but that’s about it.

If envy is used as a motivator for example in a career, the opportunities for example of becoming a managing director in a company are very limited. Thus if I am envious of my managing director (i.e. their job) there is a good chance that envy can develop into jealousy and then start causing real harm to the company if not the person. Jealousy is a serious motivator to cause harm to others and this is not limited to romantic encounters.

But envy is a powerful tool in business marketing, politics and religions to mention just a few. In business envy can be use to create a strong want and interest for a product especially when using celebrities or characters of peers or betters to promote their products; upper middle class families, rich people, and even colleague like characters. Of course, this strategy works if we assume that consumers operate within the confines of envy for example causing no harm to others for not having the product.

But the barrier as I have argued between envy and jealousy is very fragile. And in the business context envy can lead to jealousy for example the thriving counterfeit industry. This is not just a matter of buying a cheaper product, it cannot be a cheaper product of an exclusive product: it is a fake product. However, the buyer of counterfeit products wants to give the impression that they have an exclusive product thus being the centre of attraction and maybe an object of envy. But this is a case of doing harm to others, since it is true that luxury or exclusive companies might make unreasonable profits, it is also true that the majority of people working in these enterprises are people working for an honest living like the rest of us. Most of the employees of these multinationals do not drive a luxury sports car.

Politicians make it a point to exploit our weakness of envy: envy politics. One camp argues that if you vote for our policies you too can become rich and important like us and our supporters. The other camp point out, look you are doing the work but your bosses are keeping the profit. However, the scope for politics would be very limited if policies were based on solid economic and financial principles and everyone had access to opportunities to do well in life. As I have argued many times, people who have a real advantage over others are not very keen on sharing that advantage.

Indeed, religions are the masters of using envy for business principles. To begin with, religions are the original long term business model which only a few companies can even mimic beyond half a century. In business there is always an exchange of goods and services for money; religions do not give anything in exchange for devotion but a promise which may or may not be fulfilled. And like retail outlets, religions depend on footfall to their temples to convert envious people into “money paying” customers. In the case of religions people are paying with their loyalty, participation, following and of course money.

Envy, therefore, is not just an emotion we experience it is also an emotion others can exploit in us. The question for us is: given a certain indulgence to envious feeling (like paranoia) at which point can this feeling cause us and maybe others harm?

Best Lawrence

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