Thursday, September 26, 2019

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Are we being watched?

Dear Friends

This Sunday we are discussing: Are we being watched?

You can access the essays by Ruel and me from here:

Ruel: Are we being watched?
https://ruelfpepa.wordpress.com/2019/09/25/are-we-being-watched/

Lawrence: Are we being watched?
https://www.philomadrid.com/2019/09/are-we-being-watched.html





Late entry:


Clara sent us two links on the subject of surveillance:

Why Google won't protect you from big brother: Christopher Soghoian at TEDxSanJoseCA 2012

Are Security Cameras an Invasion of Privacy


 



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: Are we being watched?





Are we being watched?


Are we being watched?

Yes and we've always been watched! Since the dawn of history those in authority have always tried to control the population and look out for trouble makers. So, mass surveillance of the population on an industrial scale is not something new or something peculiar to our times.

Until the start of the 20th century the most effective means of controlling the population was religion. Indeed, religion has always been the go-to solution to manipulate people. A god or gods do the surveillance from above, nothing new from street cameras or drones watching us today, and our behaviour was then manipulated with the carrot and stick methodology: heaven or hell. The rewards for being good would come during the afterlife when it will be too late to complain. In the 21st century we do not get any rewards for being good.

Today we are more than being watched, our data and information we generate are being collected and analysed and if we're lucky it is only sold to some company who wants to sell us some perfume we don't like. Those who are involved in some kind of political or quasi political activity they are being actively watched. Journalists and antiestablishment activists are furthermore harassed and in some countries experience even a worse fate.

The arguments put forward today, as always, to justify mass surveillance is security and the need to fight criminals and terrorists. Terrorism is always a good excuse for those in power to take more draconian measures to control people. The issue is not whether or not to watch out for criminals and terrorists, but rather, as I shall argue, accountability.

So what are the philosophical issues on being watched? The first must surely be how accountable are those in power when handling our data and information? What are the criteria employed to watch individuals and who supervises those who use and collect this information? And probably the most important of all, are these activities by those in power transparent? Do people have a clear and immediate form of appeal should any information about them and counter activities be wrong or false? Keeping in mind that innocent victims have most to suffer from abuse of power.

Accountability works both ways. Accountability enables society, through their various representatives, to know what those in authority are doing as reasonable and justifiable measures to fight legitimate activities. Accountability requires access to information about what those in power are doing. Today there are many legitimate activities that are justifiable and not only crime and terrorism. One important activity is the flow of traffic and identifying accidents much sooner and more accurately.  So the more accountable the government the more legitimate their activities and type of activities become legitimate and necessary.

However, some governments use legitimate surveillance for political reasons, for example controlling legitimate political protests, spying on the opposition and so on. We can safely assume that the more a government does not want to be held accountable to society the more likely they are up to no good. The issue here is to distinguish between what is legitimate to keep secret and what is a lack of accountability. But this is more of an empirical and maybe legal issue than philosophical.

Accountability cannot happen without transparency and access to legitimate information. Whistleblowers should not be put into a position that endangers their life simply to provide the transparency and information the government are trying to keep secret. But one of the problems governments have today is that they collect so much information that it is not practical to access specific information or data in real time.

While some surveillance is legitimate and necessary, mistakes, especially legitimate mistakes will always happen. In this political subject, therefore, the key ethical issue must surely be the redress private citizens have against false and erroneous accusations and activities of nefarious governments.


Best Lawrence


Late entry:


Clara sent us two links on the subject of surveillance:


Why Google won't protect you from big brother: Christopher Soghoian at TEDxSanJoseCA 2012
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esA9RFO1Pcw

Are Security Cameras an Invasion of Privacy
 

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



typos corrected 29-09-2019 apologies.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Do human beings have an infinite appetite for distraction?

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Do human beings have an infinite appetite for distraction?

In my essay I try to grapple with this issue and tease out the philosophical implications of this idea by Aldus Huxley. You can read my essay at the link below.
Do human beings have an infinite appetite for distraction?
https://www.philomadrid.com/2019/09/do-human-beings-have-infinite-appetite.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: Do human beings have an infinite appetite for distraction?





Do human beings have an infinite appetite for distraction?

Do human beings have an infinite appetite for distraction?

Huxley was writing about mass communication in his work, Brave New World Revisited, and how the media was more interested in what is irrelevant than what is true or false when he discussed the idea of distractions. The new world of mass communication, in the 1950s, was challenging the spirituality of modern western societies: hence his observation that humans have an appetite for distractions. (All references below)

For better or for worse Huxley died in 1963, too early to even imagine the modern era of social media, apps, mobile phones and personal computers. He most probably would not have approved of the online information age of today. But as Alfonso keeps reminding us during the meetings, past philosophers did not have smart phones; so who knows, he might have loved to have one.

More or less at the same time Huxley was writing another philosopher was on the rise, the Canadian, Marshall McLuhan. It is claimed that McLuhan did foresee the World Wide Web, but he is more well known for the terms, "the medium is the message" and the “global village.” There is no doubt that today we do live in a "global village", but I would say even global villages: twitter, facebook, instagram, youtube, Whatsapp and so on, plus of course for many of us Madrid in the real world.

The idea of the population being distracted is not new, Karl Marx himself pointed out the influence of religion by describing religion as “….the opium of the people.” Basically the idea being that religion is both the cause of our misery and then promoted as the salvation of our misery. This should not come as a surprise given that Marx was writing about human conditions during one of the most oppressive and inhumane times of modern history, the height of the industrial revolution. Both Huxley and Marx found objection to capitalism since these distractions prevent us from concentrating on what is important in life.

That we have an infinite appetite for distraction is not in doubt, what is interesting is why and what for?

In English we have a saying, “The devil makes work for idle hands” (although there are many versions of the saying) meaning that people who are not busy can easily getting involved in mischief. The issue for us is of course idle hands. Why should we have nothing to do? And why should busy hands keep the devil away? After all those involved in religion and mass media keep very busy in distracting us.

But even if we were busy all hours it does not follow that we are not distracted from what we are doing. I would argue that distraction has nothing to do with human weakness but rather with human boredom. If mass media is the killer of spirituality, boredom is the killer of our intellectual souls. The political revolutions of the 19th and 20th century, culminating into Nazism, were not caused, I would argue, because people were oppressed but rather being poor and oppressed is very boring. Likewise, we are not distracted because we are weak, but boredom leads us to seek distractions. The 9 to 5 work day, is just as boring as shift work in a factory.

But repetition is not necessarily boring in itself, for example, doing the morning check list before we leave for the office is very efficient and very reassuring. Regularly ordering our favourite ice cream is not boring if only because we anticipate the pleasure it will give us, we enjoy it when we are eating it and at the end we are left with a pleasant experience.

A consequence of boredom is that it directly affects our attention span. Indeed distractions like social media might physically affect our concentration span and boredom due to the situation we are in affects our ability to concentrate. In effect we seek distractions because we are bored and our attention span is affected by our distractions.

It is one thing to argue that distractions take our attention away from what is important for us, and another finding ourselves in a world of boredom. Our attention span is a brain disposition unlike say our value judgements that what is spiritual or religious is important.

Consider the article “What Are the Causes of a Short Attention Span, and How Can I Improve It?” from Healthline.com. What is important for us here is that the authors identify medical causes that could lead to reduced attention span. Thus attention span is of great importance, but we cannot conclude that we are solely responsible of our attention span, whether for medical reasons or mental judgements. Some people are really just boring!

In an article in the Guardian reported, “Global attention span is narrowing and trends don't last as long, study reveals. …… Research combed from everything from movie tickets to social media finds more to focus on but less time to do so”.  An interesting observation made in the article is that a Twitter trend in 2013 lasted 17.5 hours and in 2016, 11.9 hours.

Indeed today we do suffer from information overload, but we are affected by information overload when the information is boring, irrelevant or downright depressing. I would argue that we seek and are affected by distractions as a consequence of disengagement and boredom. If we are not interested or engaged in what we are doing we would welcome a distraction. Compare the boredom of a 9 to 5 job with the following headline on Fifa’s website: “More than half the world watched record-breaking 2018 World Cup”. But what is important for my argument is the subheading: The final was seen live by a combined 1.12 billion viewers worldwide.

What the subheading means is that 1.12billion people were able to concentrate for more than 90minutes all at the same time and for the same event. I grant you that football might be the modern religion and equally alienates the people, but what matters here is that 1.12billion people felt engaged and certainly not bored.

My conclusion is that distractions might be sought because of the boring state we find ourselves in. And the antidote for distractions must surely be interesting engagement, involvement and motivation. Who, I ask you, in their right mind would be motivated to be bored?



“In regard to propaganda the early advocates of universal literacy and a free press envisaged only two possibilities: the propaganda might be true, or the propaganda might be false. They did not foresee what in fact has happened, above all in our Western capitalist democracies - the development of a vast mass communications industry, concerned in the main neither with the true nor the false, but with the unreal, the more or less totally irrelevant. In a word, they failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions.
In the past most people never got a chance of fully satisfying this appetite. They might long for distractions, but the distractions were not provided. Christmas came but once a year, ………”     Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited   ( https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/75681-in-regard-to-propaganda-the-early-advocates-of-universal-literacy )


Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people…… Karl Marx  Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opium_of_the_people#cite_note-2 )


Marshall McLuhan


What Are the Causes of a Short Attention Span, and How Can I Improve It?


 Global attention span is narrowing and trends don't last as long, study reveals
Dream McClinton in New York - Wed 17 Apr 2019 17.32 BST


More than half the world watched record-breaking 2018 World Cup


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

(minor corrections made 22/09/2019)

Thursday, September 12, 2019

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: The Connection of Existence and Reality

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: What is the connection between existence and reality?

Below are the links to Ruel's and my essay:

The Connection of Existence and Reality
https://ruelfpepa.wordpress.com/2019/09/11/the-connection-of-existence-and-reality/

What is the connection between existence and reality?
https://www.philomadrid.com/2019/09/what-is-connection-between-existence.html

Finally, just to remind you that we meet at 6.30pm, Downstairs at the Gran Clavel (Café-Bar): Gran vía 11, esquina C/ Clavel, 28013—Madrid. Please bring your drink down with you because we don't have bar service there.

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 Connection of Existence and Reality



What is the connection between existence and reality?


What is the connection between existence and reality?

Today we accept that objects that exist do not have some property called “existence” that gives them some privilege of those “things” that do not exist. This brings us immediately to the question: how can we know anything about something that does not exist? I don’t mean no longer exists but that has never and will never exist.

Up to an extent, we can even know about things that have not happened yet. For example the expansion of our sun that will swallow the Earth and more. We can even make reasonable predictions about the past. For example, when the ice melted at the end of the ice age many coastal areas were flooded under water. So, just because today we do not have access to things that existed or will exist, we can still be satisfied that they exist.

Whilst these things might be interesting, we are more likely to be concerned and involved with a different class of “things” that cannot be found in three dimensional space. I am thinking of our ideas, our mental creations, our beliefs, our plans, our hates, our likes, our imaginary friends and so on. Do they exist? Someone like me would argue that sure these non-things in our head still exist in three dimensional space: they just have the form for brain cells, synapses, electrical and chemical events, and so on.

Without any doubt it is this observation of non-thing objects in our brain that cause all the concern about existence. By definition, a unicorn cannot fit in my brain, even a small one, this will never happen. But, however, we are convinced that unicorns exist because we easily give a full and coherent definition of a unicorn using our language without any problems. Our language can cope with us describing a thing that doesn’t exist in the three dimensional world.

Our everyday use of the word “exist” must therefore refer to things that may also include properties that in and of themselves are not physical. The computer I am writing this essay on is physical and it does exist, but the unicorn I have in my mind only exists, as far as it exists, as an idea in my brain that manifests its self in cells, electricity, chemicals and much more.

As far as we are concerned, I mean physical human beings, we live in a physical world and all information that we need to access this information must also be in a physical form. Hence the cells in my brain, the chemicals and electricity in my brain that make up my idea of a unicorn.

The electricity in my brain et al is the carrier of the information that helps me communicate (pass on information) my idea of unicorn to myself and more importantly to others. What is even more important is that what matters for us as social beings, is not the electricity et al but the idea of the unicorn. People who understand English and know the concept of unicorn can ask me such interesting question as what do you feed it? How high is it?

At best what exists, or existences of things, is what we can know, and if we can articulate that knowledge into some form of language we can interact with other people more intelligently. Sometimes we cannot articulate what we can know in a natural language so we developed artificial languages such as logic, mathematics, music and so on.

So far so good: I will also venture to argue that what exists is what we can know about and preferably we can even articulate it into a form of language which others understand, hopefully most will understand. Thus if I said I feed my unicorn green grass you’ll probably be happy with that. Now image how you would feel if I said I feed my unicorn a load of bull shit!

We are happy to talk about existence, to talk about things that exist and we are even better with non-things existing in our brain. The issue is that we tended and, maybe still do, to assume that if certain things exist in the real world than everything has the propensity of existing out there in the world. And from there treating our non-thing objects in our brain as if they were objects in the world or universe: this fallacy may also be called “history by Hollywood”. It will take some effort to keep track of what we know about the world and what was created in our brain or someone else’s brain.  Mind you existence is a state of our brain and nothing to do with the state of the world out there.

This issues led to the problem of reality: what is real? What are we saying when we say that xyz is real, or reality is xyz?  How do we distinguish between the unicorn in my head and a horse in the meadows? If existence is about us, then surely reality is about how the world out there. Reality is the world of science and life itself. My unicorn will never die or gets sick, but my pet cat, when I had one, did get sick and did die from cat flu. We can say that reality is what we can confirm by objective means with verifiable methods that are sound.

One implication of this mix up with language, exist vs real,  is that language itself might lead us into a false sense of reality by believing that what can be described can also exist and thus is real. Just because some things that can exists and be verified as real, it does not follow that all things that exist and described can also be objectively real.

This is then compounded by unscrupulous people who use their position of influence in society. The argument from authority is a fallacy that relies on the person arguing for something existing and is real not from evidence or methodology, but merely because they hold a position of authority. This abuse of concepts has lead to religious wars, racial conflict, and world wars. Politicians use the terms existence and reality to formulate policies that abuse human rights and rob the wealth of the nation. Patriotism is a very powerful argument from authority not to mention brimstones from hell.

What is clear is that language can be a powerful instrument in communicating information with others, but it is also a dangerous instrument that can easily be used to influence people to harm themselves and others. In short, linguistic concepts have consequences in the world out there and the terms existence and reality are language concepts first.

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





Thursday, September 05, 2019

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Open Discussion + news

Dear Friends,

This will be the last Sunday when we have an Open discussion. Hence, please submit your topics for the following Sunday if you are not coming to the meeting. I'll vote for your topic of course! Meeting at 18:30pm at Gran Clavel (Café-Bar): Gran vía 11, esquina C/ Clavel, 28013—Madrid

In the meantime David Butler sent me details of the guided tours to the Madrid British Cemetery in SPANISH only! Details here:
https://www.philomadrid.com/2019/09/madrid-british-cemetery.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: Open Discussion + news




Madrid British Cemetery

**Me da gusto comunicarles las fechas de las visitas guiadas programadas para el trimestre otoñal. 
 
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
**Programa de visitas guiadas, todos con su comentario en español
++++++++++++
El punto de encuentro, la entrada del Cementerio, y la hora, las 11.00 horas
sábado, día 28 de septiembre
sábado, día 16 de noviembre
sábado, día 14 de diciembre
           ************

**Schedule of guided visits, all in Spanish language.
+++++++++++++
Meeting place, Cemetery entrance. Time, 11.00 am
Saturday 28th September
Saturday 16th November
Saturday 14th December
            **************
 
Si prefiere hacer la visita en una fecha no programada y siempre que formen un grupo de un mínimo de 10 personas, avíseme a................. <butler_d_j@yahoo.es>
 
Grandes acontecimientos : Special Occasions
FUNDACIÓN CEMENTERIOS BRITÁNICOS EN ESPAÑA
Los detalles siguen a continuación tanto en español como en inglés 
Details follow ¡n both languages:
Se ofrece una serie de actos culturales durante los meses de septiembre y octubre:
*jueves, 19 de septiembre, a partir de las 19,00 horas, la comisión gestora del cementerio y sus amigos dan su apoyo a las demás instituciones angloparlantes de Madrid con su presencia en el patio de la Iglesia Anglicana Episcopal de San Jorge, c/ Núñez de Balboa 43 ( esquina c/ Hermosilla) Acceso libre, bar de pago.
*los días viernes, 18 de octubre, sábado, día 19 y domingo, día 20 de octubre la comisión gestora, como participante en el programa del Ayuntamiento de Madrid, Madrid Otra Mirada ( MOM ), ofrecerá visitas guiadas gratuitas en los días señalados, por la mañana, a partir de las 11,00 horas.  

*miércoles, 20 de noviembrea las 19,00 horas, conferencia "Cemetery Stories", pronunciada en inglés por Michael von Stumm de la comisión gestora del Cementerio Británico de Madrid y patrocinada por la Fundación Cementerios Británicos en España. 
Acceso por invitación personal solicitada a los miembros de la comisión gestora del cementerio:<butler_d_j@yahoo.es > o a Michael von Stumm<mvs@michaelvonstumm.jazztel.es>
PLACE TO BE ANNOUNCED, plazas limitadas, hay cupo.
Se ofrece un vino de honor. Agradecemos a los asistentes sus donativos.
++++++++++++++++++
Special occasions to celebrate :
FUNDACIÓN CEMENTERIOS BRITÁNICOS EN ESPAÑA
Cultural activities in September and October :
*Thursday, 19th September, 7 p.m. onwards, the Cemetery committee and friends join other English-speaking institutions in the courtyard of St George’s Anglican and Episcopal Church at c/Núñez de Balboa 43. Open to all. Bar service.
*Friday the 18th, Saturday the 19th & Sunday the 20th October  the Cemetery committee takes part in the city’s cultural programme MOM ( Madrid Otra Mirada ) and offers guided tours free of charge from 11 a.m. onwards.
*Wednesday, 20th November, at 7 p.m., an illustrated talk in English, " Some Cemetery Stories", to be given by Michael von Stumm, member of the Madrid British Cemetery committee. An event arranged by the Foundation British Cemeteries in Spain. LOCATION TO BE ANNOUNCED. Apply for personal invitations to cemetery committee members <butler_d_j@yahoo.es> or Michael von Stumm<mvs@michaelvonstumm.jazztel.es>
Hospitality will be offered. Limited numbers. Donations from those attending will be greatly appreciated.

David J Butler M.B.E.

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