15 October 2020

PhiloMadrid on Skype 6:30pm Sunday 18th October: Algorithm + News

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Algorithms

A topic proposed by Ignacio. As a concept algorithms are ages old but
we've become familiar with this term in modern times with the advent of
Information Technology. But how on Earth can we use this term outside
the IT habitat. I try to answer this question at the end of my short essay:

Algorithms
https://www.philomadrid.com/2020/10/algorithms.html


In the meantime you can link to the current news and notices here:
https://www.philomadrid.com/2020/10/news-and-notices.html

-Alfonso has a new website and he gave us link to his latest book of
poems: Después

-Oscar's book on his reflections on COVID-19 is still available

-David J.Butler has published a new book "Absent Friends" regarding the
Cementerio Británico in Madrid


Finally, the Skype Meeting is on 18th October at 6:30pm: if you don't
have the link already please send me a message. In the meantime
sometimes new members have problems connecting to Skype. Having the
desktop version helps, and the mobile phone version is also useful. For
some reason Skype fails to connect via a browser. Other times you might
need to restart your PC, but once you connect there is no problem.

Best and take care
Lawrence

telephone/WhatsApp: 606081813
Email: philomadrid@gmail.com
http://www.philomadrid.com

PhiloMadrid on Skype 6:30pm Sunday 18th October: Algorithm + News

Algorithms





Algorithms topic by Ignacio



Algorithms, or the concept, algorithm, is not a new concept. It has existed in mathematics for ages and more recently it is the mainstay of structured programming in information technology (IT). Indeed the term has crept into mainstream language with the advent of digital equipment, programs and social media.



In the context of IT the term has a specific meaning and refers to a specific type of activity. Compare for example a flowchart vs an algorithm; a flowchart is usually a representation of an algorithm in diagram form with natural language annotations where as an algorithm is a set of instructions given in the language of the digital equipment or a digital language recognised by the computer. In algorithms there are only nouns and verbs; it does not make sense for a computer to be fed a line such as "run until feeling tired". A good and well built computer should come back with "run for how long?" or "when do I feel tired?" A cheap computer will just run until something breaks down, maybe the fan or cache memory.



The beauty of algorithms is that they are precise and robust, or at least as robust as the programmer writing the algorithm into code. The outcome of an algorithm should also be known in advance: for example an algorithm telling a computer to run fifty times it will stop when the computer reaches fifty runs. So the more imaginative the programmer is the more they can write algorithms that are efficient and precise.



But the concept behind algorithms is not new in other fields of human endeavour which includes medicine, aviation, home kitchen and more. The advancement of medicine is well linked to protocols and guidelines; these protocols try to eliminate errors and to standardise well known treatments that work within their ambit of operation. A protocol is made up of instructions and actionable options. However, algorithms are deterministic in nature since the instructions are not natural language imperatives but physical energy pathways in a micro chip and the surrounding digital architecture.



To reinforce the point, when we switch on the lights, we are not really causing the lights to turn on but rather, we cause a change in the position of the switch, but that new position determines the electricity to flow to the lamp: that’s what electricity is supposed to do, no adverbs or adjectives here. The system was designed this way because a priori we “know” that when we turn on the switch the electricity will flow. We have a choice to turn the switch on or off, but the question of choice makes no sense to say that electricity has a choice to flow: it flows when electricity finds certain conditions.



Once again, checklists are the mainstay of aviation and the objective is to avoid errors, usually by helping pilots not to forget a procedure to fly the plane or to prescribe an action process in an emergency. Of course, a checklist might not be as robust as an algorithm since a checklist might become a routine and thus increasing the risk of errors. A checklist might itself become a problem by deviating the attention of the crew away from the emergency. But checklists do work so much so that the World Health Organisation have prepared a 19-item WHO Surgical Safety Checklist (https://www.who.int/patientsafety/safesurgery/checklist/en/). Maybe we should introduce checklists in our life.



We might even care to include recipes to prepare food in the kitchen. Once again the objective of a recipe is to reproduce a well established dish that should taste and look as we know the dish to be and to reproduce a past experience. Of course, in recipes sometimes we do have adverb and adjective creep with suggestions such as: add salt to taste, do not overheat the butter, or use fish in season.



Algorithms, can have "bugs" or become corrupt over time. Protocols in medicine may become out of date with the introduction of new medicines or worse still a protocol is not changed until a patient has an adverse event. Or maybe an aircraft that was designed to do its own thing does not have a provision in its algorithm to tell the pilot that it is doing its own thing. And the worst of all when an algorithm becomes corrupt beyond recognition such as the gastronomical crime of adding cream to pasta Carbonara or pasta Alfredo: there is no cream in these two dishes, that’s a crime in gastronomy far beyond a corrupted algorithm.



The final frontier of algorithms must surely be our natural language. We might argue that the syntax of a language (i.e. Grammar) might itself be a sort of algorithm given that grammar is supposed to be a rule based structure. Indeed the grammar part of a natural language is supposed to help us predict the outcome in the form of an action by the person or people we are communicating with because the grammar is supposed to preserve the meaning.



I would argue that at best the grammar structure protects the “intended meaning of words and phrases” rather than conveying meaning. Except that algorithms have a single purpose or function with an a priori recognisable outcome. Even more, a language seems to be more robust than an IT algorithm since a language act might deviate from the instructions (grammar rules) but the message (meaning) still goes through unscathed. What’s more, grammar might even be manipulated to form a sort of Trojan Horses to convey a malicious meaning. Take for example the word "cream" and the context "insulting someone" we might use this combination and say something like: there is no such thing as Carbonara with cream.



Compare this with a very polite insult: You do know that Carbonara does not have cream? The insult is: “no such thing” = you're ignorant and “you do know” = only an ignorant person wouldn't know. Here we are using a statement and a question when what we wanted to say was “you are an ignorant person to add cream”. This might be well and good for an insult, but the importance of an insult is that the person we direct the insult to is insulted and hopefully does not become angry or aggressive. Thus despite grammar having the looks of an algorithm, without context grammar is hardly an algorithm.



Thus despite the warnings and appeal of our parents, teachers and social class not to insult people, controlling our language does not always come easy: the meme or imperative "do not insult others" does not activate easily in us. Indeed, to have an effect the language of insult depends on the other person feeling insulted and has the language capacity to understand the insult. In fact language helps us improve and refine our skills at insulting others as demonstrated in the examples above; this is like an imaginative programmer being able to creates a super robust algorithm. Although, the same algorithm might be used on a different computer with some minor adjustments, or a protocol adopted at another hospital, when it comes to insults I don’t believe these can be used by others. The context is usually different, and the intonation of the delivery is something very personal.



So now that "algorithm" and "algorithms" are sufficiently introduced in everyday natural language, how can we use these terms outside their natural habitat of Information Technology? If you have any examples please let us know since I cannot find or come up with examples. In the meantime, I can only think of one example using the term algorithm as an insult. This might come handy on social media to insult trolls or dodgy politicians which the algorithm of the social media platform won’t otherwise flag our insult. And from observation an IT algorithm still finds it hard to deal with imaginative natural language and prose. The insult goes something like this: you must be a buggy algorithm on a rusty PC in the middle of a desert.



Best and take care



Lawrence







telephone/WhatsApp: 606081813



Email: philomadrid@gmail.com



http://www.philomadrid.comBest and take care



Lawrence







telephone/WhatsApp: 606081813



Email: philomadrid@gmail.com



http://www.philomadrid.com





News and Notices









ALFONSO VALLEJO 

OBRAS COMPLETAS (Selección): Poesía, Teatro y Pintura

https://www.obrascompletasalfonsovallejo.com/

LATEST book of POEMS by Alfonso: Después
https://obrascompletasalfonsovallejo.es/despues-2/

MADE availble here for members of the PhiloMadrid group.



Oscar's book on Covid-19
El Virus de Wuhan: 44 garabatos y ripios de un confinado en Madrid
https://www.amazon.es/dp/B089CJJMLY/ref=cm_sw_r_other_apa_i_8X30EbFRN3RCH

 

 

 

Estimados Amigos del Cementerio :

Por causa del Corona Virus  y las limitaciones impuestas en estos momentos tan inusuales no nos resulta posible ofrecer el servicio de visitas guiadas hasta nuevo aviso.
 
De todas maneras, podéis seguir leyendo la historia del Cementerio por medio del libro en inglés de la Editorial Círculo Rojo, difundido mundialmente, cuyo autor David Butler ofrece su obra para seguir recaudando fondos para el mantenimiento del Cementerio Británico en Madrid.

                Absent Friends

                         Autor, David J.Butler

Publicación en inglés patrocinada por https://britishcemeteriesspain.org/foundation
La recaudación se destinará en su totalidad al Cementerio Británico en Madrid : P.V.P 13 euros, e-book 2,99 euros.
ISBN:978-84-1363-711-2
Buscarlo cerca de la denominación Fundación Cementerios Británicos o dentro los espacios Amazon etc. y disponible en determinadas librerías en Madrid por petición previa (ver mapa por Círculo Rojo)
Dear Cemetery Friends,
As a result of the Corona Virus and the restrictions imposed in these uncertain times we are unable to offer guided vists until further notice.

You can still read about the history of the Cemetery in the book by David Butler, available worldwide, published in English by Editorial Círculo Rojo and thereby continue contributing to the cost of maintenance of the Madrid British Cemetery.

Publication in English sponsored by  https://britishcemeteriesspain.org/foundation.  All proceeds from sales will go to the Madrid British Cemetery.  Available on-line: price, hard copy 13 euros, e-book 2,99 euros. Look for it near the heading Fundación Cementerios Británicos or in the spaces Amazon etc. and available by ordering at some Madrid bookshops (see map by Círculo Rojo )

 

08 October 2020

PhiloMadrid on Skype 6:30pm Sunday 11th October: Is health the most important thing in life?

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Is health the most important thing in life?

The important aspect of this question is what happens after yes. In my
very short essay I try to outline the key factors that follow yes!

Is health the most important thing in life? by Ignacio
https://www.philomadrid.com/2020/10/is-health-most-important-thing-in-life.html

In the meantime we were invited to join the "Virtual Philosophy Network"
( https://www.virtualphilosophynetwork.com/ ) who are trying to include
all philosophy groups in a single network on the internet. From the site
you can find groups in other places and countries.

Don't forget Oscar's book on Covid-19
El Virus de Wuhan: 44 garabatos y ripios de un confinado en Madrid
https://www.amazon.es/dp/B089CJJMLY/ref=cm_sw_r_other_apa_i_8X30EbFRN3RCH

Finally, the Skype Meeting is on 11th October at 6:30pm: if you don't
have the link already please send me a message. In the meantime
sometimes new members have problems connecting to Skype. Having the
desktop version helps, and the mobile phone version is also useful. For
some reason Skype fails to connect via a browser. Other times you might
need to restart your PC, but once you connect there is no problem.

Best and take care
Lawrence

telephone/WhatsApp: 606081813
Email: philomadrid@gmail.com
http://www.philomadrid.com

PhiloMadrid on Skype 6:30pm Sunday 11th October: Is health the most
important thing in life?

Is health the most important thing in life?

 

Is health the most important thing in life? topic by Ignacio

 

As in many problems in our daily life and certainly philosophy the primary cause of the problem is language. Just because a language act is grammatically correct and makes sense to our mind it does not follow that the language act is necessarily a legitimate or justifiable linguistic act. So what is the language issue with our question?

 

Health, as in ‘good health’ is not a thing; it is not an empirical object we can touch and examine at will. Indeed in English we do not say "I have good health" but rather "I'm in good health". That ‘in’ instead of that ‘have’ says it all; we have to arrive at good health rather than obtain or ‘purchase’ good health..

 

Indeed health, including good health, is a state of affairs of our physical bodies rather than a component of our bodies. Thus good health (I will use this term to also mean health) is the state of the various organs and systems (genes, immune system, bone marrow, glands etc) functioning as they should be functioning. Of course, when such organs fail there might be a number of factors and causes that influence the malfunction of these organs. A note in passing, good or bad health also included our mental and psychological state and not just the usual culprits of bad health.

 

Of course, these harmful causes might be due to our actions and behaviour, but this is not a necessary condition. We might, as we already know, be victims of the environment, diseases, genes, viruses and so on. What this implies is that rather than being made in some image of a god or gods, we are the product of the chaos of evolution with all the weaknesses of a biological creature. Surely survival of the fittest cannot mean that those who survive are some super strong creatures, maybe luckier that their fallen brethren, yes.

 

Moving on from the language aspect, what matters is not the answer, which most would certainly say "yes" health is the most important thing in our life, but for us as philosophy investigators to discover what happens after "yes". What this implies is that we have to discover what needs to be done to secure a reasonable level of good health?

 

The ‘yes’ we give to our question implies that we also have to accept the consequences of that yes. For example, the physical environment we live in plays a crucial role in our health. This does not only imply the climate and geographical conditions we live in, but also the state of resources we have to feed ourselves and protect ourselves from the elements.

 

The second level of importance in our quest for good health must surely be how we care for ourselves: what we eat, what we do, our routines, and our ability to be fit. But our good health also depends on being able to cure ourselves when things go a bit awry. Indeed some might argue that healthcare should be our first priority, and I do agree after all the quest for effective healthcare is as old as the hills.

 

Apart from trying to fix our health healthcare is also big business, and this is where the ‘yes’ and ‘good health’ come into conflict with reality. To cut a long story short, so far the most efficient model of healthcare is when healthcare is available free at the point of need.

 

If the categorical type statement, “Health is the most important thing in our life” (universal affirmative), then as the statement suggests good health must be universalisable to everyone. Thus a healthcare system that by design or by accident excludes someone from healthcare must by definition contradict the “yes” to our question. Some cite the cost of healthcare, to mitigate against universal healthcare, all I will say is that most if not all countries have resources and create enough wealth of offer free healthcare.

 

To conclude, the more pressing issue for us is not whether health is the most important thing in our life, but rather how do we stop others from encroaching on our good health or means to protect our good health.

 


 

Best and take care

Lawrence

 

telephone/WhatsApp: 606081813

Email: philomadrid@gmail.com

http://www.philomadrid.com

 

 

 

 

01 October 2020

PhiloMadrid on Skype 6:30pm Sunday 4th October: Do self help books harm people?

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Do self help books harm people?

A topic suggested by Norma with an original title: Do current self-help
books harm people instead of helping them? You can find my short essay here:
Do self help books harm people?
https://www.philomadrid.com/2020/10/do-self-help-books-harm-people.html

In the meantime we were invited to join the "Virtual Philosophy Network"
( https://www.virtualphilosophynetwork.com/ ) who are trying to include
all philosophy groups in a single network on the internet. From the site
you can find groups in other places and countries.

Don't forget Oscar's book on Covid-19
El Virus de Wuhan: 44 garabatos y ripios de un confinado en Madrid
https://www.amazon.es/dp/B089CJJMLY/ref=cm_sw_r_other_apa_i_8X30EbFRN3RCH

Finally, the Skype Meeting is on 4th October at 6:30pm: if you don't
have the link already please send me a message. In the meantime
sometimes new members have problems connecting to Skype. Having the
desktop version helps, and the mobile phone version is also useful. For
some reason Skype fails to connect via a browser. Other times you might
need to restart your PC, but once you connect there is no problem.

Best and take care
Lawrence

telephone/WhatsApp: 606081813
Email: philomadrid@gmail.com
http://www.philomadrid.com

PhiloMadrid on Skype 6:30pm Sunday 4th October: Do self help books harm
people?

Do self help books harm people?



Do self help books harm people? Topic by Norma

(Do current self-help books harm people instead of helping them?)



Self help books are not a new phenomenon in publishing. With some imagination we can even think that cave paintings might include some sort of instructions and maybe even self help reminders on how to hunt wild animals.



More recently self help books took the form of holy books telling members of the faith how to be good. And most important of all, how to arrive to haven. Unfortunately we cannot verify the validity and soundness of cave paintings and holy books as self help books for their set objectives. Holy books may or may not be a formula to go to heaven, but they have certainly been interpreted to cause a lot of harm and mischief. This leaves us with the eternal question of whether: it is acceptable to do harm to people in the name of a higher good?



A more modern self help book is, of course, the Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli. Accepted that this is a handbook for princes, today we all accept that we are all princes and princesses with a principality of one, ourselves.



Today we are inundated with self help books. In a way self help books should make us sufficiently informed about a given subject, but unfortunately not all information and knowledge is the same. We have to go back to distinguishing knowledge about "How to do something" and knowledge about "What is something".



Self help books are more about how to do something because the end game of the book is to make the reader proficient in something: solve a problem or achieve a goal. The more questionable self help books are those that pretend to teach us how to improve and analyse ourselves: books that profess to fix our mind. But people who suffer from psychological disquiet might face a dilemma: Seek professional psychological help that might be very expensive or seek medical help that may or may not lead to a spiral of drug taking and drug dependence.



Other people might be in a really bad situation and although they are aware of their situation they deny that they need professional help; if only they discover a new ideas how to deal with their problems and they will be able to deal with matters from there. These unfortunate people are easy prey to psychological charlatans and psychological snake oil peddlers.



Other self help books are not so personal and traumatic. Some books simply try to give us ideas and action plans on how to improve one's performance, one's happiness, and maybe even how to fix a leaking tap in the kitchen.



A key feature of self help books is that the author of the book is recognised as some sort of authority on the subject or maybe a knowledgeable and well researched author. We might argue whether the book came first or the author did. But who is the author is important for us since this affects our trust in the information of the contents of the book. But to trust in someone we must be in a mental state that we turn off the self preservation instinct in us: ie keep strangers at arms length. The clergy of religions or sects, and certainly members of political parties, are very familiar with this principle and their job is to build an environment of trust to attract converts. Today we call this marketing, but this behaviour is well established amongst animals and other biological creatures.



It should be said that self help books do sometimes offer solutions to problems and do offer answers on how to do things. Just because people abuse and misuse books, especially holy books that end up causing harm, it does not mean that some if not all of the content is not valid, useful, or interesting. And as a publishing phenomenon self help books keep many people in employment.



To recap self help books are just another way of sharing knowledge, especially based on experience or professional knowledge that is not easily accessible to people or not necessary for the problems people have. They also involve an element of value judgement from our part in deciding which self help book to trust and study (read). And the other philosophical perspective is that we need to understand and follow the instructions given in the book to solve our problems. Sometimes self help books are useless.



The question today is whether self help books are an endangered species of book form? And by book I do not necessarily mean in paper form. That battle has long been lost; today paper books are like living monuments of technology in the same way that country fetes are gatherings from a time with limited access to means of transport. But even today we are not sure whether such large gatherings in the countryside will continue given the Covid pandemic and foot and mouth disease in the agricultural sector.



Today problems are solved by consulting search engines, blogs and vlogs, forums, websites, and digital friends on mobile phone apps. Indeed before starting to write this essay, I spent two hours trying to make an old computer go faster by looking at various solutions: I am still not driving a sports car of a PC, after all one cannot make a silk purse from a sow's ear, but it is reacting immediately to my tapping of the keys!



Maybe the genetics of self help books have nothing to do with the book form but on the type of knowledge we are looking for, our trust in this knowledge, and the authors of this knowledge. Followed by our ability to understand and apply the relevant knowledge to solve our problems. From this context today our self help is the internet and we have thousands upon thousands of “authors” sharing their nuggets of knowledge with us. The challenge is to know how to prosper for those nuggets of information.



And of course charlatans and snake oil peddlers have not disappeared. They always distort facts and information to take advantage of our ignorance or naivety. Does this mean that charlatans and snake peddlers are the blood suckers of knowledge?



Best Lawrence





telephone/WhatsApp: 606081813



Email: philomadrid@gmail.com



http://www.philomadrid.com







PhiloMadrid on Skype 6:30pm Sunday 4th October: Do self help books harm people?







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