Sunday, June 28, 2015

Continuity

Indeed there is an element of continuity with the past in every single aspect of modern life even if we don't noticed. In many cases, this can be tracked clearly way back, in many others, the actual connection is usually forgotten by most of us, generating the idea that something is supposedly new or random. Let's talk about something supposely random... anyone knows what is the standard train gauge? It happens to be exactly four feet and eight inches! It is also a perfectly reasonable width in its context, back from the time of the train development: in the begining carriages began to be made by.... horse carriage builders! The natural width to then use was the width of the standard horse carriage... rounded within the imperial units (which they have a lot of continuity stories on their own, beyond the scope of this argument anyway). How about language? I am not going to go in much detail here as we all (I hope) know about this etymology bussines, which helps to have good spelling and so on; for example, it turns that romans soldiers were paid with bags of salt hence the word "salary"... lots of this stuff can certainly fill an enjoyable trivia evening! A subtle language I am going to explore in a bit more detail here is the one of music, in particular, the way occidental music works. The main questions here: why a piece of music sounds "good" and another not quite good or bad? What is the foundation for modern music and how it is assessed as "good" or "bad"? It turns that this continuity bussiness has lots to do with it and reasons can be track easily at least to the Gregorian chant. This ancient form of music was originally designed to be sang by a human voice based on a written text. Melodies were in fact an extension on the inflections in the text and phrasing, pitches well defined by a singing voice. As a matter of fact, many centuries later, these simple constrains evolved into rules of good melody creation, and still we divide any melody (even those that are not to be sang but played by an instrument) in phrases and motives. In a nutshell, effective melodies are of course those easier to sing! So it turns that continuity somehow develops what is good or bad; godness what is been laid out by tradition, badness what wonders out too far from it. Having said that, little by little, things change; after all we don't compose Gregorian chants anymore! This is usually done in little unnoticeable steps since bigger steps wouldn't be allowed easily as Stravinsky's Rite of Spring proved at the beginning of 20th century. And the most important idea of this post, backed up by modern musicians: nothing really sounds bad! It is all a matter of getting used to new sounds, providing that there is an structure of a kind under (I give credit to the intention of making music! Long life to the structuralism!). In summary, I am pointing out something broader than music or languages here, as the concept of good or bad are linked with continuity. in that context, moral not just has the breadth of the struggle between subject and society (as claimed in a previous post), it has also the problem of context or continuity related to how a moral idea has evolved in a particular society.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

According to Adam Smith the human being is selfish and only selfish reasons are his main motivation. Indeed, we cannot perceive reality from outside of ourselves and everything is done or assessed from that subjective perspective. Psychologically, the first human crisis is when he/she realizes that he/she is not the centre of the universe and parents won't do everything wanted! So selfishness is natural and central to explain primordial human behaviour, any other behaviour being learnt later by interaction with other human beings and reality. Under this perspective, selfishness (i.e. to put our conscience first, the remaining of reality including other beings, second) is not immoral and it is a natural consequence of our perception: everything is thought from our perspective. Now the obvious question here is in what instant selfishness becomes immoral and why. We need to broaden the original definition given by Smith. The human being is a dual entity, subjective and selfish from his/her point of view, but at the same time member of a group that exist outside of himself/herself. Humanity is the permanent struggle between being ourselves and make the effort of putting that into a social context. From that struggle morality is created and from the idea of "outside" combined with morality the idea of a higher entity follows. Because of this struggle, moral rules need to be stated and written down; the contract/compromise that we will sacrifice our subject when is time to put it in the social context, which is outside of ourselves. Because this structure cannot be proved from the subject, the idea of higher rules that are valid outside have to be introduced. I think I have answered from where comes the moral, God and the struggle, however I cannot address the moral value of being selfish because such assessment is done in the structure outside the human being and from that perspective selfishness is always immoral. Along the same lines, assessing the moral value of selfishness from the subjective perspective produce the opposite result. Because a moral system should apply in the dual perspective, it follows that it cannot assess concepts that are not part of the duality like itself.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Scotland's referendum

Although I usually don't blog about political issues I am going to make an exception today regarding the Scottish referendum (enough time has passed anyway). The main issue that bothered at the time was the actual motivation everybody had to actually vote yes or no! I'm not European so I couldn't vote, but still I am interested in human relations transcending a particular political aspect. In fact is back to my theme on selfishness from older posts if you really think about... All the arguments in favour or against independence were crafted around the lines of whether it was going to be better or worse for a given individual in all the possible scenarios, along the lines "you will be doomed if you do it" or not (I personally liked "you still will be able to watch Dr. Who" in the TV). Well, I believe that decisions like these shouldn't be based on arguments for the good of the individual because from my personal view the concept of a nation ought to supersede it. Or, as John Stuart Mill put it, the concept of common good is more important than personal good. Its boils down to the question "is a nation only the sum of the individuals or it is something else"? In my opinion, it is indeed something else! A nation is the synergy of current individuals plus the past individuals and the individuals to come. It also includes heritage and tradition, which in turn affect the individuals. So, it seems to be a higher value that should be considered at the time of make decisions; it is not whether a given alternative will be economically better or worse for you but along the lines of what is right or wrong in the broader context of the future of a nation. And I believe, both campaigns somehow failed presenting that mostly focussing in the pros and cons of the decision for somebody like you rather than the nation and its heritage. Politicians, should give more credibility to the public, not everybody is selfish!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

On Social Media

A few days ago it was my birthday. Normally I don't make a big fuss about it and generally eating out is enough treat at my, almost, fifty years hanging around. I do social media. The fact that you are reading this post proves that! I have a Facebook account, an internet web page etc. but at the same time I am a bit reserved with my personal data, particularly, my date of birth, which exposed a very interesting issue that happens with social media, which I will try to describe in this post. Facebook is an interesting beast with a very fast dynamics. For example, it is almost impossible to find the same post twice (and a humble suggestion for the developers would be to have a "search" option for posts' keywords) and particularly, birthday notifications happen at the speed of bites. This because, as many of you surely already know, one of the features of Facebook is to automatically remind you the birthday of a friend and thus, almost every day these are posted in the news feed. Consequently, the birthday boy or girl gets lots of posts of his/her friends wishing happy birthday, which, kind of loose meaning if the list is vast and thus, it becomes a formality. In any case, this is not new and social media is not particularly responsible of such formality, which I am not going to criticize here. I don't list my birthday in Facebook and as expected I didn't get posts of people wishing me a happy one. However the unexpected point is that I didn't get meaningful greetings either as I used to by any other means, and that is the aspect I am interested on commenting today. You see, lots of the greetings are meaningless whether they come from the social media or not, and now they simply get reinforced and increased by this modern technology. Hence, what social media really does is decreasing the importance of meaningful greetings by boosting the reminders of every potential greeting. In the old time, only the relevant birthdays were remembered and perhaps annotated in a diary in a proactive way, since the date was relevant. Those few greetings had meaning as the consequence of a proactive intention: I love X --> I care about X. Today, we get all the dates in a passive way; I don't need to do anything but log in to know who's birthday is today and worse, I don't care to remember the birthday of X because I am assuming the system will tell me so precisely on the right day. So, I am not surprised not getting greetings from every single friend I have in the social media, but it is really disturbing that people who used to remember proactively those dates don't do it anymore and rely on the reminders, first of all, forgetting the relevance of a date watered down among many other dates and second, rendering the relevance into irrelevance when the date is not remembered proactively. Today, we chose to transfer our brain and thinking from our heads into our pocket, inside the case of a smart phone and choose to forget what the phone can remember on our behalf. The question is what is left behind for us to remember?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Fairness

In this entry I will write on one of the key aspects that seem to give shape to human behavior and society. I will not mention particulars or specific events, suffice the fact that, no matter the century or place, there is what we call injustice in the world. Since I am not religious, I will argue that this is not an absolute condition of reality, but rather the biased perception that comes from our first person witness of reality. The key point is about the duality of fairness in terms of the universe and in terms of ourselves. Imagine an infinite checkered board in which an enough large amount of pawns of different colours, not just black and white, stand filling a many of the squares. Now imagine that randomly, a finite number of these pawns are taken out of the board by an invisible hand for no particular reason, just wanted to take some pawns out of the infinite board. First of all, from the point of view of the board, nothing fundamental has changed (!!), even if the invisible hand takes the pawns from a specific corner of it and as many as it wants (remember... the board is infinite). From the point of view of a taken pawn, things are radically different, from being on the board to being dumped out of it (the chosen one!). From the pawns left on the board, the fact that a particular pawn was taken and not itself also has an implication; it has to be a reason why that particular pawn was taken instead of itself (has it?). If some higher entity is really there collecting pawns, from the point of view of them it must be of course a reason why a given pawn was collected while another was left on the board. But from the point of view of the collecting hand, independently whether there is or there isn't an entity behind, all the pawns are irrelevant, no particular reason why choosing one instead of another, only an hypothetical higher purpose concerning the overall board. The hand is not interested in the particulars of a given pawn when there is an infinite board with them to collect and move! If there is no superior entity or higher purpose; pieces are just taken in a random way one after another no need of fairness in the process. So reality (a.k.a. the positions of the pawns on the board) doesn't have a special condition that make the pawn collection fair or unfair, even if there is a higher purpose collecting the pieces; the concept solely comes from the pawns and their circumstance on the board and their relative perceptions. We have indeed trouble to perceive the reality outside of ourselves and thus, it is very difficult to avoid assessing how fair or unfair is a circumstance in the context of pure reality devoid of our own presence. The moral of the fable is simple, the fact that human beings cannot behold reality outside of themselves give them a strong bias about reality and morality. We are inherently selfish.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Cynical behaviour

I am always surprised of cynical behaviour, particularly in the context of environmental and some other related issues: A tragically funny example is the legislation that counts pizza as vegetable in school lunches, on the basis of the tomato sauce. A not so funny example, when a lawyer specialized in car accidents goes to the same school to talk about car safety and give to the children pencils, t-shirts and action figures... everything with the logo "Hurt in a car... call me" Yesterday, I was thinking on this cynical behaviour related with the environment, because I noticed that the company that makes the water bottle I got from the supermarket claims that they are environmentally friendly now producing bottles with less plastic, particularly tiny tops. While it is true the new bottle contaminates a bit less (although not sure whether the process to make the new top is less or more contaminant than before) the true motivation of the company is really not very clear to me... not just saving money but using the concept as advertisement: We are cool, we care about the environment! Typical example of this is in an hotel in which they advertise that they care about the environment with the towel business (we won't wash them on a daily basis to save energy and water) and then they give you breakfast with everything disposable knife, cup, saucer. So the real question is: are these tiny, pitiful initiatives useful? the fact is there are indeed some improvements! Is it worthy? Should we better invest in a change of attitude, saving some of this cynical gathered petty cash to really produce a change beyond the crumbs represented by the wet towel hanging on a rail?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

no differences here!

Although it is evident that in the modern world, there are huge differences in science and/or technology compared with any preterit time, I will, in this post, claim that these only represent changes in form, whilst humanness remains the same. I believe I have mentioned my position in previous posts, but in any case, it is based in the lack of changes in what I will call the "human hardware". In other words, amazing changes can be developed in technology: thus my son plays with a little Nintendo, whilst at the same time, people browse the Internet and in a second can be connected with a friend in China, and in another, reading the news in the New York Times. On the other hand, the human brain hasn't changed at the same speed than everything else, thus it is always, in the first place, dysfunctional, always craving to catch up with the modern reality. Going to my point: the human brain is limited, processing the overwhelming information that comes through the wire. In practical terms, with potentially infinite more sources to search that a Victorian scholar, the fundamental aspect of the human condition is in essence the same: there is no time to process all of that information! It is fair to argue that in this modern world, somebody who lives in Morocco can be aware of the style of life of a fisherman in the Chilean Patagonia, knowledge that was forbidden to him before. But the fundamental question regarding humanness is: does the modern variety on the information truly change the understanding in a human brain or merely change the flavour of such understanding? Towards the end of a human life the essential aspects of how such life was lived are probably the same than a life from medieval times. God has been replaced by other deities and the Catholic Church now has a different name. The Bible has been rewritten in a digital media but still carries the same amount of information than the illuminations of the Book of Kells. On a more vain aspect; we would watch a football game with the same fervour than the Romans were watching gladiators in the coliseum. Therefore, perhaps with all the information widely available now, still the time is short, the length of a human life far too short to read and grasp everything available.

So a curious insight regarding virtual money, those "numbers" used to buy goods in Amazon or iTunes. There is nothing new here! moving funds from one pot to another using a media like a credit card in a virtual transaction was invented many years ago when money was introduced as the "media" in bartering. Paper money was a promise to pay to the holder in services of goods, so the actual funds, the actual value of work, are virtually transferred from owner to owner in exactly the same way than the digits stored in the hard disks of two different banks. There are not conceptual differences here!