Monday, June 30, 2014

Trust (2)

Actually I thought it had become old-fashioned, like privacy has in the days of the Internet since it has become increasingly easier to intrude into another person’s life. Even in cases that it is explicitly illegal, privacy is violated, as we all know from recent publications in the media. For what is possible is done, in spite of any laws prohibiting it. I thought that trust had gone as well.
Trust is relying on the reliability of another, for example that she or he will do what s/he says, without having any explicit guarantee that the other will really carry out what s/he is expected to do. S/he is believed on the strength of her or his honest appearance and maybe because of good experiences when dealing with her or him in the past, but actually without any warranty or other more or less material evidence that the person really is going to do what s/he is supposed to do. Till not so long ago trust was normal, also in financial transactions, for how could you check the trustworthiness of your partner? Moreover, making payments was complicated in comparison with the way we do it today. But in these days of digitalization and the Internet trust has become more and more limited to the inner circle of relations of your family and friends. It has been pushed back to the back garden of society, so it seems. Payments can be done with one click now, so you have to do your payments in advance, also large purchases. You have to show your identity card everywhere, while in the past many people didn’t have one (at least not in the Netherlands) and it was seldom asked for. Or before you get into touch with a person or company you don’t know, you do an extensive search on the Internet. Maybe this is an improvement in many respects and maybe it relaxes business connections, but it makes that trust has gone in many ways. It has become limited to really personal relations and to relations with people you have narrow connections with.
Therefore I was happily surprised, when after having ordered a book on the Internet, I received an e-mail with the message: We’ll send you the book and we trust that you’ll pay it within thirty days after receipt. Such a thing is not yet exceptional, but I didn’t know the shop and the shop didn’t know me and nowadays it’s then “normal” to pay in advance. So trust does still exist, even in business relationships and even when they can’t judge the honesty of your appearance.
Has trust really been pushed back to the back garden of society, as I just stated? It has become more limited, indeed. In many fields, like when doing purchases, it has almost gone. But can we do without it outside the personal sphere? I think that we can’t. Look around. Consider relations everywhere in society. In business, politics, etc. Then you’ll see that the importance of trust has been driven back but that is still the backbone of society. We simply cannot do without it.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Privacy and public photos

Privacy is an important part of our life. Maybe it hasn’t been always so for in premodern times and certainly in prehistoric times, people lived in small communities and it was difficult to keep anything secret for your environment (and I don’t mean your family, who actually belong to your private life, but the people in your hamlet, village or even little town). But societies and values change so today privacy is considered important by most people, although one can wonder whether there isn’t a difference between what people say and what they actually do. Time and again I am surprised how much of their most private and intimate facts people reveal to others and to the world on social media like Facebook and Twitter. But privacy is still an acknowledged part of the way we live. It is protected by law, although it is also often violated in secret by the same state that that makes the laws and pretends to maintain them. Violating happens openly in authoritarian and even more in totalitarian states, where it is part of the ideology that one has to live for the state and where one has to place one’s life in the service of the state. How baleful this can be is clear from cases like Nazi-Germany, Stalinism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and the present North Korea. It doesn’t lead only to the end of the individual person with all his and her creativity, expression and feelings of happiness, but also to the backwardness of the state if not to its death. So there are good reasons to take care of your privacy, certainly in this time of the Internet where it has become increasingly easy to intrude into the private world of other people, both for states and organisations and for individuals.
Privacy is important for me, so I do my best to protect it. On the other hand, a part of the sense of living exists in maintaining relations with other people, known and unknown, and just for that the Internet is an excellent means. It enriches my life and enhances my possibilities, but just this is done by showing a piece of my private life to the world. Therefore preserving my privacy is a matter of keeping the balance steady: don’t tell the world too much but also not so little that I wouldn’t profit. But what is a good balance? In the end it’s pure guesswork and using your good sense. It’s a matter of feeling.
One of the things that can be abused on the Internet is a picture of yourself, especially one where your face can be recognized. For what is more private than your face? And maybe it’s just because of this that people publish their pictures on the Internet, as a wish to become a public person and to become known, belying the confessed idea that privacy is important. Possibly people don’t realize the dangers. Photos can be manipulated and so be used for discrediting people. They can be used for searching the Internet just as one can search the Internet for certain words. In this way it is possible to connect websites that have been written under different names or by different persons, if they show photos of the same person. Maybe these are yet the most innocent possibilities to misuse pictures. I am not an expert in this field, so I leave it to you to find out what can go wrong if you have your photo on the Internet. Anyway, I am distrustful so I don’t want to have my photo there, at least not one that clearly shows my face. (Keep it secret: actually there is one but I don’t tell you where; it’s difficult to find). I am a bit more careless, if you cannot recognize me as such, as the readers of these blogs may have noticed. But there are always people who want to see my face, for else they have the feeling that they don’t know me or that I am a kind of talking machine (actually it’s strange to think that my face tells more about me than all the texts I have written and photos I have published). If I trust them, I send them my picture by e-mail.
Makes this precaution sense? I always thought so but now I doubt. For what has come out? The NSA, the American intelligence agency, does not only monitor and collect photos openly published in the World Wide Web, but it steals them also from your e-mail. And it may be supposed that other secret and not so secret services do the same. Actually, it was quite naive that I hadn’t thought that before, and that I hadn’t realized that nothing is so secret or it is open to the world. Does this mean that I must not send vulnerable information by e-mail any longer? But then they have just achieved what they want: that people control themselves instead that they and the national governments do. That will be the end of creativity and of many other things we stand for in this world. However, it will not be the end of privacy, for this has already gone, by the activities of secret services and others who secretly collect information on the Internet (and by doing so in your home) and by the public behaviour of private persons themselves.

Monday, June 16, 2014

How to write my blogs

When I started to write my PhD thesis in 1988, personal computers were not yet universally used. Anyway I didn’t have one. So I wrote first a chapter of my dissertation by hand, then I typed it and I sent a physical copy to my tutor. I think it was a good system. Maybe it was not really efficient in view of the present method, but I had a good survey of what I was writing, and my manuscript was full of lines and arrows connecting parts of the manuscript that belonged together. I cannot draw such lines with a computer. On the other hand, it was difficult to move parts of the text I had written at the wrong place or adding text somewhere in the middle of the manuscript, so I used a kind of reference system. I didn’t see it as a loss of time that I had to retype the handwritten text, for it gave me an extra check. However, when I had finished my thesis the publisher wanted to have it on a floppy (do you still know what it is?), so I bought a computer and typed the whole work again.
Even with a PC available I still continued writing my manuscripts first by hand before typing it out digitally, for I didn’t like working behind a desk and writing with a computer. I preferred doing that sitting in an armchair. Later I bought also a laptop which I literally used as a laptop: in my armchair I wrote down my ideas. Since then handwritten manuscripts belonged to the past for me. So when I started my blogs in 2007, I begun writing down some notes about my approach by hand, but when I started actually writing my first blog, I used my laptop. These notes are some of my last handwritten philosophical texts. Everything is done in bits and bytes since then, even the notes.
Is it a positive change? My present way of writing is good and efficient. Nevertheless, since I have read a present newspaper article I wonder whether the old-fashioned manual work isn’t to be preferred. For what happens to be the case? Handwriting appears to be much better for your recollection than typewriting, so the article states, which makes that it is certainly not yet an outmoded manner for producing texts! Children who learn writing first by hand do not only read faster but they are also better in remembering information and developing new ideas than children who learn their first letters on the keyboard. Apparently the manual writing activity stimulates not only the “writing circuit” in the brain but also adjacent circuits. The reason might be that writing by hand is quite a messy activity in comparison with writing with a keyboard and this makes that a wider part of the brain is involved. This pays off later, when you have to call up from memory what you have done.
Research has shown that writing by hand is useful not only for children. The same effect occurs also when university students make notes by hand during their lectures instead of with the help of a keyboard: The hand writers understand their lectures better and remember them also better when they have to reproduce the matter later. And why would what is valid for young students not also be valid for this old guy? So, the upshot is that from now on I should write the manuscripts of my blogs by hand as in the days that I wrote my thesis. But then the troubadour way might even be better: everything by heart.
Source: De Volkskrant, June 4, 2014, p. 19.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Who will win the FIFA World Cup?

Now the football world championship is coming near, it’s time to speculate who will be the next winner of the FIFA World Cup. However, in view of my last blogs, we have a problem. For the championship is a competition between teams, but as we have seen it is questionable whether we can ascribe intentions to groups, so to teams, and without the presence of an intention to win in the teams, we cannot have a competition in the real sense.
One solution of the problem of group intentions is seeing it as a metaphorical way of speaking. It’s Tuomela’s approach, for instance. As he says in The Philosophy of Sociality (Oxford University Press, 2007): “[G]roups are not literally agents or persons but ... they can be regarded as persons... Within this account one can say that groups really want, intend, believe, and act, but that this amounts to the relevant group members’ respectively wanting, intending, believing, and acting in certain ways as group members”. (p. 124) “We are here somewhat metaphorically viewing groups as analogous to individual agents (persons). ... As groups have no minds and bodies, they cannot have experiential beliefs... Yet the group members can accept views for the group [etc.]”. (p. 140). I can quote Tuomela more extensively, but I think it’s clear what he means: Groups exist only in the minds of the people who make up the groups and in the minds of the bystanders.
Nevertheless, it’s a bit confusing for me. Let’s say that the Netherlands will win the World Cup. or France, or Brazil. Make your choice. But let me not be chauvinistic, so let’s suppose that Brazil will be the new world champion. Who or what is it then that will be the cup winner? Brazil? But “Brazil” stands for 8,515,767 km2 of soil and more than 200 million people and it’s clear that not a certain surface of land and 200 million of people are the winner. So “Brazil” is short for the team representing this area and these people, so for 20+ men (and in fact only eleven of them are playing at the same time in a match).
So, if we say that “Brazil” is the new world champion, then actually the Brazilian national team is the winner? So, it was the Brazilian national team that started the competition, intended to do its utmost to win and did win? Right? No ... For “the Brazilian national team” is only a metaphor and it has no mind and no body, as Tuomela explained. And when the national anthem is played and I look at the team I see ... no team but only eleven, or rather twenty+ men, and although all these men get only one cup, they get twenty+ gold medals. And it is these twenty+ men who have played and it is not a team that did, for a metaphor cannot kick a ball, but only men can do (and women, of course). So what I see are twenty+ individuals, who had each more or less the same intention to win when the competition started and who after x individual kicks against a ball got a gold medal. The team has gone and what is left are individuals. The president of the FIFA can bring the World Cup again back to his office, for whom should he give it, if there is no team? Maybe there are twenty+ men who deserve it to get a gold medal but there is no team to receive the cup. And if you don’t believe it, consider by way of exercise, the case that a player of the Brazilian is sent home during the tournament and doesn’t receive a medal: What’s then the team?
The upshot is that there cannot be a winner of the FIFA World Cup, IF we see “group” simply as a metaphorical way of speaking that refers to a number of individuals with the same intention.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Group intentions

One of the most ignored problems in the philosophy of collective intentionality and action is the question of identity. But what happens when the composition of a group changes during the action process? Can we say that it is the same group that develops an intention and performs the corresponding action, if the persons that make up the group initially are different from those who complete the action? For making the problem clear, let me take an example of the sort used by Bratman or Tuomela, two prominent philosophers in this field:
A group of four movers intends to carry a piano to an apartment on the sixth floor of an apartment building. On the staircase to the second floor, one mover gets a whiplash, so a colleague is called up in order to replace him. On the staircase to the third floor, one of the three original movers hurts his back and he is also replaced by a colleague. On the stairs to the fourth floor one of the remaining original removers slips and sprains his ankle and is replaced as well. And the last man of the original group has to be replaced on the fifth floor because he seriously hurts his knee. So in the end four different men put the piano on its place in the apartment on the sixth floor.
Some readers will recognize here the old philosophical problem called “The Ship of Theseus”: When Theseus returns from Crete to Athens, after having killed the Minotaur, he has to repair his ship at sea and he replaces the old planks of the ship one by one by new ones so that finally none of the old planks of the ship that left Crete remains. Then the question is: Is the ship that arrives in Athens the same one as the ship that sailed from Crete? Or for our example: Is the group that arrived at the sixth floor the same group as the group that started to carry the piano upstairs? If you say no, the idea of group intention has to be skipped, for the consequence is that only individual intentions and actions are possible. But this conflicts with many facts that support the view that collectivities do exist and act. For instance, parliaments vote down a motion, hockey teams become world champion and armies wage wars. However, if you say yes, you have saved the idea of group intention but then you have to explain how it is possible that a group can have an intention even if in the end no member of the original group remains. You have also to explain what it means that a group keeps having an intention, although a group mind (brain) doesn’t exist and although the original group members that have taken up the intention no longer have this intention. Or you have to explain what it means that a group acts, although it is the individual members who move their limbs (for it’s John who kicks a goal with his leg and not the “team”). Unless you give up the idea that the analysis of group actions is analogous to the analysis of individual actions (as Tuomela thinks, for instance; see his The Philosophy of Sociality, chapter 5).