Monday, 28 December 2015

Time--Qualitatively, Introspectively, Retroactively

I met a kindred spirit this year, and I regret to say that I discovered it too late.  He's leaving.  Rather, I should say, he has left.

I don't meet many anymore.  Perhaps I never did.  I haven't thought about it.  I haven't had the time.

One of the last discussions we had was about time.  He warned me that it would pass ever more quickly with age, and I retorted that I had found the solution.  I related a story about how I had received that very same warning when I was twenty-five, a warning I very diligently heeded.  In fear of passively watching the years slip past me, indiscriminately melding into an indiscernible collection of past events, I decided to take action!  I would make each moment memorable.  What better way to slow down time than to ensure that each moment was filled with memorable things, places and people.  It was logical.  I spent the following years refining the process, taking on exciting new opportunities, trying a variety of new activities, and getting to know a lot of interesting people.

It's eight years later, and I believed I had worked out the kinks.  The years have been discernible.  Each had a character; or, at least, I retrospectively assigned it one.  It's hard to say which is the case.  This should have felt like success.  But the other day when this kindred spirit kindly warned me that time would pass ever more quickly with age, and I proudly regurgitated my usual logical solution-as I've so done since first formulating it when I was twenty-five, something felt amiss.  I remember everything, regardless of any interesting characteristics; with or without any prejudice.  I remember it all.

It was a gross miscalculation.  I understood the concern to be that I would lose track of all the details.  Accordingly, I formulated a solution centred on slowing down the perception of the passage of time, namely making it memorable.  But my thinking was fallacious!  Effort to make each moment memorable is required assuming that without it, I would forget.  It's so striking.  It's so obvious an implicit premise.  It's so pessimistic.  It's so ... disappointing.

I didn't need to go out of my way to make each moment so special that I'd remember it.  I was going to remember it, anyway.  Problem solved.  So why was it still so unsatisfying?

Though it wasn't good-bye, if age has taught me anything, it's that it probably was.  We parted ways on book recommendations that would "trouble" the other.  By "trouble", I mean "afflict intellectually".  It has been a long while since I've been "troubled" by a book.  It's been even longer since I've been excited to read one recommended to me. I wished I'd told him that.  Instead, I blamed the work environment for how rare it was.  The truth was that even in environments where it was expected to have been commonplace, it wasn't.  It meant a lot to me that I could inspire someone to be excited about a book.  It meant a lot to me that I could be excited.  Most importantly, why have these final exchanges been troubling me?

And it was in feeling so troubled that I realized the answer. It's how I knew when muttering it that my formulation was wrong. I have been so busy making everything exceptionally memorable, retroactively ascribing meaning to moments in time, when the actual problem was that I haven't been moved.

What's tragic about losing the years is neither that we age nor that we forget. It is when we are not engaged emotionally. Even worse, it remains tragic when we are. It's terrifying that a moment could be so riddled with emotion, making an experience simultaneously beautiful and sad--beautiful because of how precious those feelings are; sad because it's fleeting. 
It is ok if I can't recall it all. It wasn't the content of the hours. It's what I felt as I filled them. This has been my failure - in logic, but also in life - as of late.

To 2016!  I hope this year is filled with lots of peace, love and happiness.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Remembrance Day

My father was born during WWII.  He and my mom told us so many stories about growing up in the mountains in the Philippines.  It didn't click in till we were older that they were only in the mountains to escape the war.  Their hometown of Atimonan was invaded by the Japanese the year my father was born.  It was a port town, an entry point.  It was burned down during the war, with all city records, including birth certificates.

My grandfather on my father's side fought and died during WWII during what has come to be known as the Bataan Death March.  I was born 40 years later in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The destruction of the records made it almost impossible for anyone from that town to emigrate to Canada.  My mom and dad did, but no other member of our family was able to join them.

Since that time, Japan has issued an apology to the Americans for their losses.  I don't think they did the same for the Filipino POWs who lost their lives in that death march.

When I think of Remembrance Day, I think of this.


Thursday, 6 August 2015

Family Trip

I can only remember going on a single family vacation with my parents and sister as an adult.  It was a long weekend trip to Niagara.  We went to Niagara often, so I was disappointed that it was the destination. We did do new activities, though, so it turned out to be a really nice trip.

This mini-vacation comes to mind for two reasons: it conjures up fond memories of time with my late father, but also because of how we all planned to but chickened out of riding the cable car over the Falls.

We're a family of chickens, and when are all together, such chicken-ry is magnified to incredulous proportions.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015


In ‘Sensations and Brain Processes’, J. J. Smart presents the ‘simplest explanation’ argument in defense of a form of physicalism called brain-state theory.  According to brain-state theory, there is an identity relation between mental states and brain states.  Particularly, every mental state is identical to a specific brain state.  While Hilary Putnam, too, propounds a physicalist perspective, in “The nature of mental states”, he highlights the failure of Smart’s brain-state theory to account for multiple realisability. The ‘multiple realisability’ of a mental state is the idea that different creatures with entirely different physiologies can experience the same mental state.  In “Mad pain and Martian pain”, David Lewis attempts to rescue brain-state theory with a move that mitigates Putnam’s concern with brain-state theory, allowing it to account for multiple-realisability.  However, I will argue that although the move accounts for multiple realisability of mental states, it complicates the physicalist brain-state theory to the point where it is no longer ‘more simple’ than dualism, undermining the premise on which Smart relies in his ‘simplest explanation’ argument.
The 'simplest explanation' argument, as presented by Smart in 'Sensations and Brain Processes' is a physicalist account of the interaction between mind and body.  Smart would like to establish “that there are no philosophical arguments which compel us to be dualists”[1].  Smart claims that the relation between ‘sensations’ and ‘brain states / processes’ is one of identity, where ‘sensations’ are mental states, and each mental state is identical to a particular brain state. He takes a step further, and says that all “sensations are nothing over and above brain processes”[2].  There is only one type of stuff, that which can be described by physics.  The mental is physical, in Smart’s view. 
Smart contrasts this with dualism, which he describes as requiring “ultimate laws [that] would be like nothing so far known in science”[3] to explain the interaction between a non-physical mind and the physical body.  He uses the example of orthodox geologists’ and paleontologists’ theories for the age of the Earth to illustrate two “empirically equivalent” theories, and the principle that when two theories are empirically equivalent, it is more reasonable to believe the simpler theory.  “Empirically equivalent theories” are theories that both successfully account for empirical evidence.  If we accept this principle of theory choice, and both physicalism and dualism are empirically equivalent, then for Smart, it follows that it is more reasonable to believe physicalism.
In 'The Nature of Mental States', Putnam introduced a concern with Smart’s brain-state theory that would undermine his claim that it is empirically equivalent to dualism. Putnam argues that Smart’s brain-state theory is unable to account for the ‘multiple realisability’ of mental states.  The ‘multiple realisability’ of a mental state is the idea that different creatures with entirely different physiologies can experience the same mental state.  Putnam characterizes Smart’s brain-state theory as requiring each mental state to have a specific physical-chemical state.[4]  Then, given the transitivity property of identity, brain-state theory would entail that for a creature with physiology different from mine, it would not be possible for both I and that creature to experience the same mental state.  This is a problem for Putnam, since he believes that there is some sense in which my pain is identical to the pain of a creature’s whose physiology differs from mine, while he does not want to permit the existence of pain as a mental state that exists distinctly from our physical bodies.  Putnam assumes that mental states are “multiply realizable”, and so in his view, Smart’s brain-state theory cannot account for it.  This undermines Smart’s physicalism as an empirically equivalent theory to dualism, which is one of the premises on which he builds his ‘simplest explanation’ argument.
In David Lewis’ “Mad Pain and Martian Pain, Lewis proposes a version of brain-state theory that can account for the multiple-realisability concern introduced by Putnam.  Like Smart, Lewis identifies each mental state with a particular brain state.  However, he agrees with Putnam that multiple-realisability is possible, and thus a concern.  Lewis uses the example of “the Martian who sometimes feels pain just as we do, but whose pain differs greatly from ours in its physical realization[5]”.  Smart’s brain-state theory cannot account for the Martian’s pain, since a Martian’s physiology differs from ours.  Smart’s theory does not identify the Martian’s pain as our pain.  To account for multiple-realisability of pain in this comparison, Lewis defines mental states as relative to a population: “The Martian is in pain in another sense, or relative to another population”[6].  For Lewis, an individual X is part of an appropriate population if:
(1) X is ‘us’,
(2) X belongs to it,
(3) X is not an exception within in, and
(4) the population is of a natural kind.[7] 
This move to relativize mental states permits the brain-state physicalist to say that I experience human pain, the Martian experiences Martian-pain and any individual member that is not an exception within its population experiences mental states relative to its population.  That is, the introduction of population-relative mental states to brain-state theory accounts for multiple-realisability, addressing Putnam’s concern.
Although Lewis’ hybrid theory reconciles the physicalist brain-state theory with concerns of multiple realisability, it undermines Smart’s premise that physicalism is more simple than dualism.  Lewis’ modification to brain-state theory can only be achieved with the definition of an appropriate population for each individual.  Lewis proposes four criteria and provides examples of how to use them to determine the appropriate population for the following:
·         you/I, unexceptional humans
·         the Martian
·         the madman, who feels pain just as we do, but who differs greatly in its causes and effects, and
·         the mad Martian, the Martian analog to the madman. 
In the case of you/I, Lewis says that the four criteria “pull together”.[8]  In the case of the Martian, Lewis writes that criterion (1) is outweighed by the other three.[9] In the case of the madman, criterion (3) is outweighed by the rest, so the madman is conveniently considered part of the population of ‘mankind’.[10]  In the case of the mad Martian, criteria (2) and (4) together outweigh either (1) or (3) by itself. [11]   I list this out to show that there is no consistency in the use of the four criteria for determining an individual’s appropriate population.  We are left with the possibility that there may be no clear definition of an appropriate population for some individuals.  Now consider criterion (3), that X is not an exception within a population.  The term ‘exceptional’ is also vague. Imagine a population with some set of arbitrary Type-Z properties who are ‘exceptional’ because they are outnumbered by unexceptional ‘unexceptional’.  There can easily be any number of similar Type-Y, Type-X, etc, populations with various sizes, but that are still outnumbered by ‘unexceptional’ humans.  This shows that there may be varying degrees as well as varying types of what is meant by ‘exceptional’.  Now imagine the situation where the population of Type-Z individuals breeds rapidly to outnumber the people who are unexceptional.  Because they outnumber the other types of human populations, they are now ‘unexceptional’.  Would this mean that there is something indexical about the concept of ‘unexceptional’?  If so, then this further complicates the determination of an ‘appropriate population’ for an individual.  By introducing population-relative mental states, Lewis enables brain-state theory to account for multiple realisability, but the result is a vague and more complicated physicalist theory.  Smart’s ‘simplest explanation’ argument would fail with Lewis’ modification.  Multiple realisability as presented by Putnam is attractive, but it need not necessarily be accepted. Brain state theorists will still need an account for mental states as experienced by creatures not physiologically similar to us, but it should not be at the expense of a consistent theory for physicalism.
Lewis, David. 1980. “Mad pain and Martian pain”, in Readings in the Philosophy of Psychology, Vol. I. N. Block, ed., Harvard University Press, 1980, pp. 216-222.
Putnam, Hilary. 1975. “The nature of mental states”, in Philosophical Papers, Vol. 2, Cambridge University Press, 1980, pp. 429-440.
Smart, J. J. C. 1959. Sensations and brain processes. The Philosophical Review 68 (2) (Apr.), pp. 141-56.

[1] Smart, J. J. C. 1959. Sensations and brain processes. The Philosophical Review 68 (2) (Apr.), pp. 143
[2] Smart, J. J. C. 1959. Sensations and brain processes. The Philosophical Review 68 (2) (Apr.). Pp. 145
[3] Ibid. Pp. 143
[4] Putnam, Hilary. 1975. “The nature of mental states”, in Philosophical Papers, Vol. 2, Cambridge University Press, 1980, pp. 436
[5] Lewis, David. 1980. “Mad pain and Martian pain”, in Readings in the Philosophy of Psychology, Vol. I. N. Block, ed., Harvard University Press, 1980, pp. 216
[6] Ibid. Pp 221
[7] Lewis, David. 1980. “Mad pain and Martian pain”, in Readings in the Philosophy of Psychology, Vol. I. N. Block, ed., Harvard University Press, 1980, Pp 220
[8] Ibid. Pp. 220
[9] Ibid. Pp. 220
[10] Lewis, David. 1980. “Mad pain and Martian pain”, in Readings in the Philosophy of Psychology, Vol. I. N. Block, ed., Harvard University Press, 1980, Pp 220
[11] Ibid. Pp 220

There are some inaccuracies in this.  Sorry about that.  Homework assignments are rushed.  Anyway, this got me an A, so hope it helps.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Missing the Point

I logged into Facebook today, and noticed that someone posted a screenshot of a spam text message that included an image of an overweight, middle-aged woman in lingerie with a caption akin to "I don't know how this person got my number".  The following private message conversation ensued:

Carolyn Ursabia

Hey, you probably shouldn't circulate that photo without the express consent of the person in it, even if it was spam.

Anonymous FB Friend O'Mine
Hi Carolyn, I don't know if spammers have copyright protection, though I highly doubt it and I know of no legal precedent on the issue. Assuming spammers do have copyright protections, I believe this usage falls under the 'fair use'. Despite that while I don't agree with you, I decided to take down the post given that in hindsight I should have anticipated someone would have probably made fun of the woman displayed in the image which was not my intention and the random spamming was what the post was aimed at.

Carolyn Ursabia

It wasn't the copyright issue. It was that it seemed you didn't know the sender, and so you didn't know if that picture was actually permitted to be circulated. Suppose, just as an example, that that picture was an intimate photo shared between a couple that has since split up, and the spammer was circulating the photo because they were angry at them. When you don't know the sender, you don't know the source of the image. That was my only point. My personal message to you was more for your protection and I apologize if it was taken in any other way. Take care.



Monday, 16 February 2015

Armani Sunglasses and The Tavern

I often tell stories of my time in the U.S.  I stayed in woodsy northern Maryland, worked in Pikesville, and regularly ventured to NYC, DC and into Baltimore. I used local websites, The Food Network, FourSquare, Yelp and word of mouth to develop my 'to hit up' list of top restaurants, bars, live music venues and clubs.  I visited these venues one by one, often solo, but not always.  At the outset, I saw it as fun but as I trained in restaurant management, it quickly turned into research and business.

One important bar-restaurant that I needed to see was the Mt. Washington Tavern.  Known to locals as "The Tavern", it was known for being a great hangout that offered great food in a great atmosphere.  I should have tried to catch their dinner service or grab an evening drink, but I was never going to make it with my work schedule, so I eventually decided to go to The Tavern for a lunch. It's a lot like the Madison in Toronto: a collection of bars, each of which with its own character, shoved into a large mansion-like building.

We were seated in a very well-lit area for lunch.  It was empty with a skeletal staff.  There was one server, one busboy, one hostess working but not in my area, and no front-of-house managers visible.  The food was prompt. I had the beet and goat cheese salad and found it disappointing.  It would have been nice if they beets were drained better, and the goat cheese was warm.

After lunch, upon getting into my car, I realized that I had left my sunglasses on the table.  They were Armani Exchange's brown square butterfly style and matched everything I had.  I was in a rush to get to work, so I called The Tavern from my car while in the parking lot, and spoke with the hostess.  I told her where I had left them - on my table by the condiments.  She put me on hold briefly, then came back to say she didn't see anything on my table.  I was surprised because I remembered where I had left them and it had been less than a minute, but decided it was my fault for leaving them.  I headed straight to my restaurant to get ready for our happy hour opening.

Several hours later at my restaurant, I chatted with my bartender, Bryant, and the patrons about it.  Bryant interrupted, "Do you mean those really pretty brown Armani bugeye ones that all the girls are wearing these days?"  I nodded in affirmation.  He then asked me if my server was a young female.  I said yes.  He told me, "Yeah, those were stolen."  All the gentlemen at the bar agreed.

This was my first introduction to the difference between Toronto and Baltimore.  I was so used to Torontonian waitstaff, who would reasonably wait a least a week before claiming finder's keepers on personal effects left behind by patrons.  I decided that I was going to get my sunglasses back.  Several gentlemen offered to accompany me and be my "muscle", but I politely declined. I told them, "I got this."

As soon as our dinner service looked like it was under control, I headed out.  It was about 9 pm, 8 hours after the incident.  This venue had several entrances; no main one.  I entered through the same entrance that I used at lunch and spoke with the hostess.  Let's call her Hostess A.  Hostess A was not there at lunch. I asked her about their lost and found processes, and described the pair of sunglasses I had left earlier that day.  She told me that they have a lost and found at each hostess stand at each entrance, and she offered to check.

I watched her check by where we were standing and not find them.  She told me that she wanted to ask the hostess at the nearest entrance, let's call this one Hostess B, since Hostess B had been working all day.  The other stand was about 10 m away, and I watched their exchange.  Hostess A approached Hostess B.  Hostess B looked at me then spoke aggressively with Hostess A.  Her hand gestures looked like she was telling Hostess A what to do.  Hostess A appeared taken aback and changed from pleasant to uncomfortable, with tensed eyebrows.  I found this very interesting.  All the while, the busboy from lunch walked by.  I stopped him and asked him if he bussed the tables in my area at lunch.  He said he did.  I thought, "perfect!"  I asked him if he had seen a pair of brown bugeye sunglasses left at my table from lunch.  He said yes, and that he had picked them up and put them in the lost and found.

I looked back over at Hostesses A and B.  Hostess B now decided to approach me while Hostess A stayed back.  Hostess B told me that she had been there all day, but that the sunglasses that I described were not retrieved.  I told her that I just spoke with the busboy who confirmed that he had picked them up and put them in the stand.  I looked her square in the eye and asked to speak with the owner.  She went into the kitchen.

A floor manager came out.  He said that the owner was not in.  I explained what had happened and requested: (1) a copy of the lunch staffing schedule, (2) the name of my server, and (3) the owner's contact information.  He walked to the back.  I waited about one minute before he came back out appearing panicked and in tears.  He told me that his sister was the server at lunch, that she was in class until 10 pm and that he could return my sunglasses  at that time.

I didn't report the server, my sunglasses were returned, and everyone lived happily ever after.  Or did they?

My sister and I had our second sets of tires stolen last Thursday.  We left them in our parking spots in our building's parking garage. We knew there was risk in leaving them out, but it was a shared risk: everyone in my building left their extra sets of tires in their spots.  Unfortunately, only ours were stolen.

This theft reminded me of the sunglasses.  I asked everyone if they could have moved them before I believed that they were stolen, and I was comfortable with my loss so long as it was my fault. Once I realized that it was the handiwork of a liar, I had to do something about it.

My sister and I have filed police reports, and will be meeting with our building's security to review the security tapes tomorrow.  We may never see the tires again or get any remuneration for our trouble, but the hope is that the perpetrators will learn that they cannot get away with theft.

..but will these thieves ever learn?  I am pessimistic.

Post Script
The Tavern was burned down some time later that year, an event that inspired many to message me to tell me I 'didn't have to do it' because I got my sunglasses back.
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