On Cheating

Using the (later) Wittgensteinian (1) criterion for understanding-facilitation through meaning-clarification, the meaning of a term (it could be a word or a phrase) is its use. Technically, we call it, “the use theory of meaning”. It basically tells us that there is no accurate way to get to the meaning of a term unless it is used in a sentence thereby establishing its context. Nobody automatically knows the meaning of the word “bat” unless one uses it in a sentence. In the English language, it could at least be two things: the flying mammal or the stick used in playing baseball. We could think of more related examples.

Having this concern in mind, it is initially inaccurate to immediately come up with a value judgment on the concept of “cheating” unless we put it in a proper context. Nevertheless, we generally have a negative reaction to cheating as we automatically connect it with an immoral act. Simply put, we unquestionably understand it as an issue that violates certain established moral standards. There could not have been any problem here had the term “cheating” not been used in another sense.

At this point, one more important aspect of concept-signification may be raised: the use of a concept in the literal as well as in the figurative sense. One common register or collocation that we could think of in relation to the use of the term “cheat” in the figurative sense is, “cheat(ing) death”. It means being able to survive a near-death situation ( it could be an accident), or, using another common register, “a close call”. “Cheat” could also mean an easy way to overcome a difficulty as in the case of a non-native learner of the English language who struggles to pronounce the past tense/past participle form of the verb “ask” i.e., “asked”. Instead of getting into the difficulty of saying “askt”, the “cheat” is to get rid of the “k” and simply say, “ast”. In both instances, the term “cheating” or “cheat” is free from the negative moral judgment.

Another term that uses the word “cheat” without automatically connecting it with what is generally considered immoral is “cheat sheet” which, according to the online Cambridge dictionary is “a piece of paper, computer file, etc. that gives you useful information about a subject, or helps you remember or do something.” (2) However, the connotation that gives it a negative implication is likewise found in the same entry as we get to read the following:” . . . sometimes used for cheating in a test or examination.” (3) In other words, the “cheat sheet” is a neutral thing until such is used as a concealed tool while a student is having an examination.

In a traditional school setting where memorization is given more importance than the more solid aspects of education like interpretation, critical analysis, evaluation, and pragmatization, among others, cheating is common. This pedagogical method is known as “banking system” (4) wherein students are encouraged to memorize lessons without a thorough understanding of their substances. This method is likened to depositing money in the bank at one point and later withdrawing it at another. In a classroom situation, the lessons memorized (“deposited”) are expected to be poured out (“withdrawn”) in an examination. This is a situation that opens up all possible doors to cheating.

And now, we enter the realm of ethics and morals where cheating is adjudged beneath human decency and integrity. As an immoral act, cheating assaults fairness and truthfulness. As such, it is in league with dishonesty, deception, lying, and stealing. It aims to take advantage of opportunities to get over and above other people through iniquitous maneuverings. In committing the act of cheating, one underestimates and disparages the worth of another person’s humanity.

Despite all the aforementioned considerations, cheating is everywhere: In government and politics, in business and industry, in merchandise shops, in personal engagements, just to name a few. In other words, cheating is something prevalent and commonplace. In fact, in certain instances, cheating is deemed normal and dismissed as negligible as it has somehow evolved through time and has in the process gotten incorporated in the cultural apparatus of people in a social setting. What we witness in this circumstance are people cheating each other as they want to get back at the ones who cheated them before. Human societies anywhere are replete with cheating occurrences because cheaters are located in every nook and cranny of social engagements.

From the viewpoint of utilitarian ethical theory, cheating is not absolutely immoral if it is committed to promoting the happiness and well-being of the majority of people in a particular setting. A case in point is in an organization where the leadership consists of authoritarian, manipulative and exploitative taskmasters who have long been the cause of dissatisfaction, devitalization, and demoralization of people under them. Getting back at these authoritarian leaders by deceiving and cheating them for the purpose of getting even is the most common retaliatory act. In this connection, it wants to say that cheating could be exonerated in particular cases on the basis of some specific conditions initially laid out. As Machiavelli said, “The end justifies the means.”

On the other side of the ethical divide, virtue ethics is well-defined in terms of the notion that what matters most as right or wrong, good or bad, is not the consequences of an action but rather the action itself as it is carried out by a person of known moral integrity. In this sense, no virtuous person will ever act on the basis of the consequences s/he expects to occur. In the case of cheating, it is considered morally wrong in all aspects and angles and it must not be effected in whatever way possible. It is therefore definitely virtuous to confront authoritarian / manipulative / exploitative leaders and expose their wrongdoings rather than resort to cheating as an equalizer. The point being raised here may be construed as unachievable but ideals are ideals and it only takes the solid willingness of committed people to pragmatize these ideals.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 7 November 2019

_________________________
NOTES

(1) The “later” Wittgenstein is the Wittgenstein of the posthumously published Philosophical Investigations in contrast to the “early” Wittgenstein of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus fame.

(2) https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/cheat-sheet

(3) Ibid.

(4) Cf. Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970; revised 1993, 2000, 2005)
https://commons.princeton.edu/inclusivepedagogy/wp-content/uploads/sites/17/2016/07/freire_pedagogy_of_the_oppresed_ch2-3.pdf

Why is Fear the Most Negative of Emotions?

We, humans, live in a complex world that is largely characterized by toils, difficulties, disadvantages, anxieties, troubles, challenges and struggles. There are very few moments of comfort, relaxation, leisure, and tranquility. But when such moments extend beyond the normal and tolerable, boredom seeps in, strikes and hastens us to stand up and face the daily grind of life. By whatever name we want to call this push of habit, it has always been the desire of our hearts to improve our lot and make our lives better. We want to transcend the present and move on to a more exciting and challenging future. It takes a true-blue warrior to get into the difficulties of life because this world we live in is a daily battlefield. And how would you survive and win the battle if you do not have the heart of a warrior whose defining essence is courage? The late hippie writer, James Neil Hollingworth (1933–1996) said: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”

This is the basic platform of human existence where courage is praised, even glorified as the most honorable of virtues that stands out over and above the rest. Every crucial human act requires solid and enduring courage without which, there is no accomplishment, there is no achievement of goals, there is no pragmatization of objectives. It takes an indomitably courageous personality

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go
To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star
. . .
To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march
Into hell for a heavenly cause

[with apologies to the late Mitch Leigh (January 30, 1928 – March 16, 2014) who composed “The Impossible Dream (The Quest)” and to the late Joe Darion, (30 January 1917 – 6 June 2001) as well, who penned its lyrics. It is the most popular song from the 1965 Broadway Musical, The Man from La Mancha.]

Whatever the case may be–whether it is a real, literal war or a personal battle within us–the warrior stands out. And it is the warrior’s readiness to engage in such a battle that confirms her/his resoluteness. Courage is the name of the game in critical moments when there is no room for cowardice. There is no backtracking as defeat is not an alternative. In other words, it is within the mental framework of the warrior to always look forward to winning though at times losing is an inevitable consequence. But the ultimate test of a fearless warrior lies in her/his ability to keep her/himself calm and composed under pressure.

While we look at the positivity of courage, the negativity of fear pops up and makes us realize that a modicum of which is prone to demolish the framework of the desired condition by way of a life-changing decision. Fear may be considered as a natural component of our being but it is only tasked to warn us and likewise give us the time to sit down and consider certain alternative actions that will not put precious lives and properties in jeopardy. Let fear squeeze in a little bit but don’t blow it up and let it take control of the situation. In agreement with this, Nelson Mandela once said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

” . . . [F]ear beyond the boundaries of what we have considered as natural and positive in its normal and rational configuration is a negative factor that wreaks havoc to one´s integrity as a human person. A fearful disposition to suspend and thus fail to effect a defensive action in the face of a clear and present assault offensive to one´s particular worth as an individual person is a case of shrinking down to a sub-human level of being that in the final analysis besmirches not only him/herself but the very dignity of human existence in general.”

(“Fear,” https://ruelfpepa.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/fear/)

Generally, fear is a negative emotional factor, in fact, the most negative of emotions because it rattles the heart and prevents the possibility of issuing out a crucial decision to reverse the flow of events earlier anticipated to get into a disaster. It is the fear factor that makes people fence-sitters who cannot immediately come up with a principled choice in the face of a circumstance that requires immediate action. Fear is absolutely unappreciated and definitely abhorred in the battlefield of life where every responsible action is of the essence.

Having courage as the most honorable of virtues, its diametrical opposite, fear, is therefore considered as the most negative emotions of all for it prevents the flourishing of life at its fullest. A quote from the late celebrated American journalist Dorothy Thompson backs it up: “Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live”. And authentic living in that sense is characterized by freedom from being controlled, manipulated, and intimidated by certain dominant forces that we cannot face and repulse at a certain point because of fear. There is not any other solution to this but to face fear and overcome it. This condition connects perfectly well with what Aristotle once said that “He who has overcome his fears will truly be free.”

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 29 October 2019

Global Risks

Global Risks as an Ethical Issue

The philosophical problematization of global risks falls under the category of Ethics which is an axiological, i.e., value, analysis of moral issues viewed through the lens of certain universal principles that promote human flourishing in terms of (1) amelioration/alleviation of suffering; (2) resolution of conflict; and (3) promotion of happiness. In this consideration, global risks basically threaten the human condition by putting the planet Earth, which is the abode of all living organisms including humans, in a very precarious situation. Projecting global risks at their most horrifying conclusion is tantamount to an anticipation of the seemingly incontrovertible annihilation of the Earth’s biosphere. Without exaggerating the foreshadowed diabolical prospect, the issue of global risks has been the most serious concern of sensible people who have long been disseminating all over the world valuable information on the global risks that presently haunt us and can ultimately lead to wiping out life on the planet if not immediately and efficiently addressed.

The present reality obtaining in today’s world is critically menaced by three horrific risks that have been aggressively and invasively petrifying the globe: (1)environmental degradation leading to the destruction of the ecosystems; (2) massive threat of nuclear destruction; and (3) catastrophic wars of attrition commonly known as terrorism. In general, these global risks are superficially taken separately as three distinct and hence unrelated issues. Nevertheless, a closer and more detailed examination of their dynamics points to a deeper reality that they are interconnected–even intertwined to a certain extent–in terms of the colossal power base that logistically sustains them and from which their disastrous energy emanates.

Environmental Degradation Leading to the Destruction of the Ecosystems

Many nations that have grown to become global powers have by and large spawned supreme and dominant industrial magnates, commercial tycoons and multinational investment financiers. A lot (though not all) of these big-business heavyweights’ industries largely–even totally–depend on raw materials collected and gathered at extremely cheap costs from natural resources found in underdeveloped and developing countries particularly in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America.

While engaged in such kind of no-holds-barred activities, it is indeed lamentable that they have never actually been bothered by the environmental destruction their minions and vassals have continually perpetrated just to achieve their main goal of increasing their wealth to unlimited proportion and stretching the scope of their business empires to inexhaustible dimensions. To achieve their nefarious schemes, they even entice leaders of developing and underdeveloped countries by offering them enormous gifts of financial bounty once allowed by these leaders to avail of and extract raw materials from available natural resources.

In other instances, these industrial giants even construct and/or rent buildings and transform them into factories in less well-off countries to avail of their cheap labor. While engaged in labor exploitation, they are also operating production machines that emit highly toxic smoke in the atmosphere and in certain cases extremely hazardous chemical wastes that contaminate waterways like streams and rivers and lead to the decimation of edible water animals.

Massive Threat of Nuclear Destruction

The same global powers have steadily and uncompromisingly used the threat of nuclear attacks to sustain their political dominance and assure their economic ascendancy. This is common in certain parts of the globe where they announce to the rest of the world that their presence is constantly challenged and thus unrelentingly threatened on the basis of a fabricated lie to sustain their own self-serving interests. They have been stockpiling nuclear weapons with the capability of annihilating populations right close to the frontiers of their perceived adversaries like Iran and Russia, just to name the most threatening countries according to their distorted interpretation.

Underneath all these undertakings is the same perennial agenda of the same global powers that have continually threatened the global environment for the same motive of controlling certain regions of the planet to gain immense politico-economic hegemony. Their vehement reaction against countries that have their own nuclear power initiatives is emphatically made known by demonizing such countries through the use of mainstream media owned, operated, and controlled by billionaires who are the major power players within their turfs. Simply put, they are allergic to equal power platforms which are understandable from the point of view of imperialistic domination.

Catastrophic Wars of Attrition Commonly Known as Terrorism

We are living witnesses to the savagery and ferocity of war machinery deployed by these global powers as they literally razed to the ground previously prosperous and progressive countries like Iraq, Libya and Syria among others. We are spectators to the horrifying scenario of how they massively destroy properties even national monuments and heirlooms of historical and cultural significance. We are helpless onlookers as they slaughter defenseless populations caught amidst wars that they flagrantly started.

These global powers are the real terrorists up to destroy nations that obliterate the trajectory of their hegemonic goal and wreck geographical locations of enormous resources like petroleum to take control over them. In a related event, the most recent target that registers on their crosshair is oil-rich Venezuela against whose independent posturing and flat defiance these global powers have imposed absolute economic sanctions.

This whole demonization programme started all the way back at the inception of the 21st century as an aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy that demolished New Yorks World Trade Center twin towers. With all the lies compounded to cover the real motives and issues behind this catastrophic event, the so-called “war against terrorism” was officially launched during a press conference when then POTUS George W. Bush issued to the world the illogical statement, “If you are not with us, you are against us.”

Conclusion

We can blame a lot of factors–mainly political and economic–to get alarmed at and concerned about the risks that have been threatening the globe and its inhabitants. We have in fact identified them quite well. We could even strengthen them with a myriad of proofs sustaining their reality if we delve much more deeply. However, beyond all these considerations, there is only one single culprit that has long been the cause of global destruction and that is we human beings. We may utter our strongest disagreement to this claim and reason out that we’ve never been actually and directly involved in any of these circumstances. But our utter silence and obvious nonchalance to the point of openly expressing an opinion that getting seriously engaged in this cause is an exercise in futility is the most harmful attitude that heavily contributes to the intensification of serious risks that jeopardize all of life on planet Earth.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” (Edmund Burke)

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 23 October 2019

What Makes Our Destiny?

Is there a mysterious force that pulls a person to what will necessarily happen to her/him? Underneath this query is a consideration of the notion that something irreversible has long been planned in and for our individual lives. Call it destiny or fate–a trajectory that leads us to the future like a powerful hand that controls every step we make along life’s highway.

To an unyielding believer, its dynamics can never be revealed and known within the ambit of the physico-materialistic paradigm of existence yet its mechanics are working perfectly well at clockwork precision. Simply put, we can never derail, so to speak, the course of our individual destiny. A supernatural power had already drawn its blueprint for each of us even long before we first arrived and saw the literal light on planet Earth.

An unbending adherent will always bask under the warmth of its ineffable mystery highlighting the good fortune in stored for her/him while accepting with sober resignation any misfortune that befalls her/his circumstances. Having destiny as the driving energy that musters the direction of one’s journey in life is like trusting the potential effect of a tranquilizing pill that helps her/him to accept the fact that the notion of change is nothing but an illusion. Our destiny is programmed and hence final and irrevocable.

However, the story doesn’t end here. We are just beginning because reality has shown us a different scenario. In defiance of supernatural destiny’s persistence, we have actually smashed the crystal enclosure that has long imprisoned the human mind within the confines of an illusion inherited from the primitive past of our ancient ancestors. In the process, we have proven once and for all that there is no overarching destiny that has mysteriously predetermined the course of our individual lives. The most basic issue is, there is no supernatural power that oversees the development of events in our individual circumstances.

Destiny–if we still want to call it as such–in its most believable positioning is never supernatural and does not pack a mystery. I do not see any problem at all to continue using the same old term as we retain the aspect of irrevocability or necessity that fundamentally constitutes its signification. However, what is definitely important at this point is to consider its redefinition to suit what is empirically meaningful and thus what is realistically understandable in pragmatic terms. In this connection, I venture to claim that the essence of destiny is perfectly captured in the formulation of a sound–not just valid but sound–deductive logical configuration whose conclusion is always absolutely necessary. In this sense, a deductive logical argument shares with destiny the common factor of an incontrovertibly necessary, i.e., an irrevocable, conclusion.

As a hypothetical case in point, let’s have A as a person who has been in a state of distressing poverty. Supernatural-destiny believers will readily say that he is in such a pathetic situation because long before his birth, certain mysterious forces had already pre-determined the kind of life he would live on Earth. However, people around him in the neighborhood have long known his lifestyle and such is the most realistic reason why he has been wallowing in miserable impoverishment. Establishing a sound argument from this reality, we can come up with the following syllogistic formulation on the basis of what all his neighbors practically know about him in relation to an established observation universally accepted to be true:

All lazy, irresponsible, deceitful and careless people end up in abject poverty.
A is a lazy, irresponsible, deceitful and careless person.
Therefore, A ends up in abject poverty.

[Note: This argument may only be demolished if a single valid counterpoint is raised to falsify either the major or the minor premise.]

In this regard, supernatural destiny is definitely not the reason why A is wallowing in humiliating impoverishment. If we want to call it destiny being necessary, it is destiny of his own making and there is not a single consideration in his circumstance that points us to a mysterious hand that led him to such a miserable condition.

Using classical symbolic logic, we get to the same sound argument:

For any A such that if A then B. And A. Therefore, B.

For any person such that if that person is lazy, irresponsible, deceitful and careless (A), then such a person will end up in abject poverty (B). And there is such a person who is lazy, irresponsible and careless(A). Therefore, that person will end up in abject poverty (B).

This argument is technically known as modus ponens which literally means “mode that affirms by affirming”, i.e., if A implies B where A is asserted to be true, then B must likewise be true.

Let’s have another example: X being a successful medical practitioner now is her destiny and we are taking destiny here not to mean supernatural but rather logical. She achieved her professional degree with flying colors, so to speak, because she was a conscientious student while at the university. She studied a lot and had always been a consistent honor student. There is, therefore, nothing mysterious in this kind of destiny.

Putting this scenario in a classical symbolic logical formulation will go like this:

For any X such that if X then Y. And if Y then Z. Therefore if X then Z.

For any person such that if that person is a conscientious university student who studies a lot and is always a consistent honor student (X), then such a person will graduate and achieve her professional degree with flying colors (Y). And if such a person graduates and achieves her professional degree with flying colors (Y), then she will be a successful practitioner of her profession (Z). Therefore, if a person is a conscientious university student who studies a lot and is always a consistent honor student (X), then she will finally be a successful practitioner of her profession (Z).

This argument is technically known in classical symbolic logic as hypothetical syllogism where the conclusion is necessarily true unless the premises are rendered inaccurate on the basis of a counterpoint contesting either the first or the second statement.

Then at this point, let us focus on the possibility of two contrasting destinies based on normal–not paranormal–and natural–not supernatural–factors that deny the incipience of any mysterious constituent using the classical symbolic logical formulation called constructive dilemma which goes like this:

Either we study consistently, earnestly and tenaciously (CET) or we study inconsistently, lousily and hesitantly (ILH). If CET we will surely graduate (G+). If ILH, it is certain that we will not graduate (G-). Therefore, it is either G+ or G-.

In the final analysis, there are two possible destinies here: The destiny to graduate and the destiny not to graduate. Whatever the case may be, these are destinies that absolutely depend on the persons concerned, nothing magical, nothing mysterious, nothing unexplainable.

To the question, “What makes our destiny?”, the most concrete response is our decision as free moral agents. We decide on matters of our concern and whatever the aftermath is, it is never a supernatural destiny but a logical one.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 15 October 2019

Can Machines Be Conscious?

“I had a fascination with art, science fiction, and philosophy, dreaming of what robots could be. I imagined that if artificial intelligence ever did match human intelligence that it would re-design itself to be ever smarter, ever faster, you would have something like a Moore’s Law of super-intelligent machines.”
— David Hanson, Founder and CEO, Hanson Robotics

First, we need to be clear about our understanding of what being conscious is. Basically, it is taken as being able to understand and know what is happening in one’s particular spatio-temporal location and having the sensitivity and sensibility to respond to such a state of affairs as well. These are cognitive and affective properties that define the mental and emotional states of living organisms particularly the higher forms of animals including the human species but without dismissing the lower forms about which we do not have a thorough and substantial knowledge as yet.

As specific cases in point and without being exhaustive, it is a given that animals in the Class Mammalia (where the human species is included), Class Aves and Class Reptilia are conscious entities. They do not have to express themselves using a spoken language–as in the case of the human species–to prove that they understand, know and respond to what is happening in their surroundings. The truth is, we have observed them time and again and it is not inaccurate to say that they are endowed with consciousness the fact that they are perfectly able to cope with their existence in their respective habitats.

But the issue at hand in the present undertaking is to resolve the problem of “conscious machines”. The fundamental issue at this point is therefore hinged on the question, Can machines be conscious? Without delving too deeply into the technical nitty-gritty and getting too strict on the understanding of what consciousness is, it is hereby supposed that it will not totally sound ridiculous or outrageous to venture to theorize that yes, machines can be conscious.

Furthermore, without spreading too thinly the concentration of our present concern, we can cite certain dramatic developments in the field of robotics. In this connection, we may mention one actual modelling project of modern humanoid robots which was inaugurated in Japan’s Waseda University in 1967 called WABOT Project and finally resulted in the creation of “the world’s first full-scale humanoid intelligent robot” in 1973. [1] Prior to and after this, a robotics history timeline will introduce us to a series of significant events and likewise familiarize us on the basic details of how humanoid robotics projects have progressed through the years up to the present. [2]

Considering the issue of consciousness on the basis of the parameters established in terms of how we basically understand it, machines can therefore be conscious. Through a scientifically controlled observation, a fully developed humanoid robot with all the complex components that constitute its system has the sophisticated capability to understand and know what is going on in the spatio-temporal surroundings where it is located.

A further observation yielded more amazing findings that it even has the sensitivity and sensibility to respond accordingly, i.e., with human-like reaction, to what is going on around it. This is consciousness seen through the glasses of a new paradigm where consciousness is technically designed through the latest developments in electronic technology. In this sense, we cannot evaluate and make a judgment on this matter using the homo sapiens sapiens paradigm where consciousness has developed via the natural evolutionary process without any technological intervention.

The latest and most sophisticated human-like robot is a creation of a Hong Kong-based company called Hanson Robotics whose banner line says, “an AI and robotics company dedicated to creating socially intelligent machines that enrich the quality of our lives.” [3] The humanoid robot with a face modelled after the late American actress Audrey Hepburn has been given the name, Sophia.

“Hanson Robotics’ most advanced human-like robot, Sophia, personifies our dreams for the future of AI. As a unique combination of science, engineering, and artistry, Sophia is simultaneously a human-crafted science fiction character depicting the future of AI and robotics, and a platform for advanced robotics and AI research.” [4]

The most fundamental controversy that arises at this point centers on the issue of how the term consciousness has been wrongly thought to be manipulated to suit the claim that even machines–and in the present discussion, humanoid robots–can have consciousness. Handling the matter philosophically, it is important to point out certain areas of concern aimed to settle the issue.

In the first place, the spur-of-the-moment reaction that there is a pernicious manipulation of semantic signification is not very accurate. In the present context, the meaning of consciousness is not adversely manipulated but rather practically redefined and hence, conveniently reinterpreted. There is actually nothing wrong with redefinition, much less with reinterpretation as long as the paradigm wherein a concept is introduced is clear and its parameters well established. In other words, consciousness is used in the present context outside of the traditional human-based paradigm with all the components and processes involved to understand the concept of consciousness as a uniquely distinct human event.

In the second place, we have to reasonably realize that isolating the human-based aspects of the concept of consciousness and concentrating more on the linguistic formulation that has no necessary connection (but only a constant conjunction on the basis of habit) with such aspects to define consciousness in a new way is the essence of the technology-based paradigm aimed by no means at all to contradict, disparage and dismiss the human-based paradigm.

The evolving socio-cultural landscape, particularly in the context of the post-modern western society, has re-defined and re-interpreted myriad traditional concepts well-established in the old paradigm to understand the most recent developments obtaining in the third-wave or post-industrial civilization. Simply put, these traditional concepts appropriated in the new paradigm gain a wider scope of meanings which include the descriptions of cyberworld tools, devices and applications among others that are better understood and utilized in the context of virtual reality. The word “notebook” is no longer an exclusive term we use for a stitched or spiraled blank book for recording notes. It is also a compact portable computer more or less with the same usefulness as the former. Even the terms “personal presence” and “face-to-face encounter” have gained third-wave significations as they are appropriated in online audio-visual communication in real-time. Though the element of actual “warm-body presence” is in absentia, so to speak, the circumstance in this kind of contact is perfectly face-to-face and never construed as less personal.

In this light, the term “consciousness” which has gained a brand new meaning as it is appropriated in the context of the post-modern robotic technology should not really shock us. The creative purpose in all of these undertakings is reflective of human ingenuity that calls for celebration and not condemnation. Echoing the words of David Hanson, the founder and CEO of Hanson Robotics, he says:

“Our robots will serve as AI platforms for research, education, medical and healthcare, sales and service, and entertainment applications, and will evolve to become benevolent, super-intelligent living machines who advance civilization and achieve ever-greater good for all.” [5]

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 9 October 2019
______________________
[1] Robotics and Mechatronics: Proceedings of the 4th IFToMM International, edited by Saïd Zeghloul, Med Amine Laribi, Jean-Pierre Gazeau, Published by Springer International Publishing (Switzerland, 2016).
[2] History of Robotics: Timeline, https://www.robotshop.com/media/files/PDF/timeline.pdf
[3] Hanson Robotics, https://www.hansonrobotics.com/about/
[4] Hanson Robotics, https://www.hansonrobotics.com/sophia/
[5] Hanson Robotics, https://www.hansonrobotics.com/about/

What Happens When We Understand Something?

Understanding is facilitated by clarification of meaning. If we don’t know the meaning of what a statement conveys, there is no understanding. Even if there is an attempt to explain what it means but the message receiver still cannot make sense out of it, there is a failure of understanding. Understanding is the essence of communication so that there is no communication if there is no understanding and vice versa. In formal logic, the relation between understanding and communication is bi-conditional: “There is understanding IF AND ONLY IF there is communication.”

One contemporary focal point of philosophy is linguistic because many problems, controversies, and hostilities, big and small, in everyday life arise from misunderstanding and confusion in language. Two people get into a bitter discussion and hard bickering because each of them is using words or statements whose meanings are not clear to either one of them. One uses a word or statement whose meaning to her/him is very much different from the latter’s meaning because they have differing contexts. In other words, there is misunderstanding and confusion in meanings because of contextual vagueness or undefined context. A word, a phrase, a statement, may have different meanings in different contexts. A context is a defining locus were words or statements are used according to the understanding of their user. So that, for someone to be philosophical, s/he should first ask the word–or statement–using the latter’s meaning of what has been said. Hence, it is genuinely being philosophical in the contemporary linguistic analytic sense to ask the question, “What is your meaning of the word or phrase or statement you have just said?” or “In what definite sense are you using that word in that statement?” (1)

In academic philosophy, understanding is an issue of (a) syntax which is the proper concatenation of words, phrases or clauses that constitute correctly structured sentences; (b) semantics which is basically a matter of establishing meaningfulness in terms of sense and reference(2); and (c) pragmatics which deals with the language in use and the particular contexts wherein such language is used. These are the foundation of logic, and logical analysis functions only within the sphere of meaning in context. It is not, therefore, the fundamental concern of logic whether an argument ensconced in statements that make up the premises and the conclusion is located in the real world or not. As long as we understand the meanings of the concatenated words/phrases/clauses in the premises, that is enough to get to a conclusion. In this case, we say that the argument is valid. An example of this is the following:

“All corrupt kings are ugly. The king of France is corrupt. Therefore, the king of France is ugly.”

The statements that constitute the premises and the conclusion make sense because we understand them as they communicate meanings. They are therefore meaningful. Moreover, with the use of the six rules of logical validity(3), the argument is also deemed valid despite the fact that it is unrealistic since, in reality, there is no such person as “the king of France”. Having this condition, the argument, though valid, is not sound as soundness is determined by how a statement or a premise in a logical argument relates or connects with what is obtaining in reality.

It is, therefore, an exercise of philosophical discretion or philosophical attitude not to get into a discussion without identifying first the thematic context of the discussion wherein words and statements intended to be used are initially bracketed for meaning clarification. According to the great Austrian linguistic philosopher of the first half of the 20th century, Ludwig Wittgenstein, the meaning of a word is in its use. The use is the context, or to appropriate the term Wittgenstein introduced in his highly acclaimed masterpiece, Philosophical Investigations, the use is located in a specific “language-game”. In other words, that which we call contextual dependence or language-game is what determines the meaning of a word or words in a statement. (4)

Nevertheless, though knowledge, which is defined in academic philosophy as “true justified belief,”(5) necessarily connects with understanding and meaning, understanding and meaning do not necessarily connect with knowledge. In other words, a statement whose meaning we understand very well does not mean it is necessarily true. We may perfectly understand a statement but if there is no way for us to verify it in the real world, such a statement cannot be established as a matter of knowledge.

For a sensible person who has already gotten to the point of understanding something which s/he has considered to be worthwhile–in this case, a statement–what happens next is to verify it, i.e., to find out whether it is true or not. Though it is very important to understand a statement, the bucket does not stop at this point, so to speak. If a statement is truly worth considering, we do not only want to understand it; we want to verify it. Doing this elevates the issue to the level of epistemology; it, therefore, becomes a matter of knowledge and leads us verifiers to the point of finally saying, “Now I know the statement is true” or “Now I know the statement is false” as the case may be.

Depending on the degree of importance of what one has understood and known, the context now determines whether s/he has to act on it or otherwise. At this point, decision is of the essence. Now that I perfectly understand the message and have got the definite knowledge of its truth or falsity as the case may be, what is the right thing to do? From logic to epistemology, we are now entering the sphere of axiology, i.e., values, more specifically the field of ethics where we make a judgment on a circumstance and decide what ethically right action we ought to do. And in many cases, this is a particular point where the decision-maker has to face clear and present risks especially when the matter of concern is necessary to be exposed in public either as a way to warn the latter of an impending disaster that ought to be immediately acted on before it finally strikes or to resolve a widespread problem of national–even international–importance by making it known to the people why such a problem exists.

Knowing what one understands as true or false and thereafter exposing such knowledge to a significant audience of concerned entities could entail grave danger on the part of the one who has made the disclosure, more popularly described nowadays by the monicker, “whistleblower”. Without elaborating on this matter, we have at least witnessed the tragic consequences of what happened to the likes of Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, and Chelsea Manning. In this connection, we could almost be correct to assume that each of them had gotten to the end of the rope and despite finding themselves between a rock and a hard place or at worst, even between the devil and the deep blue sea, so to speak, conscience pushed them to take the most dangerous decision they had ever made in their lives. But considering the cases of these persons of interest may be construed as dwelling too much on the negative side of the issue of what happens when we understand and know something.

Looking at the brighter side of understanding, it is a perfect platform that if properly acted upon could lead to the liberation of the mind that has long been dogmatically confined in the limited recesses of outdated categories that can no longer cope with all the rapid changes obtaining in the post-modern realities of our time. When we understand something in this positive context, what happens is a feeling of exhilaration and an experience of freedom from the mind’s past enslavement “within the narrow, dark and grimy walls of ignorance” (with apologies to Frederick Douglass)(6).

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 2 October 2019

_______________

(1) Ruel F. Pepa, “The Relevance of Linguistic Analytic Philosophy in the Post-Industrial Era” [https://ruelfpepa.wordpress.com/2012/11/01/the-relevance-of-linguistic-analytic-philosophy-in-the-post-industrial-era/]

(2) Cf., Gottlob Frege’s “Sense and Reference“.

(3) The six rules of logical validity: (a) There must be three terms each of which is used twice. (b) The middle term (i.e., the term not found in the conclusion) must be distributed at least once. (c)If a term is distributed in the conclusion, it must also be distributed in a premise. (d) If both premises are affirmative, the conclusion must also be affirmative. (e) If one premise is negative, the conclusion must also be negative. (f) If both premises are negative, there is no way to form a conclusion.

(4) Ruel F. Pepa, “The Relevance of Linguistic Analytic Philosophy in the Post-Industrial Era” [https://ruelfpepa.wordpress.com/2012/11/01/the-relevance-of-linguistic-analytic-philosophy-in-the-post-industrial-era/]

(5) Cf., Plato’s Theaetetus and C. I. Lewis’ Mind and the World Order

(6) Frederick Douglass, Blessings of Liberty and Education (1894).

Are We Being Watched?

This question could have both positive and negative implications. It is positive, on the one hand, if taken in the context of security and protection as in a situation where one is in a particularly unfamiliar place at an unholy hour where s/he feels uneasy and worried. Police presence is usually what we have in mind (not necessarily in places like the Philippines where ordinary people fear the police and feel uncomfortable when and where there are policemen milling around), at least in the context of a civilized European city. Are we being watched by police authorities ready to protect us in troubled times, i.e., when disturbance or disorder presents the possibility of a clear and present danger, so to speak?

On the other hand, the question could take a negative undertone in the context of a police state where the same police authorities are being used by the dictatorial leadership of a country to closely watch and monitor the activities of people, particularly those suspected to be involved in clandestine undertakings with the intent to topple the powers-that-be. In this circumstance, the police and the armed forces as well are given extrajudicial powers to implement draconian measures and execute tyrannical orders issued by the despotic leadership. This is basically a condition in a country where there is curtailment of the citizens’ freedom to congregate and ventilate in public their opinions critical of the failures of government to deliver and fulfill its mandate for the welfare and benefit of the nation.

In less economically developed–or to put it in a more sociologically technical parlance, developing–countries, this ambiance takes the semblance of legitimacy through the imposition of martial rule whose conditions are appropriated from the nation’s constitution itself. In so many instances, victims of police and military intimidation, persecution, and brutality are ordinary and innocent people initially set up by an all-encompassing state surveillance network and later unjustly indicted through the unilateral decision orchestrated within a judicial system that absolutely functions at the behest of its authoritarian overlords.

It is in this negative aspect of “being watched”–or to put it in a more politically accurate term, surveillance–that makes the question “Are we being watched?” worth considering. Nevertheless, a deeper question that spontaneously arises from its affirmation, i.e., if we really believe that we are watched, is, “Why are we being watched?” This question doesn’t, however, apply across the board since it is not accurate to assume the universality of the issue presented by the first question. In other words, we affirm that we are being watched if and only if we are subjects of particular interest for those who have realized and decided afterward that we are worth watching for whatever serious and compelling reason(s) they have.

The art and practice of surveillance have already reached their apex with the leaps and bounds achieved in the “third wave civilization” (with apologies to Alvin Toffler) also known as the Information Age. Tracking lairs of criminal elements has already become a no-sweat operation. However, on a more disturbing side of the coin, even the shrouded activities and conspiratorial schemes of Israeli Mossad agents are very efficient and effective in tracking down enemies of Zionism and what they call “anti-Semitic” elements through the information superhighway.

Though not exactly in a totalitarian political milieu, this situation is now a reality in the present dispensation known as the “Age of Information”. The condition may not be as harsh as the tyrannical ambiance in Orwell’s fiction but in our time, the constant flow of information via online monitoring even on the most guarded secrets of an individual person’s daily conduct of life may be accessed through the most sophisticated instruments and devices electronically connected/linked to computers and hand-held equipment we use and without which life doesn’t seem liveable to many of us on a daily basis. In other words, we denizens of the post-modern world are generally in one way or another being subjected to constant surveillance by the powers that be both in global and domestic landscapes. There may not be commensurate punishment yet at this point in time for every misdeed and misconduct people do but the fast-evolving information technology we have had in the post-modern reality could sooner or later be utilized by despotic and authoritarian regimes as a concrete tool to effect oppressive and onerous measures against their own citizens. If actual oppression is conceived as a real possibility in 1984 by sowing widespread terror even with all the technological limitations in the plot’s context, could such possibility be more highly conceivable in the present post-modern era with all the sophisticated technological devices the age of cyberspace has at its beck and call? [ “Nineteen Eighty-Four or Brave New World?” by Ruel F. Pepa (18 March 2015) . . . https://ruelfpepa.wordpress.com/2015/03/18/nineteen-eighty-four-or-brave-new-world/ ]

Yet, more than what we may associate with intimidation, harassment, and oppression in the political context, we could, at this point, advance the general notion that surveillance of subjects of interest in whatever conceivable context we could think of is fundamentally effected for manipulative purposes and more sophisticatedly for exploitative intentions. It has almost become an effortless endeavor for these manipulators and exploiters to watch the movements and activities of people of interest through well-formulated machinations utilizing the seemingly unlimited power of the Internet with all the available software applications and tracking devices that unceasingly evolve in the boundless realm of the cyberspace.

This entire scenario triggers the question, “Who among us are being watched?” In other words, who among us are the subjects of interest that have drawn the attention of these manipulators and exploiters? The truth is, there are millions of us who are wired to the inexhaustible reaches of the cyberworld’s information superhighway. We have left traceable “footprints” of habits, predispositions, liabilities, proclivities, enchantments, desires, hopes and wishes, among others which are all recorded and thus detectable within and through the universal archive of a “global village” (with apologies to Marshall McLuhan) accessed online via the World Wide Web. In the most trivial consideration, a lot of us have already exposed online our vulnerabilities and weaknesses. At this point, we get into a cycle and return to the original question, “Are we being watched?” and of course, the re-affirmation that yes, we who have been wired are definitely being watched.

But the crucial issue is, are we being watched for our safety and protection, or are we within the amplitude of a landscape ruled and overseen by the mighty controllers of the world order for the safety and protection of their very own jealously guarded global interest?

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 25 September 2019