Monday, December 26, 2005

is that really news?

The New York Times, on its Saturday issue, reads as follows, quoting the dean of research affairs at the Seoul National University:

“We determined that this is a grave misconduct that damages the foundations of science.” [from “South Korean Scientist Resigns Over Stem Cell Research”, A6]

Since then, or perhaps before, the word has been on the market: also scientists can lie! What a surprise, I say. As if this was really news. Two things call for my attention from this article:

1)that scientists and science lovers are really surprised about this
2)the language used to denounce the crime, the alleged ruthless act against science.

Among the thousand different things that have come up thanks to Dr. Hwang (the criminal) there are some to pay attention to. First, we are able to see, almost on widescreen, how science depends on politics, economy and (as it is human) fame. Second, we are also able to how science really works, and so we can stop having fancy dreams about scientists belonging to that special kind of human beings that are somehow able to see reality, to feel reality, to tell reality.

Our first issue allows us to explain many things. We can tell why Dr. Hwang turned out to be the most famous scientist in the world nowadays; although perhaps he is now, as all beaten heroes, the most infamous one. Furthermore, we can also tell why Biology, DNA research, and Stem Cell research have nowadays the power and fame that Physics used to have a hundred years ago. One reason: the relevance to power, politics and economy. A hundred years ago nothing could have been of more help than nuclear power. A hundred years ago no one could have been more famous than a nuclear physicist. Nowadays, everyone has nuclear power. Nuclear physicists have come to play a secondary roll, as opposed to Stem Cell researchers; let them be biologists, veterinarians, and what not.

If you ask why, you may have the same reason: if there is something in which every government in the world is interested, nowadays, that is stem cell research. Merely one year ago, on December 15, 2004, the very same newspaper published an article by William Safire the title of which offers the answer: “California’s Stem Cell Gold Rush” Of course, Safire intends to draw an analogy; of course, this gold rush is all over the world. California is everywhere, to say it boldly. The world is looking for the next Bohr and Openheimer. The world thought it had its next Einstein, the next spokesman in a word, with Dr. Hwang. But not even that. Dr. Hwang couldn’t keep his tricks below the hat (as everyone else does) and the rest of the world used him, mercilessly, to pay for their own sins. Shame on those who see their own work reflected on the newspaper and still dare to complaint. May the world have pity on Dr. Hwang, as one of those nice guys from history used to say: that who is free of sin, may throw the first stone.

The denunciation, turning to our second point, could not be more pathetic. “We determined” says the chief of the affairs, “that this hurts and hurts badly”. The beauty of this statement comes from its double message. It is incredibly arrogant, for it assumes that it is up to her and her staff to determine what the foundations of science are or might be. If science is supposed to offer some knowledge of the world, and not just mere invention, then its foundation cannot depend on what some committee determines.

And this takes us directly to the second more amazing claim of her statement: it might as well be that science does not offer knowledge of the world, at least not in the passive, absolutely objective way we’ve been told it does. It might be that, as the relevant chair of these affairs claims, it is up to us to determine what the foundations of science are (if there are some at all). It might be (why not?) that science is more like poetry and less like science than we thought. It might be (why not?) that science is more like proving an invented hypothesis, than discovering the essence of the world. I think this is the correct way to view things, among other (metaphysical) reasons that I won’t dare to explore here, this interpretation makes the chair’s claims less arrogant and more truthful: the foundations of science, ladies and gentlemen, are up for grabs. It is up to “scientists” and their “scientific behavior” to settle the battle. At the end, as always for all endings, the history will be written by the victor (i.e. the most powerful one).

This is not all. If this is true, then it should be surprising that scientists are so surprised. It is understandable that we, the lame ones, may be surprised; but why should a scientist, a human being that who knows that the foundations are up for grabs, be surprised by what we call “news”? Why is the chair of affairs so surprised that vanity, power, money and ambition may distort, a little bit here and a little bit there, the results of some research? After all, it is up to us to determine what science is? Isn’t it? At least until a few months ago Dr. Hwang was the world’s most promising hero, was he not doing science then? Only one kind of thing in this whole Universe can rise and fall, from the top of the mountain to the world’s most disgraced pothole, and that is the human kind. Only someone that naively, and falsely, believes that scientists stop being humans (i.e. being conceited and ambitious) while they do science, can be justly surprised.

It was up to Nietzsche to declare the official demise of God a few years ago. This call can only be made once; we should open up our ears and understand.

We should stop looking for heroes, and stop buying them. For the ones that profit from them (e.g. governments, pharmaceutics, oil companies, aristocratic nobel prize committees, and what not) won’t stop creating them. Someone should stop complaining about Dr. Hwang and start asking questions about his boss, his real boss, the one who owns his name, his papers and his so well crafted labor. Those are the ones to be blamed. Is this news?

We should stop looking for minigods and accept we are all humans; as bad as mother Theresa (she was really evil, believe me), as good and trustworthy as Dr. Hwang (take a look at how many students cry for his departure, as many as the beaten children of mother Theresa). Is this news?

We should stop thinking that scientists are angels, and science the panacea. And that, up there, is not news.

Friday, December 23, 2005

una teoría del secreto (o nada es secreto)

Desde lo más íntimo hasta lo más público, los secretos suelen darnos confianza. Confiamos básicamente porque, sea cual sea el secreto, no todo el mundo tiene acceso a él. Hay aquí algunas condiciones que debe cumplir toda teoría del secreto que pretenda ser satisfactoria:

(i) dar cuenta de lo secreto;
(ii) dar cuenta de que lo reprobable no es el conocimiento del contenido secreto;
(iii) dar cuenta del papel central que juegan los secretos entre los humanos; y
(iv) dar cuenta de la confianza que lo secreto suele traer consigo.

Primero, como siempre, una dosis de distinciones: lo secreto no es intrínsecamente secreto. Supongamos que yo, en lo más hondo de mi ser, adoro vivir en Ann Arbor. Sin embargo, como no deseo que mis amigos en la Ciudad de México decidan cortar relaciones conmigo – sabiendo que son tan celosos de su ciudad y su patria – prefiero guardar mis sentimientos y no decirlo a nadie. O, al menos, a casi nadie. Porque, como buen ser humano, no puedo guardar mis sentimientos sin comunicarlos. Mucho menos un sentimiento tan hondo y fuerte como la emoción de vivir en Ann Arbor. Así que, a las primeras de cambio, comunico mis sentimientos con Catalina, cuyo íntimo trato conmigo le impide tomar mis sentimientos como razón para cortar relaciones. De manera que, en cuanto puedo le hago saber a Catalina que adoro vivir en Ann Arbor. Acto seguido exijo secrecía de su parte. Pregunta: ¿cuál es el secreto que Catalina guarda por mi en su cálido y tropical corazón? Respuesta: aquello que sigue a la cláusula que en la oración anterior, es decir, adoro vivir en Ann Arbor. O si se prefiere, para evitar ambigüedades, el secreto es que edu adora vivir en Ann Arbor.

Debemos preguntarnos ahora ¿a qué refiere la frase ‘edu adora vivir en Ann Arbor’? ¿un hecho, una proposición, un conjunto de mundos posibles, etc.? Cualquiera de estas opciones sirve como respuesta, siendo ésta una pregunta por el significado de aquello que es secreto. Podemos plantear esto de otra manera, el que edu adora vivir en Ann Arbor, ¿qué es? Respuesta (asumiendo por hipótesis que es cierto): un hecho – o un estado posible del mundo u lo que sea, para el caso es lo mismo. Lo importante es que, de lo que hablamos es de algo que forma parte del mundo, de la misma manera en que los árboles, las casa, los aviones y los países son parte del mundo. De manera que, el que edu adora vivir en Ann Arbor es tan público como público es el vuelo de un avión o este mismo blog. En consecuencia, aquello que Catalina guarda celosamente en su pecho no es, al menos no por si mismo, algo de acceso privado.

Los secretos, sin embargo, sí son de acceso privado. En otras palabras, el que edu adora vivir en Ann Arbor no tiene la cualidad esencial de aquello que es secreto. ¿Quiere esto decir que Catalina no sabe guardar secretos? No, o al menos no se sigue de mis argumentos. Lo que esto quiere decir es que lo secreto no es lo que Catalina guarda.

¿Qué es, entonces, lo secreto, aquello de acceso privado? Propuesta (humilde como siempre): ser secreto es una propiedad extrínseca de un hecho público como todos los demás, en este caso del hecho de que edu adora vivir en Ann Arbor. Esto implica que el secreto existe única y exclusivamente en la relación que los hablantes guardan con respecto al contenido del secreto y, también obviamente, con respecto a los demás hablantes. En otras palabras, Catalina guarda un secreto si y sólo si ella:

(a) sabe que p (i.e. que edu adora vivir en Ann Arbor);
(b) guarda la relación Ixyp con edu, tal que y (cata) sabe por x(edu) que p; y
(c) guarda la relación Scyp con el resto de los miembros de una comunidad de hablantes, tal que y no comunica que p a c (donde c es la comunidad de hablantes).

Como sea, el punto es que la quintaesencia de un secreto está en las relaciones que los hablantes competentes de una comunidad guardan con respecto a los demás y con respecto a una proposición o un estado de cosas que es, por sí mismo, de acceso público.

Podemos, entonces satisfacer la condición (i) de una teoría satisfactoria del secreto: lo secreto no es aquello que Catalina guarda celosamente en su pecho, lo secreto es el guardar mismo. Mutatis mutandis, aquello que es de acceso privado no es el contenido del secreto sino la relación misma que los secresarios (i.e. quienes guardan el secreto) guardan con respecto al secreto, entre sí y con respecto al resto de la comunidad de hablantes. Ésta es, pues, mi teoría del secreto: lo secreto no es lo guardado sino el guardar.

Esta teoría sobre lo secreto tiene, entre otras, la ventaja de que explica impecablemente porque cuando algún secreto nuestro está en boca de todos, lo que nos enfada no es el que todos hayan extendido su conocimiento sobre el mundo, sino el que alguien en especial no haya guardado esa relación tan esencial del secreto. Así, esta teoría satisface la condición (ii) impuesta a toda teoría del secreto. Si lo pensamos dos veces vemos fácilmente que no es lo guardado lo que nos importa, sino el guardar. Esto, por sí mismo, es de gran importancia, porque no hay más guardar que el mantener esa relación que un grupo exclusivo de personas guarda con respecto al resto del mundo.

Aunque a Catalina le parezca raro, esta teoría también explica por qué el secreto es un elemento esencial de nuestra forma de ser humanos (condición (iii) de satisfacción). En dar y recibir la guarda de secretos establecemos relaciones de exclusividad con los demás. Con los secretos nos distinguimos del resto del mundo. No me sorprendería si fuese posible distinguir grupos de amistades a partir del conjunto de relaciones de guarda secreta que comparten. Incluso al interior de grupos de amigos se forman grupos más pequeños, más íntimos, entre aquellos que guardan aún más incomunicables secretos entre sí. Guardar secretos es una manera, muy eficiente y sutil, de dibujar las líneas entre amigos y desconocidos, entre familiares y extraños, entre relevantes e irrelevantes. Sería incluso interesante construir una teoría de la identidad personal que incluya el secreto.

Lo anterior explica también, de manera muy obvia, qué es lo que tanta confianza inspira de un secreto o de la secrecía (cumpliendo así la cuarta y última condición). He aquí una razón más para creer en mi teoría del secreto. Si creyésemos, por el contrario, en que el secreto es el contenido, lo guardado y no el guardar, entonces la confianza que los secretos generan sería inexplicable. Sería tanto como exigir que a partir de un mero hecho, como el que edu adora vivir en Ann Arbor, brote mágicamente confianza. La confianza, debo decir, no es una propiedad de los hechos. Sin embargo, si creemos, como yo, que el secreto es el guardar, entonces la confianza del secreto resulta fácil de explicar. La explicación, como debiera serlo, resulta muy trivial: los secretos generan confianza simplemente porque los secretos exigen confianza como condición inicial. Siendo que el secreto del secreto está en el guardar y no en lo guardado, para el guardar que el secreto nos exige es necesario que las relaciones Ixyp y Scyp sean satisfechas. El que haya una relación (compleja como vemos) de secrecía supone – y por ello garantiza – el que estas dos relaciones sean satisfechas. Es esa garantía, de inicio exigida, la que nos da confianza. No es sorprendente, pues, que los secretos generen confianza; lo sorprendente sería que no lo hicieran.

Debemos concluir, entonces, que no hay secretos o, mejor aún, que nada es en y por sí mismo un secreto. No hay secretos, nada de acceso restringido que con tanta celosía guardamos en el pecho. Pero esto no es razón de alarma y mucho menos decepción. Más aún, esto es razón de entusiástica perplejidad, pues sea el mundo como sea, adore edu o no el vivir en Ann Arbor, tenemos una fuente frágilmente imperturbable de confianza. Escepticismos a parte, seamos o no cerebros en cubetas, Catalina guarda un guardar en secrecía y nada más. Si lo importante no es lo guardado sino el guardar, habrá que aprender del cómo y ya no tanto del qué.

p.d. yo también te quiero mil peibol!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

¡Te quiero mil!

1.- El líquido

No sin grata sorpresa... Corrección: tiene que ser SIN sorpresa --¡Joder! ¿De-quién-estamos hablando?-Se-trata-de-Eduardo... Veo que las gotitas que comenzaron a caer el 22 de febrero con Rulfo, Fernández y Cervantes, han comenzado a llenar el vaso. Se trata de un líquido espeso, producto quizás de meter a Thelonious Monk en el pianócktail de Boris Vian ("shaken, not stirred" ¿así es la espuma de los días?).

2.- El despertador

Antes de entrar en acción el despertador, motiva a levantarme de la cama una mítica lista de pendientes. Esta lista se entrelaza con mi último sueño de la noche y personifica a ese ser horroroso responsable de transformarlo en pesadilla.

Así es como El moro lleva amenazando la integridad de mis amaneceres durante las últimas semanas. ¡Ya no aguanto más!

3.- Martini-light

Pero Thelonious no se escucha fácil. Lo cuál trae al escenario de lo público la primera de las Seis Propuestas para el Próximo Milenio de Italo Calvino: la levedad.

I would suggest this: my working method has more often than not involved
the substraction of weight. I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from
people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have
tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language.

4.- I got my mojo workin'

Es una interrupción. Quizás no debería estar aquí. Soy un voyeur. Me gusta la ruptura.

Il atteste la rupture avec le jazz et il confirme dans un nouveau contexte
son dédoublement artistique qui sera désormais sa marque de fabrique.

Eres lo máximo Lalo, te quiero mil.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

possible worlds (2)

Thinking about my claims concerning possible worlds, I realized that my argument rested too much on a controversial claim: worlds do not have counterparts because counterparts are not maximally including sets of what there is. I still think this claim is true, but Sam made me doubt as to whether it is so evidently true.

I still think, however, that there is a big problem with possible worlds and, in particular, with modal realism. I'll frase it in the following way.

(P1)All propositions about reality, if true, are necessarily true.
(P2)Propositions about possible worlds are propositions about reality.
(P3)From P1 and P2, it follows that propositions about possible worlds are necessarily true when true.

(P4)From P3 it follows that there are no contingent truths about possible worlds.
(P5)From P4 it follows that all properties of worlds are essential to them, and thus, that worlds are necessarily the way they are.

However, claims about members of worlds (e.g. that I could possibly be a plumber), are claims about what there is and, of course, claims about possible worlds. That there is a world in which someone pretty much like me is a plumber is, if true, necessarily true.

(P6) From P5 it follows that all properties of individuals are essential properties.

If P6 is true then we can't make sense of accidental properties and neither of modal properties of objects. All there is to an object is the set of properties that it actually (or even instantly) has. Every single change is a change of identity, for it will imply a change of an essential property -and at the end there will just be no change at all.

It seems then that the reduction of modal concepts offered by modal realism amounts simply to the claim that there are no modal properties. As much as, I think, it implies that there are no essential properties.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Irgendwo, vielleicht in einem hellen Tag,
viellecht hinter dieser oder jene Ecke
vielleicht aber auch ohne Tag und Nacht,
vielleicht in einem Traum oder einen Stern,
werden wir uns finden.

Irgenwie, vielleicht träume ich,
vielleicht bist's Du der träumt,
vielleicht wachen wir auf, für eine Sekunde,
und gucken uns diese verrückte Welt an,
und machen uns eine neue.

Irdgendwas, wird ja passieren,
irgendwas, werden wir auch singen,
wenn schon alle Lieder in Vergessenheit gefallen sind,
wenn es keine Musik mehr gibt,
werden wir uns bestimmt was improvisieren.

Und jetzt höre ich auf, weil dies auch weh tut.
Jetzt höre ich auf, zu denken und zu sagen.
Jetzt hört meine Welt für ein paar Stunden oder Tagen oder Wochen auf,
bis ich aufwache,
an meinen alten Träume errinere,
und man doch wieder in Ruhe atmen darf.

Jetzt hört meine Welt für diesen Blatt auf.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

a problem about possible worlds

Let us assume modal realism. In particular, let us assume that when I say that I could have been a plumber instead of a philosopher, I say something true in virtue of there being a world in which someone relevantly similar to me (i.e. my counterpart) is a plumber. Thus, counterfactuals or modal claims like the one above work exactly in the same way as ordinary assertions just like this one, asserted by me, thirty minutes ago: 'I am a philosopher'. Just like the claim that I could have been a plumber, the truth of the claim that I am a philosopher depends on the way a world is. The latter depends on the way my world is, the former on the way my counterpart's world is.

Now, my worry is the following. Accepting this particular metaphysics commits us to the existence of causally isolated although concrete and real multiple worlds. Thus, what is called 'possible world' is no less an object than, say, me. There is an apparently uncontroversial assumption within contemporary metaphysics according to which for every single object there is a corresponding essence, or nature, which amounts to what it is to be that object. However, regardless of its nature as an object, it makes no sense to talk about the essence, or nature, of a possible world. Analogously, it makes no sense to distinguish between the necessary and contingent properties of a possible world. Even more, I will argue that it makes no sense to talk about the possible ways in which a world can be.

For the sake of the argument, let us assume that it is essential to our world that certain laws of nature hold in it. Now, according to our particular modal realist metaphysics what this means is that it is in the nature of this world that certain laws of nature hold, and, thus, there is no possible world in which this world has a counterpart (or a relevant one) in which certain laws of nature don't hold. But what does it mean that a world exists within a world?

If, on the one hand, we admit that a world has a counterpart then we have to admit that the former is itself another object within a more embracing world which itself constitutes part of an all-embracing world, which... ad infinitum. Even more, we would have to admit that causally isolated objects are still causally connected as parts of a more embracing world (and this sounds contradictory).

If, on the other hand, we admit that a world is itself a maximally inclusive sum, such that it is not itself a proper part of a different world - which clearly implies that it does not include a possible world as a proper part of it - then it seems that the distinction between essential and accidental properties disappears. For any property of a possible world will be true of that world in just one possible world, namely, itself. Essential properties of worlds cannot be understood as properties of the world such that the world could not have existed without having such property, as opposed to properties such that the world could have existed without them. And this is so because other ways in which this world exists are just other worlds and not counterparts of it (unless we accept an unconceivable openend of metaphysical levels). Therefore, it makes no sense to distinguish between essential and accidental properties of worlds, which in turn is tantamount to say that all properties are essential properties. This is the first uneasiness of possible worlds.

Another more controversial consequence is that there is no such thing as possibilities of possible worlds (unlike the possibilities of any other object). Just like we cannot make sense of the essence of a world, we cannot make sense of the possibilites of a possible world, for exactly the same reasons: ways a world might be are just other worlds which cannot be themselves counterparts of this world. If this is so, there is no sense in the distinction between actual and possible properties of a world, they are all actual properties; and so on and so forth. That is, the same holds for the distinction between necessary and contingent properties of a world. All of a world's properties are necessary.

Thus, a world is what it is and it cannot be otherwise. All its properties are essential properties, and all its properties are necessary properties. The third bad consequence of all this metaphysical framework follows smoothly: determinism is true. If a world cannot be otherwise, then it is must be the way it is. Moral: whenever you think you did wrong, stop worrying. That is just the way the world is, and it couldn't have been otherwise.

Once we consider that worlds are just maximally inclusive mereological sums of objects, we get to the last and worse consequence: just like the sum, all objects (all individuals) in a world have their properties essentially, they are all necessary properties and also actual. In particular the property of being a philosopher is as essential, necessary and actual of me as the property of not being a plumber. It makes no sense, then, to talk about possibilia, counterfactuals and else. And the whole motivation for using possible worlds disappears.

This is the problem of possible worlds.

[Coming soon: we can't go home]