Saturday, November 30, 2013

Be Logical, Dammit!

     It is commonly expressed by many thinking types that people simply aren't taught how to think anymore. Of course, if people aren't making the same conclusions as I am, its pretty obvious that their thinking is defective. If only we can get schools to do their job right, and teach proper logic and thinking skills, we would be much better off.  Of course, then trying to get all those thinking types to agree on a curriculum is where the fun really starts. The problem is, if one were to spend any time thinking about this, where did anyone learn to "think correctly" in the first place? See, if our brains are mush, and we have to "learn" how to use logic, then of course, how did the first one learn to do this at all, and how could they trust the logic they had developed, given the defective nature of their minds in the first place? One way to tackle this problem is to examine what we mean by "rational" and "logical" thinking. I suspect its not so much the process of logic that's causing us fits, but the definitions, the "kinds" from which logic builds from identities, definitions, to reason to a correct conclusion
    When people demand others to think rationally, what is being demanded is that they base their reasoning on logic, not emotions. One should, they argue, argue from a given premise, continue a series of deductions, to then arrive at a conclusion. This demands carries the assumption that logic and emotions necessarily preclude each other. This is fairly given for much of philosophical discourse, including the infamous Plato, who has done much to squash original thought ever since. Its much like, to quote the modern pop geek culture, the tension between Spock and Captain Kirk. Spock the ever so cool Vulcan who only used pure logic, and Kirk who always followed his passions.To the Western Binary mind, only one or the other must exist. The idea that someone using logic might actually be reasoning from a place of emotion or feeling is heresy (the idea that a scientist may be reasoning from a place of emotion, for example). Similarly, we exclude from the realms of possibility that someone who allows passions to govern their actions might actually use reason to achieve their "emotional" goals, since by definition, passions are "irrational".
     But what are these words that we toss around so glibly? Words like "logic" coming from the Greek "Logos" meaning word, the meaning having really nothing to do with Reason. Instead it was about the power of God (originally the Goddess) being able to create with the spoken word; a concept carried forward today by modern magicians and yogis. Word like reason and rational come from the Latin "ratio" meaning two similar things having a fixed relationship between each other. The English equivalent is "reckoning" which is to count or compute. Perhaps here we have our first clue to what is truly meant by these terms, and what that man yelling "be logical, dammit" is really asking us to do, even if he doesn't recognize it himself.
     If the person being asked to be rational, is, really, being asked to think like a ratio, and the person being asked to be reasonable is being asked to reckon, that is, to count and compute, then they are being asked to think in mathematical terms, or to use mathematical properties in their attempt to think. And what are these properties, in the thousands of axioms, laws, principles, formulas compounded over a thousand years of advanced mathematics? Math at its heart is simply counting, everything is simply mental shortcuts to deal with complexity and a limited mind). Math at its heart is the humble number line, centered at zero, with positive numbers heading to the right, negative numbers leading to the left. In order to do this counting, one need only a few ideas, ideas we all seem to born hardwired with. These are expressed (if you can remember your beginning math lessons) things that are equal, things that are not equal, things that are greater than, things that are lesser than. In order to count, we must have these properties firmly in mind. So One is greater than zero. Two is greater than One. Two and Two are the same, and therefore equal. One is less than Two, and One and Two are different, they are not the same, not equal. In mathematical symbols this is <, =, > (less than, equal, greater than). This is all the "logic" you need to start you off your counting career, and you could count up to the billions in either direction. Huzzah!
     Now we approach the meat of our discussion. To use reason, we must "compute", that is, decide in the world of concrete and abstract concepts, what ideas are "equal", which are "not equal", which are greater or lesser (or perhaps a combination of conditions: greater than or equal to, etc.). And in order to do this, we would have to be in agreement as to what each word means. The source of most arguments, whether in the bar or on the Internet, is a disagreement over the meaning of our words. Another way to state this is to speak of identities: what is the identity of this word? Is it this, or is it that? Pick any perpetual argument, and this is what we find. With politics we argue over words like "taxes", "patriot", "terrorism", simply because different groups have attach different meanings and connotations to these words. "Socialism", "Communism", "Capitalism", and even terms "police" and "government" can be loaded with hugely different meanings. One group defines socialism as the government of the people taking care of the community, and another will define socialism as a coercive government made up of technocrats who are out to confiscate their hard earned wealth. Both groups can use the same word, seemingly identical word, but in actual practice are using it quite differently.
     Now to flip this around, we can encounter various pieces of propaganda, otherwise known as the persuasive argument, where the identity of a concept is deliberately confused with another. This is done, I think, simply because its the easiest path to take to "win" the argument. Its much simpler to try to persuade someone that something is similar or different from something else, than to argue whether something is "better" or "worse" than another. This is an exploit of something called soft logic or "squishy" logic, as opposed to hard logic. Hard logic deals with exact identities, and only exact identities. This is the so-called computer logic so often described in literature and movies. The computer makes a comparison and only declares things to be equal if they match up 100%. What a computer has enormous difficulty is with the concept of "similar". Two things that are so close, that they are more or less equal, or the same, despite having some differences between them. Now in reality, this is what we do all day long. Only in a few cases will people have to work with the exactness of  hard logic and exact equalities. We recognize things such as cars, even though no two cars are identical to each other. We recognize "cats" and "dogs" even though they are all different. And how much variation do we observe before a cat is no longer a "cat" and becomes something else?
     So the next time you wade into a weed patch of hotly debated ideas and concepts, and very earnestly want to be "rational" or "reasonable", keep this in mind: are the presenters using terms similarly, or in differently from each others, or from the public at large? Are the ideas truly the same or truly different from others? And above all, everyone, even the scientist, is arguing from an emotional base. Only a computer does strict logic, and it sits there until someone tells it what to do.

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