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Logic in an Illogical World

November 4, 2016 Leave a comment

People don’t learn the way they used to.

When I was a kid in the 70’s and 80’s, education was mostly broken up into two distinctions, “book-learning” and “common sense”. “Book-learning” is what you did at school and taught you things like reading, math and science, and “common sense” was the ‘real-world’ education that taught you not to not to play with fire or tick your big sister off so much that she would give you a wedgie. The common consensus was that most people had only one type of learning and it seemed only a few would have them both. It was typical that people with “book-smarts” would be picked on because it wasn’t needed for the “real world”, and yet the “book-learned” would look down upon the uneducated as thugs and jocks who would never have a good job.

Somewhere in my 20’s though, I had the realization that there was a third type of learning and it seems to have created a new divide of haves and have-nots in today’s society: logic.

I love to read and although I devour all types of fiction and non-fiction alike, my all-time favorite genre is fantasy. I read all about elves and dragons and trolls and the like and just like movies, TV, or even people, some are more sincere than others, some darker, grittier, and some with only hints of magic or the supernatural while others brim with it. Regardless of the book, series, or author, fantasy demands something of its reader, the ability to suspend your disbelief. If you read fantasy literature and at the first sign of a fantastical creature you say “Whoa, that’s not realistic.”, the genre is probably not for you. But even fantasy aficionados like myself have lines we draw when it comes to what we believe. If the author is able to craft a situation that is logical in its context, regardless of if it’s realistic, it usually works. But as a good friend of mine has as her forum signature: “I am willing to suspend my disbelief, but not hang it by the neck until dead.” When the wizard tries to shoot a fireball under water I might start to scratch my head and say “Wait a minute, that’s not logical.” I think reading the writings of skilled authors helps teach us about a lot of things, logic included. And for me, the more a novel seems logical (in its own context of belief), the more I can buy into it and become immersed.

There are times that I look around at our world and I wonder where we as a society have failed to instill logic into the curriculum that shapes our youth through school. When I see over and over again, people whom I respect falling victim to fallacies of thinking carefully crafted by those who wish to sway their opinion, I get disheartened. Whether we like it or not this world is filled with people who would like to sway your opinion on all matter of things for their own benefit. Whether it be commercials for products they wish you to buy, candidates who want your vote on election day, or friends and family members who may just want you to think favorably of them, people are consciously trying to manipulate you every day.

There are those that sneer at words like “statistics, data, logic, and facts” and instead pick on the speaker of those words similarly to the common-sense crowd on the “book learner”. I have heard phrases like “I know what my gut tells me.” Or “I know a (insert vulgarity here) when I see it.” I am seen where people will shrug off truth like a blanket on a hot day because it’s uncomfortable. As if somehow, the fact that they feel a certain way actually creates a truth greater than the facts themselves. What those people frequently don’t understand is that they have been manipulated, sometimes subtlety and sometimes blatantly by someone who benefits from that “gut feeling”. There are entire lists of techniques that people use to falsely make you feel a certain way. These are called logical fallacies.  If you go here  you can view a list of these which includes pretty much every argument you are currently seeing on campaign ads across the country. For example, most of the arguments around gun control center on “protecting us from murderers and terrorists”. I would call that an Appeal to Emotion, wouldn’t you? Even though the data says that 60% of gun-related deaths in the US every year are suicides. If we followed the data, we would know that if we are in the business of saving lives, we should focus more so on preventing suicide by firearm than preventing mass-shootings and terrorism. But, terrorism is scary and evokes more emotion in people (fear) so that is and will stay the focus. Or how about how everyone who wants to sway your opinion on voter fraud or welfare has a story that starts “I heard about this one person who… (defrauded / took advantage of the system)” even though the actual data says that voter fraud hardly ever happens and welfare is rarely abused. This is called an Anecdotal Fallacy.

To reduce these gaps of logicality, I would like to suggest that society as a whole would be better off if, instead of acting like opponents on opposite sides of an issue or argument, ready to fight to the death, we instead take the role of scientists on the same side of the table, working together to find the truth or at least common understanding. The Scientific Method has three parts. 1) Hypothesis 2) Experiment 3) Evaluate Results. The hypothesis is what we think to be true, such as “lower taxes will cause increased spending”, or “if I drive 9 mph over the speed limit, I’ll never get a speeding ticket”. The experiment is how you test your hypothesis. This is (and here is the important part) an UNBIASED approach to determine whether your hypothesis is correct or not. This approach may be actions, or research, or even unbiased thinking, but it needs to be completely unbiased or you have tainted your results. Too often people will look to resources that will only reinforce their already preconceived notions, such as hyper-partisan websites or like-minded family or friends, rather than challenge their own thinking. We need more challenge in order for us to face the issue unbiasedly. Finally, we evaluate what we have learned. This may mean we were correct all along, but it also may mean we were WRONG. And that’s ok. Being wrong is what causes us to learn and develop. We only learn to walk because we are tired of falling down. It is said that Thomas Edison failed more than 1,000 times when trying to create the light bulb.  When asked about it, Edison allegedly said, “I have not failed 1,000 times.  I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb.”

We as a people need to discover, to learn, challenge ourselves and discover new things about ourselves and others. We need to stop allowing others to manipulate us with logical fallacies and untruths because we are too lazy to root them out. We as a society can be better than that. It’s always important but especially important at this time of the year when we are being asked to choose our leaders. It is so easy to follow behind a particular party because we “belong” but we need to ask ourselves if we are following for a logical reason and are we applying an unbiased scientific approach to our reasoning? Are we reasoning at all? Or are we just voting without thinking?

And even after the election, challenge yourself. Step away from the hyper-partisan websites and look at opposing views. Try to honestly understand them and their concerns. Form their arguments for them. Expand your horizons by doing or learning something new like coding, or sewing or calculus or model building. Read something that teaches you or expands your view point. Listen to a different style of music or even try a new kind of food. As John Green said in his TED Talk: All of these things help expand our maps and increases the number of places we can go on them. But most of all, learn to be a critical thinker. Don’t accept everything as fact. Think about the source and what they want you to believe. What is their goal in telling you? Fact-check. Understand that things like climate change, immigration, health care and the global economy are complex issues that cannot and will not be handled successfully without real understanding of all of the components and concerns of all involved. Do the things that will ensure that you can stand on your own two feet and describe what and who you believe in without having to resort to the unstable opinions of others and repeating the lines they have given you.

As a PS, for an unbiased view of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s Healthcare and Tax Plans please check out John Green’s excellent videos here and here . And ignore the campaign ads.

Thanks for reading.