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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.

Just Shut Up and Sing

January 26, 2011 4 comments

Well, they say that the best way to get better at writing is to write something every day. Write anything, whether it’s good or not, whether any one will read it or even if you don’t feel like it. Write even if you are sick, sore, tired or if it’s inconvenient. Just write.

 Such has been my problem over the last few months and some would say much of my life. I tend to find excuses, disguised sometimes as over-analysis, why I don’t do some of the things that I really enjoy or that I have committed to do. I don’t have the time. I don’t feel well. I don’t know what to write about. I don’t have any fresh ideas. Nobody will want to read it. I’ll start back again next week. I need to think it over more. I keep finding in many areas of my life where I procrastinate terribly, all while convincing myself and others that it is in everyone’s best interests. 

As a part of the band Sound of Faith, and the larger umbrella of Sound of Faith Ministries, I have been involved with many discussions and decisions, including major ones such as recording and producing a CD and finding a new drummer, to the mundane like paying taxes and developing set lists. It has always seemed like all of the discussion that went around many of these things were necessary; that we needed to understand every nook and cranny and every possible outcome of our decisions and have a robust plan in place before we could move forward and take the next step. In fact, although I am not the only disciple of over-analysis in our band, I certainly could be called the leader by example.

A few years ago, it became common when these long drawn-out discussions would take place that one of the band members, Scott, would say “Let’s just shut up and sing.” Aside from sounding like a quote from Yogi Berra, it was also his way of saying that the reason we were together was because we were a band, so let’s do the thing we exist for and let the details work themselves out as they will. It used to drive me crazy, because I felt like these discussions were not just necessary, but vital to our band’s success.  But over time, I have begun to see the wisdom in those few words.

My wife and I participate in a popular DVD-based exercise program whose slogan is “Just push play”. Their motivation is to get you to get to the point of starting it every day, to get you over the inertia of stagnancy. Once you overcome the “Will I or won’t I?” decision, the muscle memory takes over and you go to work.

Now looking at the band and what we have in front of us for the year, I see a lot of opportunity and a lot of opportunity cost for wasted time. And, although many of the discussions we have had in the past were very necessary, I keep feeling the overwhelming desire to just jump into things with both feet and feel our way along, instead of trying to plan things to the nth degree before starting. I want to get over that at-rest inertia and get to the “body-in-motion-stays-in-motion” part. I think we have a tremendous amount of God-gifted talent and I can’t help but feel that we are suffering paralysis by analysis.

As I look at all of the things in my life, chores that need to be done, hobbies left unattended, friends or family I haven’t seen recently, or the band itself, I keep seeing opportunities where, instead of procrastinating or over-analyzing, I should just jump in and do something. A good friend has been after me to start blogging again, and while I was able to come up with all sorts of excuses as to why I couldn’t, I was never able to say that I didn’t want to. So instead, I have decided that I needed to just write and see what happened. This is the first post of that experiment; we’ll see how it goes from there.

You know, just shut up and sing.

How Do You Define Yourself?

August 11, 2010 2 comments

You see it all the time. In a job interview your potential employer says “So, tell me about yourself.” On Facebook, you fill in the About Me section of your profile. On your first day of class the teacher asks you to tell the class about yourself. If you are like most people, you don’t put a lot of thought into it. You probably say something about your family and your job and maybe a couple of things you do as hobbies. But is this truly how you define yourself? Are you the sum of those three sentences on your profile? I am guessing not.

For the longest time, I defined myself in a similar way. I was a project manager for Wachovia. I was a husband, no kids. I was what’s-her-name’s husband or what’s his name’s son. But for me, I never felt like that was what defined me. You couldn’t sum up my thoughts, fears, experiences, values, phobias, principals, quirks and guilty pleasures all into “I live in Albemarle, NC with my wife and work in IT at Wachovia.”  Anyone reading this who knows me also knows that a lot of time has passed since I felt this way. I live in a different city now with a different wife and we have three children. Wachovia has been bought by Wells Fargo and I am still struggling not to say Wach… er… the old bank name. I have also begun to define myself in a much different way.

Please keep in mind that I am talking about defining yourself, not just describing. If I was to describe myself to you, I would probably start with height, weight, hair color, build, and then would place myself in the world with where I work, where I went to school, where I go to church, etc. But that does not define me. In a dictionary, we could look at the word “see”. A description of the word would look something like this: “A three letter word, beginning with the 19th letter of the alphabet and followed by the 5th letter, which repeats once.” This tells you nothing about what the word means but rather just how to recognize it if you see it again somewhere. The definition of the word, however, is much, much bigger and more important. Looking at the Online Merriam Webster dictionary, the word “see” has 13 different definitions, depending on how it’s used.

The problem with defining yourself by your job, or the people that surround you, is that you have little or no control over how those things change over your life time. I could say I am an IT professional at Wells Fargo, but I could get laid off next week. Then would I define myself as unemployed? OR is this just merely a description of my current situation. I may say I am Steve’s best friend, but I have no control over what Steve may do in the future, and if I define myself by being Steve’s friend, what happens when Steve does things that no longer earns my friendship?

When you are telling someone about yourself, you are essentially telling them which categories or groups you fall in: people who are married, people who play guitar, people who went to college, people who think guinea pigs are evil, etc. If you want to make yourself memorable to others, your goal should be selecting the appropriate set of groups you belong to that 1) best describe yourself and 2) when combined, provide a unique picture of you. If I tell you I am an IT guy at Wells Fargo… Well, yeah and so are 20,000 other people. If I tell you I am married with 3 kids, well, that doesn’t narrow it down much either. But if I think about what really matters to me and makes me unique, I would come up with something much more compelling:

I am a guitarist for a Christian rock rand, a blogger, and I help develop IVRs (those annoying phone systems that everyone hates) for Wells Fargo. In my free time, I enjoy developing online web sites and applications for non-profit Christian entities and playing MMORPG’s. My wife and I have been happily married for almost 8 years and we have three sons, a 5 year old budding geek, and identical twin 2 year old geeks-in-training.

This is not a contest or who has or is doing the most, or who is most interesting. I am probably more boring than most people. What it is, is a way to present yourself in a positive light, and in a way that leaves a good, lasting impression on people. My description above gives you a lot of details without being overly wordy and also gives a lot of hooks for someone to ask about in more depth. More importantly, I am defining myself more by what I do (guitarist, blogger, geek) and less by those things with which I associate myself. Even more so, I am defining myself, even if somewhat indirectly, with my belief system and principals. I think anyone who read this would understand and I view myself as a Christian and as a tech-savvy dad. Those things, and not my job or my hair loss, are the things that truly define me.

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