Monday, February 18, 2013

Logic, Oh Logic!


I often bewail the fact that I am not wise; that what I do not know/understand is to what I do know/understand as one drop of water is to all the oceans on all the planets in the universe. Quantum physics; mathematics beyond the “if Billy has three apples and gives Sally two” level; the internet; fire...all are things I do not and never will fully comprehend. But I am comforted by the knowledge that even if I don't understand them, they are all based on the irrefutable, immutable logic.

Yet the instant human beings enter the equation, all laws of logic are up for grabs at best and thrown out the window at worst. How...how...can people believe so many of the things they do? How can they not question things which do not stand up to the most elemental principles of logic?

So much of organized religion, for example, relies on faith, which is largely devoid of logic. Faith, to me, is basically a convenient buffer against rational thought and, most definitely, against the need to ask questions. I can see certain advantages to faith over logic, to a degree. There are many things I would like to believe—a sentient God and Santa Claus, for example—but logic simply will not allow me to. So I am however reluctantly wary of those things based solely on faith.

I've often related the story of probably the final, scale-tipping incident that made organized religion and me part ways. I was probably around twelve, attending, under extreme duress, an evangelical Christian sunday school whose teachings were of the “we are but dirt beneath God's feet” variety. One day, while being regaled with the eternal happiness of heaven and the fires of hell, I asked the teacher a question: If I have a friend who does something terrible and is sent to hell while I somehow managed to make it to heaven, wouldn't I be sad that he wasn't with me? Well, that went over like a concrete dirigible, and ended my church-going days.

I take comfort from the idea that even when my intellectual limitations prevent me from following the breadcrumb trail of logic leading from a question to its answer, I know that the trail is there even if my befogged mind cannot see the crumbs. I'd like to think logic and truth are synonymous, but of course they are not; they are two completely separate and often totally opposite things. Logic is objective, truth subjective. What is the absolute truth for me—“a pizza is not a pizza without anchovies”—may may not be the absolute truth for you. What is accepted as absolute and unquestionable truth by a depressing number of people—our president was not born in the United States; all Muslims are terrorists; the only way to prevent gun violence by having more guns, etc.—is, in fact, utterly antithetical to logic. The wilder the conspiracy theory, the more people seem willing to simply nod knowingly, eyes slitted in suspicion, and accept it. That there is not one atom of logic behind this acceptance is irrelevant. There are no breadcrumbs between statement and belief. One is the other. Period.

One difficulty with logic is that logic is built on the interpretation of facts, and people have a tendency to look upon facts as a buffet, choosing the ones that suit them and leaving the rest. And logic based on the wrong or weak facts can leave the wrong trail of the wrong breadcrumbs, leading only deeper into the forest.

Humans have the unfortunate tendency to be, in effect, brainwashed to simply accept whatever they are told. The advertising industry is built upon this assumption. “Everyone is talking about Burp-O!” They are? Okay. “The greatest sale in the history of the world.” Ok. And the fact is that it never occurs to us to apply logic to those so many things which really don't have any effect on us one way or the other. The application of logic is like so many other things—we only pay attention if it effects us directly, which puts us at risk of absorbing illogic by some odd form of osmosis.

Logic requires reason, and reason requires thought, and thought requires the willingness to think. It is far, far easier not to think, especially when there are so many people willing and eager to think for us. But logic makes us owls; never using it makes us sheep.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1).

1 comment:

Kage Alan said...

Well said, sir. I was never subjected to Sunday school and was left to my own devices to decide whether or not I believed in a higher power. As for humankind, it's sad to see that some people are simply out of their depth when it comes to reasoning in this day and age. I imagine it took a great deal of effort to get them that way, too, so we can only hope the rest of us don't follow along in the years to come.