The Enlightened Caveman


The Endangered Ability To Think Logically
April 4, 2006, 4:09 am
Filed under: Culture and Society, Philosophy

My fellow Americans, we’re in deep trouble.  Some of it is our fault; some of it isn’t.  It’s our fault because those of us who know better are content in our own little worlds to let things proceed on their current course.  But mostly, the problem that afflicts us today is a manifestation of how our species does business.  Our world has changed dramatically in the last few decades, and our genes are unprepared, to say the least.  The problem I am referring to is the endangered ability to think logically.

As Thomas Sowell tells us in today’s column, which is entitled, “Are Facts Obsolete?“,

Those who are in the business of teaching the young, whether in the  public schools or on college campuses, too often see this not as a responsibility to pass on what is known but as an opportunity to indoctrinate students with their own beliefs. Many “educators” and the gurus who indoctrinated them actively disparage “mere facts,” which they say you can get from an almanac or encyclopedia.

The net result is a student population that does not even know enough to know what needs to be looked up, much less how to analyze facts, so as to test opposing beliefs — as distinguished from how to gather information to support a preconceived notion that happens to be fashionable in the schools and colleges.

Yet people are considered to be “educated” after they have spent so many years in ivy-covered buildings, absorbing the preconceptions that prevail there.

This is a symptom of the larger problem.  Logic does not come pre-installed in the human mind.  If it ever gets installed, it has to be done deliberately.  The default human mind, the one with no foundation in logic, has no preference for facts.  Indeed, the human mind is about expediency, which often sits at odds with reality.  Of course, as we are a social species, so long as “the group” is in on the con, all is well.  That is, until the group runs off a cliff, which we are apt to do if something isn’t done…and soon.

But how to teach logic to people in a soundbite world?  How do you retrain a modern human mind (adult or child) to be skeptical, to begin with premises, and to objectively and properly analyze arguments?  This requires an investment in time, which seems to be the last thing people are willing to give up, especially if doing so might jeopardize the fabricated reality that feels oh-so-good.  There’s TV to be watched.  There are video game bad guys to be blown up.  It was not always so.

Back before the media was ubiquitous, people (at least some people) longed for new things to read.  The rate at which they consumed information was considerably faster than the rate at which they received new material.  So they took the time to read long discussions of various issues, and they read them multiple times.  As they discussed what they read with one another, logic was their best friend.  They could dissect the points made and argue them on their merits (or lack thereof).  Of course, this was around the turn of the 20th century.  A lot has changed.

The sport of argument is almost dead.  It was slain by the that irritating little meme that people have a right not to be offended.  Yes, political correctness has all but killed logical, constructive discourse in this country.  Now you can’t make an argument that affirmative action hurts the people it is supposed to help without being labeled a racist.  This is because some people stand to lose a great deal if you’re right.  I guess it has always been so – the powerful have always been able to muzzle the powerless when their words rang a little too true.

But now, muzzles are easy to come by and are fitted routinely by people whose influence has no discernible justification.  Shouldn’t I be able to mount a logical argument in the marketplace of ideas and not be vilified for the implications of the conclusions I reach?  I should, but that would require the masses to have a foundation in logic.  It would require them to know that there is a right way and a wrong way to come by belief.  It would require them to know that, so long as the argument is not ad hominem (against the man), it should be allowed, even if it isn’t pretty.

I wish I could snap my fingers and live in a world dominated by truly rational thinkers.  I often wonder what that world would be like.  I wonder if I’d be in the majority.  Yes, I think rationally, but I’m not naive enough to believe that I’m rational all the time.  Would I be one of those fringe people who went irrational when things didn’t go his way?  I hope not.  I’d count on my knowledge of logical fallacies to keep myself honest.  Hey, maybe that’s how I can help out with this problem.

Knowing all the major logical fallacies is an excellent way to check your mind against irrationality.  If you pull them out and peruse them in the context of your beliefs, you’ll often find that you’ve bought into something illogically.  Then, knowing that it is almost always best to be on the side of logic, you can begin the process of changing what you believe.  I’ve done this more than a few times over the years.  It’s not always pleasant, but few things worthwhile are.

So, click here for your lesson on logical fallacies.  Don’t say I never gave you anything.

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