Getting Real
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 


 

It begins for me with self-awareness.

Before any chance of consideration of deeper questions, I believe a creature must first be self-aware. Only from this point can it mentally venture outward and tackle any fundamental issue of existence. Without self-awareness I doubt an entity would be mentally developed enough to think of anything profound or even moderately substantial and would experience existence as just simple, basic reaction to stimuli.

My self-awareness gives me a sense of “I”. It gives me an awareness of my own existence; a consciousness. It was my very first experience after birth of a fundamental truth of existence that I can be certain about. Whether we can remember that moment or not, it has occurred early on for all of us at some point. It’s an understanding that “I” exist in some form, am aware of it and am experiencing. I concede that it’s not a terribly deep concept but surprisingly maybe not one that many have considered. We should have and need to in order to lay down a base foundation of clear thinking.

However, an issue I have is while society labels this experience as consciousness, the very word “consciousness” is a noun. I think that partly because of this language form a lot of people tend to equate consciousness to a thing that exists unto itself in some form, almost as if alongside us, when in essence it is simply “me”. It has no form and is not a separate thing from me. The evolved labelling and loose reasoning of the concept of consciousness has led to confusion in how a lot of people relate to their understanding of it and each of our existences with it. Metaphysical dogma grown from this lax, undisciplined reasoning has corrupted and needlessly complicated the matter even further.

Consciousness is simply subjective experience that arises from the specific arrangement and subsequent micro-interaction of biological matter within a being’s head. No one has yet satisfactorily explained how something like a brain, that is inherently a collection of unconscious matter, can produce ‘experience’ for the entity possessing it. Of course that doesn’t mean that it won’t be discovered in the future and the problem isn’t an obstruction to the conversation in progress here.

I think entities have always been conscious on some scale throughout evolution. It isn’t a quality that just appeared with human development. A worm surely experiences its surroundings and existence in some form though probably very rudimentarily compared to a human being. A human’s conscious experience, on the other hand, is far more rich and complex, we assume. It would appear that consciousness itself has not evolved over time but only the forms within it, what we are capable of being aware of, has. An evolved brain has given us the ability to process sensory inputs more elaborately and acutely than the lesser brains or simple nervous systems of other creatures. It’s our ability to think and reason, granted to us by an advanced brain that is larger and more complex than other animals, that has garnered deeper levels of complex experience.

So with self-awareness develops the first certainty of existence:

I am.

This initial state was also realized by Descartes centuries ago. He believed that existence within a reality requires some foundation to begin to build beliefs upon. So simply, I can doubt the validity of my thoughts but I can’t doubt the fact that I am thinking. Because I am thinking the one certainty I can count on is that “I am”. After all, if “I am not” I can’t be thinking. This first certainty, as I stated previously, is also our first truth. An absolute truth is undeniable. An absolute truth must be beyond doubt absolutely.

I realize how stilted and pedantic this document is so far and I apologize for that but I think it is important to strip your entire being and existence back to the beginning (the basics) in order to gain understanding of how things really are. You must start over. Our lives progressively become so convoluted with layer upon layer of influences, ideas and beliefs that soon in our development we are already deep into a particular view of reality. Most people don’t ever look back from it or consider there might be alternative ways to comprehend existence or that their present view may be flawed.

People have a very strong confirmation bias. When they have an idea about something and they start to reason about that idea, they are going to mostly find arguments that support their own concept of the idea. They’re going to come up with reasons why they are right and with justifications for their decisions, suppositions and beliefs. They generally don’t challenge themselves. This is why I recommend trying to dissolve all of your built up foundations, preconceptions and layers to return to a very singular, basic point of being and rebuild from there, but this time with control over what you come to believe and accept.

Reasoning is the ability to think. I have concepts in my mind that exist outside my mind despite the fact that I conceptualize them. They are things I’ve come to recognize about reality. Objective reality is what is really real. Subjective reality is my interpretation and personal view of objective reality. Truth is that which comports with reality. If my subjective interpretation of reality is accurate and my senses have correctly perceived the environment then the condition can be assumed to be real and true by me. But it always remains subjective because we can never be absolutely certain of what is real, we can only have maximal certainty; a probability of certainty would be another way of describing it.

I care about what is actually true.
Truth is the thing that I value most. I want to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible.

Saying something doesn’t make it true. Just because something is true for you doesn’t necessarily make it true. Just because you feel it strongly doesn’t mean that it is true. The truth is not impacted in any way by the number of people that believe the claim or the sincerity of their belief or how much its denial is looked down upon. Truth exists independent of our knowledge or experience of it.

There is no ultimate reality, there is only reality. Once again, truth is that which comports with reality. You can believe that a dozen naked pixies exist and clean out your kitchen sink at night but it has nothing to do with the objective reality that we all have to deal with and exist within. I want my internal “map” of reality to match the actual reality I live in as best as possible. We each carry our own single map of this reality within us that is a reflection of that reality. These maps comprise our world view, our belief system. Some maps are a bit distorted compared to the real thing, some are more closely matched, yet some are totally wrong and that person believes things that just seem crazy. Our internal maps are only secondary to reality and our life goal is to construct the most accurate map of reality we can.

What is interesting is that you can never distinguish if the reality you live in, experience and map is ultimately real. It presents itself through a complicated system of senses and neural processes so, as the philosophers have mused, we could just as well be a “brain-in-a-vat” being fed all these sensations and impressions’ giving us a perception of what we think is real. In more recent times that same type of idea was presented in the movie “The Matrix”. Or perhaps you’re experiencing a life and world while the whole time you’re being locked up in an asylum, in a rubber room, imagining the entire thing.

This concept is called solipsism by philosophers and is a problem yet to be solved. You may be the only mind in existence and be experiencing everything and everyone only as they are created in your mind. They have said we have no basis for trusting the reality that we’re experiencing. It may be the case that a solution to this problem isn’t possible. The discussions continue.

I am aware of reality through my senses. I believe my perceptions to be valid but I can’t be certain they are. It is the same for everyone else. Through use of reason I can continue to test the validity of my perceptions through results and subjective comparison to my perceived reality. I have no reason to think that I am wrong about my conclusions. I can’t demonstrate that it is impossible I’m wrong but that also doesn’t necessarily mean that I could be wrong. I’m stuck dealing with the reality I experience and until someone offers me a way out I cannot arrogantly or counterproductively assume that everyone and everything is a figment of my imagination. It would be somewhat insolent of me to think I could have imagined Beethoven’s works or the Beatles’ hits for example.

You may be getting the impression at this point that my belief structure is based in philosophical naturalism.
No.
Philosophical naturalism - the claim that the natural world is all there is, is not what I claim as a basis of belief. I antithetically have a stance of methodological naturalism - that the natural world is all that we have access to. It’s not a claim that the supernatural is not real, it’s the claim that we don’t have any way to investigate or confirm the supernatural so until that changes we don’t get to appeal to it, period.

Philosophical naturalism is claiming “I’m convinced the supernatural is not real” and methodological naturalism is roughly equivalent to saying “I am not convinced of the supernatural”. And most importantly, the onus then falls to the one making the claim to provide the evidence of the proposition. If you believe in ghosts or anything else as spectacular, simply convince me how that is real. Provide the evidence. I'm open-minded, I'd love to learn about something new and amazing! If you can't however, it simply remains nonsense until then.

Well, perhaps 'nonsense' is too strong --- maybe 'harry potterish-alice in wonderlandish-woooooo woooooish' would be better :)

What does it mean to say that something is reasonable? It means we have good justification for accepting the proposition and we should be able to construct an argument supporting the position that is both valid and sound. By valid I mean the position rests solidly on the pillars of reason, a foundation sometimes referred to as the logical absolutes. The position must be supported by evidence that the premise is true or accepted as true and that they aren’t merely unsupported or unsupportable assertions.

To believe something is to become convinced that the proposition is true.

Knowledge is a subset of belief or justified true belief. Nothing counts as knowledge if it isn’t believed, true and justified. Absolute certainty isn’t a required component of knowledge because we have no good reason to think that absolute certainty in the ultimate sense is possible to attain every time in any case.

Knowledge and certainty can be completely irrelevant. We don’t wait until we have knowledge to act and we don’t wait until we have absolute certainty to act. We act in accordance with our beliefs and we recognize that because our beliefs inform our actions, and that our actions have consequences, it is in our best interest to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible. This makes our internal map of reality as accurate as possible. Ensuring our beliefs are reasonable is the important issue.

Even in our long history of passed down 'cultural wisdoms', loose styles of thinking are recognized as a problem. It is considered that Gautama Buddha once said, "The thought manifests as the word. The word manifests as the deed. The deed develops into habit. And the habit hardens into character. So watch the thought and its ways with care."
I'm not a follower of buddism or such distractions and he may not even have, in fact, said this particular quote (the Internet is a virtual moshpit of 'ify' info nowdays)(I've noticed how many people try to legitimize their thoughts by iniquitously attributing them to famous historic figures) but nonetheless some ideas are obvious in any circumstance (or age)...

Whenever we are presented with a claim, the reasonable default position is one of not believing. This is the reasonable starting point because if we begin by believing every claim we’ll end up believing claims that are contradictory and that path leads to absurdum. When being presented with a claim, the onus always falls to the presenter to supply evidence that is sound and valid supporting their assertion otherwise the claim can be disregarded as speculation. The presenter may still believe in their claim but they have no basis in fact or truth to do so. Their internal map of reality would simply be distorted compared to actual reality and they would believe in one less true thing at that point. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Belief is the state of being convinced and is the result of becoming convinced. We can become convinced for good reasons or bad, we can become convinced rather quickly or it might take some time. Reasonableness is demonstrated by constructing arguments supported by evidence in such a way that they are valid and sound. These arguments can then form a foundation for a true belief.

In order to begin forming our world view properly we must begin with some presuppositions which appear to be consistent and uniformly true. Namely that existence exists irrespective of whether it is the ultimate existence, that reason is reliable and that our experience of reality is generally reliable to the extent that we can tell when it is not in the case of optical illusions, hallucinations, etc. We also tend to agree via oakum’s razor that we should minimize the depth of our presuppositions to a level as close to zero as possible. In other words, if we agree that we must first presuppose the laws of logic then we shouldn’t expand this potential problem by presupposing something beyond the laws of logic or something beyond that.

There is an idea in our cultures called the 'logical absolutes'. It presents itself the same in all languages and societies. These logical absolutes are generally considered beyond question, basic to reason, and true. They are labeled 'identity', 'non-contradiction' and 'excluded middle'. They are considered foundations for determining truth.

The law of identity states that A is A. An Apple is an Apple. In other words, something is what it is.

The law of non-contradiction tells us that A cannot be both A and not A at the same time and in the same sense. In other words, something (a statement) cannot be both true and false at the same time and in the same way.

The law of excluded middle says that a statement is either true or false. For example, my hair is brown. It is either true or false that my hair is brown. Another example: I am pregnant. The statement is either true or false. Since I am a male, it is not possible for me to be pregnant. Therefore, the statement is false. If I were a female, it would be possible for me to be pregnant (given normal bodily conditions). A woman is not "kind-of" pregnant. She either is or is not pregnant - there is no middle position. The law of excluded middle is important because it helps us deal in absolutes. This is particularly important in a society where relativism is promoted and truth statements are denied.

I believe these logical absolutes are true although I don’t support absolute certainty. I am maximally certain they are true. The logical absolutes may or may not be absolute therefore anything deduced from the absolutes is also maximally certain, like mathematics. Anything indirectly derived from them is reasonably certain. Maximal certainty may or may not map directly to absolute certainty and it appears we can’t ever know this for certain.

Knowledge appears to be an unresolved and a relatively useless label. What do you know? How do you know? Why do you know? How do you know anything? We mostly profess beliefs, things we are convinced of and that we relate with a goal to be reasonable. Whether a belief counts as knowledge is irrelevant to the topic of discussion. We can have reasonable beliefs as long as they are supported by evidence and are logical and sound. We are all equally fallible creatures stuck in the same world with the same limitations as each other so we naturally all share in the limitations of being absolutely certain of anything.

Whose reality do we appeal to for truth then? This is the common logical fallacy of confusing the map for the place. It equates individual perceptions of reality with actual reality. Whose map of Earth is accurate? Different maps are going to be accurate to different degrees, it is the Earth that is the arbiter of what is correct. There is only reality. We must constantly refer back to our subjective view of objective reality for truth. It’s the best we can do. It is unreasonable to begin by presupposing the proposition in question. It is unreasonable to believe in something because it has not been proven otherwise. According to my subjective reality, derived from objective reality, I believe certain things. This does not validate reality or make a claim that I know something, it merely supports my claim that I believe a certain thing to be true or not true. That claim must always have a valid, sound argument supported by evidence. And always remember that the logical absolutes exist in all possible worlds.

We live our lives on inference and induction. For example, I believe the future will be pretty much like the past. We live in a world where we make predictions of probabilities based on our experience of what has happened in the past. If you were walking along an incredibly long row of houses, each of them red in color, it would be reasonable to infer or induce that the very next one will be red as well. It would be unreasonable to deduce that the next one will be red. The problem arises when people confuse induction with deduction then build their belief systems and carry out actions accordingly. Without awareness of how we think of things, this subtle error alone can create multi-layers of false beliefs and end up in an erroneousness life experience.

So, let us presume that someone reading this text is curious and wants to investigate whether they have been delving in a lifestyle of some or many untruths and might possibly want to correct their thinking. How do they do this? How do they discover if they have been?

The first thing one must do is answer a simple question: “Do you care if what you believe is actually true?”

If they don’t, if they are happy with blind faith or unsound beliefs or loose logic, then it really doesn’t matter investigating anything further with them because their level of commitment to real truth is not something they value anyway. I would suggest that this person simply live on and expect a life that supplies all it does with that type of mindset. But always remember, beliefs are important because beliefs inform actions and actions have consequences. This important concept can profoundly affect your entire life and the lives of those around you.

With these types of persons all one can do is plant a small seed of doubt or reason and maybe, somehow, it’ll find a bit of fertile ground in their minds and grow over time until it can’t be ignored by them. Maybe something you’ll have said will click with them eventually, grate on their thoughts, and they’ll begin that slow, arduous journey to correcting erroneous patterns of thinking and logic. Sadly usually not, but sometimes it happens.

But let’s assume they’ve concluded that they sincerely do care that what they believe is true. How would they even begin the process of investigating whether they are interpreting reality properly?

Well, there are lists of many “logical fallacies” discovered/devised by philosophers and thinkers of the past and present. I write it this way ---> (discovered/devised) because I believe a logical fallacy may exist whether we have discovered it or not. (That is a more involved discussion that I wish to save for another time). These fallacies describe various ways that a person’s pattern of thinking is in fact simply incorrect or illogical. Thinking in these sloppy ways can in turn lead to the building of an inaccurate, complicated structure of belief for that person that soon distorts their subjective view of reality altogether. Yet all the while, objective reality and the logical absolutes remain independently and consistently true so soon these people simply believe more false things in life than they would otherwise.

What is a logical fallacy?

It is a pattern, structure or way of thinking that is logically flawed.

Further, the evidence brought forward to support the argument may also be weak, faulty or even discordant. This may not be realized by a person who is caught up in their belief structure and creatively weaves their thinking to suit their mental comfort zone rather than focusing on what is actually true and actually supported by evidence and reason.

Suppositions or premises presented may also be wrong, fallacious or unsound and so conclusions are reached using illogical reasoning. Please understand that it doesn’t necessarily mean that the conclusions are wrong. It is sometimes possible to reach the right conclusions by illogical means. But generally and usually, conclusions reached through logically flawed paths are also flawed. They are certainly suspect. They have no merit because of this and deserve no consideration until the structure and path to arrive at them is revisited and corrected.

How would you know that you are thinking unreasonable things? Well, you wouldn’t if you have even common levels of confirmation bias. You wouldn’t even start to go there; you already think you’re “winning”. This is where most of society is comfortably living right now and will continue to do so I’m afraid. It takes a rare, brave mind to think that maybe it needs to rethink what it believes or at least examine itself for unrealized flaws. You need to constantly check the “map against the place”. You might, for example, begin to notice societal things that don’t seem to make sense to you anymore. You might wonder why common beliefs held by friends or others seem to defy logic as you have evolved to understand it. Things may begin to bother you a bit and soon you begin to wonder about and question things… That’s healthy scepticism (not cynicism as it is commonly slandered as).

So where to start?

You need to be educated and informed.

You need to become familiar with the most commonly used (ideally all) “logical fallacies” discovered so far. If you are shown what they are, that the descriptions of their method are sound and recognizing them is indeed one of the last guards against wrong-styled thinking, then perhaps you might recognize that you may indeed be using some or many of them in your everyday arguments with others. Even more alarming, you may be using them to convince your own self, thus supporting and sustaining distorted personal beliefs. You may discover that your deepest beliefs might actually turn out to be wrongly assumed and logically unsupportable.

You also need to know and recognize styles of “distorted thinking”. Ways we start out on a wrong footing altogether, using false premises, patterns of logic and just progress from there on a path that is wrong from the start, thus negating mostly all that we argue for after that.

It might shock you to discover that you may have been thinking illogically all along. Or in a very biased way in order to substantiate your beliefs to mostly yourself, strengthening your own confirmation bias while thinking it legitimizes you in society’s eyes, perhaps? The perceived benefits we get from society at large, for displaying the particular patterns of beliefs we hold, often tend to override our consideration for the need of uncomfortable self-examination to check if everything we believe is actually true and correct. Your beliefs might make you feel that you belong to something that feels selectively exclusive, or safe, or simply happy, or socially inclusive. It feels warm and nice to believe you’re “right” and that those around you agree with you. Your beliefs may make you feel you have status and purpose in society.

But, sometimes the actual truth is hard and cold and not as rosy. It needn’t always be, but sometimes the difference in what you formerly believed and what you finally discover in reality can be shocking. At least take solace in the fact that after a hard mental journey and commitment to sound thinking, all the things you believe are finally starting to line up as really true and that is the goal in the end.

Be clear, to use even one logical fallacy or method of distorted thinking in any area of your reasoning requires you to correct that area as soon as you can. One instance is too many. The goal is none. Believing only in things that are in fact true is the objective. Your internal map needs to overlay reality as exactly as possible, nothing less. Any deviation in this overlaying needs to be worked on.

Before I talk about logical fallacies in greater depth let me describe a few styles of thinking that are actually distorted but that we can commonly run across everyday, out there among the populace. We should be aware of them. Don’t be alarmed if you discover that you’ve been participating in these very trends of thought yourself. We are all creatures of our environment after all.

Distorted methods of thinking generally contribute to the using of logical fallacies to justify our unsound reasoning structures. There are a few dozen styles of distorted thinking, to be sure, but I’ll list a dozen or so to give you the idea of what they are. You can research further if it interests you:


 

Filtering — You take the negative details of a situation and magnify them in your arguments while filtering out all the positive aspects of a situation. This gives unequal weighting to an argument that perhaps in reality is more balanced or even tipping to more of a positive aspect if you were being objective. This is similar to Confirmation Bias which is the tendency of people to favour information that confirms their beliefs, no matter how inconsequential or ambiguous. At the same time they’ll ignore or filter out anything that doesn’t confirm their beliefs or hypothesis.

Polarized Thinking — These types of arguments are always one or the other. Things are black or white, good or bad. You have to be perfect, for example, or you’re a failure. There is no middle ground or third or more way of looking at the situation.

Overgeneralization — You come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence. If something bad happens once, you expect it to happen over and over again. A random, fluke happening becomes the standard and the expected conclusion even though it may have been an anomaly.

Mind Reading — Without their saying so, you know what people are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, you are able to divine how people are feeling toward you. This type of thinking tends to make a lot of assumptions about things based on personal beliefs instead of inquiry or evidence.

Catastrophizing — You expect eminent disaster. You notice or hear of a problem and immediately start with “What ifs”. What if tragedy strikes near me? Environmental occurrences that seem uncomfortable or chaotic will inevitably cascade to a catastrophe in your mind. i.e. Fort McMurray, Alberta experienced a massive fire so my home town is also at risk and may burn down soon.

Personalization — This one is quite common in our modern society due to a perceived ramping up of our social trends towards a more narcissistic bent. This is thinking that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to you. You also compare yourself to others, trying to determine who’s smarter, more successful, better looking, having a better life, etc. The universe revolves around your own head.

Control Fallacies — You feel externally controlled, you see yourself as helpless, a victim of fate. For example, you may feel that as a woman you are automatically at a disadvantage because you are not a man. This doesn’t translate into empowering yourself but by disparaging the others. The fallacy of internal control also has you feeling responsible for the pain and happiness of everyone around you. You think you can make the lives of others more meaningful or at least control their successes or failures or patterns of thinking.

Fallacy of Fairness — You feel resentful because you think you know what’s fair but other people won’t or don’t agree with you. You think your sense of fairness is the correct one and those of others aren’t.

Blaming — You hold other people responsible for your pain, or take the other tack and blame yourself for every problem or reversal. This also presents itself in a form of entitlement by some people.

Should — You have a list of ironclad rules about how you and other people should act; your personal list of morals and rights. People who break the rules anger you and you feel guilty if you violate these same rules. You don’t consider that perhaps there are other ways of being or acting that may be different but reasonable or sane.

Emotional Reasoning — This is a very common one. You believe that what you feel must be true – automatically. If you feel stupid or boring, then you must be stupid or boring. If you feel someone is wrong, they must be wrong. Your emotional state of mind overrides your critical thinking skills. If you feel fairies exist, they must. Nothing more is required to convince you, only your emotions are needed. Or a rough, unruly guy is a bad person because you feel unsure or on edge around him, whether he actually is or not.

Fallacy of Change — You expect that other people will change to suit you if you just pressure, embarrass or cajole them enough. You need to change people because your hope for happiness seems to depend on their changing. You can’t be satisfied unless everyone changes to your beliefs or pattern of thought to align with yours.

Global Labelling — You generalize one or two qualities into a global judgment. A person not dressed very well must be deficient in all other areas (intellect, psychologically), for example. Or ugly people don’t matter. Or conversely, at an interview an employee whose bubbly enthusiasm is given prominence by the interviewer and is given a good review despite having no real skills or knowledge of the job or tasks they do everyday. This type of global labelling is also known as the Halo Effect as well.

Being Right — This is also identified as ‘bulldog’ personalities. You feel you are continually on trial so you need to prove that your opinions and actions are correct. Being wrong is unthinkable and you will go to any length to demonstrate your rightness. You’ll even sacrifice friendships or feelings just to feel “right” and to think you’ve won the argument.

Heaven’s Reward Fallacy — You expect all your sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if there were someone keeping score somewhere. You’ll deny yourself taking a stand, fighting for your position with reason, or participating in aspects of life because you think it’s giving you points somewhere. Then you tend to feel bitter when the reward doesn’t materialize.

 


These are just a few of them for your pleasure. There are many more.

As I write about these patterns of thought and structures of reasoning it will become clear to you that it seems very complicated and almost subjective as to how we come to conclusions. It almost seems to be more effort than it’s worth to strive for correctness. But it is not. Yes, it certainly demands effort and continual attention to be able to think absolutely clearly and objectively but if your goal is to be accurate, then your only way to correct thinking is to remain on target and “true” in your beliefs.

Depending on the weight of the conversation you find yourself within you don’t necessarily need to employ strict discipline all the time, especially if the arguments are fickle and non-consequential anyway. I guess it all depends on what you value as your own standard of correctness or how your wish to present yourself to the world. It depends on the company you’re keeping and the situation of the interaction you find yourself participating in. You have to decide for yourself when critical thinking is required and when you can afford to back it off a bit. Do you really need to escalate an encounter at a shopping mall over a cart in the parking lot to an argument of deep philosophical levels when all that is probably required in this situation is that one of you concedes the cart and backs away from the other?

People in the political realm, for example, need to be careful and accurate with their thoughts and words most of the time. There are the public at large and professional researchers and reporters examining every aspect of their conversations, ready to pounce at the slightest mistake or inaccuracy. On the other hand, people who are drunk and sitting around a campfire shooting-the-breeze maybe do not think they need to be as accurate, so much. But here too, beware, people are listening to you and gathering info about your character, demeanour, and patterns of thought. Maps are being created as to how you think and what you believe. Most people have their own problems to overcome and won’t notice indiscretions, but there are a few out there that are quick to recognize illogical patterns and can discern a sharp mind from a fallacious one rather quickly. How do you want to be perceived? How do you want to be?

You might argue that by nature, human beings appear to be illogical and irrational most times because for most of our existence survival meant thinking quickly, not methodically. Making a life-saving decision was more important than making a 100% accurate one. This was and still is somewhat true and it caused the human brain to develop an array of mental shortcuts as we evolved, without a doubt.

These shortcuts, not as necessary as they once were to survive, are called cognitive biases or heuristics. They are numerous and innate as I’ve shown in the few examples above. We can never totally escape them, as some are wired pretty deeply into our brains (fight or flight), but through awareness, practice and discipline perhaps we can make efforts to minimize their influence on our thinking.

We’ve all experienced or have heard of Herd Mentality. Social creatures such as humans can easily be swept up in a mass mindset, movement or fad simply due to social and peer pressure. It’s hard to buck the trend when everyone around you seems to be buying into the current tide of thinking or consensus. Logical thinking itself seems to have a somewhat cynical reputation among the society at large. People love to follow the herd and will gladly check you on your skepticism, dry logic or tentative attitude towards subjects that currently enjoy huge followings without challenge. They’ll usually perceive your thoughtfulness as a negative view of things as opposed to just an inquiring, questioning point of view. They are commonly acting under pressure, out of ignorance, due to misinformation and they don’t even know it. You may feel alone. That’s o.k. The search for truth is sometimes a lonely venture.

 

 

Perhaps this is a good time to list and describe some logical fallacies. A logical fallacy is an unsubstantiated assertion that is often delivered with a conviction that makes it sound as though it were a stated or even proven fact but it is an error in reasoning that actually renders an argument invalid. In a broad sense, all logical fallacies are non sequiturs — arguments in which a conclusion doesn't follow logically from what preceded it.

By now, there are very many logical fallacies identified in our cultures but here is a short list of some of them to give you a taste:

         •        Ad Hominem

         •        Straw man

         •        Special Pleading

         •        Begging the Question

         •        Anecdotal

         •        The Texas Sharpshooter

         •        Personal Incredulity

         •        The Fallacy Fallacy

         •        Appeal to Emotion

         •        Tu Quoque

         •        Burden of Proof

         •        No True Scotsman

         •        Middle Ground

         •        Loaded Question

         •        Bandwagon

         •        False Cause

These, as I said, are just a very few of many. Some are used so often that they will be immediately familiar to you, others are a bit more obscure and may occur only when discussions become more involved and heated as parties reach more deeply for arguments to support their assertions.

I’ll describe the ones I’ve listed for you:

 

 

Ad Hominem (Latin for ‘argument to the man’)

This is a very common one. It presents itself as attacking your opponent’s character or personal traits in an attempt to undermine their argument. Example: After Sally presents an eloquent and compelling case for a more equitable taxation system Sam asks the audience whether we should believe anything from a woman who isn’t married, was once arrested, and smells a bit weird.

 

Straw man

This is another common one. This is repeating back incorrectly or out-rightly misrepresenting what someone has actually said or what their argument originally stated, to make it easier to attack. Example: After Will said that we should put more money into health and education, Warren responded by saying that he was surprised that Will hates our country so much that he wants to leave it defenseless by cutting military spending.

 

Special Pleading

This is ‘moving the goalposts’ to create exceptions when a claim is shown to be false. Example: Edward claimed to be psychic, but when his ‘abilities’ were tested under proper scientific conditions, they magically disappeared. Edward simply explained this by saying that one had to have faith in his abilities and a special intuition for the supernatural, for them to work.

 

Begging the Question

This is a form of circular reasoning. It’s when an argument is created in which the conclusion is included in the premise. Example: We know the Bible to be the word of God because it says right in the Bible that it is the word of God. Or the reason everyone wants the new ‘Tickle Me Elmo’ doll is because this is the hottest toy of the season!

 

Anecdotal

This argument happens when someone uses personal experience or an isolated example instead of a valid argument, especially common when dismissing statistics. Example: When listening to an argument discussing cancer rates and the relationship to smoking cigarettes Jason laughed and said his grandfather smoked, like, 30 cigarettes a day and lived until 97 and so don’t believe everything you read about the analyses of sound studies showing proven causal relationships.

 

The Texas Sharpshooter

This one is cherry-picking data to suit an argument, or finding a pattern to fit a presumption. The fallacy's name comes from a parable in which a Texan fires his gun at the side of a barn, paints a bull’s-eye around the bullet hole, and claims to be a sharpshooter. Though the shot may have been totally random, he makes it appear as though he has performed a highly non-random act. Example: The makers of Sugaretty Candy Drinks point to research showing that of the five countries where Sugaretty drinks sell the most units, three of them are in the top ten healthiest countries on Earth, therefore Sugaretty drinks are healthy.

 

Personal Incredulity

This one pops up often with the ‘creationist’ crowd. It’s saying that because one finds something difficult to understand that it’s therefore not true. Example: Kirk drew a picture of a fish and a human and with effusive disdain asked Richard if he really thought we were stupid enough to believe that a fish somehow turned into a human through just, like, random and fluky things happening over time. Your inability to grasp something doesn’t make it less true or not.

 

The Fallacy Fallacy

I’ve mentioned this further back in the essay. A poorly argued claim doesn’t necessarily negate the conclusions; a truthful conclusion can still be reached through bad logic --- but then the logic should be re-examined, its errors recognized and corrected. This fallacy is presuming that because a claim has been poorly argued, or a fallacy has been made in the argument, that it is necessarily wrong. My position would be that even though it may be truthful, until corrections are made to the argument path, the conclusion must be set aside as not being proven totally solid or supported (some may disagree with this). This fallacy occurs quite often in casual arguments when a party isn’t used to laying out their case for something they may know to be true, non-the-less.

 

Appeal to Emotion

Yikes! This is a fallacy we’ve had occasion to see quite often with the rise of the Donald Trump phenomenon. It’s the manipulating of an emotional response in place of a valid or compelling argument. Rather than supporting an argument with data and facts the person will often appeal to emotional sentiments; as if how you feel about something validates the conclusion or truth of it or not. Example: You mother tells you to eat your broccoli because there are starving kids in Africa who aren’t fortunate enough to have any food at all.

 

Tu Quoque (Latin for ‘you too’)

This one is avoiding having to engage with criticism by turning it back on the accuser - answering criticism with criticism (often related things). A typical tu quoque involves charging your accuser with whatever it is you've just been accused of rather than refuting the truth of the accusation – it’s an evasive strategy that may or may not meet with success. Example: The one political candidate accused the other of embezzling public funds but the other simply said ‘You do it too!’

 

Burden of Proof

This is a common one among ‘new-agers’, energy healers, religious zealots, etc. They’ll maintain that the burden of proof lies not with the person making the claim, but with someone else to disprove. Example: Margaret declares that a teapot is, at this very moment, in orbit around the Sun between Earth and Mars and is sending waves of love to the Earth and that because no one can prove her wrong her claim is therefore a valid one. It basically says that if you can’t prove something wrong then it is possible – this is a logical fallacy.

 

No True Scotsman

This is making what could be called an appeal-to-purity as a way to dismiss relevant criticisms or flaws of an argument. Angus declares that Scotsmen do not put sugar on their porridge, to which William points out that he is a Scotsman and puts sugar on his porridge all the time. Furious, Angus yells that no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge! End of argument!

 

Middle Ground

I like this one. It comes up a lot these days in our recent culture of ‘everyone’s opinion is valid’. It’s saying that a compromise, or middle point, between two extremes is the truth. Example: Holly said that vaccinations caused autism in children, but her scientifically well-read friend Brian said that this claim had been debunked and proven false by data. Their friend Alice jumps in and offers a compromise -- that vaccinations cause some autism. Or you’ll often hear ‘You may be right but I’m right too’ (often used in conjunction with ‘that’s your opinion’).

 

Loaded Question

You may be familiar with this one. You might have heard the famous old court room question: ‘Mr. Johnson, how long has it been since you beat your wife?’ It’s asking a question that has an assumption built into it so that it can’t be answered without appearing guilty.

 

Bandwagon (Peer Pressure, Appeal to Common Practice)

Ah, this is quite a popular fallacy floating around during these ‘climate change’ days. It’s appealing to popularity or the fact that many people do something, as an attempted form of validation. Example: Bill asked Harry, ‘Why do we have so many religions in the world comprised of people who believe in God if there isn’t such a being in existence?’ or ‘80% of scientists say that climate change is a problem’.

 

 

          
 

Anyway, those are a few. If you care to investigate further, it would be well advised to become familiar with the many prominent ones, at least, and as many of the others as you can. It will certainly benefit you and open your eyes to the possible unsound reasoning that may have become a bad habit to you over a lifetime.

 

 

 

(taking a break, this discussion will be continued…)

 

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