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 an entity would not be mentally developed enough to think of anything profound or even moderately substantial, I believe. It would experience existence as just simple, basic reaction to stimuli.
My self-awareness gives me a sense of “I”; an awareness of my own existence.
There was a inaugural experience in life that we've all been through, whether we can remember it or not. It was that 'ah-ha' moment that occurred early on for all of us as tiny infants. We gradually noticed, more and more, a swirling 'something' in our minds that was creating memories and mental sensations that grabbed our daily-growing attention and focus in a new way.
And then boom!
Suddenly we became aware of —>our own existence<—— and a fundamental truth became forever cemented in our perceived reality! All at once our 'development-clock' evolved, clicked up a notch, and we perceptibly had a cognitive realization that “I” exist in some form, am aware of it, and am experiencing!
We definitely didn't write any essays about it at the time or make pronouncements, but as we lay on our backs with our kicking feet, our shaking, oscillating hands, our darting eyes, the broad, drooling grins and googooing sounds emanating from our faces, it showed anyone who noticed that something had clicked inside our brains. We had suddenly realized that we'd arrived!
Mostly everyone has been through this...
Yeah..., I concede that this may not seem to be a terribly deep concept to us 'grown', 'wise' adults and adolescents nestled comfortably in our conditioned, 'figured-out' lives but surprisingly it may not be one that many have actually contemplated.
It can go deeper...
Consider this random, casual point for example:
Before I realized "I am", I was not.
In fact, I've not existed infinitely longer than I have existed. I will not exist infinitely, after I don't.
I wasn't just somewhere in the ether or in the dark before I showed up, waiting to emerge... I simply wasn't anywhere at all! I was nothing.
I was 'unassembled' (might be a way of looking at it). I was totally non-existent until a certain, very specific evolution of my human species, the Earth's entire environmental progression, the totality of primate cultural development, every particular hominid social interaction between those before me, the enumerable exact DNA combinations of all biology etc. were/(was) reached and resulted in the very specific, unique, coincidental events ending in my exact creation. (Yours too! No one is exempt.)
None of us were just sitting in the dark or in darkness before that.
None of us were just waiting to be here.
We were just nothing at all.
Understand, 'nothing' is different from 'darkness'.
'Nothing' is not dark, 'nothing' is not quiet, 'nothing' is not empty.
'Nothing' is simply nothing at all.
It's not a void. A void is something. 'Nothing' is infinitely less than that. It has no substance, no context, no existence, no point in reality. In fact, 'nothing' is probably a concept most humans can't grasp exactly without intense contemplation... and even then it is a very difficult endeavor especially if one hasn't worked on developing personal skills to think in the required exact, disciplined, complex, intense ways this type of reasoned thinking demands.
One change in anything before the second I arrived as a growing organism would have determined that I would absolutely NOT be here now. The concept feels strange, non intuitive, and uncomfortable.
Yet it's true. Yes, there is much to consider.
—— —— ——
So, I think we should and need to contemplate deeper thoughts in any journey towards clear and correct thinking.
Contemplation is the difference between experiencing things haphazardly, as a pedestrian with little consideration as to what happens to us, as opposed to understanding and noticing how these experiences mold and shape our outlook and lead to how we eventually understand existence.
We usually label the 'self-awareness' experience —as—> consciousness.
An issue I have with the very word 'consciousness' is that it tends to be considered a noun and I don't feel comfortable with that. A noun is a particular english language form (also present in most other languages) that is used to name a specific thing, person, entity, place, etc. Because of this, a lot of people tend to equate (actually elevate) consciousness to a thing that exists unto itself, a form unto itself, a separate distinction, almost as if alongside us —— when in essence it is simply something the mind does, nothing more or less. Consciousness has no form, it is not a separate thing from me or us or you, it doesn't exist beyond the mechanism of our brains and isn't any more than one part of the totality of our functioning biological chemical organ (brain), similar, though considered unique to each of us in experience, but probably not in basic operation and essense.
This is why I think that 'consciousness' is a verb.
It is an action that our brain (at the evolved biological state it is) carries out once everything that manifests a singular hominid being is formed and in place —— i.e. lungs, liver, heart, stomach, bile ducts, bones, thyroid gland, brain, bladder, skin, et.al. & etc. All these systems, working in harmony, serve the singular purpose to capture, convert, create and supply the energy through the nutrient rich blood that courses throughout the being. This goes on throughout its lifespan, nourishing and sustaining it as it goes about its business until, inevitably and eventually, things begin to degrade, grow weak and corrupted, and in due course cease (die). The systems end and the being they were sustaining ends.
The evolved 'language-labeling' and loose human reasoning of the concept of consciousness has created confusion in how a lot of people in society relate to their understanding of it. It has distorted many people's perception of our existences with it. A metaphysical, pseudoscience 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 the evolved biological matter within a being’s head. Even though 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, that certainly doesn’t mean the answers won’t be discovered in the future and regardless, it 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 and greatly stunted compared to a human being (does it have self-awareness, for example?). 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 'vertical' forms within it, what we are capable of being aware of or its complexity-of-mechanism, 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:
initial state was also realized by philosopher and mathematician Descartes 450 years ago. He expressed it as "cogito ergo sum".
It's Latin for roughly: I realize I'm thinking so therefore I am or I must exist. He believed that
existence within a reality requires some foundation to begin to build beliefs upon. What can that foundation be?
Well 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” then I can’t be thinking. This first certainty, as I stated previously, is also our first truth as infants, realized instinctively. An absolute truth is undeniable and 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 or at least up for reconsideration.
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.
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 actually 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.
something or simply believing 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. Denial or acceptance of a claim alone in no way validates or invalidates it.
Truth is derived from objective, empirical evidence — the only arbiter.
And truth and its evidence exist independent of our knowledge or experience of them.
There is no
'ultimate' reality, there is only reality. Further, there is no 'ultimate' or 'real' truth, there is only truth. There is no "your truth" or "my truth" that necessarily makes it more valid than what is actually true. Truth belongs exclusively to no-one and can be claimed by any being who seeks and finds it using the proper, correct methods regardless of culture or society.
Those things that are incongruent with truth and reality, or are not true, or are not real, are inconsiderable.
Let me state again, truth is that which
comports with reality.
You may believe that a dozen tiny, naked pixies exist and flutter about, sprinkling good health and well-wishes upon your garden at night but that has nothing to do with the objective reality that we all have to deal with and exist within. This happy, smooth notion would simply exist as a 'feel-good' moment for you until proven. Feelings aren't evidence. Feelings aren't necessarily concurrent with truth even though they may happen to be, by coincidence, in a particular case. Coincidence is not evidence. Feelings are personal, relative, and questionable. A question seeks an answer. Answers should strive to comport with truth.
Interestingly, a lesser known Victorian philosopher named Will Clifford once wrote nearly 150 years ago, "It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence". Back then, this was viewed to be an obvious, self-evident claim by most well-read persons of that time. But now zoom ahead a good many decades to current times; in these days of institutionalized, 'progressive', relativistic thinking it's sad to realize that there are masses of people out there who would actually dismiss, scoff at, or question such a statement.
It all boils down to this:
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 and it is a rendering or representation of this 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 or bizarre and consequently, we begin to think that that person believes things that just seem crazy to us.
Remember, the internal maps we construct throughout a lifetime are only secondary to reality.
Our life goal is to construct the most accurate internal map of reality that 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 — 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.
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 have even made this statement (I found it on the Internet) but nonetheless, some good ideas or thoughts such as this one are indubitable 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 Occam's Razor that we should minimize the depth of our presuppositions to a level as close to zero as possible. (Occam's Razor is the philosophical argument that the best hypothesis is the one involving the lowest number of assumptions). 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 not true at the same time and in the same way.
The law of excluded middle says that a statement is either true or not true. For example, my hair is brown. (Assuming in this case that 'brown' is a very specific, identifiable, singular color). It is either true or not true that my hair is brown. Another example: I am pregnant. The statement is either true or not true. Since I am a male, it is not possible for me to be pregnant. Therefore, the statement is not tue and false, in this case. 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 when applicable. This is particularly important in a society where relativism is promoted — shockingly more and more in our educational and media systems. Truth statements are increasingly being treated abitrarily in our society when pure evidence should be demanded each and every time.
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.
reality do we appeal to for truth then?
Be careful, this is the common logical fallacy of 'confusing the map for the place'.
It equates individual perceptions of reality with actual reality without recognizing there may be conflicts.
Isn't there someone whose map of the universe's reality is accurate?
Well, different people's maps are going to be accurate to different degrees and a few will be quite accomplished but nobody will ever have a complete one, no matter how mentally disciplined and thorough they are. There is just too much to consider and understand.
So, it is only the universe's reality that is the arbiter of what is correct.
Remember, there is only reality. And as human creatures we must constantly refer back to our personal subjective view of the greater objective reality for truth and correct course as needed using refined mental tools. It’s the best we can do. It's actually all we can do.
So, on the matter of being disciplined...
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 believe that it will rain outside, you'll bring an umbrella. If you believe taxis don't take credit cards, you make sure you have some cash before jumping into one. If you believe that stealing is wrong, then you will pay for your goods before leaving the store.
These are easy ones.
But, 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.
You see, the problem arises when people confuse induction with deduction then build their belief systems and carry out actions accordingly. This seems to happen a lot these days. Without awareness of how we think of things, this subtle error in thinking alone can build multi-layers of unsound or false beliefs and end up in an erroneousness life experience.
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?
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 expect that this person will simply live on and life will supply all it does with that type of mindset, a surface existence.
But always remember, beliefs are important because beliefs inform actions, and actions have consequences.
This important concept will profoundly affect your entire life and the lives of those around you. And further, I think we have a moral responsibility and obligation, by virtue of existing as a part of, benefitting from, and being immersed within the ancient human social culture, not to pollute the well of humanity's collective knowledge with stupid noise from soft minds.
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, where to start?...
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
• The Texas Sharpshooter
• Personal Incredulity
• The Fallacy Fallacy
• Appeal to Emotion
• Tu Quoque
• Burden of Proof
• No True Scotsman
• Middle Ground
• Loaded Question
• 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 a ttacking 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.
This is another common one. This is repeating back incorrectly or out-rightly m isrepresenting 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.
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 t he reason everyone wants the new ‘Tickle Me Elmo’ doll is because this is the hottest toy of the season!
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.
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 m anipulating 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 a voiding 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!
I like this one. It comes up a lot these days in our recent culture of ‘everyone’s opinion is valid’. It’s s aying 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’).
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 a sking 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…)