Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Why Bother Learning to Reason Well?

If people are so typically bad at reasoning effectively, why study logic, formal or informal? Why have normative standards at all? What's the point of having ideals for argumentation if they are so seldom met in practice?
Because those standards point toward ways to improve our practice, moving us closer to that ideal even without actually reaching it.
Argumentation doesn't have to be perfect to be effective, so to think we shouldn't bother at all because the process isn't infallible, so it's worthless, is to commit the Nirvana fallacy.
Of course we often fall short, but there's nothing at all wrong to have standards and ideals to point the way, making us better negotiators and more skilled at reaching reliable conclusions.
And that's even without a mistaken and pointless need for absolute certainty in worldly matters of fact.
Of course we make errors in our thinking, and in reasoning among ourselves. Of course we are biased and often invested in a given conclusion.
That's the point.
The point of it all is to recognize our biases, our motives, and the fallacies in our own arguments that result from those, and not despair of never reaching complete closure on our knowledge through impossible standards of metaphysical certitude.
Because it's the process itself, not the conclusion that we may have a vested interest in defending, that in my view matters in seeking out the facts of any matter, and what truth those facts bear out (to steal a page from Bertrand Russell).
Because the greatest enemy to seeking and sometimes finding that truth lives inside each of our skulls, not just those of our ideological opponents.
And you cannot overcome a foe that you do not recognize or notice.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Project Logicality | Zikky the Imp & the Inconsistency Fallacy

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 21.28.48 Objects-of-faith themselves are now outside the scope of my blogging. But arguments regardless of original purpose are fair game as they are logically testable. Thus do they open themselves to meaningful critique.

 First, the laws of logic demand consistency in their use. You do not get to cherry-pick what reasoning supports your conclusion nor dismiss as silly or absurd what doesn’t. Absurdity is often claimed through the use of disingenuous rhetoric. The claim that actual infinities are impossible because they lead to absurdity are a case in point. Asserted most often by Dr. William Lane Craig, the claim is easily falsified merely by consulting a book by any professional mathematician who regularly works and writes on set theory. The fact that infinities can lead to absurdities in certain arithmetic operations does not prove their actuality impossible, only that you cannot perform those operations using infinities. There is dangerous equivocation to be committed by toying with the semantics of words like ‘actual.’ There is much difference between ‘actual’ in a physical context, and ‘actual’ in a mathematical one. Also, if you declare actual infinities impossible, you must declare all actual infinities impossible including those that favor your argument. You do not get to invoke nonsense, such as ad hoc ‘qualitative infinities’ to save your claims from your own line of reasoning. This is why I refuse to debate apologists; I’ve little patience with dishonest argumentation in a debate partner, and I find it annoying and frustrating. The trouble here is, they just don’t seem to know, or possibly know and don't care. It matters little. That’s bad for keeping my stress levels down, so no.

Onward, then…

 So, let’s say there’s a mischievous imp. We’ll call him Zikky. Zikky (not to be confused with Zippy of pinhead fame…) is a very special sort of imp, a Cartesian demon. He’s a diabolical master of illusion and delusion who can make anyone see and think whatever he likes them to. He’s a virtuoso at mucking with peoples’ heads. He can create whole, self-consistent virtual worlds in any and all minds he wants to. For all functional purposes these virtual worlds cannot be told from ‘the real thing.’ Let’s assume an agnostic position as to whether Zikky really exists. Let’s also assume he has a following, a fan club who idolizes their hero and collects his trading cards.

 Despite those pesky doubters who require his existence be shown to some reasonable standard of logic and evidence, Zikky’s fans claim that those are all completely irrelevant to his existence. ‘We don’t need evidence, or logic,’ they say. They also argue that there is both rational and empirical evidence for this; supposedly self-evident reasoning and evidence throughout the natural world. Many of his fans say they’ve met and talked to him personally at conventions. And there is the allegedly rock-solid proof of personally signed Zikky the Imp collector’s cards. Hmmm. It looks as though they are trying to have their chapattis and eat them too!

 Fallacy! But while the fact of a fallacy doesn’t show a claim false, it does show that a claim does not follow from the arguments given. Throw those arguments out; they’re at cross-purposes, and so no good!

 Relevance works both ways, not just in one direction. If X is relevant to Y, then Y must be relevant to X. The same for irrelevance. They are symmetrical. There is a causal chain that necessarily links both ways even when moving in only one direction.

 So if logic and evidence are irrelevant to Zikky, then Zikky is irrelevant to them. Just as you cannot absolutely disprove Zikky’s reality using reason or facts, you also cannot use them to show that he’s real. After all, he’s a master of fiddling around with peoples’ minds not bound by any natural laws. How could anyone possibly know? How would a world with or without Zikky in it appear? No conceivable observation, no knowable brute fact, is inconsistent with either possibility. It cannot be tested, and philosophically, it’s not useful in any practical sense. Whatever you perceive looks and feels real no matter what’s perceived. So it doesn’t really matter whether Zikky exists or not.

 Sure, the arguments for his reality are fairly weak on their own, but what if we offer them together to make our case? Can we prove our case with reason alone, using allegedly true premises and a lot of quotations as our evidence? But in fact, while argument is useful to explain evidence, it cannot substitute for it, even with supposedly true premises. Especially in formal logic, determining the actual truth of the premises is the hardest part of evaluating any argument, however valid we find its structure. It’s easy to bamboozle with out-of-context quotes and dubious factoids.

 That’s why science uses logical argument in its explanations for natural and human phenomena, and carefully gathered evidential data to support those explanations. Logic alone, outside of a context of maths or pure logic is empty. For claims about anything existing in the real world, you need the data to show it. That’s what counts. Reason serves to organize and make sense of the data, but it cannot replace it. This should not be news. It’s been obvious since modern science began, and our reasoning and data-gathering have only gotten better over the centuries. Science no longer adheres to the naive overconfidence in pure reason of even a few hundred years ago. If the data don’t support it, it’s of no scientific use. No matter how persuasive the reasoning, or rationalizations, as the case may be. That’s why we’ve moved on.

 It’s why science has made genuine progress, while apologetics and pseudoscience have not. If there’s no actual data supporting one’s claims, if one’s forced to make a case using the same fallacies dressed up, retooled, and rebranded with questionable data points, then they’ve not come very far at all.

 Good luck convincing anyone who doesn’t already accept those claims, no matter their nature. Any fallacy, formal or informal, is enough to disqualify an argument as reliable support for any claim. But the inconsistency fallacy is among the most obvious, and among the most egregious.

 Avoid it whenever possible. It will save you the effort of making up excuse after excuse to explain away those same inconsistencies.

  Tf. Tk. Tts.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Evidence of Evolution That You Can Find on Your Body

You have your mom's smile, your dad's eyes, and the ear muscles of a Triassic mammal.
courtesy of Vox's YouTube channel

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Slimy Great Old One | (Pencil-Thin Mustache Parody, with apologies to Jimmy Buffett)

Now they're raisin' horrors from out of the night, spreadin' ravin' madness that no one can fight, when the stars are right, and the world's in a rage, there's monsters left and right on the cosmic stage.

 I wish I knew a slimy Great Old One, The Great Cthulhu kind, or a puke-green shoggoth that crushes its masters, while Hastur curses people who mention his name.

 Ia! I remember bein' human, not very finny, changin' to a Deep One, not Azathoth's dinny.

 Ia! I wish I knew a slimy Great Old One, then I could cause some madness too.

 Ia! It's Yuggoth, Carcosa, the Plateau of Leng, no blinkin' at the things I see.

It's because I have no eyelids, except the nictitating, and only human cultists were sacrificed while gating, Ia!

Ia! I wish I knew a slimy Great Old One, then I could cause some madness too.

But it's splat, plop, noisome flop, travelin' on a Byakhee, the zombies are a-rotten, and the brains they ate forgotten, with mighty incantations callin' Things from the sea!

Ia! Now I'm gettin' ancient, no longer have hair, I can't pass for human, and I don't really care, But I can visit Innsmouth and lurk about there, like the mortal I used to be.

That's why I wish I knew a slimy Great Old One, the Great Cthulhu kind, or a puke-green shoggoth that crushes its masters, while Hastur curses people who mention his name.

Ia! Dagon when he 'wakes will stride out of the sea, to devastate the surface and enslave humanity.

If I only knew a slimy Great Old One, then I could cause some madness too.

 Ia! Rl'yeh, now sunk beneath the waters, Ia! I could cause some madness too.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Symphony of Science | We are Star Dust

Project Logicality | Labeling Argument Strategies & the Fallacist's Fallacy

The Argument Sketch The Argument Sketch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)[/caption]

 There are many ways to argue deceptively or mistakenly, and often these ways involve logical fallacies - defects in arguments that come in two general sorts, formal and informal. 

The former are defects in structure, errors in the pattern of the argument that render it invalid, usually independent of the argument's specific content.

 The latter are often violations of procedure in argument rather than structure, attempts to rhetorically thwart the goal of a critical discussion, often to 'win' the argument rather than reach a common understanding, rather, to obscure truth than reach it.

 Fallacy theory is a complex subject, and not all logicians agree on the definitions I've just given, but that's cool. Anyway, fallacies can be used to distract and mislead, or they can be used in reverse, in labeling argumentative tactics, to reduce their effectiveness by calling attention to them when abused in an informal discussion or a structured debate.

 In some debates, such labeling will be done fairly frequently, in others, more subtle counterstrategies will be used rather than explicitly pointing out the fallacies by name. In this case, knowing thine enemy and naming it is useful, subjecting the flawed argument to scrutiny, and lessening its sting.

 But that is not enough.

 To argue that naming a fallacy shows the claim of an argument false is to commit the fallacist's fallacy, as it it entirely possible for an argument may be flawed, the conclusion not logically following from the argument's premises, but that conclusion may by some chance be correct despite the argument made for it.

 It is not enough to label an argument. It's also important to show not only that something is a fallacy, but why it's one as well. It's often necessary to show the argument flawed in some manner, but also why that fact is relevant to the claim being made, why the argument doesn't follow (even with true premises), and that the suspect argument must therefore be thrown out as inadequate support for the claim.

 That's especially the case with logical inconsistencies and outright contradictions. If two or more arguments work at cross-purposes, logically at least one of them must be rejected, but the natural human inclination is to throw them all out, as reflecting poorly on the arguer's credibility and maybe resulting in loss of the argument.

 Even fallacious arguments sometimes assert things that are true, but they cannot reliably show those things to be the case. Logic alone proves nothing, even if the argument is perfectly valid or uses strong inference, for that, we need data as well.

 We need the best evidential data available to support our premises, which must not only be true, but acceptable, clear, relevant, as non-circular as possible, and as free from unwarranted assumptions and presumptions as can be had.