Thursday, April 20, 2017

Blogging Hiatus: 20.04.17

vanakkam! namaskar!

I'm on blogging sabbatical until sometime next month. I've got something special in mind for all of my public blogs, even my old WordPress site at Yes, I'm returning to regular posting on all of my sites. I'm currently working out exactly how I'm going to execute this and synchronize it throughout all of them while I take care of work matters and personal projects, so stay tuned!

naan pooyittu varaenga.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Project Logicality | The Appeal to Force

(This post contains rough language, and at least one rather graphic example, not particularly kid-friendly, is provided. Then, this is not a kid-friendly blog, so no biggie.)

What happens when the threat of force is used as an argument? Is such use valid? If so, when?

Here we discuss the appeal to force, just for the sake of annoying pedantry, the argument from the cudgel, or the ad baculum fallacy.

It's an informal, language-derived argument, often an irrelevant appeal, to compel compliance or even merely seeming agreement with a claim using force or its threat, whether physical, psychological, or legal.

It may be thought of as a subset of the argument from final consequences, and in a simple and slightly vulgar formulation basically amounts to:
Agree with me and do as I say, or I'll kick your f**king *ss!

Or a bit less crudely,

Agree that I'm right because I'm badder and meaner than you are and I can light you up!

There's also:

Do as I say, not as I do ...or else!

That last might also double as an argument from authority, it and the ad baculum both being not-so-subtle forms of bullying.

It's a fallacy when the threat implied or expressed used has no valid relation to the claim. It aims to exploit a demand for submission to authority or fear to substitute for good argument.

This is probably apocryphal, but there's a classic example I've seen in one of my Great Courses lectures, of something attributed to Hitler, on hearing the then Pope's displeasure with his policies, in which he allegedly said:

"...and how many tanks does the Pope have?"

Not exactly a rhetorical question.

But that nicely illustrates the use of this argument in exploiting the idea that 'might makes right.'

Another example of this is Pascal's wager, with its choice, actually a false dichotomy, of theistic belief while supposedly losing nothing and maybe winning everything, or non-belief and the supposed risk if 'wrong,' whatever that means. There are many unstated assumptions going into the wager without independent support, which if not presupposed undermine Pascal's case, but I won't deal with that here.

An ad baculum argument can have valid applications, as when the threat made directly relates to the claims and not just to overthrow discussion by substituting intimidation or fear for real justification of a claim.

There are those criminal penalties imposed as punishment in various legal systems. This includes crimes like theft, fraud, murder, and treason, with such penalties as narfling the Garthok, or maybe being consigned to Jabba the Hutt's Rancor pit for making awful movie references on this blog.


For example:

If you read the forbidden (and completely made-up) haiku collection 'Reflections on Infinity,' horrible and nasty critters (equally fictitious) from the Outer Void (as made-up as the first two) will show up and slowly eat your brain. Attracting the attention of such horrors can be horrific, worse than death, as madness comes while they eat your brain. To best avoid this unpleasant fate, you must not read 'Reflections on Infinity.'

Okay, so that was a little over the top.

With many arguments, sometimes using fallacies or not, valid or invalid use depends on context. The use of it for furthering is valid and invalid for squelching reasonable discussion.

Most such fallacies are not simple and easy matters of the argument structure. They depend on meaning bound up in language, which is not merely decorative filler as with formal logic.

Content matters. With informal arguments, content and meaning are structure.

One final note as well: an argument may be formally valid in terms of structure, yet informally invalid, committing a fallacy, or several fallacies, in the exact same statement.

So we must examine our assumptions going into an argument, and our reasoning to our conclusions on two fronts, both formally and informally.

And that, I think, goes a bit further to making us better, smarter thinkers, and more skillful with our reasoning as a means of self-defense for the mind in a post-truth world.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Project Logicality | Confusing the Unexplained with the Unexplainable

Do we really know enough to honestly tell ourselves that a thing cannot be explained, utterly beyond the knowable on only our limited understanding? Or might there be an explanation waiting for us to find if only we look? When must we throw up our hands and despair of ever finding an answer? Are we merely confusing the currently unexplained with the utterly unexplainable?

In doing so, we may be invoking what David Kyle Johnson has referred to as the "mystery, therefore magic" fallacy. Like the X of the Gaps fallacy, it's related to the argument from ignorance, and it is every bit as dangerous in most contexts.

This is common, and easy to commit, as each of us has only a limited stock of ready explanations at any given time. That's why we've invented science.

Through science, we generate new explanations for things we don't currently understand, and more, we can quantify what we explain and make use of it ourselves. Science allows us to explain, predict, describe, and control what we come to understand.

That's its power.

First, what is the unexplained?

Next, what is the unexplainable?

Finally, how do we tell them apart?

Anything currently without a known explanation may perhaps have an explanation somewhere waiting to be found, even if you, anyone you know, or anyone at all, is unaware of what it is.

The point is that you cannot say that something is unexplainable for all time until you actually look, and in your search exhaust all explanations and find none.

And that is impossible in practical terms.

No matter where you look, you cannot a prove universal negative on limited information.

And all information at any given time is limited, as limited as the time spent gathering it. You can never be absolutely certain that someone, somewhere, doesn’t, can’t, or won’t know the answer.

Humans are not all-knowing. It is impossible for any one person to know what everyone in the universe knows, or ultimately can know, and from this, safely assume an explanation is both unknown and unknowable anywhere and any time else.

Merely because YOU don’t know, or can’t, doesn't apply to everyone else. Presuming that it does is arrogant and unreasonable. The limits of your knowledge don't restrict others.

There is always someone who knows more, or who imagines or can imagine things you don’t. To paraphrase science communicator Bill Nye, "Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don't."

As for the truly unexplainable, philosopher Massimo Pigliucci has noted two different sorts:

First, those things which absolutely have no reasonable explanation, and second, those things having an explanation somewhere out there, but unavailable due to human limits in thinking and understanding. That would be like my cat understanding quantum physics (sorry, Mister Eccles). As much as I love my cats, and as smart as they are, that isn't going to happen.

Scientific inquiry, and any useful process of gathering knowledge, requires some humility and open-mindedness in understanding the limits of what we currently know and a willingness to consider new ideas.

So saying that “ID did it,” “God did it,” “ET did it,” “a ghost did it,” "Evil Secret Conspirators™ did it," or “psi did it,” explain nothing and most definitely will not get you past peer-review nor win you a Nobel Prize.

Everything that science has ever fully examined has turned out to be both natural and normal. The natural and the normal are not merely presupposed by science, but defined by science because they are testable, and tested, using its methods, and found to be real.

Consider that before proclaiming something to be inexplicable, when the explanation you don’t know about may be just where you don't, can't, or won’t look.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Project Logicality | The Non Sequitur Fallacy

What's going on when the reasons we give to support or refute a statement have no relation to it at all? What is the fundamental error of reasoning underpinning almost all logical fallacies, and when does this represent special cases?

Here we discuss the general fallacy of the Non Sequitur, Latin for does not follow.

This can generally refer to any sort of logical fallacy, any argument where a logical connection between premises is implied that just isn’t there.

This fallacy is often found with other forms of invalid reasoning in the very same statement. Here’s a couple of handy examples of the most common form:
Our cult shall be feared by all, for Azathoth is freakin' scary when annoyed.
Human-caused global warming is impossible, because it's cyclical, the ozone hole over the antarctic is closing, cow farts, and Mars is warming too, not just the earth.
 But there are more specific named forms of this fallacy as well:

The Fallacy of the Undistributed Middle:

In which a conclusion is incorrectly drawn from two given or assumed premises, and takes the form of:
All Xs are Cs.  
A is a C.  
So, A is an X. 
An obviously ridiculous example would be:
All birds generate their own body heat.  
My cats generate their own body heat.  
My cats are birds.
There is...

...Denying the Antecedent:

Which takes the form of:
If C is true, then D is true. 
C is false. 
So, D is also false. 
A good example would be:
If I am in ancient Athens, I’m in Greece. 
I’m not in ancient Athens. 
So, I’m not in Greece.
This is absurd, as there are many locations and times in Greece other than Athens or the Ancient period. There is also...

...Affirming the Consequent:

which takes the form:

If C is true then D is true.  
D is true.  
So C is true. 

An example:

If my Senior Technician intends to transfer me to another project, she’ll have a talk with the Program Director.  
My Senior Technician is going to talk with the Program Director.  
She wants to get me transferred to another project.

This last is clearly an example of invalid reasoning because the Senior Tech could be seeing the Program Director for entirely different reasons than those given.

One problem people sometimes have with this fallacy is that it can be subtle, and they are often too proud to speak out when they cannot see how an argument follows, or are too polite to point out its lack of relevance to the speaker.

It’s important to more specifically pick out what is being said even as a less general sort of fallacy, including the non sequitur’s aforementioned variants.

So be careful that what facts you bring to an argument are actually relevant to the point you're trying to make. Otherwise, it may just fail the application of the "so what" test!

Tf. Tk. Tts.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Project Logicality | The Argument from Personal Incredulity

Here we discuss a common flaw in reasoning, the Argument from Personal Incredulity, a variation of the Argument from Ignorance. It involves denying or asserting a claim from the standpoint of a failure to accept, understand, or imagine said claim or it’s contrary.

It’s to impose one’s own cognitive horizons on reality, and like the Argument from Ignorance, pretend to a certain conclusion that one does not have the data or perspective to correctly make.

Reality is not limited, restricted or constrained by our willingness or ability to comprehend it, by what we can personally accept as true, simply because no positive conclusions are obtainable from missing evidence or a failure to generate strong or valid explanations.

Someone with a more active imagination or greater understanding may discover a way to conceive of and comprehend what we cannot. The Argument from Incredulity could be illustrated by way of example:

‘Evolutionists’ and Origin of Life researchers (effectively one and the same to creationists) claim that life arose and reached its present form over billions of years.
Being a human with a lifetime of only decades, I can’t wrap my mind around time-scales that immense, or comprehend life arising and evolving by blind, natural processes.
So I conclude that evolution is false, as the only alternative I know of, young-Earth creationism, is easier to understand and accept.

Or by this silly example…

I can’t imagine computers working without pixies transmitting the data in them…
So I believe pixies must be responsible for the operation of my Mac.

…or further, in this way…

I don’t understand the mathematics and theory behind the Big Bang, Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, and the simpler Electric Universe theory appeals more to my personal intuitions…
So orthodox astronomy and cosmology is wrong and my pet alternative cosmology is correct.

This fallacy has a minor variant of its own, the Appeal to Ridicule, in which the one making the argument attempts to portray a factual claim or statement as ludicrous, often with dishonest intent in order to influence others into disbelieving it, as is often the case with portrayals of the theory of evolution by creationists like Ray Comfort, Kirk Cameron, the late Duane Gish and Kent Hovind. The following is an example of the appeal to ridicule:

Scientists would have us believe that hydrogen, a colorless, odorless gas, given time, becomes stars, planets, animal and plant life, and ultimately, people.
Now, who in his right mind would believe anything so absurd?
…As is this:

Mainstream astronomers are always saying that most of the mass of the universe is locked up in some invisible, fairy-tale thing they call ‘dark matter,’ and the even more silly concepts of magic ‘dark energy’ and ‘inflation theory’ unicorns they need to prop up their failing model.
Therefore conventional cosmology is unbelievably comical, so my pet doctrine must be true because it’s more sensible and logical than the Big Bang with all that useless, abstract math it involves.

Never mind that no self-respecting unicorn would be caught dead in an argument like that…much less ‘inflation theory’ ones…

It is not an argument from incredulity to make more valid inferences, when what we know is complete enough that our ability to imagine or understand something applies to most reasonable situations, when the phrase ‘I can’t imagine this’ is just a figure of speech, as with this example:

We happen to know things about Quantum Mechanics that we have verified experimentally time and again…
We do not know anything of QM as it is currently understood that supports its use as a viable explanation for Psi, should Psi even truly exist as is claimed…
So I think that Psi, if it exists, cannot be adequately explained by QM.

The argument from incredulity is sometimes a tricky one to pick out, especially in one’s own arguments, as it is not always made in the form of a statement, but well worth the effort in recognizing to avoid being bamboozled in a debate, with or without creationists, electric universe proponents or parapsychologists as the opposition.

Tf. Tk. Tts.