Friday, December 2, 2016

Project Logicality | Slippery Slopes & False Continua

Are chains of causation inexorable and dire? Does a continuum between extremes mean that neither extreme differs, or that one of those extremes doesn't exist?

Here, we'll discuss the Slippery Slope, and the two False Continua, similar arguments though representing causal and semantic versions respectively.

But first I'll deal with its causal version, the Fallacy of the Beard, also the Camel’s Nose fallacy. The first name comes from an analogy with the greying of a man's beard, in which the amount of grey is small at first, but inevitably progresses until the entire beard is grey. The second name comes from a fable in which a camel is permitted by its owner to stick its nose in the tent for warmth from the cold desert night air, quickly followed by the entire camel, who crowds its owner out of the tent and into the cold.

The slippery slope asserts that a position or claim is unacceptable because if accepted, its worst extreme must inevitably follow, without sound reasons as to how or why this must be.

It's a fallacy that's both committed and labels itself as an argument strategy at the same time, with the use of such opening phrases as "It's a slippery slope if..." or "It sets a bad precedent when..." and so on.

A superficially similar form of argument can be a strong line of reasoning when the chain of inference is laid out and each link logically follows, but the fallacy refers to the specious usage, as below:

The public teaching of comparative religion leads to awareness of religious diversity, then to religious doubt, then to agnosticism, then to atheism, then to anti-theism, then to nihilism, then to moral degeneracy, then inevitably to the disintegration of a society in total anarchy, so we don’t want comparative religion courses taught in our public schools.

Beside the fact that the evidence just doesn’t bear this ridiculous chain of consequences out, note here that no supporting reasons or other justification are ever provided as to why this chain must be true.

The Vagueness, or False Continuum, is below, used in two ways:

One version attempts to argue that concepts B and E shade into each other along a continuum without any fine dividing line between them, so they are the same thing, that no distinction exists.

But it just doesn’t follow that:

There is no difference between blue light and yellow light, despite no sharp dividing point in wavelengths in the visible spectrum.

Nor does it follow that:

There is no separation between humid or dry weather when the moisture in the air at any one time and place varies in degree from high to low.

The second variant is used to argue that concept B differs so little from concept E with no fine line between them, that concept E simply doesn’t exist. As for this one, it doesn’t follow that:

Truth doesn’t exist because of the continuum between truth and falsehood. The concept of truth is without any objective reference. It's all falsehood, and we don't know a thing!

These two fallacies, causal and semantic, are distinct, but they are mentioned together here as the use of the semantic version can and does often lead to the commission of the causal version. Their joint use implies that a slip from position or claim B to E is inevitable because of the lack of a fine point of separation between them.

The tricky thing about fallacies like these, often used by postmodernists and political buffs with conspiratorial leanings, is that they are common in social discourse, especially in academic settings like the Humanities, and oddly hard to recognize as specious while committing them oneself.

Learn to note them, and picking them out reliably becomes easier with practice, even to avoiding the temptation to use them in your own arguments, which is always a plus.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Project Logicality | The Hidden Premise Fallacy

This informal argument borrows from formal logic, an enthymeme, the use and abuse of this being also known as the unstated premise, or suppressed premise.

Here, a premise needed to justify the conclusion is absent from the argument's wording. Now, as long as both parties in a discussion assume the same meanings for the terms they use, all is fine.

The problem begins when the two parties do not share the same meanings going into their language, and at least one of them fails to clarify to the other what those assumptions are, whether willfully or not.

It's a good idea to be charitable and not cast aspersions unless willful intellectual dishonesty becomes apparent.

When used to arbitrarily misdefine a word, most often out of ignorance or even some confusion over its accepted meaning, it is known as a Humpty-Dumpty fallacy.

This is often used in conjunction with a multiple untruth, or Gish gallop.

A good example of this are evolution/creationism debates during which the claim is made that:

There are no transitional species between X and Y

Here, the creationist is using a different assumption from his opponent as to what transitional species means, often a sort of half-formed monstrosity 'stuck' between two other species in the fossil record, perhaps the silly 19th century notion of 'one species crossing over into another' fallacy, or the 'dogs giving birth to kittens' nonsense.

Crocoducks, anyone?

Oh, wait, we've discovered those in the fossil record...They're dinosaurs, known as Spinosaurus! Take that, creationists.

The major point here is that the creationist's idea of what a transitional species means, an important bit of information in the argument, has been either overlooked or intentionally concealed from his opponent, the latter being the case with the more rhetorically erudite creationists.

Lest you think I'm only picking on the poor creationists, let's look at a couple of other examples:

Energy can be neither created nor destroyed, so the soul is eternal.

This assumes a vague, undefined notion of 'energy,' completely unlike its use by physicists who invented the term to mean something very specific. Let's not even get into the philosophical and empirical problems with the notion of separable, eternal souls, let alone the further assumption that 'energy' somehow equates to 'soul.'

The existence of antimatter is just a theory.

This hides a premise assuming a non-scientific appropriation of the word 'theory' as something at best like a hypothesis and at worst as a mere hunch arrived at through the use of recreational pharmaceuticals.

Never mind the demostrable fact that the first antiparticle, the positron, was confirmed in a cloud-chamber experiment studying cosmic rays in August of 1932.

It's important to try to find some common ground in any discussion, especially heated ones! When both sides share assumptions going into their language, coming to a resolution to whatever issue started the discussion is much, much easier to achieve.

Be on the lookout, though, for this fallacy when debating ideologues and apologists who though maybe really believing what they say, may not have the full critical skills to reason honestly with themselves or others.

Most people have more concern for feel-good truthiness than with an inconvenient and uncomfortable truth, and it takes concern for truth, courage, and good metacognitive skills to guard against this tendency in oneself.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Project Logicality | The X of the Gaps Fallacy

Getting reliable knowledge can be tricky. But contriving explanations for what we don’t know with what’s itself unknown is slippery. We humans are naturally disposed to see patterns and intentional agency in nature. It comes quickly and easily to us.

But the best explanations we’ve found for things in our experience have consistently and reliably been natural, rarely obvious, and almost never simple. Each and every time. Never has any successful inquiry undertaken ever uncovered any supernatural explanatory agents.

The prudent position, the conservative ontology, is to assume the existence of the natural world, as opposed to the profligate model of both a natural and a supernatural world which we cannot observe.

As our knowledge improves, whatever such agencies we invoke are given ever-shrinking responsibilities, these being reduced to what Neil deGrasse Tyson has called “an ever-receding pocket of ignorance.” However it’s used to explain things not currently understood, it’s often called the God of the gaps fallacy, for, so the argument goes, wherever there are gaps in our knowledge, there lies God…or any other sort of extraordinary entity we might give a name to.

From here on, I’ll call this the X of the gaps fallacy, with X standing in for any concept we choose as our unknown causal agent.

It’s the same argument when we use any sort of extraordinary or otherwise unknown or unknowable entity; witches*, wizards, demons, angels, ghosts, psionic abilities, aliens, faeries, cloud nymphs, computer pixies, evil secret conspirators, quasi-evil conspirators, pseudo-evil conspirators, diet cola of evil conspirators, such elusive things as souls and free will***, and the list goes on. A few examples of this argument follow:

This study has produced statistical results that appear to rule out chance. 
So something other than chance must be at work. 
I don’t know what that something might be apart from psi. 
So that something must be psi.
Witches cause all kinds of misfortune with their evil spells. 
My milk got curdled, my best ram died after eating them funny-looking weeds, a hailstorm wiped out my crops, and all my cats have hairballs again. 
So witches must have done it! Bring out the torches and pitchforks!
Or this:

We do not know, to an arbitrary level of detail, the exact naturalistic mechanisms giving rise to the origin of life, its diversity, or the origins of the universe.** 
No one is smart enough to figure out the answer. We must not be presumptuous! 
So a designer must have done it all, in ways we know not at all, for the Designer’s Ways are Mysterious™.

While there’s no absolute guarantee that our knowledge will continue to progress as it has, it does us no good to invoke things we don’t really know or understand to explain other unknowns based only on our own subjective or even collective ignorance.

After all, why not just be honest with ourselves and admit that when we don’t know, we just don’t know. It’s better, more effective and more rational to make a real effort to look for answers instead of making them up, and either convincing ourselves that we have all the answers or throwing up our hands and declaring that we if don’t know something now then we’ll never understand.

That is simply intellectual laziness. Cheap, easy reliance on uncritical default thinking.

That’s not a judgment on anyone’s persons, but an observation of the sort of thinking process at play.

Lazy thinking leads to fuzzy understanding and unreliable knowledge claims that don’t stand up to the test of reality, and we all do it, both we ordinary mortals and those Sophisticated Theologians™ alike.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

*This does not include Wiccans, but only those now stereotypical witches and warlocks imagined during the European witch hunts, and the modern witch hunts going on in African nations, many of which horrifically involve the old and the helpless, like young children.

**It should go without saying that these involve different branches of science, but Creationists and many Cdesign proponentsists (sic) tend to treat them as though they were the same.

***thanks to blogger Benjamin Steele for mentioning that last. It had slipped my mind in the original writing of this post, so I’m adding it in this edit.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Caturday's Astrophenia | So, it begins. Cry havoc, and let slip the corgis of ankle-biting!

My blogcation for November 2016 is officially over, so this post marks the start of regular publishing on the Collect Call. What do I intend from here on? What do I want?

I want sanity. I want reason. Not just reasons, but good reasoning, skillful and careful reasoning. I want this for as many people as possible in the time I have. I want reliable, smart, effective, investigative thinking available to all, by disseminating a toolkit for it in an increasingly dangerous world with deception, propaganda, and misinformation at every turn.

I want, to paraphrase the late Carl Sagan, to light a candle in the dark rather than merely curse the darkness. A candle lit in support of science and reason against the encroaching night of unreason.

With the inauguration of Donald J. Trump to the presidency of the United States this coming January, critical thinking and science communication will be needed more than ever, and I hope to do my part on this blog.

But I will not post on general politics, nor on religion, only when these endeavors intersect with science, skepticism, and critical thinking. This is not a political or an anti-theist blog.

Instead of watching the world burn itself out in an orgy of spiraling madness, I want to empower people, to enfranchise the disenfranchised, even if the outlook seems hopeless, and it seems as though I'm a modern Sisyphus rolling giant monster bowling balls up a skyscraper with my nose, only to be forced to repeat the task forever.

I think that's a pretty worthwhile goal.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

The Astrognuz:

NASA's New Asteroid Alert System: Five Whole Days of Warning

Santorini Seen from Space

Satellite Sensors: Global Fire Coverage

ESA and the Vatican Join Forces to Save Data in Digital Age

Where Will President-Elect Trump Take American Space Endeavors?

JPL's Eyes-Ranger

Nebula NGC 2170 by Robert Gendler and Ryan Hannahoe

A Box of 'Black Magic' to Study Earth from Space

NASA Report Summarizes Contamination Knowledge Gaps for Human ET Missions

Iceberg Patrol Gains Faster Updates from Orbit

Was Physics Really Violated in 'Leaked' NASA Paper?

NGC 299 Reveals its Most Massive Stars

Big Picture Science Radio Show | And To Space We Return

Shifting Coronas Around Black Holes (Artist's Concept)

Flying the Fantastic Four

Though an Alien World, Titan's Canyons Would Look Familiar

Trump Becomes the 45th President of the United States

When Computers Were Human

Astronomers Think They Know Were Rosetta's Comet Came From

Dr. Katharine Hayhoe Presents Global Weirding

New, Space-Based View of Human-Made Carbon Dioxide

Big Picture Science Radio Show | Hidden History

Princeton Team Directly Observes Planets around Nearby Stars

Obama Reaffirms NASA's Plans for Landing Humans on Mars

Did Early Earth Spin on Its Side?

Colliding Galaxies Arp 299 Black Holes Resolved in X-Rays

Videos | Spacecraft Power

This Star is the Roundest Natural Object Ever Seen

Ice Crystals above Clouds Dance and Flash to Electric Fields

The Drake Equation at age 55

Stephen Hawking Issues a Wakeup Call

Space Images | Saturn's Watercolor Swirls

Zen Pencils Draws an Einstein Quotation

Video: Moonshot

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Project Logicality | The Argument from Authority

This post deals with a common form of informal argument, particularly as a fallacy known as the Argument from Authority, also referred to as the Appeal to Authority, more broadly as the Appeal to Virtue.

This sort of argument attempts to assert a claim's truth, calling on supposed--often misleading or irrelevant, sometimes even false--qualifications, virtues, and certifications of the one making the claim to 'prove' the claim true, despite informal logic and real evidence.

This argument in both valid and fallacious usage usually has the following layout: A has apparent or claimed qualifications Q. A says that X is true. So X is true.

The valid form of this argument, when qualifications are both real and relevant, attaches the qualifier 'probably' to the alleged truth of claim X, since in this case the truth of the claim cannot follow necessarily or be known with certainty.

Or to put it another way...

Dr. Von Blümrich is a great rocket scientist. Dr. Von Blümrich claims that the vision described in the Biblical book of Ezekiel was that of a visitation by ancient astronauts in a rocket-powered spacecraft. Therefore, despite a complete lack of any physical evidence of a spacecraft landing in the Middle East at around that time, it must be true that Ezekiel's vision was literally a physical event, and described an alien rocketship, not Ezekiel hallucinating out of his tree in a mystical experience.

People, I sh*t you not. Someone actually used that argument on me, and it wasn't convincing then either...

Another example of this style of argument, used on me by someone who otherwise has the intellectual resources to know better than to commit such an obvious fallacy, is...

"Time travel is impossible, because Professor so-and-so, at such-and-such University, whom I highly respect because he's very intelligent, said that it is..."

There is a wide variety of supposed but false or irrelevant virtues invoked in this form of specious argument--itself a subset of genetic fallacy, an argument that uses the origin of a claim to assert its truth or falsehood, including such things as wealth, sincerity, intelligence, unconventionality, age (or youth), ancient wisdom (Appeal to Antiquity), wide social acceptance (Appeal to Popularity), celebrity (Appeal to Celebrity), newness (Appeal to Novelty), beauty, strength or power, social status, subjective personal experience, quotations by someone famous taken out of context or even fabricated (Quote-Mining), purity, virginity, charity, sincerity, claims of impending acceptance (a combination of Argument from Authority and Unstated Premise), piety, self-assumed but unsubstantiated credentials, claimed divine inspiration or origin, vague references to 'experts,' 'scientists,' 'researchers,' or other authorities that cannot be followed up on, and even such normally non-advantageous things as poverty and persecution. 

The list goes on, and some of these may even shade into other logical fallacies. 

This fallacy attempts to deceive about the nature of the evidence it presents, a gambit to disguise itself as valid logic and actual evidence while not really presenting either. 

An acceptable form of argument even in it's fallacious form in medieval scholasticism, we've moved on a bit since then, and in that usage it's no longer broadly accepted by philosophers and logicians as sound or even informally valid reasoning. 

The Argument from Authority is always fallacious when the authority so name-dropped is considered in effect to be incontrovertibly correct, its not-so-evil mirror universe twin, an Argument by Authority, as noted above, can be a valid form of argument. 

Finally, as mentioned above, this can shade into an ad Hominem, particularly a Positive ad Hominem, with a fuzzy but real division between them in some arguments, in that often those people in the best position to examine the truth or falsehood of a statement just happen to be those individuals with experience, a vested interest and personal involvement in the subject at hand.