Two pre-misses and a concussion: Paedobear drops mushrooms and explains logic

If you substitute the volkswagon parts shown with abstract thoughts, this provides as clear an illustration of my thought process as I believe is realistically possible.

I’ve already dumped on the Ars Technica article on logic; to some extent, I’ve even explained why. The audience for such a thing is limited and, for the most part, doesn’t really need it. You can find examples of the same thing pretty much all over the web; they don’t do much good.

The real problem? To get someone to understand what the author is really getting at, you have to pitch them on a very difficult idea; to make any use of what they’re trying to explain, you have to learn to think about things in a very unnatural way for a while, until you get used to how it works and it becomes something you can do sub-consciously again. Let me give you an example.

Suppose I told you that the more lights you turn on in a room, the darker the room will get.

Intuitively, you’ll know that what I’m telling you is wrong. For the most part, however, people don’t consciously work out the “why” of it before they make such a pronouncement; the inherent “wrongness” of the statement is self-evident and while explanations can be worked out and presented eight ways from Sunday, that sort of thing generally isn’t necessary.

For the sake of argument, however, let’s assume that I dismiss your disagreement and then make fun of you for not knowing this basic fact of science. So you start deconstructing the reasoning behind my statement; what I’m saying is that darkness increases by adding light. In other words, it’s self-contradictory. Mission accomplished; call in the vipers for a jump.

Except that I’m not about to be swayed by mere words; I insist on actual proof of the claim. Exasperated, you gather a bunch of lamps and candles together, drag me into a dark room, and begin to turn them on, one by one.

Now I’ve got you.

Because you can keep turning on lights until we both go blind, and still have insufficient evidence to demonstrate your claim.

Most people aren’t as unreasonable as I’m being for this example and when we do encounter them, we tend to express the opinion that they should die in a fire and then proceed to avoid them like certain medieval diseases. What we can say is that the more light is present in a dark space, the less dark it tends to become — we home in on the relative certainty that, at a minimum, we can’t seem to increase the level of light to a degree necessary to make the space start to become darker. There may even be some law of physics that states that there is an absolute, perfect level of light that can’t actually get any brighter or more visible, but for purposes of our experiment, we can test our hypothesis and validate it inductively (I don’t actually know; if I was on Facebook, still, I’d ask think about asking Kevin and then try to google the answer).

Point being? We rarely bother with anything outside of the intuitive sense of what is and isn’t true, and informal logic, as it’s formally called, doesn’t bother with determining truth or falsehood, only the validity of the argument itself. So, like the different schools of philosophy principally concerned with persuading you that it isn’t possible to actually know anything, what use is it?

The validity of a given argument is inherent in the structure of the language used to express it.

This can be understood by learning and applying a couple of simple rules in a somewhat unnatural way until one gets the hang of it, even though ultimately you never quite get to stop using the same method. The difficult part is that, unless someone is already inclined to do this sort of thing themselves, there’s almost no chance of ever using it as a method of persuading anyone, which isn’t the purpose of forum debates in the first place (the purpose is to learn how to work through one’s own arguments longhand and test their validity). It’s also the only methodology that allows us to approach anything like being reasonably certain of being right about anything.

Coming up with syllogisms, which is the sort of thing one expects to find in puzzle books that include word searches and crossword puzzles and the like, is actually the direct-line predecessor of Karl Poppers’ scientific method and all that lovely stuff about falsifiability and so on. And it’s actually the basis of western philosophy — you never completely get away from it, unless, again, you encounter someone attempting to prove that it’s impossible to make sense of anything (which, ironically, wouldn’t be doable, since you’d never have a standard of proof).

All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal. /pedantic bullshit

And more or less, it DID start out as a party game — Aristotle’s crowd really didn’t take it seriously until they’d been at it quite a while, and even then, they didn’t really know what to make of it. Then again, we’re talking about a bunch of guys that, really, spent their time standing around on the corner, drinking and being Greek. And Lewis Carrol was, by some lights, a pedophile and a doper — but if I would have attempted to imply that as a result, he couldn’t possibly have anything to say about logic, I’d be engaging a logical fallacy we all know and love, ad hominem.

Neither of the two conditions have anything to say about whether or not what he wrote on the subject of logic was valid or not, ergo I wouldn’t be making a valid argument since, in order to say that he had nothing of value to say on the subject, I’d have to make some reference to what he did, in fact, say, in order to be offering any kind of proof of the assertion.

If, then/and/or/etc., then. Premise-premise-conclusion. Problem being?

Consider the example I used earlier. That only has one premise. Better still? Every other premise, true or false, will rest on premises of it’s own that, themselves might be true or false. You might think, or know, that if you chain your way backwards far enough, you eventually wind up with premises that are so self-evident that they absolutely must be true or false. Axioms.

I learned one; A is A, and didn’t bother looking for any others. For the same reason I had no problem learning to identify logical fallacies in arguments rather than trying to parse the actual validity of an argument beforehand — most arguments aren’t very sophisticated. People learn to argue by memorizing arguments they agree with and repeating them.

I started reading Ayn Rand to use her arguments against religion to argue with Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Something else that you might notice? My example, from earlier? Only has a single premise.

Being able to work out logic tables is great for deconstructing complex philosophical arguments and math; for practical purposes, wading into a forum and telling everyone they’re a bunch of fucking idiots is much more useful.

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