Pure Logic

“Pure logic cannot tell us anything about facts; only experience can.”
James R. Flynn

This is also the single largest criticism one can make of those who rely only on abstract thinking. It is why theist apologetics cannot be compelling. I can reason that the world was created by the omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent Flying Spaghetti Monster, who defies all attempts to measure Him by actively interfering with the instrumentation of scientists (though judicious application of His noodly appendage) yet reveals himself to the faithful in ways that only He can understand; until there is evidence of my claim, however, you would do well to reject it out of hand. Believers are loath to consider that their arguments apply equally well to the FSM, if not significantly better for its lack of contradictory dogma. When it comes to claims of truth, the following quote should be ever-present in our minds:

“What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.”
Christopher Hitchens

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On Being Rational

“Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’
‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ his father told him.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

This sentiment has long been echoed by authors of poetry and prose alike, but this particular source is culturally relevant these days. Bravery is not the state of never feeling fear; this would be reckless foolishness. Rather, bravery is experiencing and mastering your fear enough to act in spite of it.

Brave people overcome their fears. This is also the way of rationality. Rational people overcome their fallacies. Even the most powerful logician experiences moments of imperfect reasoning. The key is not to aim for inerrancy—that’d be setting yourself up for failure from the start—but rather to correct bias and logical errors when they arise.

The analogy of a muscle springs to mind. An infant cannot deadlift a 300 kg weight, nor can most normal adults, but if you dedicate yourself to the task, if you work  to progressively build up your muscles, it’s an attainable goal. Trying to do this without sufficient training will just leave you with a hernia. So too with attempts to be free of illogic.

Once you have the basic foundations of rationality, understanding of logic and cognitive bias, you can start pruning away errors. Eventually, deadlifting doesn’t seem quite so intimidating.

… And anyone who thinks they never make these mistakes is lying to themselves (and, in keeping with my own little tradition, an asshole).