Friday, May 18, 2012

Thoughts On: Logic and Its Bad Rep

After I was attacked about this for the third time, I wanted to take a minute to really think about why such different people would use the exact same language in berating me for being, in their words, “too logical”.

The discussion often begins with my expressing my frustration with people that are illogical. By this I mean people who either A) Believe in something because they want to, or like the sound of it, regardless of whether or not they have any other reason to; B) Will not change their opinion about something despite evidence to the contrary, or C) Prejudge what they like or dislike before having any facts or experience to base their ideas on (this one can range from racists assuming someone is a bad person to picky eaters refusing to try something they already “know” they’ll dislike). This follows with me priding myself in being what I think is a logical person. I try to be as objective in my reasoning as possible, and when I come to a conclusion it is based on the facts presented to me at the time, and that conclusion, once reached, will not change unless I find new contradictory evidence or I find a flaw in my original reasoning process. I will never understand people who are completely convinced one way one day and the next manage to pretzel-think themselves into the complete opposite opinion, nothing else having changed.

When the conversation gets to this point, I always get scoffed at. Despite three different people having had this conversation with me, at least one of which I find to be a very rational person (she is on her way to becoming a scientist after all) said the same thing. “Well, you can’t be too logical! That’s not good either! Being too logical leads to just as limited a life as being illogical.” I always respond “OK, why?” Answer: “Um…. you know…. it just does….. you can’t just live life based on logic…” but no good example has ever been presented. I counter argue this lack of argument saying that I don’t think it is limiting at all, and if you have a good example of how it is please share it.

First of all, taking on a common misconception. By being “logical” I do not mean denying the existence of emotion. By being “logical” I do not mean lacking empathy. By being “logical” I do not mean not ever having a “bad feeling” about something, or a “good feeling” about something without being able to explain what made you feel that way.  Let’s take a look at a couple dictionary definitions:

Logical: reasoning in accordance with the principles of logic,  as a person or the mind

1. the science that investigates the principles governing correct or reliable inference.
2. a particular method of reasoning or argumentation: We were unable to follow his logic.
3. the system or principles of reasoning applicable to any branch of knowledge or study.

Reasoning: the process of forming conclusions, judgments, or inferences from facts or premises.

There it is, inferences from facts or premises.

When I say “logical”, I mean that if there is direct evidence to contradict that feeling, and/or you find that the source of it is not something that should make you feel frightened (for example you had a bad dream with a lot of red in it and then you walk into a red room and get that frightened gut feeling because of it) that you are able to get over your irrational fear. I mean that you are willing and able to change your mind about something when you are presented with evidence that goes contrary to your belief, despite how unpalatable you find the alternative. To me this is being truly open-minded: to be willing to believe in anything so long as there is evidence for it. I mean the exact opposite of what I previously listed as traits of the illogical.

The fact of the matter is, “logic” and “rationality” just have a bad rep. None of these people I was by now having a one-sided argument with could give me any good reason as to why they rejected the terms, they just rang as “bad thing” in their heads. Why is that? Why do these things have such a bad reputation?

Is it a lingering influence of organized religion in our society and in the backs of our minds? Even though one of the aforementioned people is and atheist, one a pantheist and the other a deist at best, could it still be that organized religion has left its taint on them in this way? Why else is there this visceral distrust of reasoning, using one’s brain to sceptically question and seek the truth? What else thrives on people not encouraged to base their opinions on facts? Dictatorships probably, but none of us grew up in one.

What do you think? When I initially talked about being a logical person, did you also instinctively balk at the word? Why do you think that is?

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