By Eric Bright
Recently, a friend of mine wrote me this:
[…] My entire life and work has been based on logic, analysis and systems. Everything was centered around processes in my head. Got me and the World nowhere. For the last part of my journey I am going to follow my heart for a change and see what happens. […] Scientific belief is a nice crutch to hang on to but […].
Based on what he said, let us do a little thought experiment
Here is Mr. Johns (an imaginary character of course). He recently realized something interesting and said:
I have always followed logic. That never suited me well. Now I want to change my way and follow illogic. Following sanity never got me anywhere. For a change, I want to try insanity.
That is fine from the pragmatic perspective, I suppose. Most kings and politicians have been patently insane and deeply illogical.
Let us investigate what he said, shall we?
“I have always followed logic. That never suited me well. Now I want to change my way and follow illogic. […]”
There are several claims in those sentences that I would like to break down for us:
1- “I have always followed logic. […]”
It is easier said than done. How do we know he is right? How do we know if he is not making a mistake about his belief about “always” living according to logic? For all we know, he could have been making a generalization beyond what is real. He might ‘think’ that he has always lived his life according to logic, but in reality he has not.
After all, it is false to say that anyone can live ‘all’ his life according to reason and logic. There are many indications that Johns has not done what he thinks he has. For example, Johns has children. Having children is nothing but blindly following the orders of one’s genes. Whatever ‘reason’ Johns comes up with to justify his having children, it would only be a confabulation. It is illogical, however you look at it, to reproduce. So, for one thing, Johns is underestimating the illogical acts he has done in his life.
From this, we can safely conclude that his first statement is false (there are many more examples for that, but we close it here to make the long story short).
2- “That [living logically] never suited me well. […]”
There are several issues in here.
Let me see:
(a) What is supposed to happen if someone lives logically? What did Johns expect to get by living a logical life? Did he expect to get rich because he was logical? Or find a better wife? Or make a better investment? What was he expecting to get by being logical?
When we ask these questions, one thing become immediately obvious: that his expectations did not match the reality.
Is that enough to discard logic? I would say no. If by being logical, he meant he shouldn’t have caught any disease or never die, he was illogical to begin with. The same is true about other similar expectations. If he expected to get rich by following logic, he was not following logic to begin with. To have a better social status by being logical? Again, that’s only an illusion.
Logic is merely a tool like any other tool. It only works when the materials it is working on is real. It produces no favourable results if it is feed nonsense. Nonsense in, nonsense out! Logic is like a calculator and is only as smart as the person who is using it, and not smarter. It is only a tool.
By using a tool, Johns should not have expected to get rich, or never get sick, or have a better life, any more than he could have expected those things to happen by merely owning a calculator.
What was he expecting to happen then? That is an interesting question indeed!
(b) It is not clear if the hole he is in right now, which is obvious, because he didn’t like the result of that life according to logic so he changed his ways, is not the result of his many mistakes that he is not counting against himself. Mistakes, accidents, out-of-control events, and many other variables. Attributing his ‘failures’ to being a logical person all his life is just not an acceptable plea. An unbiased person might say: ‘Actually, it might be all because you were not logical enough, you were illogical here and here, you were caught in a crossfire there, something out of your control happen here, and so on. Also, You would have done much worse than what you have done, had you not been living your life logically.’
I am not sure if Johns can objectively address those objections for two reasons: 1- He probably has a strong bias and blind-spot that does not let him see the actual events that led him to where he is, and 2- He cannot turn the time back to test if he would have not lived a worse life had he not been as logical as he was.
Throwing the second objection is not fair because he has no way to prove or disprove it. But the first objection seems extremely likely. It is totally possible and probable that he is missing mistakes, misremembering the events, and misattributing the causes in such a way that his life-narrative ends up being what makes him the least uncomfortable. All humans do it all the time. It is called cognitive dissonance. No member of Homo sapiens is immune to it.
3- “[…] Now I want to change my way and follow illogic. […]”
Fine! No one can stop him from doing so. We are only trying to understand if this is going to benefit him in any way.
If history is of any significance, we observe that most things that most humans ever do are illogical. That means, taking most things into account, what most people do is not, and cannot, be the result of logical thinking. Humans are not logical machines. They are biological machines. Biology doesn’t care about logic. Logic is a higher level of concept that only appears in the world of meanings and statements. See it this way, a calculator is about numbers. It does not care about who is whose wife or husband, if Johns is poor or not poor, or if having it in one’s pocket is going to make him rich. It is only a function. A tool that shows equivalent statements in mathematics.
Logic is almost identical. It is virtually a calculator for statements. It calculates and shows which statement can or cannot follow which.
Given that, there is nothing in logic that tells anyone how to get better in a task, how to find a better job, or where to go to get a better salmon. Life can go on, perfectly well, without even hearing once about calculators.
If anything, life equations are based on power balances and struggles, hopes and fears, approximation and guesses, and stuff that are usually not related to logic. An impartial observer would immediately see that power needs no logic. Genghis Khan or Attila didn’t conquer lands by logic (although they might have made some logical decisions). They did it with swords and blood-shed. Most other animals do exactly the same. It is how humans live with their mammalian brains. As apes, we are not much different in our strategies. Tactics might be different, but strategies are identical to the other mammals.
What will haven, then, if Johns starts to gain ‘success’ in his life by turning from being a logical person to an illogical person? Well, first things first: By no means it disproves the validity of logic or science. Far from it. It is all scientific observations from A to Z in here. It only shows, as science have already shown us, that biological organisms are motivated by motives that have nothing, or very little thing, to do with logic.
It is science, as we can see, that tells us why and how Johns might even become a much more successful mammal by being illogical or insane compared to when he was trying to be more logical. He might even become a successful politician for that matter. It is science and logic that put the evidence into perspective and give valuable predictions.
For instance, taking statistical data, one can show that one can make much more money by opening up a church and fool people than to opening up a school. That is science and logic speaking.
Again, one can show and predict that one can get a “better [biological] life” by scamming others like homoeopaths do. That’s also a scientific observation.
One can demonstrate that being a blood-thirsty tyrant would increase one’s chances of being able to get away with one’s crimes many folds. Much more than being a physician or a teacher. The worse one gets, the better (see The Great Big Book of Horrible Things for statistics).
So, one can be insane and biologically successful. There is no doubt about it.
An objection might be that ‘following one’s heart’ is not equal to being insane. The answer to that is that the expression is being used too liberally and thus has lost its meaning. People call an act “following one’s heart” in many different or even contradictory senses. Sometimes when they do something that makes no sense they say they are following their hearts. Sometimes when they do something insane they say so. Sometimes when they don’t know what they are doing, sometimes when they know exactly that what they are doing is insane. They just want to do it and are looking for an excuse. In all of these, it is nothing more than an excuse for doing either obviously silly things, things that they like to do no matter what, or things they have no idea about whatsoever. In the words of my friend, the ‘other’ way of doing things is put in opposition with being logical. The opposite of being logical would be being illogical. If that is being done intentionally, then that is insanity. So, that sentence can be reduced to ‘I am going to do something insane’ without losing too much of the meaning.
Now, to an impartial observer, Johns’ decision to be insane (or “to follow his heart” if you wish) is not much different from someone’s decision to take a cheese-cake instead of a chocolate-cake. It is all the same. While it does not disprove anything that science says nor does it invalidate how calculators work, it might even help Johns’ biological conditions. This is predicted by science decades ago.
Calculators will remain calculators, and observations will remain observations. With Attila or homoeopaths or without. Don’t you think so?