Category Archives: Logic

“If That Were True, I Would See It”

See photo credit.

Not every true thing is conveniently obvious. And even so, large numbers of people may well operate on the assumption that all true things are—or should be—obvious. It is a common overestimation of human capability, often based on the assumption that what can be detected should be detectable without effort—and more particularly, detectable by our natural human senses.

Here are a few ways it happens:

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What Your Amazing Self Can Do with New Information

DaVinci’s Vitrivuan Man
Photo Credit:Luc Viatour /

Your amazing self can notice a thing in this world and:

  1. be interested/curious about it.
  2. examine it.
  3. study it.
  4. wonder about it.
  5. develop hypotheses about it.
  6. test those hypotheses.
  7. compare it with known facts.
  8. reflect on it.
  9. discuss it with others.
  10. draw some tentative conclusions about it.
  11. test those conclusions against fact and logic, keeping some and rejecting others.
  12. stay on the lookout for new information on the topic, just in case you’ve misunderstood .
  13. embrace/believe the conclusions that seem worthy.
  14. make moral/philosophical judgments about the matter (if it is that sort of matter).
  15. overturn previous beliefs based on the new information.
  16. develop emotional associations with the subject.
  17. teach your conclusions to others, guiding them through all these steps.

Meanwhile, your same amazing self can also:

  1. decide on the value of the thing, good or bad, without doing any of the due diligence items on the first list above.
  2. default to assumptions/hearsay/traditions/consensus about the thing, neglecting your own investigation.
  3. mistake the thing for something else.
  4. think you already understand the thing well when you do not.
  5. not notice the thing.
  6. be distracted from the thing.
  7. find the thing unimportant, as it regards your priorities.
  8. let yourself off the hook by saying you’ll have to examine it later.
  9. find the thing unimportant, as examination of things does not fit with your current mood.
  10. reject or accept the thing summarily because of preexisting emotional associations with the thing itself.
  11. reject or accept the thing summarily because of preexisting emotional associations with certain people or institutions who are related with the thing.
  12. reject or accept the thing summarily because it is old.
  13. reject or accept the thing summarily because it is new.
  14. look for other excuses for summarily deciding about the thing.
  15. make a show (to yourself or to others) of examining the thing, when you’ve actually decided on its value already.
  16. lie/exaggerate to yourself about the thing.
  17. lie/exaggerate to others about the thing.
  18. teach your conclusions to others, but without revealing the steps you took to reach those conclusions.

The same mind can treat one matter with high honesty, rationality, and responsibility, and another quite differently! It’s somewhat like the way we might treat the various people who come to our houses or call us on the phone—some being welcome (and for different reasons), and some being not welcome at all.

But have you ever assumed the worst about a visitor or caller, only to discover later that they had value to you after all? That’s the amazing thing about us that I wanted to point out in this post. We can really get some things right, but we are amazingly capable of misjudging things, too. And it seems to be quite up to us—how careful we are with how we judge things.

The more I think about it, the more impressed I am with how much power we were given over our own lives. And it’s quite analogous to the power of the automobile, which we’d much rather see in the hands of a mature, kind, sober and responsible person than in the hands of someone else!

So much of the outcome seems to be based on the quality of the judgments we make about things!

Two Problems with “The Power of Prayer”

For the record, I am so not an atheist nor a cynic! What I am is a guy who’s got the guts to tackle some of the hard topics of Christianity, with a view toward working them out faithfully, honestly, rationally, and responsibly!

Some are exuberant in declaring the “power of prayer”, but I think that the topic is famously oversimplified. So I wanted to make a short post pointing out the two main problems I see with this popular view:

Continue reading Two Problems with “The Power of Prayer”

An Arrow Can Only Be Shot…

I’m pondering this meme I found on Facebook:

This thought is not ready for publication. It’s sloppy, and has some flaws that weaken its impact considerably. Let me make some general observations first, and then we’ll look at the stumbling blocks here.

The human brain is designed to notice things and to make sense of them in various ways. One of those ways is that we can notice similarities between things—even if the things we are comparing could also be contrasted in various ways. And we can describe one thing in terms of something else. That’s what the meme attempts to do—to describe the value of being “launched” into great things by way a description of the bow and arrow.

What’s Wrong With It?

  1. “An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward.” This is simply false, and immediately provides a stumbling block to those who catch the arrow in it. Having trained in archery, I can easily recognize that rather than pulling the bowstring and arrow backward, one could certainly push the bow forward. No, that’s not a common method, but it’s certainly possible. But the author starts with an absolute statement that is not only unnecessary, but is false. Why not say something like, “Before the archer launches the arrow forward, he pulls it backward in the bow”?
  2. “When life is dragging you back with difficulties…”. For what it’s worth, I think it’s much more common to describe life as “getting in the way” rather than as “dragging you back”, so this is clumsy writing here. Sure, the reader can figure out the intent, but an extra mental step is necessary to do so.
  3. “…it means it’s going to launch you into something great”. Let’s check the logic here. Does the author really intend to imply that everyone whose life is difficult gets launched into “something great”? This is an overstatement. The meme over-promises. This will be a stumbling block to the realitan who sees it for what it is. He can still get the author’s point, but not without dealing with the mess the author has made. It’s cognitively distracting, therefore, and is also needless, as a better-written meme would simply avoid such stumbling blocks.
  4. “So just focus and keep aiming.” Huh? Who am I? Am I the bow? Am I the archer? Am I the arrow? Previously, I was informed that I was going to be launched, so that makes it sound like I’m the arrow, and this is a passive ordeal. That is, that “life” (the bow?) will launch me whenever it thinks it’s loaded enough energy into the system by pulling me backward. So if I’m the arrow, and life is the bow (or perhaps the archer and bow together), then how am I supposed to “just focus” and “keep aiming”? Arrows don’t do either one.

All three of the meme’s sentences, then, are messy. The intent is to encourage, but it’s fairly obvious that the author hasn’t thought it through. And so, likely, with the reader who would share it with others. And this is how it goes in our cognitive-miser culture, where we often deal in fuzzy ideas without ever sitting down to sort them out properly to see whether they’re really good ideas or not.

I see problematic memes every day, and often, there’s a single point that needs attention. This one is worse, and it struck me as a fine example of someone having the barre set pretty low for their thinking, while still having the desire to share those thoughts with others.

Working the Bible Puzzle

It can take quite some time to learn how to work the Bible puzzle—and for many of us, one of the first steps seems to be coming to the realization that it is, indeed, a puzzle at all! I remember taking offense when I heard a certain author call it that sometime in the early 2000s. My view of it at the time went something like this:

  • We’ve been “given everything we need” in the Bible, so it’s all in there.
  • If we were just faithful and diligent, it would all make perfect sense. It’s very “clear”.
  • The Spirit helps us understand it, so what’s to puzzle over? (The way I understand it, therefore, must be pretty close to being right.)
Continue reading Working the Bible Puzzle

Predetermined Non-Listening

Quite obviously, when you limit the field length for the incoming message, you are excluding messages that will not fit in the prescribed space. This means you’re probably assuming
that any good message would fit in the box and any that won’t fit must be bad.

But this is all kinds of wrong.

Surely, God himself could tell you more good things than would fit in your little box. And you could argue that, for obvious reasons, you aren’t expecting God to be submitting an answer. But it seems you aren’t expecting that anyone else could have any wisdom that might exceed the limits of your box.

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Statistics Aren’t the Same as Rules

The statistician will collect and publish statistics about how people are, and the rest of the world tends to take those stats as rules. And in doing so, they often draw some bad conclusions. For instance, when some certain ailments show up a lot in the elderly, it’s easy to assume that the ailment happens because they are elderly, rather than because they’ve been doing some certain bad habit long enough for it to start showing up in disease. We see alarming rates of disease, so we jump to conclusions about the causes, without ever stopping to give due consideration to the question, “Why aren’t all the elderly suffering from this disease?”

Continue reading Statistics Aren’t the Same as Rules