Archive | November, 2013

Logical Gal spots False Dilemmas all over the place

29 Nov

How’s this for that nasty habit of bi-furcation?

“On Dec. 9, 2010, Bolivian President Evo Morales called for both climate change reparations and the death of capitalism claiming that “[t]here are two ways: either capitalism dies or Mother Earth dies.” Morales cited a debunked stat which claimed that 300,000 people die annually from the effects of climate change.”

You can read the above excerpt in context of the following article – Assigning blame in the typhoon disaster

You have to admit that there is rhetorical force in this dramatically stark,  no-win choice President Morales announced.  But that’s about all you can say.  Since he obviously wants us to listen to him, we can turn to this ‘expert prophet’ and ask him some questions.  After all, the burden of proof is on the one who makes the claim.

  • Why are capitalism and the health of our planet mutually exclusive?
  • Why do you think your point of view is correct?
  • What kind of economic system do you have in mind that would replace capitalism?
  • How can you be sure that the system you propose will not have a damaging affect on our planet?
  • How will you help all the families that will lose their livelihood if you eliminate capitalism?
  • What makes you qualified to make this kind of judgment?

Asking questions is the best response for several reasons: 

  • It’s less stressful than having to defend your point of view
  • You learn more and can then see more clearly to ask other questions
  • You don’t need to be an expert in any of the areas of discussion
  • It puts pressure on the one asserting his position
  • It can expose a bluffer who has no reasons for his blustery proclamation

So, don’t be afraid of radical views.  Keep calm.  Take a deep breath and ask a few simple questions.  Besides, you’ll probably disarm your interlocutor who is expecting you to attack back!

Logical Gal and Equivocation

27 Nov

Equivocal terms such as fall – meaning autumn and fall – meaning to tumble down refer to concepts that are completely different.

So in essence, you might be tricking your listeners by pretending to be consistent when all along you are taking advantage of them.  My dad used to accuse me of equivocating when I was being an argumentative little brat.  Since I had not enjoyed any formal training in equivocation, this skill of obfuscation must come naturally, even to middle-schoolers!

Here are a couple of cartoon examples:  This first one actually plays on analogical terms – terms that are similar.  Stealing a material good versus stealing a base to advance in a game.

Yes, much humor and plenty of puns rely on equivocal terms.  But sometimes, disingenuous use of terms are employed as a shortcut o advance one’s point of view.

I’ve heard scientists argue that the universe came into being out of NOTHING.  But they don’t mean the kind of nothing that is NO THING.  They actually mean something existent, that they call a quantum vacuum.  Do you see how they are playing 2 differing concepts off of each other?  One term ‘nothing’ refers to the concept of  NO THING.  The other term ‘nothing’ refers to the very different concept of ‘quantum vacuum’.   Here’s an article that explains this deliberate obfuscation – Something from nothing?

 Does THIS book cover look like a book about nothing? 

So what’s our take away?  Watch out lest WE  be caught in the equivocal trap.  We must strive to say what we mean, ourselves.  Language demands precise thinking!

Logical Gal and JFK’s quote about thinking

25 Nov

Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought. –

John F. Kennedy, 35th US president (1917-1963)

Boy, does that ever apply to all of us!  I tend to see this fault in others and think that I don’t fall into that trap until….I trip, stumble and realize, to my shame, that I don’t know WHY I hold a certain position.  Why is that? Because it takes no energy to repeat

  • what SOUNDS correct and
  • what we WANT to believe

And if enough people around us hold the same view, then we MUST be correct, right?   Besides, it takes EFFORT to think and to sort out reasons and we’re just too tired.

So what can tired but sincere people do?  And where do you begin?  There’s only so much time to research all the controversies out there?

Well, since this is Thanksgiving week, and we’re  likely to be in the mix with different people over the holiday, we will have good occasion to at least LISTEN to various views.  When you hear a viewpoint that is controversial, adopt a humble attitude and say something like, “I’m still undecided about Black Friday store hours/ climate change/the threat of Iran’s nuclear capabilities/ World Cup soccer / whether women should be in the Infantry….Can you tell me why you believe what you do?”

Then when they have articulated their position (assuming that they are capable of it!),  ask permission to repeat back to them what they said so that you can gain the experience of at least communicating a point of view.   It might not be what you will end holding to as your reasoned view, but at least you will have practiced interacting with a position.

I was really encouraged this week when I read in our local newspaper that Asheville High School has grown a superior debate team.  It is now COOL to debate!  Here’s the link – Asheville High School hosts debate tournament

A feature of debate preparation is being ready to defend either side – the pro or the con.  What this means is that it’s valuable to understand reasons for each side and to be diligent and kind in accurately representing a view that you might not hold.

So, what do you have to lose this week?  Just make sure that you start early enough on Thursday’s feast day to engage in thoughtful discourse .  Too much pecan pie will send blood rushing to the stomach and after a big meal no one will feel like doing anything but plopping in front of the TV and watching football.

Logical Gal and the Fallacy of Division

22 Nov

XYZ is an efficient company, therefore, Joe Blow who works there must likewise be efficient.

Ah, but must he?  Maybe the organization is SO well run, that it can compensate for the drag that a poor-performing employee might add.  Welcome to Fallacy Friday and a trap we can fall into from time to time – the Fallacy of Division.

By definition, this error in thinking occurs when we identify the attributes of a larger whole and assign the same ones to its constituent parts.   It could be that a member of the whole shares the same qualities, but it’s faulty thinking to assume that is always the case.  Consider the color palate.  You might have a blob of black paint.  Is every drop of paint black?  My colleague, the art teacher, tells me that mixing bits of all the colors makes for a blackish brown yucky color.

Many other examples abound and are equally false.

So what’s the big deal, other than the possibility that the assumptions might not be true?

It’s the curse of expectations.  Suppose that  I’m familiar with Starbucks and their corporate culture  to train efficient AND personable baristas.  If I commit the Fallacy of Division, I can set myself up for disappointment. When I stop by one of the ubiquitous cafés and an employee is cold to me, then I’m likely to feel less satisfied. I’ve assumed that an intentional corporate value is held by each individual.  (unlike the expectation of some who travel to New York City or Paris and are braced to run into ‘rude’ people)

Another example we can look to is the pleasing musicality of an orchestra, or the satisfying visual treat of an Impressionist painting like this canvas by Georges Seurat.

The ensemble of paint dots or musical instruments working together produce a result that can’t be divided. That means isolating one violin playing its part might be boring.  Or 50 painted pointy strokes might not have any pattern.  But 20,000 points of color actually create a recognizable design.

I live in the greater Asheville area in Western North Carolina.  This artsy town is known for some questionable moral values and very liberal political views.  But we live here, too.  And we’re fairly conventional and Biblical in our assessment of right and wrong . We also  hold a mixture of politically conservative and libertarian views.

A quick passing judgment might look like this:

Asheville is a liberal, artistic,  fit, laid-back, ‘foody’, sexually-progressive town.

Logical Gal lives in Asheville

Therefore, Logical Gal must also be a liberal, artistic, fit, laid-back, sexually-progressive ‘foody’

Not so. SOME of those adjectives might apply.  But you would be incorrect to assume that every citizen of Asheville can be described in the same way as the town itself. (I’ll leave you to sort out a full description of Logical Gal)

Logical Gal asks which is better – good Qs or good answers?

20 Nov

Would you rather be known as someone who has discerning answers or someone who asks  discerning questions? 

I think that people often feel embarrassed when they ask a question.  They might even feel stupid for not knowing something.  And on the other side, I think that some people actually feel superior when they impart knowledge, that having the “so-called right answer”  is necessary for them.

Recently I have seen the value in being able and willing to articulate thought-filled questions.

My husband is much more a science-math person than I am. So when he is explaining a new idea, I often am at a loss for even having a category or context to place some of the concepts he’s attempting to communicate.

Yet when I make the effort to sort out enough of what I can understand, I can then see ahead to ASK a question. Usually my first questions have to do with distinctions.  If he says, reverberant functions* give us the mean in the solution set”, then I will ask an initial question that helps me see the category:

  • Are there other functions besides ‘reverberant’ ?
  • What else do reverberant functions do?
  • What other data could these reverberant functions GIVE?
  • Where else do reverberant functions occur?
  • Can anything else be considered reverberant?
  • What actually does reverberant mean?
  • Are there other sets beside solutions sets?

But formulating questions take effort.  Alas, ALL thinking takes effort. That’s why it’s so rare.

What about those who have answers?  Wouldn’t you feel empowered and more secure just by knowing you had the right answers?

Actually, that kind of self-satisfaction can be limiting.  It can kill curiosity.  And it encourages pride. Now I’m sure you are both wary of pride and drawn to the confidence that pride imparts.

I maintain, however, that intellectual humility is actually a better character trait to hone.  These days, I’m far more impressed with those who ask the questions that never would have occurred to me.

Just like we can strengthen musical and athletic skills and talents by effective coaching, motivating examples and constant practice, I think we can also get better at initiating and formulating questions.

How about challenging yourself to create questions whenever you’re listening to a report, a presentation, an explanation, a sermon, or any kind of talk.

You won’t be bored!

*reverberant functions are just two words I cobbled together

Logical Gal ponders Screwtape…..

18 Nov

As we approach Friday’s interesting anniversary of the deaths of 3 important men (50 years since CS Lewis, JFK and Aldous Huxley departed this life), I have, as a Christian who loves to think, enjoyed a renewed interest in CS Lewis and his many literary and theological works.

His portrayal of devils actively scheming to abort God’s plan to convert humans came to mind this morning in church.  I was in a funk, consumed with unnamed, murky worries of all that I have to do in the next few weeks.  The funny thing is, as I stood OUTSIDE of myself doing some self-chiding for not giving over these worries to God in the form of prayer, my overwhelming feeling was one of laziness.  I just didn’t want to make the effort to actually THINK through what I wanted, necessary work to formulate a measurable prayer!

I was being a LAZY EMOTER!  Just like the people I critique who don’t take the time to formulate REASONS for what they believe.

Rather, I wallow in feelings when I’m too lazy to put them into words.

I don’t respect people on EITHER side of the political or faith spectrum who just assert, badger and resort to fallacies.  That’s pure laziness!

But here I was, this morning, doing the very same thing – to myself!!

Maybe there IS a conspiracy, a plan by Satan and his worker-bee evil spirits (aka – fallen angels) to induce Christians and pre-Christians, NOT to think.

Prayer did get me out of that funk and I wrote about it here at this link:  (My other blog, about God and the Christian life)

My point?  Clear thinking is useful in every domain and should not be limited to just ‘intellectual’ pursuits.  We’re to love God with our minds, too!

Maybe those who emote and resort to name calling and verbal boxing could use some prayer.  And maybe our prayer life could use some thinking!

Logical Gal makes some distinctions

15 Nov

When you explain that your request is REASONABLE, what do you mean?  

Are you suggesting that it is supported by sound reason?  or rather that what you are asking is not too demanding?

Many terms have several meanings.  When the meanings point to entirely DIFFERENT concepts, such as:

  • a pitcher of water
  • or a baseball pitcher

…we call the terms  EQUIVOCAL.

The term ‘reasonable’  then, is equivocal.

Another category of terms are considered analogical.  These kind of concepts are related, so that they share something in common, but there are differences.  Something can have  a straight edge and you can also refer to unembellished news like this:  “Just give it to me straight!”   They both share the sense of NO TURNS.

In our current society, there is a term that can be taken in two different, but related ways.  I’m referring to the idea of GUILT.

If I were to ask you,What are you going to do with your guilt?“, I can guess with a high probability of being correct, that you would take that question to be directed to your FEELINGS of guilt.  So you might respond, “I don’t feel guilty, and if I eat too much chocolate or I hurt my neighbor’s feelings, I take care of those matters right away!”

But that’s not the guilt I’m talking about.  I mean, the actual offenses that each one of us accrues daily.  There is a sentence of guilt that grows larger and larger the longer we live.

The Bible teaches that our guilt is our major problem.  Hourly, we offend a Holy God.  And one day, we will appear before Him for sentencing.  That is the ‘weightier’ concept of guilt that I think Americans often skip right past.

So you see? –  gaining clarity about terms is REALLY  the first responsibility of a logical Joe or Jane. And clarity requires thinking.  And thinking requires TIME and effort.  Inertia, laziness, routine, apathy all war against our commitment to think intentionally.  But this kind of effort is worth it.  After all, one’s eternal destination hangs in the balance!

Logical Gal asks why when faced with bold claim

13 Nov

Another letter to the editor of our local Asheville paper.  Thankfully, I never seem to run out of material to consider for a logic column!

Here’s the startling statement to consider:

“Good healthcare ought to be a right here as it is in the rest of the world.”

So where does a Logical Gal or Guy start in dissecting this conclusion?

Let’s start at the very beginning!

Logical thinking starts with an examination of terms.  Remember, that HE who makes the claim MUST defend it.  The burden of proof is on the claim-maker to explain his terms and his reasons for how he arrived at his assertion.

Don’t be afraid – you don’t have to know ANYTHING about the intricacies of healthcare to engage with someone like this letter writer.  Asking questions will immediately shift the burden and you will not feel any pressure at all.

Here are a few to get us started:

1. What do you have in mind when you talk about ‘healthcare’ ?  Does that include just emergency services like if you break a leg?  Does it include preventative care like annual check-ups?  How many tests should be provided? Are medications part of healthcare?  What limits, if any, do you envision?

2. And who gets to decide what is ‘good’?  How do you define ‘good’ ?  Are there different tiers of quality or the quantity of services provided?

3. What do you mean by ‘right’ ?  Like civil rights?  Would this be a federal right that would need to begin as a constitutional amendment?  Or are you talking about a state’s right?  Would citizens get to define the right?  vote for the right?

4. Where is ‘healthcare’  a right in other parts of the world?  What kind is provided?  How is it paid for?  What is the tax situation like in those countries?  Are their citizens ‘content’  with the quality, delivery and cost of healthcare?

5. How did you arrive at your conclusion that ‘good healthcare ought to be a right in the US’ ?   What are your reasons?  what research did you conduct?

Do you see how easy it would be to conduct a GENTLE (not a pounding/hounding/beat you into the ground) conversation?

Anyone can write a letter or make a claim.  Opinions are a dime a dozen:

That works out to .83 cents per opinion…

But reasoned, thoughtful discourse is invaluable (and rare).

PS:  Greg Koukl in his book  Tactics Book Link   walks his readers through more questioning practice.  It’s worth studying and internalizing.

Logical Gal asks if we are blind in our categories

11 Nov

Everything we encounter, whether a new idea, a circumstance or a person,

we attempt to categorize.  

We are particularly good and shallow at this game when we are making the rounds at a party or other social event. Ubiquitous questions such as:

  • What do YOU do?
  • Do you have kids?
  • What do you pursue in your free time?

We search for clues in order to categorize, to supply context to a person or to look for connections between them and us.  We want to know what we have in common.

What we don’t think through…… is that we are limited by the nature of our category, by what defines the members within the category.

Like the fish who is unaware of water because it’s all around, maybe we are equally oblivious to categories as yet identified.

I thought about this the other night while listening to a theologian explain how unusual the Jewish concept of Monotheism was.  The Jews developed into a people group amidst the backdrop of Polytheism.  I never considered how revolutionary this form of worship and culture must have been.  Here was a new category – to have ONE SINGLE god who was the TRUE god.  And He was a new kind of god – one who didn’t just show up physically as a burning bush or a pillar of smoke, but He was equally an immaterial god – a spiritual god.

The Jews descended from one man – Abraham. He and Sarah were initially polytheistic like everyone else in their region and era. They had no concept, no category for a monotheistic God.   I am amazed that they trusted Abraham’s encounter with this living God ENOUGH to leave civilization and journey away from their known life in the city of Ur to something and somewhere as yet disclosed or described.

My point is this – we ought to exercise a little more humility.  We might know every member of a category and feel confident in our ability to sort, to exercise triage as we encounter people, circumstances and ideas.  But what if what we meet belongs in an entirely different category, one about which we have no clue?

The question then becomes, how do we know what we don’t know?

I’m not sure if I have an answer or a way forward, but….

what I am beginning to REMEMBER to practice is to ask myself the question,

“as opposed to what?”

Applying this technique to Abraham’s contemporary  pagan culture, a 2000 BC sheep-farmer could  have pondered:

  • I have many gods – of weather, fertility, crops, safety….what other kind of god could there be? What would be totally different than a god to meet each of my needs?

Applying this technique in MY culture as a French teacher, I might ask:

  • What is a completely out-of-the box way to teach a foreign language?

Maybe the question itself is enough to eliminate some of my blindness.

Certainly worth a try!

Logical Gal goes metaphysical

8 Nov

Today is the anniversary of my Grandmother’s birth in 1885.   So I’ve been thinking about icons who have died.  Two weeks from now, many will commemorate the 50th anniversary of CS Lewis’ death.  Much has been written about him in the previous 10 months as we approach 22 November.  And yesterday, I read an essay that discussed……

…Lewis’ commitment to reason among other communicative tools.

But what was intriguing  in the article was CS Lewis’ conviction that meaning precedes reason.  And imagination is necessary to produce meaning.

Access to article

Imagination….meaning…….metaphors…….metanymy:  these serve to make TERMS comprehensive.  And establishing clarity when we use our terms is the first step in logical reasoning.

Metanymy uses a symbol to represent or substitute for a broader concept.  My husband and I used to pick at our youngest son when he would say – “Let’s go get ‘Burger King’!”

He didn’t really mean Burger King food;  he often used BK to indicate fast food.

And you know what a metaphor is.  That’s when you describe something in borrowed language that communicates more vividly the true meaning.   God is our Rock.   That image conveys the idea of strength..immovability…permanence…protection.

Back to CS Lewis:  I think he chose fiction as a way to create mind pictures and understanding of  such concepts as God, eternity, divine love,  human pettiness and the limited vision of men BEFORE he attempted to argue a case.

Maybe we, as well, should spend more time painting a vivid picture of reality before we attempt to persuade someone with sound reasoning. After all, few would disagree that as humans, we are imaginative folk.  From an early age, we seem to long for the heroic amidst challenging life situations.  The enduring need to both create and consume literature, film, and art testifies to our make up.

So, taking our cue from CS Lewis, let us not put the cart before the horse.  Let’s spend enough time communicating well our terms and ideas.