Tag Archives: Questioning

Logical Gal and reduce them to the absurd!

18 Apr

Redcutio Ad Absurdum Mug


This is a useful technique for pointing out the error in another’s reasoning IF you can think quick enough on your feet!

What you do, without distorting their argument, is to take one of their premises or propositions and ASSUME it to be true.  You can even explicitly announce what you are doing:

“Let’s assume to be true your premise that…….”

Then you carry out your conversation partner’s line of thinking to its furthest possible implications. For example you say:

 “Then THAT would mean  XYZ is also true!” (where XYZ is an example the proponent must acknowledge/accept to stay logically consistent) 

For example, imagine a neighbor who is disgruntled by Washington, DC and all the encompassing bickering and false promises.  He might spout off:

  • You can’t trust anyone who works for the government!

Trusting Washington

Few of us would probably jump to the government’s defense, but let’s suppose that you happen to be a RATIONAL and logical Joe or Jane.

You might say with a sincere tone:

  • You: Ok, let’s assume you are correct, that we can’t trust anyone who works for the government.  I suppose you probably will quit using the airlines to travel.
  • Him: What do you mean?
  • You: If you fly out of an airport, that means you would have to trust those federal workers, the air-traffic-controllers!

Situations where you might employ this technique of Reductio Ad Absurdum can sometimes be spotted with their universal adjectives and adverbs like ALL, EVERYONE, ALWAYS, NEVER, NO ONE….

Here is another statement I occasionally here:  Extraordinary claims require extraordinary explanations

My response to the one advancing that hyperbolic premise:

“Okay, let’s assume that what you claim is true. I just saw a man pull a rabbit out of an empty hat.  That certainly was out of the ordinary.”

Rabbit out of a hat

“If your line of thinking is correct, then we can’t accept as a legitimate explanation for this amazing trick something as commonplace as a simple mirror used as a false bottom to the hat, giving the appearance that it is empty when it was covering the rabbit!”

As I mentioned before, you have to be able to think of counter examples to bounce off of your interlocutor.  But if you can first ask some clarifying questions, that might be enough time to let your little gray cells work!

Hercule Poirot





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 asks – “….as opposed to what?”

25 Oct

Single words and short non-threatening questions…….

are a great tool when confronted with difficult material to comprehend.

We’ve talked about the value of the 2-letter word ……SO??? 

I’ve used that word when an emotional  friend has announced with outrage something like, “And we have to pay a $15 co-pay each time we go to the doctor’s office!”

By using ‘So?’, you are encouraging your interlocutor to state his or her pre-supposition that is BEHIND their bare proposition.  It’s like you’re saying, ” So – what’s your point? Is it good or bad or strange or wonderful that you have to pay a $15 co-pay?”

Today, I’m adding a 4-word question that helps me when I’m trying to categorize a new concept or term.

If someone were to offer this comment about their spouse, ” John is a good provider”, I would lack context to understand the point of their communication. For me to begin to understand  I would ask, ” a good provider, as opposed to what?   If your husband is a good provider, what would he be if he were not?  What are the other possibilities?

Skitch - Husband Roles

The articulation of other possibilities helps me now to compare this information with other attributes.  The very fact of SELECTING and communicating just the one quality of  ‘provider’ actually says a lot more, like

  • EITHER  her husband John doesn’t have the other qualities
  • OR that she does not value those other qualities as much

The other day in a phone conversation with a friend, she mentioned that her new pastor was KIND.  That was the ONE word she used out of many.  Knowing she could have chosen others such as:

  • theologically deep
  • good communicator
  • excellent administrator
  • sound counselor
  • effective teacher
  • holy in his practices

helped me see not only what my friend valued but that this man’s kindness must REALLY be noteworthy.

This morning, listening to a podcast discussion about the Mathematical Laws, one speaker mentioned that they were discovered.  My 4 word Question flew out of my mouth – ” As opposed to what?”  

In the next breath, he answered…..as opposed to being invented.

Bingo!  That contradistinction made the quality of being DISCOVERED much clearer to me.   For if laws are invented by humans, then they do not necessarily conform to reality.  But if they are discovered, then they are grounded in Truth.

Do you see how useful this question may be?  Where has it helped you?