How to Best Acquire an Apple: The Problem with Facts and Logic

1 year ago Alger Mag Editor 0

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A presumption that has become commonplace is that, those who dissent do so because they are poorly educated, and that if presented with facts and logic, they would see the error in their ways and step out of plato’s cave into the light of truth. This mentality invites conflict in instances where two or more opposing sides of an argument believe their versions of the facts and logic to be the truth. These conflicts become exacerbated further when claims towards specific terminology – like truth – is jeopardized by connotative dissonance. How can any resolution to a conflict be fully reached when the motivations for the disagreement, a stride towards an absolute fact or logic, is rooted in misunderstood language, with words so molested from their intended meaning that they no longer resemble the original definition and now are host to their own mess of disagreements?

Logic, a step-by-step path of using a means to reach a specific end, is often confused with rationality. Yet unlike logic, rationality weighs contextual factors and information to determine which logical path is best in terms of individual  and societal payoffs, consequences, and preferences. This may be a small distinction, but a slight confusion in this regard can bear severe consequences in the process of serious decision-making. For instance, there are an almost infinite number of paths available to achieve a certain end. Take acquiring an apple as an example. To complete this task, one could walk across the street to their neighborhood grocery store and purchase an apple; one could walk to their neighbor’s house, punch him in the face, and take the apples from his home; one could buy an apple tree sapling, plant it in my back yard, and wait twenty years to get all of the apples I could possibly want. All of these propositions are perfectly logical; they follow a specific step-by-step plan, making sense from one step to the next to ultimately realize my goal of obtaining an apple.

That which differentiates rationality from logic is that rational paths weigh in external factors such as payoff, consequences, and preferences. So while there may be an almost infinite number of paths to obtaining an apple, a fraction of that number would be logical paths, and only a handful of those logical paths are rational. Assaulting a neighbor and stealing his apples or planting a sapling and waiting twenty years would both prove too great a task for the small reward; they are, therefore, irrational yet logical paths (unless you have received information that you will be very hungry for apples in 20 years’ time). A problem often occurs when trying to differentiate the two because logic overlaps with rationality: specifically, all rational routes are logical, but not all logical routes are rational.

Facts comprise another area of discrepancy that are usually considered as one thing but mean something entirely different. With the nature of science as it is today, one can often find ‘facts’ to back up almost any argument. If one wanted to claim that coffee can lead to negative health consequences, there are plenty of facts suggesting that higher intake of coffee contributes to the growth of cancer cells. Conversely, one could argue that coffee offers great health benefits and would discover an equal abundance of facts suggesting that an increase in coffee consumption helps to prevent the growth of cancer cells. From a quick Google search of “coffee causes cancer,” an individual will be bombarded with possibilities of health benefits or consequences of consuming coffee. This outpouring is particularly an issue since people often choose to tout ‘facts’ as if they were ‘truths’. Facts can be subjective. Facts are derived from scientific studies which produce theories, and new evidence or reproducibility makes a theory stronger or weaker. But science is always open to be proven false, and facts – based on falsifiable science – are not objective due to their possibility to change. Truths, by definition, are objective and absolute. That is, they are unchanging and are not subject to human bias or imperfection. There are very few universal truths, the most common of which is arithmetic –  2 + 2 = 4, no matter what interjections are made against this statement, in an abstract sense, 2 + 2 will always equal 4, even if the human understanding of the symbols 2, + and 4 vary over time.

Often in the human experience we use facts to back up logic, but the subjectivity behind both facts and logic makes one realize that these do not settle an argument any closer to a truth. In many ways, so-called facts and logic can impede humankind’s attempt to grasp any genuine source of absolute reality.

This would leave one with the conclusion that they should strive towards rationality and truths. However, by nature, rationality and truths have a complicated relationship. Even if one’s logical path is rational, and even if one’s facts are truths, individuals have no definitive way of testing the ‘trueness’ of these paths and therefore go down a dangerous course of unfounded self-assurance. It is my opinion that the only thing worse than being wrong, is being wrong and believing that you’re right. One cannot fully trust their own reasoning, as it is inherently skewed by their personal worldview, as is their selection of facts. Humility can act as a counter to this otherwise disappointing conclusion by allowing for doubt, doubting yourself first and foremost. Self-doubt grants individuals the unique ability to welcome new and numerous perspectives that may be closer to an absolute truth than the individual’s former perspective, unlike blind self-assurance which promotes stubborn immobility in viewpoint and therefore hinders one’s ability to process alternative realities. Furthermore, self-doubt becomes ever more important, as rationality may be just another invented concept that is totally unachievable in the world of human behavior, such as those virtues of justice or altruism.

Misusing facts as truth, and logic as rationality bears heavy consequences, particularly in the midst of a presidential campaign that is full of falsehoods and misstatements. A PolitiFact analysis, testing the statements of presidential primary candidates in 2015 for their degree of falsehood, revealed that every one of the candidates told the public some degree of untruth, with several major front-runners having more than 50% of their checked statements being at least partially false (some up to 75% of all statements checked). Nevertheless, the public remains unwavering in their support of their candidates simply because most of the American population believes their (and their candidate’s) version of facts and logic to be representative of reality, leading to an antagonistic view of not only the opposing side of an issues, but even of unbiased third parties. In short, despite the bipartisan intentions of the PolitiFact report, supporters on both sides were displeased with their candidates being accused of lying. Instead of getting upset about their candidate lying to them, which would challenge their own underlying set of beliefs about the order of the world, these members of the American public chose instead to take issue with the research institute conducting such analysis. If the candidate you support says that the 2016 federal omnibus spending bill “funds illegal immigrants coming in and through [the border], right through Phoenix,” and an independent fact-checking group finds that the bill in fact funds the opposite, the reaction of many people has been in this election cycle that the source must be biased against their candidate. When, on the other hand, what we should strive for is asking, “Why would my candidate lie to me?” This phenomenon, facts taking the place of truth, creates a prime space where humility could consequently lead to political good. Even if one doesn’t agree with someone else’s point of view, at least that voice is heard and the point is considered.

The political repercussions of facts and logic become particularly troubling when coupled with unwavering self-assurance. When humility is essentially thrown away and one believes their version of facts and logic to be the reality, we can see the beginnings of what defined the major riff that is so present in this year’s election.  Political gridlock is widespread, at least in part to blame for the current state of American political polarity. Voting behavior is subject to the consequences of the misunderstandings of facts and logic, leaving voters to be prime specimens for manipulation at the hands of any claims towards ‘truth.’ Worst of all, swaying public opinion by this misguided way creates a cumulative schism away from achieving a public acceptance of the truth. Even if one side were representing the absolute truth behind their logical path, the other side is alienated further away from that state of reality. This division therefore deepens the political cleavage that so divides Americans today.

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By: Tyler MacDonald

(Image Courtesy: Dean Sebourn on Flickr. No changes made.)