A co-worker who shall remain nameless, musing on the lack of reason in many a Web discussion, points to an engineer’s blog post on logic and why most fellow humans don’t use it.
The answers aren’t bad. Any one could be fuel for a dissertation by some grad student. But I think two of the many good quotes sprinkled through the post come closer to the answer:
1. Steven Pinker: “One reason [why people often don’t do so well at logic] is that logical words in everyday languages like English are ambiguous, often denoting several formal logical concepts. “
I love the Sting lyric “the gray sky, she angered to black” in The Wild Wild Sea. It’s beautiful imagery. But it’s totally illogical. The sky isn’t a “she,” it’s incapable of feeling anger, and no one angers to anything. (If you see a co-worker angering to black, please call 911.) You have to deconstruct the lyric before you can discuss it logically, and what’s the point in that?
2. William James: “A great many people think they’re thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”
That’s brilliant. And it explains much of what I see on the Web. People aren’t processing new bits of information to arrive at a conclusion. They’re processing that information on a superficial level, then fitting it into an ideology.
It’s tough to communicate with these people because they don’t see the problem.
Example: The Washington Post ran a kind obit on one of its own, the sports editor for Post.com., portraying him as a sort of eccentric intellectual. Now read what some sort of media watchdog blogger wrote about it: “Looking at his picture and reading the obit we thought, this was a pretty good guy. We only wish there were more pretty good guys at places like the WaPost, which might prevent some pretty bad intentions.”
Notice the assumption. This guy must be the exception. Not the rule. You can read down the left-hand column of the blog and see that we’re dealing with someone who has some deeply ingrained impressions of journalists, perhaps extrapolating that we’re all exactly as Dan Rather was for the last two decades of his career.
I can tell you that in 16 years in journalism, the eccentric intellectual is the most common personality type I’ve encountered. No. 2: The cynical blowhard. No. 3: The bureaucrat.
So what we have here is a false assumption. I think the reason that assumption is made — as is often the case on the Web — is that the blogger is an idealogue who doesn’t realize that other people may not be idealogues. I could be countering a false assumption with another false assumption, but … nah, you know I’m not, to paraphrase Don Henley.
The original post itself is precise and logical, as any good post on logic should be. He draws limits on logic, saying it’s more important to understand what’s logical and what isn’t than to scribble some Boolean statements for every decision in life. (“Hmmmm, carnitas or barbacoa ….”)
And yet the grammar and English-usage pedant in me trips over the line “That statement can be a bit confusion.” Not that I can talk — I almost titled this post “Why can’t anyone thing?”