Posted July 29, 2001
I've been waiting since last November for someone to ask me to explain logic. Bill and Jocelyn, hosts of the Orange Bridge, finally asked me on Friday. I made a cheap joke about sitting in on their show, and pointing it out if the politicians ever used logic. Then I listened to the Sunday repeat of their show, and now I'm not so sure that it was a cheap joke.
Anyway, in the spirit of politics, I've got a list here of informal fallacies. They're examples of popular logic-defying techniques people like to use when they're arguing something that they believe in their hearts, but they want you to think that they believe it because it's logical.
These examples have all been exaggerated to show detail. With each example, I'll give you the English name for the fallacy, and, if it's there and I feel like trying to pronounce it, I'll also give you the latin name.
This shouldn't be too difficult, but it's important that you remember that these are fallacies. Do not argue like this unless you are a politician.
Let's start with a fallacy often employed by people who are very young, very drunk, very stupid, or blinded by patriotism. Like presidents of the United States.
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I've got a lot more stuff I'd like to say about logic on another day. My favourite kind of logic is known as modern symbolic logic. It's a formal language for constructing mathematical proofs. It deals with stuff like tautologies, syllogisms, and contradictions. It defines words like "and" and "or" and "implies" so that mathematical proofs can look vaguely like normal English.
But the greatest thing about that kind of logic is that it applies directly to computers.
You might have heard that computers are conceptually made of something called logic gates. Logic gates are just electronic devices that embody the concepts of symbolic logic. An "and" gate is on if and only if both of its inputs are on. An "or" gate is on if either one or both of its inputs are on. A "not" gate is on if its input is off, and it's off if its input is on. You can build an "and" gate using nothing but "not" gates and "or" gates. You can add two one-digit binary numbers using nothing but "and", "or", and "not" gates. And so on.
The fact that computers embody mathematical logic is a hint about the relation between logic and truth. Computers don't deal in truth, at least in the philosophical sense. What logic and computers represent is the deterministic, predictable aspect of human thought. There are some ways in which we all think alike, and that's what logic tries to capture. If you've used a computer lately, you'll probably agree that logic is not sufficient to produce intelligence. Perhaps it's just a matter of time before we make intelligent computers; but in my opinion, not only are they not getting there very fast, they're not even moving in that direction.
So, you can have logic without intelligence. Whether you can have intelligence without logic is an interesting question. For the sake of the politicians, let's hope so.
I'll just leave it at that for today, but you can be sure that I will return to the topic soon. If you have any logic-related thoughts you'd like to share with me, you should call me in the studio at 352-3706 while everybody else is listening to the music.