I mentioned earlier that I’d been on this “Philosophical Checkmate” discord server. It was an odd experience — a few trolls, a rather eclectic assortment of outre positions, a large group of people who politely lined up to ask questions. I went ahead and uploaded my copy of the conversation so, if you’re rather hardcore, you can listen to an hour and a half of random Q&A.
(It’s just audio. I put a painting by my nephew, Michael Myers, on it so you’d have something to look at while tearing your hair out.)
I wanted to single out one point, though. Early on, and scattered throughout, there appeared a type, a kind of person I’m going to call, for the sake of putting a handle on them, Logicians. I can’t stand them. They appear among creationists and atheists, theists and skeptics, about equally often. You know them. They’re typically the “Debate me, bros” who have some gimmick that they can’t wait to try out on you.
Ray Comfort is one, for instance (so you know you don’t have to actually be logical to play the game). His gimmick is his gotcha question: “Have you ever told a lie? Then you’re a sinner and need Jesus.” Lots of atheists play it, too — street epistemologists are the worst. They have a set patter that’s supposed to lead you into a logical contradiction between what you claim are your values, and what your values actually are, to get you to admit that you were wrong-wrong-wrongety-wrong, and that you therefore have to turn your views inside out and reconsider everything and become an evangelical Xian, if it’s Comfort, or an evangelical atheist, if it’s a street epistemologist. It’s perpetrated by people who may have seen one too many old Star Trek episodes in which the artificially intelligent computer explodes when Captain Kirk exposes a logical contradiction in its programming.
Guess what? Computers don’t usually do that. They just keep compounding the errors repeatedly.
Also, people don’t do that.
We are already bundles of contradictions and incoherent views, every one of us. We have developed cognitive mechanisms for coping — witness all the End Times fanatics who see the prophesied date of the apocalypse pass without the big kaboom, and then struggle briefly to rationalize it before reaffirming their beliefs with minor revisions. We are not creatures ruled by rigid logic who can be knocked off our rails by a stranger showing us where we forgot to include a semicolon in our code.
I’ve learned to recognize the Logician. They come up to you with a smug tone in their voice, prepared with a clever syllogism that they’re sure will totally stump me; typically they’ll start by announcing something obvious that they know about me, like, “You believe it’s not necessary to reference god as the precondition of facts” (as at the 15:30 mark in the video), and I know instantly that they’re about to unroll a canned script on me. When I say “yes,” as they know I will, they’ll then try to launch into Act II of their script with a statement like “that logically entails”, which it usually doesn’t. In the video, he is obviously trying to trap me, claiming that because I acknowledge that I don’t know everything and and ackownledge that maybe there is some cosmic force out there that I don’t know about, that that is a logical inconsistency with my rejection of his peculiar definition of god. I have no truck with that BS. I just sent him away.
But, you know, even if what he said wasn’t irrational, I wouldn’t have been concerned. Go ahead, catch me in a logical contradiction, and smoke won’t come out of my ears and I won’t stagger off to melt down in failure. My philosophy is that we are human beings, and humans are not intrinsically logical. We fail all the time, myself included. I am unbothered. Bring up a good contradiction in my views, and I’ll think about it, because that’s all you can ask of rational, flawed people.
My perspective is that I, personally, am a bundle of disparate parts — I have biases, I have bits that I have assembled into a mostly functioning, shambling mess that I’m constantly patching and nudging and revising, and that’s OK. My name is Legion, and I contain multitudes. I was born as the product of 4 billion years of evolutionary forces that pushed my ancestors hither and yon, I was raised in an environment that shaped the many aspects of my mind in ways that may have been correct and may have been wrong, and then I spent my adult life struggling to test and evaluate and fix my thinking. You want to tell me that one module of my personality conflicts with another? I will agree. It’s probably true. Happens all the time.
I think of my life as a rather battered old jalopy, traveling from where I started to some destination unknown, a destination often redirected by circumstances or by growing enlightenment. I occasionally break down and need to stop for a while to make repairs. In my travels, I sometimes find some new part that I find enlightening, and I bolt that on and try it for a while. There are multiple mes that take the driver’s seat; sometimes I’m gunning it down the road, other times I’m idling and looking around wondering what to do next. It’s the human condition, rattled by chaos and trying our best, using the tools we’re born with and gradually acquire, to make sense of it all.
What I can’t abide, though, is these damnable Logicians. They’re the ones who bunker down in a set of premises they find comfortable and that they claim are absolutes, and then spend their life building rational defenses so that they never have to change, never have to face intellectual challenges, never experience the thrill of hammering a new idea into the rat’s nest of circuitry we call a brain. Instead, they prefer to pretend that their ideas are all shiny and chrome, wired perfectly on day one, often with the guidance of an imaginary deity.
One other thing, outside the bounds of the video. About a half hour before we wrapped it all up, my granddaughter called. I had to refuse to pick up so I could finish, but then a little later she called up at the very end of the session and we did get to talk for a while in a video hangout.
What impressed me is that when I finally answered, she immediately summarized in her adorable little girl voice: “We called you but you didn’t answer. But we called again and you did answer!”
Her language is getting better fast. What I most noticed, though, was that she encapsulated this trivial event with a narrative, a story with a conflict and a resolution. How human of her!
Where this anecdote fits is that I think that’s what we all do all the time — we take chance and chaos and random events and tie them up in a sweet simple story, and already she’s a master. We just have to be wary of thinking the story is the whole of the truth.