Thoughts on “Star Trek: Into Darkness”

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Star TrekA few days ago, I achieved one of my major short-term goals when I saw the new Star Trek movie. This was a thing that I had decided was very important in my life, for I expected the movie to be awesome, and indeed, I was not disappointed. When the previous Star Trek movie came out in 2009, I had mixed feelings about it. As good as the plot was, I wasn’t sure I liked the casting. In particular, it was difficult for me to accept that anyone besides James Doohan could be Scotty. Scotty is my second favorite Star Trek character, and nobody else can be Scotty the way James Doohan can. My very favorite character, of course, is Spock. I cannot imagine how anyone could favor any other character over Spock. Although Leonard Nimoy is just as incomparably cool as James Doohan, Zachary Quinto does a good job of filling his shoes. I wouldn’t have imagined that was possible, but it is. Also, I would just like to point out that Zachary Quinto is an incredibly good science fiction name. All in all, I’ve pretty much come to peace with the current casting, and with that out of the way, I actually enjoyed the new Star Trek movie more than the previous one. And whoever decided to cast Benadryl Cucumberpatch in the movie was a very clever person. (For those of you who aren’t on tumblr, I should probably clarify that we do not call Benedict Cumberbatch by his real name very often because it’s so much fun to make up variations of it. I have admittedly used “Benadryl Cucumberpatch” far too many times, because you’re actually supposed to change it every time you say it.)

Tumblr people will understand why I had to post this. Those of you who don't use tumblr, never mind. There are too many inside jokes to explain.

Tumblr people will understand why I had to post this. Those of you who don’t use tumblr, never mind. There are too many inside jokes to explain.

Although the plot and the acting are obviously the most important things, good science fiction movies are also characterized by explosions and spaceship crashes, a dramatic soundtrack, and technological lingo that sounds so practical that it’s easy to forget that the scriptwriter is just making stuff up and it doesn’t mean anything in real life. Star Trek: Into Darkness definitely had all of those traits. Also, I have noticed that most good science fiction (Doctor Who, Star Wars, etc.) has some very emotional scenes in between the high-action and/or high-tech scenes. I’m not sure whether I think that this is necessary or just an interesting trend, but in either case, the new Star Trek movie is no exception. It was actually something of a tear-jerker, except that I don’t cry at movies when I’m watching them with other people.

Spock 2There was one part that did make me tear up a little, though. It wasn’t one of the sad parts, not even the part where a certain character died. (For the sake of anyone reading this who hasn’t seen the movie, I won’t specify which character died.) It was the part where Spock committed a logical fallacy.

I can’t quote the lines verbatim, which just goes to show that I need to see the movie again. But I can look it up on imdb, which is good enough. Captain Kirk says, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and then Spock expresses his disagreement by responding, “An Arabic proverb attributed to a prince who was betrayed and decapitated by his own subjects.” This, I said to myself, is an ad hominem argument, and I nearly cried to hear such words come from the mouth of Spock.

When I mentioned this to my sister later, she laughed and called me a nerd, and we agreed that this was entertaining enough to merit a facebook status. But as my hand touched the keyboard, I remembered a thing. Some logicians claim that ad hominem arguments are not always fallacious. Thus was I told in my logic class a couple semesters ago. Google has informed me that these logicians include Doug Walton and Olavo de Carvalho. Neither of these names mean anything to me, but they are apparently people whose thoughts and opinions on logic hold some weight. And if it is true that ad hominem arguments are sometimes completely okay, then Spock’s remark would be one of those cases.  In fact, after giving it further thought, I’m not sure that it counts as ad hominem after all.

Spock 1Spock’s argument refutes Kirk’s statement on the grounds that he is quoting someone who was wrong, and the information that Spock relates about this wrongness is what invalidates what Kirk has said. That’s why my automatic response was to sense an ad hominem, but Spock’s point was actually not irrelevant. He was actually just giving an example of a case in which the maxim did not hold true, which is perfectly logical. The fact that his example involved the person to whom the quotation is attributed doesn’t actually lend any additional logical value to the point; it merely adds a touch of irony that the scriptwriters found useful for the sake of humor, and humor does not cancel out logic. Spock was indeed not wrong.

All of this, I decided, would be too lengthy to make for a good facebook status, and I couldn’t very well accuse Spock of a logical fallacy without refuting my accusation with these further points. So I closed facebook and said to myself, “Self, save it for the blog.”

I am sorry, Mr. Spock. I should never have doubted you.

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I Don’t Like Aristotle

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AristotleI have this weird thing about Aristotle. I don’t like him. I know that his was one of the greatest minds of all time, I know that he made valuable contributions to just about every field of study in existence, and I know that his influence has played a large part in the course of human history, but something about Aristotle just annoys me. In theory, I ought to like Aristotle, because one of his defining characteristics was a tendency to classify everything, and that is a tendency which I share. (For example, I am in the process of posting my list of top 250 favorite songs on youtube after spending about a month carefully sorting and organizing them, and I am also currently trying to classify emotions into a small set of primary emotions, so that I can better categorize and document the entire range of emotions and collect data on a multi-daily basis in order to determine how various factors of everyday life affect emotion, as well as cognitive ability, which I have already developed a method for quantifying. This is just the kind of thing I do for fun in my spare time.) Some of Aristotle’s contributions to the world include taxonomy, various fields of theoretical science,  the foundations of all mathematics and physics for subsequent centuries, organization of rhetorical techniques, deductive logic, and various other systematic modes of thought that are either dear to my heart or at least appealing to the natural tendencies of my brain. Basically what I’m saying here is that Aristotle was brilliant and apparently obsessed with organized thought, which is reason for me to admire him. But instead, he annoys me like crazy.

Part of this is because there are a few specific things he said that I dislike. The most obvious and significant examples are theological, because Aristotle wasn’t exactly a Christian. (Despite what Plotinus said centuries later)To be honest, I’m not quite clear on what Aristotle did believe, although I’ve always gotten the impression that his beliefs more or less corresponded to what is now called Deism; that is to say, he believed in a God who created the world and invented moral rules, but hasn’t been particularly involved in the world since then. Although Aristotle definitely believed in “The First Cause” and “The First Mover”, he clearly didn’t believe in the triune God and he didn’t discuss sin and salvation in the Christian sense. Yet his philosophical ideas somehow still got tied up into Christianity in medieval times. For this reason, Martin Luther hated him and had some very choice words to say about him, which is enough to verify to me that Aristotle is not to be liked. Granted, Aristotle lived before Christ, but still, the point is that he didn’t believe in THE God; he believed in a god that he made up out of his own logical thought process, which, as brilliant as it was, was still human and thus not entirely reliable.

As long as we’re on the topic of unreliability, it is worth noting that Aristotelian physics turned out to be totally messed up and wrong. They held sway until Newton and Galileo came along, but then it was thoroughly demonstrated that Aristotle was mistaken, which isn’t really all that surprising since he was just making stuff up based upon his casual observations. Yes, I know that theoretical physics means that hypotheses are formed without the immediate verification of precise experimental data, but theoretical physics isn’t good for much unless its conclusions are justified by subsequent developments and experiments. (I feel a need to point out that the physics of the last century plus a few years, based upon Einstein’s postulates and theories, have disproved some of Newton and Galileo’s theories, so Aristotle’s physics is now at two degrees of proven-wrong-ness.)

Categorical SyllogismsIn my logic notes from last semester, there’s a line that reads, “Yet another reason to be annoyed by Aristotle”. I didn’t even bother to write down what that reason was, because I knew I would remember. I was right; I remember both the note and the reason for the note even though I haven’t looked at those notes since the semester ended. This source of annoyance was the discrepancy between Boolean logic and Aristotelian logic in a case where Boolean logic is clearly better. Aristotle says that certain forms of categorical syllogisms are valid if the terms are existing things and invalid if the terms are non-existing things. That makes sense, except that the whole point of distinguishing between valid and invalid syllogism forms is that valid forms are valid regardless of what the terms are. According to the Boolean standpoint, if the truth of the syllogism relies upon whether or not the terms exist, then the form of the syllogism is valid. In other words, it is valid to say, “All unicorns are mammals and all mammals are animals; therefore, all unicorns are mammals” because, if both premises are true, then the conclusion is true. The fact that unicorns don’t exist (or so I’ve been told) is irrelevant because, if they did exist, they would clearly be animals if we can assume that they are mammals and that mammals are animals. But, according to Aristotle, the validity of the entire syllogism depends upon the existence of unicorns. For the sake of my logic class, we had to answer questions from both the Aristotelian standpoint and the Boolean standpoint, but I would like the record to show that I am totally on Boole’s side on this one.

Just look at his arrogant, self-satisfied smirk!

Just look at his arrogant, self-satisfied smirk!

But, despite his flaws in theology, physics, and (in my opinion) the rules of categorical syllogisms, the fact remains that Aristotle was a remarkably intelligent person and that he made remarkable contributions to every aspect of academia and human thought. I can fully justify my disdain of Aristotle only by acknowledging one other reason for it: I’m jealous of him. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest geniuses ever to live, and his thoughts have been among the most prominent thoughts ever thought for more than 2300 years now. My brain aspires to great genius and doesn’t like the fact that there have been minds so great that my mind will never achieve the success and accolade that they did. This may very well be the same reason that I find Einstein annoying and have tried so hard to deny the fact that nothing can travel faster than light. I now reluctantly agree that this is the case, because it has been mathematically demonstrated to me in various fascinating and undeniably clever ways. But I am so totally not happy about it.

Symbolic Logic in the Bible

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Earlier in the semester, when my logic class first got started on symbolic logic, I didn’t like the idea that a conditional statement (If A, then B) is automatically true if the antecedent (A) is false. The only way a conditional statement can be false is if the antecedent is true and the consequent is false. “If A, then B” obviously is false if, in actuality, A is true and B isn’t. That makes sense, but it didn’t seem right that A and B could both be false and the conditional statement could still be true. Once we got into proofs, it made a little more sense, but it still seemed like a fairly abstract concept. If A is false, why does it matter whether or not B would be true if A were true?

1 Corinthians 15:17But then I remembered a very important conditional statement where both the antecedent and the consequent are true. ‘Tis 1 Corinthians 15:17, and it goes like this: tilde A horseshoe thingy open parentheses B dot C close parentheses. Or, to quote it directly, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” Saint Paul goes on to tell us that A is true: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.” (1 Corinthians 15:20a)  Still, even though the antecedent (Christ has not been raised) is false, it is significant that if it was true, then B and C would both be true.

Christ is RisenActually, it kind of seems like we’re supposed to take the negation of the consequent as an implied premise. (That is to say, the people at the church in Corinth already knew that their faith was not futile and that they were not in their sins.)According to the rules of logic, specifically according to the rule called Modus Tollens, if the consequent is false, then the antecedent must be false. So the truth of A isn’t actually a separate premise, it’s the conclusion of a valid argument. Here it is, written as a logical proof.

Mark 16:16Just for the fun of it, here’s another bible verse written as a premise in symbolic logic:  “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:16.

Logic is a Little Tweeting Bird

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Ah, the beauty of logical stuff written out on nice, neat lines

Ah, the beauty of logical stuff written out on nice, neat lines

Maybe it’s just because I’m kind of a nerd, but I really love my logic class. In fact, when I do my logic homework, I almost think of it as taking a break from homework. I’m actually really looking forward to the exam because it’s going to be fun, and I don’t mean that sarcastically at all. I wish I was studying for my logic exam tonight, but I have two other exams before that one and two papers to work on, so I doubt I’ll get around to doing any logic for a couple days.  (You may be wondering how I can find time to blog about how I don’t have any time. That’s a good question. Now please stop questioning my time management.)

The cool thing about logic is that it makes sense. It’s not like math because it doesn’t have all those confusing numbers and equations. It’s not like writing an English paper because, once you’ve found the right answer, you know you’re right and you don’t have to go back and question the degree of intelligence and aesthetic style of everything you’ve already  accomplished. It’s not like real life because you can be absolutely certain that there’s a correct answer to every problem, and that once you find it, you’re free to devote all of your attention to the next one.

"Logic is a little tweeting bird chirping in a meadow. Logic is a wreath of pretty flowers which smell bad." -Spock

“Logic is a little tweeting bird chirping in a meadow. Logic is a wreath of pretty flowers which smell bad.” -Spock

It occurred to me in class a few days ago that most logical proofs are irrelevant to real life. It’s highly unlikely that I will ever have to prove the validity of a convoluted argument where each premise has several terms. If such a situation ever does occur, it’s even more unlikely that the other people involved will be willing to wait for me to write out the premises, the conclusion, and a proof that might be twenty or thirty steps long. In short, everything I know about symbolic logic is fairly useless in real life.

But if I had a choice between symbolic logic and real life, I think I’d choose symbolic logic. ‘Cause I like things that make sense.

It’s time for another episode of random thoughts on a Sunday afternoon

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1. Today was Reformation Sunday, and speaking of Reformation Sunday, I will be very interested to see what my college’s student newspaper does with the thingy I wrote called ‘Happy Reformation Day!’ I have written stuff for my college’s newspaper before, but it’s always been something kind of silly and generally semi-science fictiony. Let’s just say that my college is not a Lutheran school and I’m not sure if the newspaper really wants to print anything that’s religious without being deliberately vague. I avoided using the kind of sarcastic tone that I have used in other contexts, but that might not have been enough to make my thingy neutral enough for their standards. I didn’t want it to be neutral anyway.

This picture has significant symbolic meaning. I just can’t decide what that meaning is.

2. It is worth noting that I am wearing argyle socks today. The reason that this fact is notable is that argyle is an interesting word. I looked it up and it comes from Argyll, a place in Scotland. Now I’m trying to think of a way that the pattern known as argyle can be considered a metaphor for something really intellectually deep. I can offer no reasonable explanation for why this matters.

3. There’s a certain book that I’ve decided to start reading today, despite the facts that a) I don’t really have a lot of time for leisure reading, b) I’ve read that book a gazillion times already, and c) it’s written for a younger audience.  In fact, the only reason I particularly want to read this book now is that I’ve come to associate it with this time of year, which is odd because a) It takes place in May and June, b) the first time I read it was in September, and c) I used to read it every December.

4. If I had a kitchen, today would be the sort of day that I would want to cook something.

5. I have a question. Is it morally wrong to enter a building through a door marked exit? (Or vice versa) It seems like the answer should be no, because no harm comes from using the wrong door. There are some exceptions to that, but in those cases, the rules are enforced a little more strongly. I’m talking specifically about places like grocery stores, where it technically doesn’t matter. But even if there is no reason for designating a door to be an in or an out door, the fact remains that using the wrong door constitutes breaking a rule. I’m not saying that the moral aspects of walking through doors are necessarily issues that require much attention. I’m just wondering if there are moral aspects to walking through doors.

6. Don’t get me wrong; I love having a car. But car problems are so incredibly stressful. My car recently broke down and needed an engine replacement, and now I’m living in constant fear that my car will either spontaneously explode or suddenly break down again. On the way to church this morning, it started shaking and making a scary noise that was disturbingly similar to the noise it made before it broke down last time, and I had to pull off to the side of the road and park the car. While I was waiting for the panic to fade enough that I could make a rational decision about whether or not it would be safe to start the car again, a couple policemen showed up, took a look at the car, and assured me that it would be okay. Needless to say, though, this incident did little to relieve my distrust of my car’s safety.

7. I’m performing The Nutcracker with a ballet school where I’m taking classes this semester, and one of my three roles is a parent in the party scene. Yesterday, one of “my” kids randomly hugged me and told me that I was the best mother ever. ‘Twas the highlight of my week.

8. I consider myself much more of a language arts kind of person than a mathematical or scientific person, but in most semesters, the class that I feel I get the most out of is something like a social science or math class. This semester, it’s logic. There’s something about a subject where there are objectively clear right and wrong answers that makes it more comfortable and, in a way, more enjoyable than a literature class, which tends to be more abstract and subjective. According to those points of view, I should like grammar, but I actually find it kind of boring.

9. It has reached the time of year when I must make a choice about whether it is better to keep the window closed in order to keep the temperature comfortable, or if it is better to leave the window open and to be extremely cold but to have fresh air. For the time being, I have decided in favor of the fresh air.

10. Last night, for no particular reason, I stayed up until two in the morning making lists of stuff, trying to precisely define all of my priorities, and categorizing my opinions about various things. At the time, this all seemed absolutely necessary, but the only remaining result of this project is a ridiculously long document saved on my computer under the title ‘Rules of Life’, which still needs to be organized much more thoroughly before it actually makes any sense.

11. Tonight, there’s a place downtown that is showing the Luther movie, and I’d like to go, but I don’t think I will because I’m scared of driving my car. I feel like I’m starting to get a little too accustomed to sitting at the side of the road with police officers looking under my car hood. This is not the type of situation that one wants to be in habitually.

Pictured above: a fascinating tiny critter that I wouldn’t want to see in my room

12. I do not think I will ever be too old to enjoy flipping over big rocks or dead logs for the purpose of seeing what fascinating insects and other tiny critters live under them. This does not necessarily mean, though, that I like it when fascinating insects and other tiny critters get in my room.

13. The world is so full of stuff to know, and even after twenty-one years of constantly learning stuff, I still know so little of it. I hope I live to be extraordinarily old, because that’s the only way I’ll have a chance to actually accomplish anything.

14. Happiness, it’s time to do my logic homework. I love doing my logic homework. Also, I am excited about the logic exam that we have on Thursday. And I dislike it when we get out of logic class early. These are all things that are probably not true of most of my classmates in logic class.

15. I had an odd dream a couple nights ago. I was at my house and a large group of kids came trick-or-treating. We thought that was odd, considering that it was several days before Halloween, but we happened to have Halloween candy on hand anyway, so we gave them some. Then they stole all of the candy, along with several boxes of books and papers. Somehow, we got those boxes back, and we spent the rest of the dream sorting through all of them and finding cool stuff that we hadn’t seen in years.

16. My refrigerator just made a funny noise and then stopped making the quiet humming noise it usually makes. Sheesh, refrigerator, I’ve got enough to worry about what with my car threatening to break down. If you’re going to die too, it’s your own problem, and I’ll just have to do without you. It’s your choice. I’m beyond caring.

17. Here is something I have always wondered: Does a person’s eye color have anything to do with their identity in a more general sense? In other words, if my eyes were a different color, would I be a different person? Actually, I think it’s pretty obvious that the answer is no; eye color is a superficial feature. But how can we know that? Maybe eye color does reflect certain aspects of a person’s personality or something. I read somewhere that people with blue eyes can consume more alcohol without getting intoxicated than people with brown eyes can. I’m not necessarily saying that’s true, and I don’t think I got that from a reliable source anyway, but maybe it is true, and in that case, couldn’t that mean that there are other distinctions between people of different eye colors?

Self, you’re weird. Be quiet and do your homework.

18. Note to my refrigerator: I didn’t mean it like that. Please don’t die.

19. I’ve had a keyboard for well over a month now, and I still haven’t learned how to play it, except the melody line of hymns. I ought to be working on playing with both hands at the same time, because that’s the way one is supposed to play the piano, but I’m having more fun messing around with key signatures in the melody line. If you play “A Mighty Fortress is our God” with B flats, it sounds totally different.  Also, “Come Thou Almighty King” is a fun one to B-flat-ify. (According to the internet, that’s either F major or D minor. I’m confused; what’s the difference between F major and D minor, then?) Clearly, at some point in my life, I need to learn something about music. Specifically, how to do it.

20. I think the refrigerator is going to be okay. The problem was nothing that couldn’t be solved with a little cleverness and a few dirty looks.

21. I am making hot chocolate because it is now the time of year when it is right that one should have hot chocolate on a Sunday evening. And I am making it with milk and an excessive amount of hot chocolate mix because that is what awesome people do. And I am spilling hot chocolate mix because sometimes, that is another thing that awesome people do. But they don’t do it on purpose, and they promise to clean it up before their roommate has to see it.

For the record, here is what today looked like before it got dark.

22. I have seen 7, 723 evenings in my lifetime, but it never ceases to surprise me just how quickly it becomes dark when you’re not paying attention.

23. Here is another thing I have wondered: Where did the last part of the Lord’s Prayer come from? (I mean the part that goes “For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever”) In the bible, the Lord’s Prayer ends with “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:13) and even in Luther’s small catechism, which was written hundreds of years later, the conclusion to the Lord’s Prayer is just “Amen”. So when and why did the other bit get added?

24. The book I’m writing about for my senior seminar paper apparently has a movie loosely based on it, and I ought to see that movie so that I know whether or not I ought to mention it in my paper. I found the trailer on Youtube, and it looks like a really sad and sappy movie. Normally, I’d be glad to use schoolwork as an excuse to watch a movie, but I can think of many movies I’d rather watch than this one. For example, Labyrinth is a cool movie, and one that I like to watch around Halloween. And lately, I’ve really felt like watching some Doctor Who, but haven’t found the time. (For the record, the episode that I especially want to see is Pirate Planet, which is my second favorite episode with Tom Baker. My very favorite episode with Tom Baker is State of Decay, and my very favorite is Blink.) Anyway, I guess I don’t have a choice.

Logic dictates that I should vote for a third party candidate

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One problem with the political system and the way campaigns work is that candidates are expected to make grandiose promises, most of which are things that they couldn’t actually accomplish. For example, almost any candidate will claim that he/she will reduce taxes, either for everyone or for low-income families, but that’s not something that an elected official, even the President of the United States, can do just by deciding to do it. Candidates promise to abolish things that their supporters dislike and to favor causes that their supporters like. They paint beautiful pictures of a world in which they are in the office they’re running for, and don’t acknowledge the fact that the position they want doesn’t give them magical powers. Unfortunately, all candidates have to make these claims just in order to attract voters’ attention and to get people to vote for them. A candidate is only as appealing as the scenario he or she can describe of life under his/her leadership, and any candidate who is realistic in making promises will not be able to win an election.

Therefore, I would like to propose the following premise: All political candidates make promises that they are incapable of keeping.

Figure A

Now, these campaign promises follow the form of conditional statements: “If I am elected, I will do XYZ” where “If I am elected” is the antecedent and “I will do XYZ” is the consequent. In symbolic logic, that can be expressed E horseshoe thingy XYZ. This is helpfully illustrated in the accompanying diagram, labeled Figure A. You are welcome. Logic also dictates that a conditional statement can be true in three ways: If both the antecedent and the consequent are true, if both the antecedent and the consequent are false, or if the antecedent is false and the consequent is true. The only way a conditional statement can be false is if the antecedent is true and the consequent is false. That means that any conditional statement with a false antecedent is true, which seems weird, so I have cleared that up with another helpful diagram, labeled Figure B. Again, you are welcome.

Figure B

This, along with my first premise, leads to my second and third premises: All elected politicians have lied. All candidates who have lost have not lied.

My fourth premise stands on its own: I want to vote for a candidate who is not a liar.

And here is the conclusion: Therefore, I should vote for a candidate who I know will not win.

It’s a stupid argument, but technically it’s logical, right? (This point is illustrated in yet another helpful diagram, labeled Figure C. Once more, you are welcome.)

Figure C

Note: I do actually intend to vote for a third party candidate, but this isn’t the real reason.

There’s this Book I’m Reading, episode 1

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It seems to be a commonly accepted idea that there is a dichotomy between logic and emotion; that rational thought and instinctive decisions are opposites. Although it’s obviously true that there are different kinds of thought processes and that logical thought and emotional feelings don’t work in the same way, I think it’s an incorrect oversimplification to see them as comprising a dichotomy. I don’t think it even makes sense to imagine a logic/emotion spectrum from Spock to McCoy, because, in my opinion anyway, there is actually a relationship between logic and emotion. Otherwise, why would it be frustrating to be unable to understand something? Or why would it be exciting to learn something that you’d always wondered? Why would strategy games be so much fun, and why would schoolwork be stressful?

Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2005.

On the other hand, I’ve also heard the idea that logic and emotion actually are more or less the same thing and the real distinction is between instinctive thought that takes place subconsciously and step-by-step thinking that takes place consciously. There’s a book I’m reading now; it’s called Blink and it’s by someone named Malcolm Gladwell, who is apparently not a psychologist, but he does get his information from experimental psychologists. He, along with the psychologists he cites, believes that snap decisions and first impressions are actually reliable because the fast-thinking subconscious process that forms them is just as rational as the slower conscious thought process. To quote from the book, “In high-stakes, fast-moving situations, we don’t want to be… dispassionate and purely rational… We don’t want to stand there endlessly talking through our options. Sometimes we’re better off if the mind behind the locked door makes our decisions for us.” (I used the ellipses to avoid mentioning the Iowa ventromedial patients, because I’d have to quote an entire two pages in order to explain who the Iowa ventromedial patients are and what they have to do with decision-making thought processes.)

The problem with reading these kinds of psychology books is that many of them are more pseudoscientific than scientific, and some are bordering on the mystical. For example, there have been multiple times that I’ve started reading a ‘psychological’ book about dreams only to find that it places an almost occult prophetic significance on them, even though the book is categorized as a scientific book. As fascinated as I am by the actual psychological theories and research behind things like personalities, dreams, the nature of intelligence, and so forth, I have realized that I have to be very suspicious of books that claim to be about those things without being based in academically factual information. I kind of expected this book to be one of those non-scientific ones; it seemed like it might be a ‘how to tap into the hidden and mystical powers of your brain’ kind of book. I decided to read it anyway. Although some of the claims it makes seem a little outlandish, they are all backed up by official scientific experiments done by official psychologists.

(I have omitted the following several paragraphs because they were going on for quite a while and it didn’t look like I was going to finish writing that bit anytime soon.  I eventually decided that since this is a blog post and not an academic paper, I don’t have to cite multiple examples from the book in order to make every point. Therefore, for the sake of brevity, I hereby skip to the last three paragraphs.)

I am finding that book very interesting, and I have no doubt that there’s something to the claims Gladwell makes, but I don’t think he’s entirely right about the reliability of instinctual thought. My instincts don’t always tell me things that lead to accurate assumptions and good decisions. Sometimes, I have a feeling that I really ought to sleep up several hours late and then spend the rest of the day playing scrabble and watching science fiction instead of going to classes. That’s not some kind of hypersentient instinct, though; it’s just me being a lazy stupidhead. Then my conscious mind has to tell me that I’m not allowed to do that. Or sometimes, I have a paranoid feeling that I’m being followed and watched by invisible evil monsters, but that’s not because my subconscious brain is picking up on subtle clues and coming to rational conclusions. It’s just because I have a very weird imagination, and my conscious mind has to figure out that my imagination is just being silly again and that I’m going to have to ignore it. I can’t even imagine what a weirdo I’d be if I always paid attention to my instincts and feelings.

Gladwell underestimates the weirdness of the human mind. Although he does acknowledge the effects of false or overly generalized stereotypes, (and discusses them at great length) I still have the impression that he is ignoring the sheer number of variables that affect thought, and the fact that a person usually can’t even tell what factors led to a certain decision or impression unless the thought process was conscious. The point of his book is that people can learn to sort out the different things that affect their subconscious thoughts and to rely upon the logical subconscious thoughts for all time-sensitive decision-making. He acknowledges the value of stopping to think things through, but argues that it isn’t necessary and isn’t often worth the time it takes. Gut feelings, he claims, are just as rational as deductive reasoning.

My point is this: I don’t think that logic and emotions are entirely separate or entirely connected. It makes sense that intuitive feelings sometimes can come from a quick and automatic but analytical thought process, but intuitive feelings and snap judgments can also be determined by completely random factors. Countless studies have shown that subtle things like the weather or the color of the walls can influence someone’s attitude or mood, and it’s obvious even without any scientific research that people’s thought processes are affected by whatever else they may have on their minds. The studies that Gladwell cites demonstrate that observation and logic also can affect our thoughts on a subconscious level, but they can’t disprove the presence of countless other variables.  I’m obviously not a scientist, but even I know that you can’t make valid scientific assertions without analyzing the variables in the experiment and considering whether the experiment conditions are too contrived to allow the results to correspond to real life. Although I think that this book is very interesting, and there may be some truth to some of his ideas, I don’t think that Gladwell’s theory is valid enough to be applicable in reality.