Friday, September 26, 2014

Beyond Logic Lies... NOTHING

I briefly mentioned in my diatribe on astrology that I could dedicate an entire blog post to one particular argument.  Specifically, the argument that certain delusional beliefs are "beyond logic."  While it came up in the context of astrology and tarot card readings, I'm pretty sure we've all heard this dodge with respect to things like "spirit science" and most certainly theistic belief.  It's a convenient little cop-out for people who feel that the burden of proof is a yoke too heavy to wear.  Rather than actually try to back up their beliefs or pretend there is any substance to them, it is easier to proclaim by fiat that the rules of rational discourse don't apply to them.  It's also particularly amusing that they don't just say that logic and reason aren't applicable, but that they're "beyond" logic...  as if to imply that being reasonable and applying some measure of sensibility is beneath one who believes in bullshit.  While the example that I'm referencing was brought up in regards to astrology, it's just as common in nearly every nonsensical belief.  New age, "spirit science", religion, alt-med woo-woo, and anything that carries the hallmark of Deepak Chopra.

You've probably heard it in several extraordinarily patronizing forms.  "You can't begin to understand XXXXX with logic."  "YYYY is above the limits of mere human reasoning."  "There's more to life than evidence and logic and all that."  "You're too dependent on your science and facts."  "There are things about the universe we cannot begin to understand with our limited reasoning."  And so on and on...  and on...  and on.  You might even occasionally see the roundabout form of "for those who believe, all things are possible" -- which is essentially saying that whatever they're selling works beautifully so long as you're gullible.  It's especially funny to see how they try to make it sound as if it's the rational thinker who has the problem, and not them.  Is there really such a thing as "beyond" logic?  Well, perhaps... if you want to spit on the very idea of true and false.

There is a general rule that anyone who uses this sort of argument is doing so because they have no logical or reasonable mode of thinking by which to support their ideas.  They sound like they might at times, but when you prod deeper, you'll just find that a lot of their explanations betray an utter ignorance of what they're talking about.  You can hear all you want about crystal energies, emitted frequencies, angels, demons, gods, astral projections, planetary influences, doshas, sacred geometries, souls and spirits, and every single time, you can always find some sort of indication that these people are talking through their hats.  When you point out the flaws in their thinking, that's where they realize that reason and logic do not favor their view, and the facts certainly do not.  And there it is -- logic isn't everything.

At times, it seems more like they're rebelling against a stereotype of the rational as cold and unfeeling with some sort of outright rejection of the experiential part of life.  I have heard people like this talk as if being "all about logic" means you miss out on the trees and the mountains and the sunrises.  I've even heard plenty retort back to me "but what about love?"  I heave a heavy sigh when I hear this crap.  Even though it sounds like a strawman, they're not really aiming to make reasonable people look like robots -- they're trying to make you point out that you're not a machine just to bring to light that you acknowledge that logic isn't all there is.

But saying that there are things for which logic is not entirely applicable is not the same thing as saying that it is beyond logic.  Furthermore, it is most certainly not an endorsement for the illogical.  It is important to note that saying that logic and reason are "not entirely applicable" is not the same thing as saying that logic and reason are "entirely inapplicable."  The former suggests that logic and reason can apply in some part, but not in every aspect, while the latter suggests that logic and reason have no place at all, or at least can't contribute in a meaningful way even if you tried to apply them.  Pretty much anything which is not entirely rational falls in this group -- which is to say that there's nothing in this universe which is entirely devoid of the applicability of logic and reason.

The common example people bring to the table to try and talk of concepts which are "beyond" logic is to talk of things like beauty and love.  These are indeed not strictly logical or reason-driven concepts.  That's not to say that there is no place whatsoever for reason in these facets of life.  If not for that, we wouldn't simply be unable, for instance, to tell love apart from infatuation -- the very concept of doing so wouldn't even make sense.  That's what happens when you let go of logic.  It's easy to think that having other factors to consider apart from logic means you're "beyond" the limits of logic, but those who use this argument aren't really trying to tell you there's more to it than logic, reason, and evidence alone; They're trying to construct some ham-handed getaway plan from the burden of having to explain themselves.

One important detail that people leave out when they cite examples like "love" and "beauty" is that in no way are these truth claims. I love my wife... But there is nothing about my loving her that is objective.  It is exclusively my own subjective experience.  So much so, that in spite of the fact that she is on the receiving end of it, her own subjective experience of love towards me is necessarily unique to her and is not by any means inevitable to be similar to mine for her; rightfully so, I'm sure you'd all agree.  Yet somehow, if you love Jesus, it's my duty as your fellow man to feel the exact same kind of love with the exact same flavor of belief as you.  By that right, it should make perfect sense for me to take what would normally be viewed as my personal feelings and have a bunch of clean-cut teenagers dressed in white shirts, black ties and pants knocking on your door saying, "Hello. Have you heard the good news about our lady, the honorable wife of The Grumpy Anti-theist?"  Yes, I know I'm mixing up the patterns of sects here, but you get the idea.  There could, for instance, be some objective components to my appreciation at the beauty of a starry night sky.  Being scientifically literate means I feel the sense of awe at the vastness of space knowing that every one of those twinkling points of light I see are great glowing orbs of swirling plasma millions of miles across separated by trillions of miles of emptiness, and yet I only see with my naked eyes a few thousand of what actually numbers in the hundreds of billion billions...  And yet these enormous glowing masses shine their light due to mechanisms that occur on the scale of the inscrutably tiny.  While all of these little factoids are objectively true, the appreciation thereof is definitively subjective.  I use this example in particular because it's an all but perfect example of a subjective experience that is tightly intertwined with objective truths; which in turn makes it a great example of how even when logic and reason are not relevant in full, that doesn't make them irrelevant, either.

The point here is that at no point in subjects like love and beauty are we talking about things that one party is trying to make the other believe.  The concept of even being objectively true or false doesn't even apply to these sorts of things.  When you are trying to get me to swallow what you have to sell, do not dare pretend that you have the luxury of not having to explain yourself.  That is where you cannot afford to do without logic.  What people often forget logic and reason is that it's not some framework of structures that locks you in a box from which there is no escape -- it is the very means by which we make sense of the reality in which we live.  The notion that any thing or person holds identity (i.e. that I am not you or that a tree in NYC and a tree in Boston are two distinct trees) is a logical rule.  The notion that ideas can be coherent is formed out of rational and logical connectivity of components.  The very idea that something can be true or false at all is in the realm of logic.  So at the very outset, you've got a serious problem if you're going to be trying to use "illogic" to try and convince me of something when you don't even have the very concept of demarcating true and false.

At the same time, people who push nonsense like astrology or theism or Feng Shui/Vaasthu or new-age woo are all ready to say that what they have in their hand is intelligible.  Astrology, in particular, has quite a lot of rules and defined characteristics for heavenly bodies and so on...  but then, how can it possibly have all this, and at the same time, be beyond reason and comprehension?  You can't have it both ways...  oh, wait -- if you completely let go of the very concept of logic and thereby forfeit the framework that allows one to differentiate between true and false...  between here and there...  between left and orange...  between a pickle and a planet...  well then, anything goes, doesn't it?  That's exactly what they're hoping.  But if anything goes, so too does nothing.  If you can say that the concept of your god or your astral projections or your quantum consciousness or whatever such travesties to thought you propose are real and substantive, but can't really be understood by logic, reason, or straightforward analysis of evidence.  But if you're allowed to say that there are things which cannot be apprehended through rational discourse, then likewise, I can just say that you're dead wrong in everything you put forth, but our human reason and logic are too limited to elucidate why that is the case. Would anyone find this a passable counter?  Well as long as you're ready to say that you're dealing with things that are beyond logic, it's perfectly fair.

This is aside, of course, from the matter of how you would even begin to show that something that is a truth claim can be beyond logic in the first place.  What tools would you use to demonstrate this?  Logic?  Then logic isn't all that limited after all.  When I try to get dualists to define their idea of what the mind is or get theists to define their god, the best I can get out of them is all sorts of descriptions about this "thing" in which they believe; properties it is said to harbor and what not.  This is all fine, but it still doesn't tell me what it is.  But the real dishonesty in it is when they turn around and, in the very next breath, say that it can't really be understood by our feeble human reasoning.  If it can't be understood by humans, then how is it that you are able to ascribe any properties whatsoever to this nebulous whatever it is you're pushing?  How can you even establish that it is a thing to which those properties apply?  And if it is supposed beyond our capacity to understand, why should I believe that you've gotten anything to say about it that might actually be true?  Put another way, once you've thrown away the necessity of logic, rationality, and evidence, then trying to convince me of your belief puts a demand to be illogical, irrational, and delusional...  and that does not bode well for the veracity of your position.

To be fair, the majority of people who actually make a business of religious apologetics prefer to claim that their god is logically tenable.  Even the crazy evangelicals will go to lengths to try and cite "evidence" to prove their beliefs.  Every single piece of evidence they offer is invariably false, as are all of their impressions of what scientists actually say about anything...  but at least they're trying to use some sort of logical deduction.  New-Age woo-woo charlatans like Deepak Chopra and his ilk will freely hijack the language of quantum mechanics in order to at least sound reasonable.  Often times, they will rely on arguments from analogy, which, sophistry though it may be, at least could come off as logical.  There is also a general logic and deductive reasoning in some of the alternative medical systems like Ayurveda and chiropractic...  albeit logical extrapolation from an irrational foundation. The same can't really be said for the majority of dualists, astrologers, psychics I've encountered, or for that matter, the religious apologetics of a lot of Hindus and Buddhists.  Funnier still is that the arguments that start to try and favor the logical approach tend not to come from the people who make a profession out of astrology or tarot cards or psychic readings, but from the believers who are suckered in by them.  Professional astrologers are the ones who try to argue that what they do is beyond comprehension through mere human logic or spout some nonsense that "science is limited to the boundaries of our 5 senses."  It's their clients who try to pretend that there's something more substantial to it all than smoke and mirrors cloaking a shroud of intricately woven equine feces.  This is only natural, as someone who has fallen into this web of deception constructs all nature of defense mechanisms to try and convince themselves that they're not suckers.

Do you notice, though, that the defenses they try to use are generally an effort to try and make something rational and reasonable out of their folly?  This is, as opposed to the completely brainwashed and/or the ones who take part in said washing...  who not only refuse to use reason and logic, but go as far as to impugn and belittle those who would use actual logic, reason, and evidence against them.  The defense mechanism of the sucker is trying to make sense of things in order to avoid the embarrassing admission that they were duped; and they realize that logic and reason are the only tools we have by which to make sense of anything.  Without them, you are walking blindly in empty space without even a sense of which way is up.  For those who would dare to argue that something is beyond logic and therefore, we shouldn't expect to understand it logically, they are left with the dilemma of showing how anything could make sense in a world where logic doesn't apply.  And if it doesn't even make sense, how are we to believe any part of it?  Or even know what to believe, for that matter?  Occasionally, you'll hear the modifier of "human" reasoning being the limiting factor.  Well, then, what reasoning would you use?  And if the propositions you put forth are positively tenable using your nonhuman reasoning, then how are you to make this available to humans?  Can you outline the principles and structure of nonhuman reason?  And if these ideas are so "beyond" human logic and reason, how do you even avail them to humans in any robust and consistent way?  If that is not possible, what sort of motivation could there ever be to offer any of these ideas any sort of purchase?  These are not issues you can just shirk when you are dealing with truth claims. You certainly can't deal with them by saying "well, I can't explain it in terms you can understand, so I won't."

There are certainly plenty of things which are very hard to explain in this world, and trying to explain them would involve laying down a pretty hefty framework of background knowledge...  but that's not a valid reason to end all effort and just continue asserting.  Furthermore, claiming that logic and reason are insufficient to comprehend your beliefs without even making an effort to establish what IS sufficient...  and rather preferring to act as if you're sitting on some pedestal which is unreachable by valid thought.  The only reason one could possibly have to devalue logic and reason is when you have no ability whatsoever to answer to it.  That doesn't mean you hold some beliefs which are beyond logic.  It means your way of approaching beliefs is beneath logic.  Bow your head to it, or stay the hell out of the way of us grown-ups.