“I had about 30 seconds to make my last statement in freedom before I landed on the main street of that little village right ahead. And so help me, I whispered to myself: “Five years down there at least. I’m leaving the world of technology and entering the world of Epicetus.”
Vice Admiral Stockdale – Stockdale on Stoicism I: The Stoic Warrior’s Triad
How I process a thought is an attempt at storytelling. Nevertheless, I can try to explain a version of how I’ve come to understand how I think. How I think domineers how I deal with uncertainty. This attitude might be substituted with the concept of faith but, unlike faith, I do not focus my ideals on the positive. The attitude is more akin to the Stoics stance on uncertainty. But I am not a stoic. Yet a true stoic is to be admired and copied. Vice Admiral Stockdale’s attitude of imprisonment for eight years in Vietnam is the modern day example of a true stoic:
When was asked who didn’t make it out of Vietnam, Stockdale replied:
Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.
Stockdale then added:
This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.
I like Stockdale’s story but we must not forget about the silent evidence. Additionally, like the Spartans, the Stoic’s schemes seem too stiff and stark for our occasion..(more on those in different thoughts).
The process of thinking begins with data being processed consciously in a serial fashion. I observe data, that is, the environment around me; it, be a basis for a concept, a conversation or a disconnected detailed scenario. That data is then arranged into a thought. Arrangement in this sense is the attempt to find connections in the data. Given enough data, it is inevitable that connections will exist. Notice here I am not referring to information. Information is organized data. Information can be thought as, for example, someone telling me their thoughts. This is not considered in my thought process. Erasmus once said: “Is it not a shame for a natural philosopher, that is, for an observer and hunter of nature, to seek testimony of the truth from minds pre-possessed by custom?”
Domain, fallacy and redundancy
Every single thought is then filtered for domain, fallacy and redundancy. What emerges is what I call a thought pattern. Thought patterns are then classified, labeled and filed away. If needed, the thought pattern can be spoken or written down. The drawback of all this is that the filtering process is extremely rigorous and ripen with clauses which renders it somewhat slow.
Clauses are conditional properties of my belief system. They allow me to scrub a thought down to its rough edges. They allow me to create heuristic axioms for the management of these thought patterns. A clause is a function of the three filters which I mentioned earlier: domain, fallacy and redundancy.
Your mind makes you blind.
Destituted of vision due to the saran wrap.
Domain refers here to the situational predicament of the thought in question; where in the complex social web of the human enterprise does it arise? What are the contexts and connections that surround this thought? For example, every day I can observe an individual who suffers from what I call domaintitus. It is where someone can grasp a concept in one domain, say music, yet fail to see it in another, say socioeconomic life.
Domaintitus is a rampant malady. I regrettably ache from it too. Domaintitus seems to me that we are all, in a way, similarly handicapped, unable to recognize the same idea or meaning of a thing when it is presented in a different context. It is as if we are doomed to be deceived by the most superficial part of things, the packaging, the gift wrapping of things, destituted of vision due to the saran wrap. (side note: employing this in my music is ridiculously fun). Some evolutionary psychologist have called it the modularity of the mind where it is believed that the mind may “be composed of innate neural structures or modules which have distinct established evolutionarily developed functions”.
Along the course of evolution, the mind may have created specialized functional structures to deal with specific tasks. Ideas which draws its foundation from Chomsky’s notion of the language acquisition device. However, these ideas are unsupported by empirical evidence. The only way around domaintitus is to make active efforts at analyzing your thinking; that, and only that, is the basic notion of critical thinking. In our democracy of specialists in one domain but ignorant in all others, perhaps the current challenge of philosophy is to answer the question of how to manage our ignorance.
Consider the empty suit who has his bags schlepped up from the hotel front curve to his room and only to be seen minutes later in the gym lifting dead weights. Or the doctor that recommends exercise so you “get tougher”, and a few minutes later writes a prescription for antibiotics in response to a trivial infection so you “don’t get sick”.
Or your belief in a Shaman yet disbelief in UFOs. Or the institutes, the governmental organizations and the individuals who can grasp that marijuana is a harmful drug yet fail to see that caffeine or tobacco is in exactly the same category – some may argue of the superiority of marijuana as the safest drug ever discovered.
Or that organizations, governments behave just like people. Like people, organizations often attribute the behavior of others to their inherent traits, while justifying their own behavior using situational context. Unable to see the same thinking in their counterparts. Or the fact that you hate on the filter fans of instagram and fail to see the nostalgic past preservation of the same idea found when you buy your pre-washed, pre-distressed jeans or silkscreened t-shirts made to look old or ‘antique’ furniture, all in an attempt at connecting with the past.
Domaintitus renders us to be consistently inconsistent. However, this is not about looking for solutions; rather, it is to recognize when one is face with the same problem but warped differently. Only then you are to be considered a critical thinker.
The unconscious ailments and the exaggeration and formalism of bigots and blockheads.
It is beyond the scope of this elementary discussion to exam the myriad fallacies that exist. I will however hover above the most common that I see in my environment.
Post hoc ergo propter hoc
Our greatest intellectual flaw is that we are natural believers. Truth, or the connection between cause and effect, alone interests us. We are persuaded that a thread runs through all things; all worlds are strung on it, as beads; and men, and events, and life, come to us, only because of that thread; they pass and repass, only that we may know the direction and continuity of that line.
A book or statement which goes to show that there is no line, but random and chaos, a calamity out of nothing, a prosperity and no account of it, a hero born from a fool, a fool from a hero,-dispirits us. Seen or unseen, we believe the tie exists. But there is no tie. Or rather, talent makes counterfeit ties; genius finds the real ones – by mistake.
The superior mind will find itself equally at odds with the evils of society, and with the projects that are offered to relieve them. I, as the wise skeptic, am a bad citizen; no conservative. It’s a cosmetic explanation but the details are too detailed. See my previous posts: here, here, and mainly here.
Or what I call the Butterfly. Effectively, all fallacies may be a form of ignoratio elenchi; the sequitur of the absence of critical thought. Though, an effective debating tool by it’s own merit when used purposefully, most of my peers’ utilization, or rather, ailment from this fallacy is albeit unconsciously.
Given a debate or conversation, the argument in question is understood and acknowledged. Though, the conversation wanders off onto irrelevant facts, long outdated palpable observations and obvious utterances until it arrives at a disconnected conclusion. Conversation like these are the most cognitive strenuous on my part. I tend to just quietly nod here and there and casually confirm trivial statements that are made.
How to be creative
When ignoratio elenchi is executed perfectly nonetheless, it can sway crowds, convince a jury or carve a path for you to the top of a sovereign nation. It can also become what Doug Hofstadter has called jootsing, which stands for “jumping out of the system”. It is an important tactic not just in the arts and sciences but also in creativity; creativity, that is vehemently sought but only rarely found in virtue, is often a heretofore unimagined violation of the rules of the system which it sprung. Being creative is not just a matter of embarking on for something novel, anybody can do that, since novelty can be found in any random juxtaposition of stuff – but of making the novel thing jump out of some system, a system that has become somewhat established, for good reasons.
Thank you for Smoking has the perfect reductio ad absurdum explanation of ignoratio elenchi:
Nick Naylor: OK, let’s say that you’re defending chocolate, and I’m defending vanilla. Now if I were to say to you: ‘Vanilla is the best flavour ice-cream’, you’d say…
Joey Naylor: No, chocolate is.
Nick Naylor: Exactly, but you can’t win that argument… so, I’ll ask you: so you think chocolate is the end all and be all of ice-cream, do you?
Joey Naylor: It’s the best ice-cream, I wouldn’t order any other.
Nick Naylor: Oh! So it’s all chocolate for you is it?
Joey Naylor: Yes, chocolate is all I need.
Nick Naylor: Well, I need more than chocolate, and for that matter I need more than vanilla. I believe that we need freedom. And choice when it comes to our ice-cream, and that Joey Naylor, that is the definition of liberty.
Joey Naylor: But that’s not what we’re talking about
Nick Naylor: Ah! But that’s what I’m talking about.
Joey Naylor: …but you didn’t prove that vanilla was the best…
Nick Naylor: I didn’t have to. I proved that you’re wrong, and if you’re wrong I’m right.
Generalization from the particular
Ah my favorite. Debates with older individuals usually bring up this type of fallacy. Their method of argument starts with “let me give you an example..” where this is followed by a particular story that they have heard of or which occurred to them, rather than tackling a logical attempt at reasoning their particular stance on a subject.
This problem stems from the core of people’s lack of understanding of randomness and probability. It is the fallacy of insufficient sample. With closed systems and large numbers i.e. samples, an observer can start to see their Gausian god creep through and could potentially make a generalization and start to predict the next move or the weather.
In the physical world though, the only way to know the next move or tomorrow’s weather is to wait and see. Nothing else. The universe is busily computing tomorrow’s move and weather as rapidly as possible; any smaller model we fabricate is grossly inaccurate.
Is this thought pattern a repeat? Yes. Then nothing to say here. What you just read was in itself a thought pattern.