Once upon a time, back to the time of cold weapons, there was a merchant selling weapons at an open market. He only had two products to sell, one was a shield which was used to protect oneself, and another was a spear which was used to attack someone. He raised his shield and shouted “this is the best shield in the world, no spear could penetrate it.” And then he raised his spear and shouted “this is the best spear in the world, and it could penetrate any shield in the world.” Then a bystander asked him, “how about using your spear to pierce your shield, would it break through?” The merchant could not answer that question and very embarrassed.
If that merchant was only selling a shield or only selling a spear, than even if he boasted that his shield would not be broken by any spear or his spear could break through any shield, others would not have any reason to deny his claim unless they actually did some tests to disapprove the claim. In fact, logically it is possible to have a shield that no spear could break through or a spear that could break through any shield.
However, we don’t need to have any materialized knowledge about how strong a shield could be or how sharp a spear could be, we know right away that it is impossible for anyone to find a spear that could break through any shield and a shield that could stand the attack by any spear at the same time. It is just impossible to have both of them at the same time, and we know this solely by applying the basic logic.
When John came across the above story in a book of parables, he found it very interesting. He had been noticing for quite a long time that human logic in general is disharmonic or broken, and he believed that the brokenness of logic would not only directly affect human social activities, but also have some fundamental impact upon the way human beings think and reason. This story provided him with a good example about the broken nature of human logic when reflecting the real world.
One week passed fast. On early Saturday morning, John and Jack came to the Dunkin Donuts store at the corner of the Main Street again as they agreed upon one week ago. The store was not busy since they came in the very early morning. The same table they sat last week was available. They bought their coffee and donuts and then came to sit at the same place.
“How was the week?” John asked.
“Excellent. What you suggested last week was great. I have been trying to be very positive and it helps a lot.” Jack replied and then asked, “How was your week?”
“I was fine. A couple of days ago I read a very interesting story and I think you might like it too,” said John.
John told Jack the ancient weaponry merchant story.
“That’s a very interesting story and sounds very profound to me.” Jack commented after he heard the story.
“It is indeed an interesting paradox.” John said, “But different from most paradoxes, this story demonstrates the conflict between two logically valid statements. When these two statements are stated separately both of them are valid, but when they are put into one big context then the whole statement is invalid.”
“Why is that special?” asked Jack.
John explained, “It is because the moral behind this story is related to some fundamental logic behind various conflicts in human society.”
“I thought that when people are fighting against each other it is normally because of conflict of material interests.” Jack asked, “Is there any logic common to all the conflicts?”
“Even though each conflict might have some particular background of materialized interest issues, metaphysically speaking, there could be some common logic pattern behind different conflicts.” John replied.
“That sounds very interesting.” Jack asked, “Could you give an example?”
“Sure.” John said, “We don’t need any violent example for illustrating this. Let’s consider a simple example of the campaign of politicians: One politician goes to two communities to get their support. These two communities are of the same size but they have very different needs. In each community the politician told the voters that he would put their needs as the first priority on his agenda if he is elected.”
“This is a very familiar scenario,” laughed Jack.
John continued to say, “We all know that there could not be two first priorities. But no community would like to vote for someone who would claim not to put their interests as the first priority, and thus the politician has to tell each community that their interests are his first consideration.”
“I believe that,” said Jack.
“So you can see the similarity between this scenario and the weaponry merchant story, right?” asked John.
“Very clearly,” replied Jack.
John then said, “Even though most conflicts in this world are tied with some materialized interests, when it comes to human decision of how to deal with these different interests, it always involves logical reasoning, that’s why that weaponry merchant story indeed manifests some common logic behind the conflict of interests in real life.”
“I see,” said Jack.
“What we see from the weaponry merchant story is only one example of the brokenness in our logic in general.” John said.
“Brokenness in logic?” Jack reiterated this new term he just heard from John.
“Yes. Don’t you feel that our logic is broken if two statements are logically perfect when stated independently, but makes a logically invalid sentence when they are simply put together?” John asked.
Jack pondered for a few seconds and then replied, “I think you are right.”
“But this brokenness in our logic could also be a good thing.”
“I thought the example you just gave about the conflict of interests does not sound like a good thing, doesn’t it?” Jack felt a bit confused.
“Even though conflicts of interests could be a bad thing, it could also be a good thing in many senses and basically the progress of human civilization has been driven by a lot of conflicts of interests in the history.” John replied and then teased, “But we don’t want to get ourselves big headaches to talk about the evolution history of human civilization, do we?”
“No. That is too much a big topic for me even to think about.” Jack replied.
“But we might be interested in the psychological protection from the brokenness in our logic system.” John said.
“Are you saying protection from brokenness in logic?” Jack felt more confused.
“Yes. In general brokenness of logic could be either a bad thing or a good thing.” John explained, “Since we act largely based on our reasoning, and we reason with our logic, the brokenness of our logic could then cause tremendous misunderstanding, misconduct, mistrust, mistakes, hatred, conflicts, fighting, and wastes of efforts every day.”
“I agree,” said Jack.
“On the other hand, we are psychologically and emotionally protected by the brokenness of logic all the time,” said John.
“Could you explain it more?” requested Jack.
“In order to understand this, we need to have a better knowledge about how people are reasoning in everyday life.” John said and then asked Jack a question, “How do you like the saying that ‘human beings are rational creatures’?”
“Be honestly, I am not very sure about that. I have seen too much nonsense in my life which could not be understood if we assume that human beings are rational.” Jack replied.
“I could not agree more on that.” John then asked, “Do you remember the Benjamin Libet experiment and the iceberg analogy I mentioned the other day when you guys were at my house?”
“Yes, I still remember. I was most impressed by what you said that our unconscious mind is the main designer and initiator of our actions, but it does listen to the intention of our conscious mind.” Jack replied.
“I am now very impressed by your memory as well.” John laughed.
“It is because you are such a good teacher.” Jack complimented.
“Thanks.” John then said, “The mechanism of how our mind operates as we understand now tells that our mind does not work based on consistent or continuous logic as most people might have thought. Instead it operates based on how unconscious mind enjoys most pleasure and avoids from pain as far as possible.”
“I totally buy into this theory because it explains my own experience quite well.” Jack said, “But I think logic is still important even in the work of unconscious mind, right?”
John replied, “Logic is only one factor that could influence the work of the unconscious mind. There are many other important factors that could influence the work of the unconscious mind, such as physical enjoyment, admiration of power, attraction of beauty and money, scare of adversary consequence, and so on.”
“That makes sense,” said Jack.
“Now come back to the issue of how human beings reasoning. There is a lot misconception about this. People normally assume that we always apply logic to do the reasoning first and then come to the conclusion.” John said.
“That sounds correct,” said Jack.
“That is quite an illusion in general.” John said, “Indeed, for most of the time, the work of unconscious mind would lead people jump to conclusions or semi-conclusions first, and then try to apply logic to support their conclusions or find some conclusions which are close to the semi-conclusions they already had as the first thoughts.”
“I guess you are right. You just reminded me how I normally think through things.” Jack agreed with John on the pattern how people reason in life.
“Because of this basic pattern how we think and reason, our thoughts and thus our language expressions are basically situation-centered instead of logically consistent.” John said.
“What do you mean by situation-centered and logically consistent?” asked Jack.
“We might use that weaponry merchant story as an example.” John explained, “If we first sell shields and we tell people that our shields are invincible under any attack, and then later on when we sell spears we say that our spears can break through any shields including those spears we sold before. This is called logically consistent.”
“Cool. What is situation-centered then?”
“If sometimes we sell spears, and sometimes we sell shields. Whenever we sell spears we say that our spears can break through any shields, and whenever we sell shields we say that our shields are invincible under any attack.” John said, “This is called situation-centered, which means that whatever we say, we only care about the current situation and forget what we say for other circumstances.”
“Shouldn’t that be called cheating?” Jack asked.
“If we do that on purpose, then we should say it is cheating.” John said, “However, if what we say is just what we really think without the intention of hiding anything, then people might not call it as cheating.”
“If people who do that are not cheating, then they must be suffering from amnesia.” Jack said a bit excitedly, “Otherwise, how could someone be genuinely saying things in conflict to each other all the time.”
“Cool down pal.” John laughed and said, “Don’t forget that I am making the example oversimplified for your benefit to understand the issue.”
Jack laughed too and said, “I am sorry that I sounded very silly. But I am still kind lost on the issue.”
“Understandable. What we are talking about is indeed a bit complicated. But it is worth talking about because it is important for us to better understand how we are thinking and reasoning.” John said.
“I fully trust you on that. Please continue.” Jack requested.
“Actually you are right on that, if in real life someone acts literally like what I was describing in that example, then he or she must be either lying or suffering from amnesia.” John said, “But if the conflict of logic is not so obvious as in that weaponry merchant story, but is hidden behind some disguise, then he or she could be a very normal person.”
“Any example?” requested Jack.
“As a simple example, if a poor guy talks too much about money, people would say that he is obsessed with money; but if a business man talks a lot about money, they would praise him as a diligent professional.” John said.
“That is true,” said Jack.
“Let’s think about such a scenario, one same person use ‘someone who talks too much about money is obsessed with money’ to judge a poor guy one day, and then use ‘someone who talks a lot about money is really a role model of professionalism’ to judge a business man the other day.” John said, “In both cases, this person jumps to the conclusions first based on his feeling from the economic positions of the subjects, and then applies his logic to support his statements later.”
“I guess so,” said Jack.
John then said, “If this person made a comment about that poor guy first, and then a few weeks later makes a comment about that business man, most probably he would not connect these two cases together and thus he would not realize that his comments were based on his feelings about the economic positions of those two subjects. Instead at each occasion he might think his comment was just logically correct.”
“It sounds a bit complicated. But I think that I understand the concept of situation-centered much better now.” Jack said to John, “What do you think is the reason why people would think things out in this way instead of the logically consistent way?”
“The reason is because our mental activity is mainly controlled by the unconscious mind, which follows the law of ‘pursuit of pleasure and escape from pain’.” John explained, “For most people at most of the time, current situation has much stronger psychological impact than profound logical connections, and that’s why the situation-centered way instead of the logically consistent way is the main pattern in which human beings are thinking and reasoning.”
“That is a very intriguing insight,” complimented Jack.
“But this is not an exclusive pattern, which means from time to time people do think in logically consistent way in various occasions, especially when they do mathematical or scientific reasoning.” John added.
“That I believe.” Jack said, “Would you now please tell me more about the relationship between this situation-centered pattern and the brokenness of logic you mentioned earlier?”
“From what we have discussed you might have already sensed that the situation-centered pattern itself is a source of the brokenness in our thinking and reasoning.” John said, “In addition to that, the situation-centered way of thinking in turn is also influenced by the brokenness in our logic.”
Jack said, “You just mentioned that the situation-centered way of thinking is caused by how unconscious mind works. If so, how could it be influenced by the brokenness in logic?”
John replied, “Because of the brokenness in our logic, even if we could have a strong intention to act against the psychological force of pleasure and pain, we could not think or reason consistently or continuously all the time. This frustration itself would contribute to the psychological force of pleasure and pain itself, and thus the brokenness in our logic would help to enforce the situation-centered pattern.”
“That makes sense,” said Jack.
Jack felt excited about the conversation and very eager to know more about the brokenness of logic, and about paradox as well. He asked John, “Besides that weaponry merchant story, is there any other paradox that also tells us something about the brokenness in logic?”
“All the paradoxes people have proposed in the past basically exposed some kind brokenness in our logic,” replied John.
“I like to hear another example.” Jack requested.
“Here is another one.” John said, “More than two thousand years ago, the Greek philosopher Eubulides of Miletus proposed a paradox called Paradox of the heap. It goes like this:
One grain would not make a heap, which is agreeable by everyone.
Adding one more grain to some grains would not turn the existing grains into a heap, which is agreeable by everyone.
Then let’s do this: starting from one grain, we add one more grain at a time and let them to pile up, once we have one million grains at the same place, we already have a big heap, which is also agreeable by everyone.
But during the whole process, we could not pin down any single step when we were adding one grain into the existing aggregation could turn the existing grains into a heap.
Could you sense the logic issue here?”
“Yes, of course. I would say that this paradox is a good one too.” Jack asked “Is there any trick in the reasoning process so that we are just kind cheated by the trick?”
“No.” John replied, “There is no any trick in this paradox, even no any play of language.”
“How could that be?”
“It is because in every step of the process the action and outcome is clearly defined and commonly agreeable.” John said, “In fact, this paradox shows the brokenness in our logic between different logical or cultural levels. In other words, it tells that our logic could not even clearly reflect the continuous transition between different scales.”
“That is a surprise to me, but it is very good to know.” Jack said and then asked, “May I ask a question?”
“Please,” replied John.
“In that weaponry merchant paradox, when that merchant made the logically conflicting claim, some bystander pointed out his logic problem right away. If we are thinking and then speaking with broken logic in life every day, how could people don’t tell each other their logic problem?”
“Excellent question,” John complimented and then explained, “For most of the time, people would not even be aware that there is any logic issue in their own way of thinking or in others’ talking. This is because for most of the time we don’t sell the spears and the shields at the same time in real life even though we might sell them separately with some time interval between. We act like that not because we intentionally hiding our weakness but because usually we have no need to sell them at the same time.”
“Then what if there is a need to do so?” asked Jack.
“That would be when we need to be careful with what we say.” John said, “There might be two scenarios for this: for the first, we are aware of the existing logic issue, then we have to make some hard decision to choose admitting that our spears are not super or admitting that our shields are not invincible.”
“Just tell the truth,” commented Jack.
“If we do know the truth, then morally speaking we should tell the truth. Unfortunately, people don’t always know the truth because it needs wisdom to see the truth; and even if they know the truth, not everyone likes to tell the truth.” John said.
“That is sad.” Jack said, “What is the second scenario?”
John replied, “For the second scenario, we are even not aware of the existing logic issue, and thus we might just make some logically conflict statement without knowing the problem. When we do that we might get ourselves into trouble if others find out the inconsistency in what we say.”
John then listed some daily life examples that happened in their town and were familiar to both of them. Jack felt more comfortable about the concept of broken logic and then he reminded John about an issue that he has been waiting for explanation.
“So far we are talking about the broken nature of our logic. What I can see about this brokenness is quite negative. Why did you say that we are protected by the brokenness in our logic?” Jack asked.
John did not answer Jack’s question directly. Instead, he changed the topic and said, “We know every person would die some day. But during most of the time in our life, we don’t think about when and how we are going to die, right?”
“Surely not. Otherwise we would go crazy,” replied Jack.
“You are right. If we do know when and how we are going to die, then even though it might still be sad to think about it, we could get used to that reality. The problem is that we don’t really know when and how we are going to die, and thus thinking about that issue when we are still young and healthy would indeed to scare ourselves to death with illusive imaginations and baseless worries.” John said.
“I agree,” said Jack.
John then said, “For the same reason, if we always think in a logically consistent way instead of situation-centered way while we don’t have the full information about what have happened, what are happening and what will happen in the future, then our mind would be filled with all kinds of baseless imaginations and our heart would be very sorrow for the darkness of life.”
“I agree with you in principle but I still feel that I don’t have a clear picture.” Jack said.
“To better understand this, we need to come back to the philosophy of ‘the good of the bad’ as we discussed last week. The whole reason that the brokenness of the logic could be good is because of our unchangeable fundamental weakness in general.” John explained, “If we could be perfect in knowing things and perfect in dealing with emotional issues and so on, then the brokenness in logic might be a completely negative thing. But given that we are weak in all other aspects in life, then the brokenness in logic could be a blessing in life.”
“I see,” said Jack.
John said, “As an example, hopes and noble goals are very important for human life. Hopes are very essential for ordinary people especially those who are struggling in poverty or other adversary conditions. Without hopes, life would be much tougher for most people in this world, and without noble goals and efforts towards the noble goals, human civilization would not have been progressed as much as we have seen in the past.”
John paused a moment and then continue to say, “When people hold hopes for the future they normally don’t know much and also don’t care much about how the hopes might become true, they just keep telling themselves something like ‘tomorrow would better’ or ‘someday that would become true’ or ‘if I have the chance’ or ‘justice would be done someday’ and so on; and when they make efforts towards some noble goals, they normally don’t know and don’t care about the detailed steps towards those goals.”
“That is correct.” Jack then asked, “Is this good for them?”
“This is good because if they think much and care much about the middle steps, they most probably would give up their hopes or goals.” John replied.
“I agree.” Jack said, “If they tried and could not see the solution they might consider it as hopeless.”
“This is a good example of how brokenness in logic could serve the good, right?” John then asked another question, “What would this pattern of ‘thinking far but ignoring how to get far’ remind you?”
“Wait a second. Let me figure it out.”
A couple of minutes later Jack said, “I think that you are referring to the Paradox of the Heap, right?”
“Exactly,” John said, “from that Paradox of the Heap we could see our weakness in perceiving the transition between different logical levels, and thus jumping to remote perceptions without caring about the middle process becomes a basic psychological pattern among human beings.”
“Now I think I am getting a good sense about the connection between the brokenness in our logic system and how we think and reason in everyday life.” Jack said happily.
“The significance of the psychological protection from the brokenness in logic is that it constitutes one kind of psychological force in our daily life.” John said.
“What do you mean?” asked Jack.
“It means because the brokenness in logic provides a kind of natural protection to us all through our life, any effort to overcome this brokenness in logic could create some stress in the unconscious mind.” John explained.
“What could be the impact of this psychological force?” asked Jack.
“People might not be aware or sense any impact of this force in life since it is natural, just like that people normally don’t really pay attention to what impact a big laugh could have.” John said, “But for people like you who are trying to act against certain habitual psychological momentum, say by meditation or some other disciplines, you might sense the impact if pay attention to your inner changes during your personal transition from old status to new.”
“What kind of impact should I expect?” asked Jack.
“When you see things farther or in more consistent way because of your personal transition towards a clearer mind, you might feel more stressful because of the weakened protection of the brokenness in logic, and that is the impact you should expect.” John replied.
“I think I am already experiencing that force recently.” Jack said, “Thanks for pointing it out because otherwise I might suspect whether I have done something wrong.”
“Wow, time flies. It’s lunch time. Why don’t we find a place to have our lunch?” John proposed.
“Sure. What do you like?”
“How about pizza?”
“I eat pizza almost every day. Let’s try something different today. How about Japanese?”
“Ok. Let’s go to Japanese.”