Saturday, January 26, 2008

The validity and limitations of reasoning

Imagine living your whole life in a virtual reality. Like the holodeck in Star Trek, your entire world is created for your senses by a computer generation. Physically, your body might be lying in a bed, while your mind lived out its days in a heavenly illusionary world.

If this sounds far off, maybe your imagination can easier wrap itself around the idea of living in a medicated state created by doctors always feeding you hallucinogenic drugs.

These images that I am painting beg the question, "Does the world we live in, only exist in our minds?" Descartes came to the conclusion of "I think, therefore I am."

Solipsism is a philosophical idea that suggests that the world that we experience only exists in our minds. What is it in you and me that finds an incongruity in living such delusional lives? Is it simply because the thought experiment informs us that while we'd be medicated, lying on the doctor's bed in our hallucinogenic bliss, we'd be ignorant of the physical world going on around us? Is it the thought that we'd be isolating ourselves from others living in the physical world?

One thing can be said about sopipsism. It is logically consistent with itself. Any of you reading this blog could say that the world you experience only exists in YOUR minds. You could deny my experience that suggests otherwise. No matter what I said to convince you of the reality of my experience, you'd be able to conjure up a logically consistent counterargument.

Interesting enough, lunatics in insane asylums AND conspiracy theorists have this same potential. G.K. Chesterton suggests in his book Orthodoxy, that it is not that the lunatic has lost his/her ability reason. It is that the lunatic has lost everything BUT reason.

I think that many people, as a result of this philosophical diving, come away concluding that all truth is relative or that the world is not logical.

The statement "all truth is relative" is an absolute statement, thus rendering itself to be illogical. But what about a worldview that says the world is full of contradictions that are true?

While we can't always make sense of the world around us, our life experience does force us to conform to reasoning every time we cross the street, drive in our cars, choose a vocation, or go about even the most banal of daily tasks. So we can conclude that reality BEGS conformity to reason at its most basic level. When things appear to be illogical, we must assume that there IS a logic consistency beyond our ability to connect the dots.

Reasoning, like a blender, can only work if you feed it. Sometimes when we have nothing to feed it, we tend to blame the blender and are tempted to throw the blender away instead of just accepting that we don't have anything to put into it.

To summarize thus far, I am affirming the validity of reasoning, affirming the existence of absolute (and may I add transcendent) truth, yet allowing for the idea that two logically consistent, yet contradictory paradigms can co-exist as arguments. But only one can be true.

I believe we are uncovering the validity, yet limited reach of reason. To say it another way, reason necessitates its own limitations. Reason draws its own boundaries. There are things that exist outside of empiricism (this is where faith comes in). There are things that exist outside of our own experiences. The world DOES exist outside of our own minds.

When a tree falls in the forest it makes a sound whether or not WE hear it.

Now, just because I am suggesting that reason is limited doesn't mean that it is not a valid tool. A power drill is limited but it is a valid tool. Every time I need to drill a hole, I will reach for it, but I will discard it in favor of a hammer when I need to place a nail into the wall.

So when I am participating in debates, I do use reasoning as a tool to point out logical inconsistencies on the other side. But there are times when both sides are logically consistent.... Then what?

I should have been a lawyer in a sense that I can often conjure up an air-tight argument for or against something. I have to be sensitive to not confuse the strength of a position's argument with its veracity.

This is why ultimately (and at a higher level of argumentation), I believe worldviews need to pass existential tests. Given two logically consistent worldviews, I ask "Does the belief make you a better person?", "Does this belief bring happiness, fulfillment and meaning in the long-term?"

Ultimately, I'm finding the key to WHY I believe is tied directly to my being a worship leader, not in a narrow music sense but in the sense that worship is ultimately giving every breath of our lives to God. I fail at this, but when I am succeeding, I am most fulfilled, most happy and living the most meaningful life no matter what my circumstances are around me. Jesus said, "The truth shall set you free"


A.J. Stich said...

hey. thanks for the e-mail about my podcast. yeah, it seems like you did end up on with some different conclusions, but i agree with you that we could probably learn from each other.

i just read your first entry about sophism and the exclusivity of logic. have you read ayn rand at all? although more poppy (culturally) than your typical philosopher, she makes some great arguments on logic in her book "Atlast Shrugged."

the issue i keep running into with the validity of straight up logic is that it seems too contextualized. depending on our socialization, culture, and psychological growth, you and i may have different schema's for certain words, experiences, etc. and logically, yeah, sophism sort of takes care of that in the sense that it makes sense to "me" because i'm conjuring up my schema in my sophistic world (my mind); and essentially that is logic. then logic seems, and may very well effectually be far too contextualized to the point where it loses its utility to defend itself outside of the one's mind.

what point is it to converse with logic if logic is only logic in my mind?

i'm certainly not a philosopher and i have little to no formal training on these issues outside of a liberal arts college degree and some personal reading, but it's fun to shoot the s***.

look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Greg Jones said...

Hi A.J.,

No, I haven't read Ayn Rand. There are so many good books out there and so little time!

You wrote:
"the issue i keep running into with the validity of straight up logic is that it seems too contextualized"

"what point is it to converse with logic if logic is only logic in my mind?"

Ahhhhhh.... I see you agree with me that logic is a valid litmus test for truth. Then you really DON'T have a problem with logic being what you call "too conceptualized...."

You wrote, "i'm certainly not a philosopher..."

I'm not a formally trained one either. But I see the questions that you have been asking regarding your faith, as well as in politics, as being undergirded by these philosophical issues.

Here's one quick example. I saw on your blog that you liked Obama. I could never vote for him or Hillary simply because the philosophical underpinning of liberalism is that man is inherently good (they reject the idea of the "fall of man" as expressed in classic Christianity).

As a result, this is inherently a rejection of the notion that "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely". Any ruler who rejects such a concept is a potential threat if they gain power.

BTw, its not my wish to go political if we continue these discussions. I believe the theological and philosophical groundwork is most important. The kingdom of God is internal and will spring forth the right fruit without my trying to "genetically engineer" it.

BTW, you kept referring to sophism... I think you confused that word with solipsism (

Keep up the exchange.

I hope to learn from you.