The states of reasoning.

This is just one possible classification of modes of reasoning. Like any other classification, I propose it because it makes sense to me given what I have observed. Feel free to propose adjustments or additions.

State zero is a state of absence of reasoning, where the person acts on instinct. I include it in this classification of reasoning because often the results of a state zero may be confused for reasoning. In fact, most of the time it is confused for “self-interest.” On the other side of the spectrum, there are also people who believe that everything we think is actually just instinctual, that no one actually has good reasons to believe anything, that it’s all just blind action-reaction (e.g. “you’re an atheist because you were abused by a priest” or “you’re an atheist because you had a weak father figure”).

State zero thoughts or actions occur mostly when those thoughts or actions are unmediated by society, or in people who are mentally disabled. It’s actually impossible to stay in state zero, simply because of the necessity of actively following social mores, which requires constant self-evaluation. But anyone in position of direct control over others, and whose actions are (temporarily or permanently) unmediated, is likely to revert to state zero at some point (e.g. parents, caretakers, and in a more extreme way, cult leaders). Self-destructive behaviour is usually also caused by this state (for instance, the fact that many abused children fall into drug abuse as a way to escape their suffering).

State one is the state of the totalizing, fixed idea, which I have described in the past. It can also be called a black hole, because the fixed idea reduces all other ideas to itself, and because it is difficult to escape it, as the fixed idea cannot be disproven by observation. In this state, the person’s reasoning is centered around, and always comes back to, the fixed idea, whether it’s “the Bible is infallible,” “the law is absolute,” “parents are the ultimate authority” (for children), or any other.

For instance, you get this idea of the Bible as being infallible. Whatever question you ask, whatever criticism you make, can be reduced to the fixed idea; every epistemic, ontological, moral, ethical or political question falls back into its event horizon. You may have experienced this state when talking to a committed religious believer, of any religion. You have definitely experienced it as a child, when every line of questioning eventually reduces itself to the parent saying “because I said so.”

State one reasoning inevitably involves special pleading in order to fill the gaping holes that inevitably exist in a system of thought with a fixed idea, because one idea cannot possibly encompass all of reality, especially when it is not rational to begin with. Christian arguments use special pleading extensively because they cannot make the leap from general facts about the universe to the very specific Christian God and Christian dogma (the universe is designed, therefore… my version of creationism must be the right one… because I said so).

Economics also has its fixed ideas, and subjectivism is a big one. I’ve argued extensively against the Subjective Theory of Value (STV) in economics. STV and subjectivism in general can become fixed ideas if they are held as absolute (“there is no value but in subjectivity!”) and if every aspect of life is reduced to economic terms. The “free market” is similar. Psychological egoism serves approximately the same role of absolute subjectivity in psychology and morality.

State two is the state of linear thinking. If state one is a dot where all reasoning both starts and ends, stage two is an arrow that exists in a vacuum. I’ve discussed linear thinking before. Received ideas are the given, the background, and simple X-therefore-Y take place within that background.

Examples of linear thinking are as numerous as the mainstream ideologies that exist. Pascal’s Wager is a good example from the religious side. So are arguments from popularity, arguments from authority, and all arguments which implicitly operate from the ruleset of our social games (to succeed, you have to work hard, therefore poor people are lazy). Mainstream political debates and discussions are pretty much exclusively state two.

A big part of state two reasoning is projection, which constitutes the vast majority of people’s thoughts and reasoning when they argue. I’ve already described what I think might be the components of projection, which are linear in nature. If my hypothesis is correct, projection is firmly planted in state two as well.

I’ve said that political debates were mostly state two. Partyism is also state two, and so is gradualism (the belief that we must work within the system to change it). The linear logic of gradualism is simple, like all linear thinking: things must change- we are provided with mechanisms of change- therefore we must use these mechanisms of change to our advantage. Of course, the part that is missing is the empirical observation that it is the power elite that provides us with these mechanisms, that they have no interest in letting significant change happen, and, most importantly, that no lasting social change has ever been brought about by these mechanisms.

State three is the first state where you’ve got some empiricism, that is to say, where personal data-gathering is used as evidence. This is not to say that people using state one or state two reasoning don’t observe things, obviously, but they don’t use the data as evidence, and it doesn’t change their position.

In state three, the person is making observations and using those observations to arrive at various conclusions. There is, however, no desire to modelize what one is observing; the observations remain isolated from any integrated understanding. Beyond the observations and what one deduces from them, linear thinking remains the norm.

The end result of this state is that problems are observed and identified correctly, but the solutions proposed are self-contradictory and muddled. A good example of this is the anti-war movement; they correctly identify that war is a massive horror perpetrated by States for their own interests and for corporate interests, and their solution is… more State intervention. Or look at Noam Chomsky, who correctly identifies the main State interest as being perpetuating corporate structures and inequality, and his solution to this is… more State intervention. Or look at people who point at all the bad results of population growth and whose solution it is to keep making children.

The same applies to people’s personal lives. They will be able to identify problems in their relationships with their SO, parents, family, friends, work colleagues, and so on, but be utterly unable to arrive at a solution that is not insane or contradictory.

State three reasoning does not necessarily concern problems and solutions. One kind of state three reasoning is skepticism. Skeptics observe reality and draw conclusions, but beyond those observations their reasoning is strictly linear. Same for Libertarians and theetie-wheetie liberals.

Basically, state three is the first state of reasoning that we would call “rational,” because it involves empiricism. But I think there’s as much difference between state one and two as there is between those two and state three. Each new state represents qualitative progress.

State four would be modelizing reality, and constantly sticking to that model all the way through, in order to arrive at realistic solutions. This is the way I try to reason, although I don’t have any pretense of being perfect at it. Besides that, there are inherent limits to humans modelizing reality, one of which is the lack of detail. We have to operate on the basis of principles and laws. Only computers can help us simulate reality at any level of detail.

I think that if there is anything beyond state four, it must be computer modelization. Look at evolutionary computation, for instance. We humans can only comprehend reality in a direct manner. We formulate principles based on direct observation and try to come to grips with problems based on this principles. But computers, if programmed to do so by humans, have the amazing ability of solving problems in an indirect manner as well. This is a flexibility that goes beyond anything humans can do, in terms of reasoning complexity.

2 thoughts on “The states of reasoning.

  1. Dominatrix August 18, 2012 at 08:24

    It seems you mistakenly identified the so called ice cream argument as both the prototypical state two and three form of reasoning.

    • Francois Tremblay August 18, 2012 at 14:29

      Thanks for noticing that, I just removed both references. I wrote this entry a long time ago and I really don’t remember what my reasoning was on that. It’s not really the best example.

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