The need for security is a fundamental urge in the psychology of most animals, and humans are not exempt from it. But we are not happy simply to be secure in the moment; we wish to project that security into the future and believe that we will be secure then too. Because of this inductive aspect of our brains, our need for security manifests itself in the quest for certainty. The problem is that the world is neither secure nor certain.
This was not a problem for most people for most of recorded history, since people’s thinking was done for them by religious groups, societal norms, or political bureaucracies. Thus, issues of the nature of thought and logic were only of interest to the few who were in the position to do the thinking. For them, the lure of deductive logic was strong: given a set of principles, you can be certain what is correct and what is not.
As the world has turned increasingly democratic, more and more people have found themselves in a position to have to think for themselves, which is hard work. And now, in the 21st century, we see that the allure of not having to do the thinking has not abated; every day millions of people become more and more dependent on their mechanical logic systems – called computers – to do their thinking for them. Not only does a mechanism such as a logic system or a computer system make our lives neat and orderly, it does so mechanically – we don’t even need really to think about these things, since all of the thinking has been done for us by the system.
As the world has turned increasingly democratic, more and more people have found themselves in a position to have to think for themselves, which is hard work.
Those few who do not simply take these things on faith can delve into logic theory and find that, yes indeed, we know and can prove that certain logic systems are complete and consistent. This pretty much closes the last hole: logic contains every answer, and we can prove it. Of course, those who delve a little further find out that there are still a few problems remaining. For example, we prove logic systems to be complete and consistent through the use of logic, calling the whole endeavor into question as fundamentally circular. Also, such problems as context and the information-neutral aspect of logic systems can be a bother. But, on the whole, we are pretty proud of ourselves and our logic systems.
The point is not that professional logicians have a naive view of the nature of logic; they don’t. Just as with religion, the theology of the masses is not the theology of the professionals. But, as with a religion, the ideal of logic is promulgated to the masses through popular fictional characters such as Sherlock Holmes and the Spock, who is the very embodiment of logic. People adopt logic as an ideal while ill-informed, not only of the deeper issues involved, but generally even of the basic tenets of the simplest logic systems.
However, the point is not that there is anything wrong or problematic with logic per se, but only that problems arise when deductive logic is misunderstood as the Holy Grail of thought. This misunderstanding of the nature of deduction has led to many fruitless enterprises, most notably the attempt to develop a logical verification of the scientific method; that is, to validate induction by the standards of deduction. (See my post Is science better than mysticism?)
My final point here is that we need to be very wary of turning over control to systems that do not share what Wittgenstein called “our form of life.”
My final point here is that we need to be very wary of turning over control to systems that do not share what Wittgenstein called “our form of life.” We don’t have to go as far as Skynet to see the danger: how many of us have faced a “customer service representative” who could not solve an issue because “the computer won’t let me do that”? When we get to the point of accepting this answer, we are truly doomed.