3 Ideas in 2 Minutes on the Art of Reasoning
Thinking for Yourself, Sherlock's Deduction & Motivated Reasoning
I. Thinking for Yourself
Author and inventor of the Hitchslap Christopher Hitchens on cognitive risk-taking:
Take the risk of thinking for yourself, much more happiness, truth, beauty and wisdom will come to you that way.
II. Sherlock’s Deduction
Sherlock Holmes explaining his process of reasoning to Watson:
I could not help laughing at the ease with which he explained his process of deduction. “When I hear you give your reasons,” I remarked, “the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your reasoning I am baffled until you explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are as good as yours.”
“Quite so,” he answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself down into an armchair. “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”
“Well, some hundreds of times.”
“Then how many are there?”
“How many? I don’t know.”
“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.
—Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Unfortunately, what Watson also failed to observe was that Holmes’ “process of deduction” is more akin to inductive reasoning, that is the making of generalisations from observing the specific.
III. Motivated Reasoning
Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt on how we tend to reason:
Reasoning is very heavily motivated. We’re not very good at objective careful balanced reasoning. When we evaluate a proposition, anything: That that is good for you, that Obama was born in Hawaii or Indonesia, wherever. Any proposition you evaluate, we don’t say: ‘What’s the evidence on one side, what’s the evidence on the other? Which one wins?’ We don’t do that. Our brains are not set up to do that.
We start with a feeling, we want to believe X or we want to doubt X. We ask: ‘Can I believe it? I want to believe it’. And then we send our reasoning off on a search to find evidence. If we find one piece of evidence we can stop.
If someone holds us accountable and says, ‘Why do you think that?’ you pull out the piece of evidence and say: ‘Here, this is why.’
—Jonathan Haidt, Two incompatible sacred values in American universities
Have a great week,