It always intrigues me how humans tend to imagine matters of opinion to be empirically true – as if matters of fact – even when they are not.
It’s a cognitive issue, one that I suspect is linked to the way some people validate themselves. And it leads to a logical disconnect, a favourite of the woo-brigade, who confront readers with what they call ‘the evidence’ for their asserted conclusions, as if what they are describing was a simple if-then approach based on empirically provable fact.
What do I mean? Try this. Here is the ‘evidence’:
- The island of Elephantine in the middle of the Nile is so-called because it looks like an elephant from above.
- The ancient Egyptians couldn’t fly.
And here is the obvious conclusion that has to be drawn from it:
- Ancient alien astronauts from Sirius landed on Earth, bred with humans, created the Egyptians, and then took them on flights over Elephantine, which is how it was named.
Did anybody spot the flaw in that logic? Apart from the point that the island doesn’t look like an elephant. Apparently there’s no firm information as to how it got its name, but its role in the elephant tusk trade has always been suspect. Here, let me show you another one, which I saw in a book purporting to describe New Zealand’s secret pre-history. Here’s the ‘evidence’:
- The author’s six-year old thinks scratches in a rock face near Mount Tauhara looked like a dinosaur drawing.
- The author thought these scratches were made by secret ancient pre-Maori settlers unknown to archaeologists, but who he saw evidence for everywhere.
Leading to this conclusion:
- Therefore ancient pre-Maori settlers in New Zealand both existed AND had time travel.
It’s a classic false-premise fallacy, and the problem is the logical disconnect between premise and conclusion – often coupled, as in the Elephantine case, by a total failure of research in the first place (‘I don’t know the answer, therefore nobody can know’). Sometimes what these people call ‘the evidence’ is, itself either opinion or an assertion. And yet those who assert such things believe their logic is impeccable.
All I can put it down to is the habit humans have of believing opinion to be an empirical fact, coupled with our innate ability to find patterns even when none exist. If you assume that the first premise of a logical statement is true, and assume that the ‘operating principle’ you have in mind applies – for instance, that ancient aliens came down to Earth – everything else follows.
The silliness of the conclusion is lost amidst the apparent watertight nature of the logic.
Have you seen examples of this sort of thing? Do share.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016