Archive for September 23rd, 2011

Insight vs. Logic

I remember having this conversation with my Christian aunt a few years ago: The reason we tend to have progress is not only because we are logical, but because we have intuition and insight to reflect on that logic. A number of people have suggested that it’s one of the reasons robots will never be as advanced as humans, something I happen to believe. How do you, with a bunch of mathematical rules, create something that can reflect on itself reflecting?

So I was tickled when I saw this article on Yahoo! the other day about those who believe in God being more intuitive than reflective. According to the article, people who are more intuitive tend to believe in God. They also tend to screw up math and logic problems.

This doesn’t mean that only dummies believe god, of course, it just highlights philosophical problems going back to Immanuel Kant’s time. People who believe only in a mathematical/deductive reasoning approach to knowledge tend to completely miss the ideas that experience and intuition offer. Reasoning is indifferent to pain, and it’s our innate spirituality, the fact that we can imagine ourselves in somebody else’s head, that we tend to be more humane.

But intuition without logic is bad, because it can have you believing in fairies and wood sprites and … yes, even a benevolent deity who invented everything. Indeed, intuition almost always requires a human agency or a spirit whose hand operates the loom of the world, even though logic and science and millions of years of progress have taught us otherwise. Because humans have an innate ability to see through other people’s eyes, they always assume there are eyes out there. Sometimes there aren’t.

The problem is that knowledge and understanding require both things. Intuition without logic leaves you with bizarre religious beliefs (I know god is there because I FEEL him.) But logic without intuition leads to a world where pain and suffering are not comprehended, where the essence of things is not understood or even how the essence of something changes. Logic understands how to win an argument but doesn’t understand how the terms of the argument and the rules change.

I am an atheist, as my long-time readers might have figured out. But I think that man is a spiritual creature, and that this is mainly because of our brain’s ability to perceive things that cannot normally be understood through objective reasoning (though, unfortunately, it’s also why God will likely keep getting reinvented over and over, no matter how many times science kills him off). Despite my apostasy, I’ve always been a little biased toward intuitive types, mainly because I know lots of people who are extremely logical and can argue any point with perfectly manicured precision but who nonetheless lack basic wisdom about the world and themselves in it–and for that cause themselves and others pain for it.

There’s an appealing idea that sometimes a relatively dumb person can grasp things through his intuition that the smarties cannot. That meretricious proposal underlies a lot of our political rhetoric today, and gives people like Sarah Palin a populist appeal. She doesn’t need a degree. She’s got the common sense of the people. But to put faith in that kind of intuition is as good as flushing your whole brain down the toilet. To think to the best of your ability about things means trying to aspire to do both the due diligence of logic and reflect on its possible failures. Even if you’re not very good at one type of thinking or the other, you have to try to do both. If you’re a Christian, I would argue to you that common sense and willful ignorance do not sit well together side by side, and you cannot forever argue against ideas like evolution with faith alone. On the other hand, if you’re married to objectivism only, like the troll Ayn Rand, you will tend to see the world in either black and white, not knowing that sometimes the world can be both.

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