Word of the Day: Maybe

“Did Climate Change Worsen the Colorado Floods?

That question, the headline of an article in Mother Jones, brings up not only specific questions about the role of a changing climate in local weather but far more general questions about mankind’s thought processes and how we perceive patterns. People look for linkages because that’s simply the way our brains work.

Problems arise when we oversimplify, misapply, and perform many other inappropriate thought processes. Bluntly put, logic is not inherent in most human thought. People have to be taught how to reason, to think, to spot fallacies, and that doesn’t happen often enough in college. Teaching logic should begin in middle school at the latest, but from what I gather it’s not even part of most high school curricula.

The lack of knowledge of even the informal fallacies may well explain the popularity of people like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. I know some highly intelligent people who fall for folks like this simply because they do not recognize the emotional appeal, the propaganda tactics inherent in the pitches of folks like this. Far from being repelled by ad hominem attacks and faulty connections, they gobble them up, showing that while emotion is inherent, solid thought comes from instruction and practive.

Fallacious thinking is not just a conservative problem of course. In an Obama speech last week, our President dropped a slippery slope clunker while talking about Syria. In fact, I’ve read that even most classic works have a fallacy or two tucked away in them somewhere. This in itself is another reason why we need to be so careful about believing pretty much anything. Skepticism may well be the burden of the person who thinks. The thinking people I know have conversations littered with Words such as “possibly” and “maybe” while those with a comforting but illogical view of the world more often utter “right” and “wrong.”

I’m hardly alone in thinking this, of course. Here are some of my favorite quotations on the topic:

Intolerance of ambiguity is the mark of an authoritarian personality. –Theodor Adorno, philosopher and composer (1903-1969)

“Doubt is uncomfortable, but certainty is ridiculous.” – Voltaire

Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on ‘I am not too sure.’ ” – H.L. Mencken

The door of a bigoted mind opens outwards so that the only result of the pressure of facts upon it is to close it more snugly. -Ogden Nash, author (1902-1971)

For what a man would rather were true, he more readily believes. Francis Bacon 1618

Where so many hours have been spent in convincing myself that I am right, is there not some reason to fear I may be wrong?” – Jane Austen

Many of us, wishing to be spared hard work, gladly accept what tradition teaches us. –Elaine Pagels

To have doubted one’s own first principles is the mark of a civilized man. -Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., poet, novelist, essayist, and physician (1809-1894)

I just realized my Word document of saved quotations covers 63 pages, single spaced. I’d better get to work. Maybe.



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