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Memories of the 28th Century

Grammar, Ignorance, Logic, and the Illuminati

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Formal logic was developed from natural language and reasoning, but not all people understand language in the same way, and many people are careless in their use of natural language. For example, there are people who only use the present tense, even though there was a past, and there will be a future. And there are a few deficiencies in natural language. For example, there is nothing that directly shows whether something is intended as an opinion or as fact, and this can lead to significant problems.

There is nothing in the verbiage, or in the language, that differentiates between fact and fantasy and marketing campaigns. If I were to tell you that Calvados is the healthiest type of alcoholic beverage, then you could either believe me or not, but there is nothing in the statement (or assertion) to show you whether it is true. Determination of truth requires knowledge and understanding on the part of the hearer or reader. Unfortunately, many people do not have the knowledge and logical ability to be able to determine whether a given statement is true, and they often do not understand enough to hold off believing something until they look into the matter. Even worse, they may look to an unreliable source for validation of facts.

One example of that relates to the old foolishness about cholesterol. We have known for decades that while the plaque that causes coronary blockage is made up of cholesterol, there are mechanisms by which the plaque is deposited, and those mechanisms do not relate to serum cholesterol levels. But there are people who still follow the old, and disproven, idea that the more cholesterol there is in the blood, the higher the chance that a person will have a heart attack.

There are even people who think that eating things that are high in cholesterol will lead to heart failure. In fact, cholesterol is an easily digested, highly nutritious food that should be regarded as a compact source of energy.

Little matters like correlation not showing causation and unfalsifiable statements not being logically valid are common in marketing, whether one is selling cholesterol lowering medicines or religions. I only used the example above, because it came up in conversation recently. Good marketers love people who have no training in logic. I am sure that they shudder whenever they hear any suggestion that students be trained in logic from the earliest grades. I earlier wrote blogs about the urban myths of a half gallon of water a day and the fallacy of serum cholesterol causing coronary thrombosis, so I won’t go into greater detail.

At least as bad as those are the matters that are claimed by purveyors of conspiracy theories. A few days ago I watched some videos by David Icke, and I was amazed that anyone had the nerve to claim that any of them are evidence of anything other than being strong evidence that Mr. Icke was trying to fool people and not doing a good job, but there are enough who think otherwise that Mr. Icke eats well, and I won’t begrudge a man his living.

With that said, I will assert that the primary reason why conspiracy theories are as successful as they are is that few people learn grammar well, and even fewer learn much logic, and even fewer develop the critical judgment necessary to determine whether something makes sense. All that makes life easy for snake oil merchants and makes elementary school teachers jobs easier than it would be if they had to teach logic.

I don’t see any significant difference among proponents of bogus religions (such as Mormonism and Scientology), creators of conspiracies (such as Mr. Icke and Erich von Däniken), and marketers who spin lies to gain sales (such as whoever ran the bottled water marketing campaign). They are all telling lies for their own good and to the detriment of their audiences. There are many people who will say “It was on TV or on the History Channel,” as if that validates a statement. People can say anything that they want to on TV, and it is legal, and it need not be accurate. The courts have long held that “puffery” in marketing is legal, even if it is not accurate. “The world’s best coffee” probably was made by someone who didn’t even claim that the coffee was the best in town, much less the world, but Dunkin Donuts has filed a trademark on that phrase.

The link below is to a free, online, textbook in Logic. There are many other free online books, webpages, and courses in logic. Most people, myself included, could use a better knowledge of logic.