A mindful discussion

For those of you who can’t get enough of the massive discussion of inductive, deductive, and abductive reasoning over on TechRepublic, here are excerpts from an email exchange I subsequently enjoyed with Andreas Geisler (aka AnsuGisalas):


That was … I was going to say fun, but I’ll settle for intense.

And futile too, I guess, except for the endurance practice.

Your stance on absolutes was very interesting, may I ask what calamity of reason led you to it? It’s hard to imagine that discovery being easy. Wasn’t for me, at least.

Still can’t bring myself to really use logic, it feels somehow dishonest, like cheating or misleading people on purpose.


You are very perceptive.  I was once an absolutist and very religious.  I believed that the Bible was the inspired Word of God and therefore infallible.  I studied the Bible voraciously, reading many different translations as well as learning Hebrew and Greek in order to read the “original”.  As you can easily imagine, it was that study itself which led me to several epiphanies: (1) there is no “original” — if there ever was, it is long lost; (2) the texts we have are filled with contradictions, historical errors, and personal biases that also conflict with one another.  The Bible is therefore an essentially human document — in fact, all revelation is essentially human because even if it might come from a superhuman source it must be expressed in human terms, which are inherently limited.  Therefore, practically speaking, there is no divine revelation — at least, none that can be trusted absolutely.

This revelation (har) precipitated a search for other principles to replace reliance on divine absolutes.  Having been burned once, I remained cautious of claiming an early success.  That caution has over the years become my sole gospel.  I am a radical agnostic.


That’s a very thorough approach, going all the way down to sources. It would be worthy of respect, even had you stopped there.

It’s not so much that I perceived traces of trauma, as that I know this place here, this absolutelessness.

We humans are fragile, easily spooked, and I think the natural state for us is to accept the givens and the cultural bedrock – as absolutes. Cutting the anchors isn’t something done lightly. So, seeing that you’d done so, I knew to wonder why. I don’t subscribe to this state being superior of and by itself, probably you don’t either, so I certainly don’t expect that it’s a necessary end-state for the able. I just don’t know how to be otherwise.

I too am a person given to strong religious faith, and also to logic… and I find myself rejecting both. For me the rejection of reliance on dogma and the rejection of the absolute as such did not come at the same time. First I lost my touch with faith by having a prayer answered – and failing to reconcile a benevolent and omnipotent interventionary with the existence of mundane evils. It was a short-circuit.

Much later I came to think of the nature of our senses, and the manner of our conceptualization of reality. And it was again a short-circuit. I went down to the axioms, and found circulars.

I chose to cut the ropes at the end of my perceptions – not wishing to make any claims about the “real” that I cannot back up. I am at peace with this: that it may exist absolutely – but that if it does, I’ll never know the difference.

I have come to associate a strong defense of firm ground with the beginning of suspecting it’s reliability. [The defender] may simply change his footing, but it will let him advance even further. Anyway, to have something to learn is hardly a matter to be pitied, is it?


Well put, Andreas.  It seems that you and I have covered much of the same ground in our respective journeys.  Like you, my earlier disillusionments have taught me to be more humble than to ever say that “I’ve arrived,” so I readily grant that radical agnosticism may one day prove to be inadequate for me.  It seems to be “the truest thing I know” at this moment, but it may not always be so.

I share your mistrust of logic.  After all, it is a human invention, no matter how realistically it may or may not mirror the postulated “real world.”  I see it more as a disciplinary tool with which to question assumptions, rather than as a path to enlightenment.  Generally, it’s more of an obstruction on that path, so it should generally be applied after the intuitive leap has been allowed to find a footing on the other side of the chasm.

“I have come to associate a strong defense of firm ground with the beginning of suspecting its reliability” — that’s quotable.

“Anyway, to have something to learn is hardly a matter to be pitied, is it?”  I like the optimism implied by that question.


I think the usefulness of formalized reasoning is greatest in using the paper as a buffer. We’re not so good at handling multiple objects at once (I’ve heard that 5 +/- 2 is the usual limit), so having the assumptions laid out on paper can help us see where we’re cutting corners. But that’s for induction and abduction as well as deduction. The problem, I think, arises from the conscious mind – it’s an obvious kluge on an otherwise well-functioning system. It tends to do these things, deduction in particular, half-bakedly. The subconscious does everything on the fly, but the conscious mind doesn’t seem fully equipped for that, but it tries anyway.


Yes, it’s interesting how disabled the conscious mind seems compared to the subconscious.  Perhaps the subconscious is just as disabled, but most of its workings seem so murky to our conscious minds that we can’t even detect its flaws — only its occasionally amazing successes.


I think you’re right about the subconscious… the way I see it – having marinated my conscious in my subconscious for a long time now, trying to bridge the gap between them – all that I say, and all that I write too comes straight out of those murky depths. So, whoever it is that *I*am, I’m it subconsciously.

So, I can’t examine that, no way.

I do think that the subconscious is fast enough to compensate for the uncertainties involved in it’s method though. And I don’t think the conscious methods are better, excepting in some instances – using paper and enormous discipline.


“Enormous discipline” is right, because it is far too easy to oversimplify anything, and thus invalidate the whole logical approach. The subconscious seems to be better suited to take all of the complexity into account, though of course it isn’t conscious of doing so.

Unfortunately, by definition, the subconscious cannot examine its own methods, let alone allow others to examine them. Therefore impostors abound. The distance separating the prophet from the shyster appears to the logician to be at most a hair’s breadth — and indeed it’s very easy for one to slip into the other, although they must thereby move across two vast and very different worlds.

Tags: abduction, absolutism, agnosticism, bible, deduction, dogma, induction, intuition, logic, relativism, religion, subconscious


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