Probabilistic logic over Deductive logic in Human Nature
There is a common trend in North American mass-culture toward what is called "pop-psychology", wherein its proponents will loudly exclaim that offensive and ridiculous motivations are behind an action as simple as declining to answer a personal question. They move from questionable premises to dubious conclusions, and any argument against the claims they make, or any objection levelled at the conclusions, they reduce to nothing more than the rationalisation of a base, visceral emotion. Thus dissent is quieted, while the offered answers are absolutist. Now, let this not represent legitimate psychology, where the analysis would be carried out by a competent, studied student of the human psyche. However, despite the legitimacy of either the common gossip or the trained psycho-analyst, both of them are operating within a set of taken for granted assumptions, and both of them present their conclusions as absolutes, instead of probabilities. The human experience is not one of absolutes, and if you've found it to be that, then you are either deaf or blind. We bicker constantly, and have a tremendous diversity in our behaviour. This does not support the idea that we are similar beyond what our appearances prove us to be.
An example of this way of thinking is as follows. A man, Phil, is asked a question about his past that he does not like, and so he responds in anger. The psychologist claims that Phil speaks from pain in his past, and that he is mentally or emotionally damaged. Further, the psychologist will (if he's being quite intrusive) analyze Phil's past, assigning symbolic values to the people in his life, explaining away the exquisite diversities of his experience by collapsing them into the fulfilment of base needs. We see here the deductive system of reasoning. Logical syllogisms can support the conclusion of why Phil is who he is, but we should be suspicious of any "final answer" to that question. This system will offer simple answers, which can be tempting, because they seem to wrap up the whole of human experience neatly. But who is to say that this symbolism of our experience is accurate? Why should we assume symbolism is an unflawed system for the representation of meaning? The questions and criticisms can continue at length, but the bottom line is that to have certainty of any part of the human experience is undeniably difficult, and it could be argued to be impossible.
Though the analysis may be performed with the utmost care, the psychological process has very serious issues at its fundament. It works from an individual's perspective, analyzing their mind, studying them intensely, to the purpose that the whole field of knowledge about human minds can be expanded. Now, setting aside the strange conclusions psychology comes to, we've still found a major problem. Why on Earth should we assume that one mind will be like another, to any significant extent at all? The only evidence to support this conclusion is the agreement between people, and that people follow similar physical habits. For example, we might conclude that since almost every human society developed a system of writing, independently of each other, we must be destined for sameness, or somehow the same at our core. However, a more intelligent argument would be to inspect the incredible usefulness of recorded language, and the inevitably of its evolution once speech has been discovered. (After all, speech is a system of noises, inflections and pauses to symbolically represent abstract meanings. Writing is a system of scratches on paper to do the same thing.) So disregard your attraction to the idea that all humans are at their core identical, and think about the idea with some clarity. You'll see it's quite an unsupported idea.
The only thing we can say about all humans is that we have a biological mother and a biological father, and a few other basic, physical facts. But humans, as we well know, are self-aware, or conscious. We've got great big brains, and by virtue of them, we've performed the most amazing things. Depending what myths of human magnificence you'd care to cite, we can turn water to wine, create a vast wide-reaching network of information available to people all over the world, and, if we work together for it (we still might), annihilate all human off the face of the Earth in twenty-four hours. Perhaps Jesus had a mother who was outrageously strict and devoted to God, and he was beaten by his dad, so he developed some complex where he had to tell people to be nice to each other. Maybe Napoleon, since he was short and Corsican, felt positively compelled to conquer most of Europe (that's not account of his success). Maybe Bill Gates came from a poor family, and was forced to work in an acid mine or whatever, so his pain made him determined to become as rich as he could. But I know a guy or two, who had mother issues, and I know some who were poor, and I know a lot who got picked on (who didn't?). But none have created a religion, none have become rich, and none have conquered so much as their own household. The way I see it, the only thing these guys have in common is their physical form, and even in that they're not too similar (Jesus was probably black).
Who is to say why a man might do what he does? If he shouts at you in anger, due to what you thought was a simple question, it might be that his dog died the other day, and he's angry about it. It might be that his culture has stringent rules of conduct you have not followed. You may have an offensive odour about you, and your presence disgusts him. He may be angry for dozens and dozens of reasons, the list is endless. One of these possibilities, of course, is that the question you asked has touched on a nerve, and there is a troubled past at work. Another possibility is that he anticipates your question about his past to be followed by psychology, and he dislikes it when people behave as though they know how his mind and conscience are composed. These are but possibilities among myriad others. Here is where we find the bridge to sociology.
Sociology, when correctly applied, will never claim to be able to tell you the emotional motivations of any individual's actions. It might show that, statistically, domestic homicides are usually committed when the murderer is emotionally unbalanced; therefore, we can conclude that there is a certain probability that a specific domestic homicide was similar to the other cases. There is nothing wrong with this assertion; it is in fact, a far more reliable statement than any psychological one, because its conclusion is a probability. The premises are usually statistics, and therefore the conclusion is only true within a statistical probability. This is in better keeping with what the real world is like than other branches of thought about human life, like psychology.
Sociology will not try to pick apart a person's thoughts, implying that we all are fundamentally the same. The question is one of preference, I suppose, in the same way that some prefer to know who they are for true, even if the only way they can is by an incomplete answer, whereas some prefer to arbitrarily accept a definition of who they are, because it is simple and easy to understand. In the following hypothetical, ask which explanation you think is more likely true? That a failed relationship is the result of one trying to find a woman/man like one's parent, whom he or she despises, (because we all date people we despise, obviously) or, on the other hand, is it because the entire milieu of western society has propagated the notion that love is as hard to find as God, or indeed harder, and that all normal people feel a deep-seated unhappiness at this hopeless, but inescapable search? The psychological answer can have value, for sure, and if you work at it you can get very useful concepts from it. But those concepts cease to be useful the moment you take them for granted as fact.
Sociology studies social forces and the way they affect individuals in societies. Most of its data is taken from surveys, providing them with a cross-section of the characteristics of a populace. Here's an example of that in practical application. I, as a white male aged 18-25 living in Toronto, in a certain income-bracket, raised in a family of a certain size and shape, and belonging to a certain religion, am likely to follow a set of conventions of morality and codes of behaviour. I probably am supported by my parents to some extent still, and I probably attend, or did attend, a post-high school education institution. I could go on with the prediction that could be made. Some of them would be quite accurate, some less so. But none of them could be tossed away, since they're all true to some degree. I'd have a complicated cross-section of a person, and it might take a long time and some dry reading to get through it all, but doesn't that seem more likely to accurately summarize the density and byzantine human experience?
Sociology takes almost nothing for granted, contrast with psychology, which takes some strange and bizarre ideas as true outright. When psychologists avoid these pitfalls, as many do, they still view human nature as fixed at its core. This is the real problem. We have no reason to think that that's true. If you're convinced of that, then use deductive logic to analyze yourself. If you're right, then I have to congratulate you on finding the end of the Gordian knot. But it makes no sense to me, and until you can prove that you have indeed found the basis of all human experience, I advise you to perform your analyses with probabilistic logic. Take every idea with a grain of salt, some more than others. Because no two things are the same, and commonality is only accurate to a limited extent.
September 27, 2007
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