Monday, September 01, 2008

Logical fallacies and rationalizations

Recently I formalized some thoughts on the subject rationalizations people use and excuses they invent. More specifically my goal was to come up with a list of low-level basic rationalizations used when they are shown something they believe in to be false (a failed psychic, cult divination gone wrong, etc.).

These are thoughts underlining possible basic components, not a thesis.

The point behind this exercise is not to psychologically explain why people react this way, but to find the similarities and trends in logically false and vague/impossible to prove generalist statements (meaning irrefutable statements) people use at such times.

I started off with the following list, and emailed it to the skeptics mailing list for input:
  1. X is just testing our faith
  2. It is us who misunderstood the meaning
  3. We did get Y as X saw fit, it's just that X doesn't cater to our wants
  4. We have done something to anger X
  5. We have not been worthy enough
  6. Z has not been worthy and ruined it for the rest of us
  7. Humans are fallible/one can't always be right/X is off his/her game
Karen Daskawicz, a skeptics contributor shared a similar automatic response some folks use, but not immediately related to what I was seeking. Further, she concentrated more on religion vs. science which was not what I was looking for. Still, it was interesting:
I'm not sure if this is the sort of thing you're looking for, but one that I've heard a lot:

"Science doesn't know everything."
or (variation)
"Science has been wrong before."

[I cut her explanation of why this is a logical fallacy from this post, but it is available online]
Larry Huntley responded:
While I don't disagree with what you say here, it looks like the OP was looking more for rationalizations/reasons that people of faith would use when asked questions like "Why did allow your partner to die of Alzheimer's? You were both very religious; surely you prayed to him to make her well, didn't you?" and "Why was almost the entire congregation of the church wiped out by lightning strikes during the ice cream social Sunday night?" or "Why were all our mud-brick pyramids destroyed by flooding?"
Moving away from religion, which is not different than any other aspect of human life in having some less than intelligent followers in the mix of its members (and, yes, sometimes uses such tricks to convince the masses to convert), Wally Anglesea brought us back on track:
Well, speaking from contact from ex-cult members of my local doomsday cult,

Many have expressed the belief that "he was genuine when we were in (including receiving messages from heaven), but at sometime during the period, he went wrong, and the messages were coming from the other place.

Weird, I know, but it's how they rationalise their original positions.
At this point I was able to see some underline concepts behind the different rationalizations. While imperfect, the following cover most of these:
  1. Blaming self (wasn't worthy, angered X, blind to it, etc.)
  2. Blaming others (weren't worthy, angered X, bling to it, etc.)
  3. Claims of misunderstanding (did in fact happen, works in mysterious ways, power temporarily off, date/meaning was mis-interpreted, etc.)
Some rationalizations seem to combine several of these.

Thoughts anyone?
Can you think of any other rationalization I skipped or basic components I missed?

Gadi Evron,

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JEK said...

What's wrong with ratinalizing in the first place? people tend to analise things. Moreover they tend to get some conclusions. can you offer less questionable method of reflecting the reality?

gimley said...

There's a difference between Newtonian deduction and logical fallacies.

Assaf said...

קראת כבר את אוסף המאמרים של דניאל כהנמן? יצא לאחרונה בעברית, בתרגום סביר למדי

Sheraan (South Africa) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sheraan (South Africa) said...

Here's one that comes up quite often, although the wording does vary:

"It's fate/destiny."
"It's part a bigger plan/universal plot."
"Everything happens for a reason."

I believe that this post-rationalization is an evolved coping mechanism amongst human beings, and points to the readiness of the masses to accept nonsensical or pseudo-scientific beliefs (e.g. numerology, astrology, mysticism etc).

Jim Lippard said...

Another classic rationalization for a failed prediction is the one the Jehovah's Witnesses and other millenarian cults have used, which is to reinterpret a failure as a success.

E.g., we said that Jesus would come again in 1914, but what we meant was that Jesus would invisibly return as the spiritual leader of God's kingdom in heaven, and it happened!

gimley said...

These are very interesting.

Assaf: never heard of that guy.
Sheraan: interesting.

Jim: Nice! I wasn't aware of that. BTW--thanks to GLBX on depeering from Atrivo.

Sheraan (South Africa) said...

Is the confirmation bias a logical fallacy? (Where one only seeks our or interprets information that confirms their beliefs). This also explains denial- a response by the same person to evidence conflicting with that belief.

Anyway, here's one of my favourite Wikipedia articles:

E said...

Logic shows the path between the points, but faith and intuition tell you where the points are.


Elizabeth J. Neal said...

The paper was inspired by another I authored on a similar theme for a PoS class. The following neglects many details and instead provides for a rough outline of a larger, feng shui