Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Logically speaking: Everything I need to know, I learned in PHI 120

Long before I knew I was autistic, I was being told that I rely overly on logic. Picking statements apart to reveal inconsistencies is not always prized in relationships with NTs who often just want to say things in order to "connect" emotionally, regardless of whether these things make any sense or not. I get that, kind of, but only on a superficial level of understanding, akin to the way NTs grasp that, although I don't always talk well, I am not an idiot. The information, though valid, doesn't really penetrate in such a way as to alter the behaviors.
So I expected an introductory course in logic would be a breeze. After all, I have lost about 3 arguments in my life, right? More than a few people have referred to me as "Spock" and several have been so bewildered by my refusal to accept their logically flawed declarations of affection that they simply disappeared from my life. I enrolled in the required class with what I viewed as confidence, only later to realize it was more like unfounded arrogance, and four months later emerged with a new found respect for what logic really is.
The first sections on identifying the parts of arguments and various logical fallacies confirmed my suspicions that I already knew everything there is to know in the field of logic. Deductive, inductive, syllogism, red herring, check, check, check, check. No problem. I learned some terms to add to my arsenal, like amphiboly and the delectable tu quoque. I hit a speed bump around here at diagramming arguments. A lot of this seemed disturbingly counter-intuitive, as if the word "because" had suddenly developed an evil twin also meaning its opposite.
Then there was the problem of truth tables, which really are quite simple as long as you're not sloppy about it. A four color pen came in handy here; I highly recommend it for all types of academic work and drawing squares in small notebooks. Needless to say, mistakes were made in this section. I never got very good at cursive handwriting or keeping a tidy house--sloppiness is my middle name. No, not literally.
Mostly, things went fairly well, though, up until something called natural deduction. It sounds friendly enough. The rules are straightforward and fit together in elegant, neatly structured forms. They have cool Latin names like modus ponens and modus tollens that are fun to say. Some combinations of the rules have a clear order of operations; others are more flexible, allowing for multiple approaches. These proved to be the bane of my existence for a while.
Why were the "easy" problems found at the ends of the problem sets instead of the beginning? Why was I being asked to prove that if I need a pencil and eraser for the test, and I have a pencil, I need only a eraser--in eight steps? Eight steps to answer what a first grader could tell you? I just couldn't get this stuff. Every time I had to prove that the sky is blue through an intricate series of steps, including the fact that it is not not blue, my brain froze up. This just did not seem logical to me.
I started to have nightmares featuring scandalous headlines: Asperger Student Fails at Logic! Witnesses Say She May Be Typical After All! I found myself translating the dilemma into symbolic logic. I figured out how to insert the appropriate symbols into a Word document. Then found I could not solve the problem once I had transcribed it. Not a good sign.
Some of the things I learned in this class will stay with me for a long time. One is that I am very good at spotting logical fallacies. Another is that this can be very dangerous if I only use this ability to construct more complex fallacies which will remain undetected by most others. Now I am able to see the ways I have done this, without even knowing it.
Yet another lesson is that there is no such thing as a positive stereotype. What if I had failed at logic? Would I lose my autistic cred? Was it really worth stressing about, or did I have just way too much of my self esteem tied up in my ability to reason in this strictly defined way? Have I worked so hard to free myself from the expectations of neurotypical society, only to constrain myself through yet another set of expectations--to be some sort of "autistic ideal"?
These are examples of rhetorical questions.
There is no such thing, I believe, as a positive stereotype.
All's well that ends well, I suppose. I still suspect my professor of adding at least half a point to my final grade due to my anxiety and love of the subject. I hope she didn't take too seriously my offer to translate the complete works of Shakespeare into symbolic logic for extra credit. I've got a busy summer ahead of me, and still so very much left to learn.

1 comment:

  1. Heh, Modus Tollens, haven't seen that one in a while.

    But, if you enjoyed tu quoque, you might also enjoy:


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