The Torture of Truth

In which Carrie is humbled by pointings of irrationality at large and discusses a most excellent graphic novel she read last night…

Some mornings I wake with a clear thought.  It doesn’t surprise me that I was trying to tackle the “logic problem” in my sleep last night as I had just read Logicomix: An Epic Search for the Truth.  I’m also trying to understand how to present logic as a means for greater reasoning at Socrates Cafe tonight.

It is an intimidating tool for one not equipped proficiently with its methodology.  This, I humbly announce, is the conflicted aspect of my philosophical being: that I am not as rational as I would like to believe I am or I am rational in grayer ways, but have difficulty articulating the reasons for certain beliefs, morals, actions, preferences.  What to do? And how can I come to terms with my known-lack-of-skill honestly in the public realm when, in some ways, I just want to bring all extremities into the shell?  There are duties.

I received quite a shock this morning when I stumbled upon an old “blue book” exam from my beginning years in college.  It is dated November 26, 1997 and has comments all over it from the professor, one I liked but from whom I might not have learned…until now.  For example, he writes, “Find a focus.  Define it thoroughly and specifically in your thesis….Use transitions to show the logic link between one subtopic and the next.  Don’t ‘jump’ all over the place as you write your essay!!!!!”

Finding these comments, these corrections, on the front of the final exam for Writing 121 has wrenched my heart in that all-too-human way, one where I mourn my younger self’s lack of skill, and still see her struggling today with common writing problems.  And these writing problems are, in fact, reasoning problems.  I jump!

I can’t allow myself to be too hard on myself…or I may go mad!  It is easy to understand, as a fledgling-logician, the devistation that the mathematical and logical societies during the early 1900s felt when Bertrand Russell annihilated our purest forms of knowledge with his Barber Paradox.  People went mad for a solution; mathematics had just been turned on its head… at least as far as set theory goes.

This graphic novel kept me up late last night.  I couldn’t put it down.  It is the story of Bertrand Russell and the drama of logicians.  It is also self-referential since the text refers to itself within the text, as well as the authors, and the audience. Very clever.  But the meat of it is something altogether.  It isn’t a book about logic.  It is a history about truth-seeking humanity as it rubs elbows with World War II.  And it shows the grief, ambition, and insanity of those thinkers who struggled to find an absolutely certain truth.

The clear thought which came to me while still in bed was that I habitually see logic as a black and white ordeal, at least this seems to be my strategy.  I want to either-or everything suspect, while disregarding the gray areas.  I suppose I am practicing at making mistakes, of seeing a concept as true or false, without also seeing the context clearly and the interwovenness of other concepts related to it.

Rationality, as I assess it for the  moment, is not so Boolean: is not ones and zeros.  But there is much more work to do to mediate between  my desire to “jump” and the desired sweetness of clear, solid thinking and writing.


One response to “The Torture of Truth

  • wilkinsorileyzinn

    Gray logic and rationality are concepts I can embrace. I can even be comfortable with their ambiguity since I am an inefficiency expert who delights in chaos, serendipity, unexpected connections, and unlikely convergences. I not only accept my flawed rationality, I sometimes wallow in it. It’s good to have friends who aspire to more so I can delight in their wisdom! Thanks for this. I enjoyed it–but then I always do.

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