All up in your head: Changing my relationship with logic

In my last post, I vented a little about logic and discovered something about myself.  In addition to re-framing my relationship with testing, I need to re-frame my relationship with logic.


Sometimes when I say something that I think is true, I realize that it’s not all true.  I like the scene in the classic movie, The Princess Bride when Billy Crystal’s character, tasked with resurrecting what appears to be a dead man on his table says, “There’s a difference between mostly dead and all dead.  You see mostly dead is slightly alive.”  In expressing my boredom in Puzzles class, I made some blanket assumptions about myself and logic.  Is this relationship all dead or mostly dead?  Actually, I don’t think it’s even mostly dead.  It just needs a bit of an ambush makeover.

The reason why I don’t think my relationship with logic is as dead as I assumed is because there are classes where I’ve done work with logic and loved it.

Classes I enjoyed where logic was used:

  • Discrete math (I loved this class so much I never wanted it to end)
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Formal Methods – In this class I learned how to connect requirements to the logic equations I learned in Discrete Math.  It was brilliant!
  • 6th Grade English (we diagrammed sentences…was fun!)

Classes where logic was really boring

  • Puzzles
  • Scientific Methodology aka “How We Know” class (“How We Know” was our textbook.  My copy has mysteriously disappeared into the ether of time)
  • Intellectual History (I learned about dead nerds who were not men of action.  One of them never left the bathtub. I suspect they were hipsters before their time.)

Hmm…there’s a fairly clear delineation here for me.  Classes in the first category are science classes.  Classes in the 2nd category are humanities classes.

But I love humanities!!!  What happened?

I think I know.  I like the clarity that comes from breaking down something complicated into different pieces and rebuilding something completely different with the same pieces.  That’s useful for me.  It can be very simple.  I’m a great fan of DeMorgan’s law and it’s friends.  There is no pretension here.  There is no bullying or critique…just order being made out of small simple pieces.  In the classes I loved, logic made me so happy!

If we skip to classes in the second category, logic turns into something entirely different.  While I have a healthy respect for those how brought us logic and were killed or punished for it, there is still plenty of history that is dead dudes trying to one up each other with fancy 3 and 4 syllable words.  There is nothing fun about decontextualizing a tautology by using inferences instead of deductions.  (Don’t try to figure that out, it’s nonsense.  I made it up).  This view of logic means as much to me as the shade of lipstick being worn by the housewives in Orange County.

The reason I draw a parallel between some of the most revered scholars in history and the cattiest women I’ve ever seen in my life is because logic can be used poorly just as it can be used beautifully.  I understand that the people I learned about in the classes I didn’t like were directly responsible for what I learned in the classes I did like. I guess that not enough attention was paid to the fact that it is easy to abuse logic.  Logic can be used to argue someone into a corner for the purpose of making her feel horrible about her new brow lift.  Logic can be used to send someone in circles and can be used to split someone’s hair extensions until her weave is ruined.

In this, I see that philosophers and testers have some of the same challenges.  It’s easy to do too much and not know when to stop.  I’d like to see how far Aristotle would go to isolate a bug.  Logic is no good if the person using it doesn’t pair it with heart and an understanding of when to quit.  I have a few critical thinking books in my library and both are very clear about how it can be misused.  If I had time, I would keep writing.  Unfortunately, for now, my draft for PNSQC calls.

I have more work to do with logic and testing, but this is shaking things loose for me.   The walled garden I’ve been living in has become a safe place and is showing signs of new growth.

1 thought on “All up in your head: Changing my relationship with logic”

  1. Hi, Marlena,

    This is an excellent way of looking at things – logic is one of the most powerful tools we’ve got (not to mention trying to get software to do something illogical means breaking it – although it doesn’t always look that way when you’ve got multiple layers of conditions to parse through) but not many people know how to use it well.

    As a self-confessed puzzle nut (I like jigsaws, play logic games for relaxation, and yes, my all-time favorite computer games are the Myst series), I hate to see logic – and its friends rhetoric and statistics – misused.

    I’d actually suggest that the real difference between the classes you liked and the ones you didn’t was that the ones you didn’t like were all divorced from reality – they’d abstracted away everything real and just played word and logic games in some esoteric self-defined rhetorical space. I can enjoy that, but reality’s got a way of biting sensitive portions of the anatomy if you don’t pay attention to it.

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