Tuesday, November 20, 2012

If It Rains, The Street Is Wet ........Unequivocably.....I Think

Before I utter another word I must explain that my ruin and my salvation have always been inexorably tied up with Logic.  I worship logic with a fervor usually reserved for things like Beatlemania.  Bad and faulty logic drives me crazy and since faulty logic can never be conquered by logic you can see why there are so many holes in the plastered walls  of my house from my incessantly hitting of my head against same in total frustration.  All of these words are intended to help you discern my bent (*I love that expression....I hope it fits in here properly) and may help you to understand my recent rants during the political season.

Still shakily recovering from all the wildly illogical, overblown and often untrue rhetoric cast about, lathered all over us and which we had to try to digest during the recent campaign, I was spitting out the final inedible morsel with a resounding "Ptoooey" and it reminded me of one of the the funniest and yet most gruesome  mistakes I ever made. during my very young life.

In my last year of college I found that in order to graduate, I had a requirement to take one more 3 unit course in a subject outside of and not remotely conected to my majors of Art and   English.  I had already had to force down the indigestible so that I might become  somehow, a smidgeon  educated in History, Sociology, Languages and a number of other subjects too irrelevant to my interests to mention.  Therefore, I found myself forced to choose from a dreadful and loathesome series of yucky items such as Economica, Geography, Mathematics, (anything beyond Solid Geometry and the basic High School Algebra was out of the question) Chemistry (feh.....smelly and in high school I got the Award as Grand Destructor for blowing up more test tubes and flasks than anyone else in school history )  and Physics,  (aw..... c;mon,  man)  none of which would I think of touching with a 10 foot pole.  It was not that I felt too stupid to conquer any of these.......rather I felt I had already wasted enough time and energy learning useless things that would not enhance my life..........(this was arrogant of me at the time but has proven to be oh so true).   There was one possibility.........Botany.......but I feared it would require me to spend hours peering at cross sections of plants under a microscope (does anyone remember the hilarious James Thurber story about this experience?)  and hence I rejected that one too.  How fervently I wish I had chosen Botany with which I at least had a slight kinship (since I could indeed recognized plants as plants and I loved plants.)    Instead I delved deeper ito the catalog and came upon the category of Philosophy, and, scanning down the list of stuff that did not require any prerequisites, I came,, to my wild delight, upon a subject entitled Deductive Logic.  I had to look at the printed words 2  or 3 times to be sure I was not dreaming.  No, there it was big as life and under it was another subject of possible interest......Inductive Logic.  (I had never know there were two kinds, did you?)    That should have given me pause, but sadly it did not.

Now, it is important that you know that, next to food, drink  and boys, my greatest passion was thst form of somewhat trashy  literature known as the Detective Story and, to me, Deductive Logic meant unearthing and following a series of clues with a gimlet eye and a razor sharp intellect, and deducing the perpetrator of a crime.  

Sigh.  To quote a thousand detective stories......"Had I but known...."

And so it was that I signed up for a semester of the most unrelenting torture that a university ever inflicted  on a guileless student.  Mercifully, most of the details of those five months have been erased from my memory, but there is still an occasional night when I wake from a nightmare drenched in sweat  screaming, "Tautology" ***   and needing to rub my eyes hard to disperse the strange Greek-like characters from beneath my eyelids.........an endless progression of mathematical like formulae, encapsulated in parentheses. running off the bottom of a fantasy page without ever arriving at the final point of Proven or Disproved.  (or should that be disproven).........(you can see I am not quite myself even yet.)
On the very first day of class (presided over by a stern and very frightening Germanic professor.......one of the foremost experts on the subject......Dr. Hans Reichenbach.........I was always sure he would, at any moment, whip out a steel ruler and beat me across the knuckles for making some trivial error).   I discovered, to my horror, that Deductive Logic had nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes or detective stories or even logic as I understood it..  Using a set of mathematical like symbols (I think it was actually  referred to as Provisional Calculus), it was a system of analyzing sentences, clauses and words to determine if they were, indeed True.  The first example we were given as illustrative material was the fascinating sentence:    (Get this)

                        "  If it rains, the street is wet. "

I also wake up screaming that line occasionally.  Do not ask me to diagram that sentence.  I am no longer able to do so.  (That seems strange since at once time the diagram  was burned into my brain with a white hot branding iron and endless mumbo jumbo of Provisional Calculus symbols.)  Mercifully, the scar tissue has obscured all but that very sentence which these days makes me break out into uncontrollable giggles and just the slightest tinge of perspiration on my upper lip.  It is amazing what 65 years of healing and purposeful forgetting can do.

Incidentally, as I recall, the opposite arrangement of the two clauses does NOT come out to be True when put through the meatgrindcer of the symbols.  i.e.  If the street is wet, it does not necessarily follow unconditionally that it has rained.

And also incidentally, I did not flunk the course but managed a very creditable "C".....not my favorite grade, but, under the circumstances an amazing achieverment since it seemed that at no time during those five months did I have the slightest idea what the hell I was doing.

And, fercrissakes, please do not ask me how Inductive Logic differs from the Deductive one.    For all I know, it may have to do with unearthing clues,  analyzing evidence and allowing it to lead you to the perpetrator of a crime.  I was always just too damned chicken to ever investigate.  And who, I would like to know, wouldn't be?

***As I remember a Tautology was a method of establishing the absolute truth of a statement,,,,or NOT........or some such thing.