But also our daily logic: Are we humans really "the rational animal," in the manner we've long declared and supposed?
It all depends on how low your standard for grading is. Consider an op-ed column in this morning's New York Times.
The column was written by a professor of medicine at Cal's medical school. By any normal societal standard, this person is very smart.
Then again, so is Mario Livio, the astrophysicist with whom we began our search, one week ago, for an improved daily logic.
By any normal societal measure, Livio is enormously smart—but good God! When he wandered a bit afield, he produced some astoundingly jumbled logic.
The column in today's New York Times was written by a very smart person. Then again, that very smart person started her column like this:
ARONSON (3/23/20): “Not just old people: Younger adults are also getting the coronavirus,” a news network declared on its website last week. The words seemed to suggest that Covid-19 didn’t matter much if it was a scourge only among the old.The news network in question is NBC News. To see the headline the writer is quoting, you can just click here.
That said, do the quoted words actually "seem to suggest" that Covid-19 "doesn’t matter much" if it only affects the old?
Our answer: it all depends on how low your standards for implication are.
In truth, any statement can "seem to suggest" anything else if you want it to. There's no formula which tells us when Statement A implies Statement B. In the end, it's always a matter of judgment.
Any statement can imply anything else if we want it to! And in such ways, our badly disordered public discourse had floundered and flailed over a period of decades. In the end, this blowsy, undisciplined public discourse finally gave us our Trump.
Does the quoted statement really imply, or seem to suggest, that a scourge among older people "doesn't matter much?" In our view, the quoted statement "seems to suggest" no such thing unless you just want it to.
We'll also say that this morning's logic doesn't improve as the writer continues. Like last week's astrophysicist, this week's professor of medicine is a very smart person. But as she continues, she offers this:
ARONSON (continuing directly): Even if the headline writer had no such nefarious intent, many people seemed surprised that two-thirds of the Americans known to be infected were under 65, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control, and that younger adults around the country also have become critically ill. After all, we kept hearing that 80 percent of the infected Chinese who died were age 60 and older and that the average age of death from the disease in Italy is 81.In paragraph 2, the writer acknowledges that the headline writer may not have meant to suggest or imply that the deaths of older people don't matter much.
No one wants young people to die. So why are we OK with old people dying?
That may not be what the headline writer meant! But given the ways of our blowsy daily logic, so what?
By paragraph 3, the professor of medicine has returned to her starting point. She directly implies that "we" (whoever that's supposed to be) are "OK with old people dying."
She has made no attempt to clarify what she means, or to offer any real evidence in support of her eye-catching claim. She has simply advanced the eye-catching claim. Quoting Wittgenstein out of context:
"It is in this and similar ways that [we] operate with words."Very smart people actually do reason in such undisciplined ways. In fact, as anyone should be able to see, they do so all the time.
Ranking people reason is these disordered ways all the time. And when they do, our highest ranking news organizations simply aren't able to notice.
NPR rushes an incoherent excerpt from a new book into print. The New York Times rushes an unsupported claim to the top of its op-ed page.
It is in this, and in similar ways, that we rational animals reason!
In a more rational world, our logicians would descend from their aeries to comment on these follies. But in the alternate world which we do inhabit, the logicians threw the later Wittgenstein under the bus.
According to Professor Horwich, they did this so they could continue with the "linguistic illusions" which define the bubble within which they uselessly live. In this way, our ranking logicians—surely, none dare call them "guardians"—have wandered away from their posts.
We closed Week One in our new report with a revised public prayer. "Give us this day our daily bread," we said. "But also our daily logic."
Give us this day our daily logic! Our discourse will continue to flounder and fail in the absence of that boon until our cosseted logicians get off their high horses, emerge from their aeries and return to significant work.
In the past several decades, we've badly needed help with the logic of sensible paraphrase. Increasingly, we also need help with the logic of generalization and selective otherization.
This column in yesterday's Washington Post Outlook section is about as bad as daily illogic gets. It was written by two ranking professors at Columbia, neither of whom is a kid.
The professors are 53 and 42 years of age. They're dealing with an important topic. Their work is amazingly bad.
That essay was written by Ivy League professors, then published by the Washington Post. Even in our sudden age of cholera, it is in this and in similar ways that we "rational animals" work.
Last week, we started a lengthy attempt to describe the way the logicians of the world have walked away from their posts. We'll continue in the weeks to come, eventually showing you what the professors threw away when they decided to throw Wittgenstein under the bus.
We're hoping that a 9-year-old kid will read these reports at some future point and take the mission from there. For decades, our daily logic has been a sad joke. In the end, it gave us our Trump.
Last week, we began our new exploration with a prayer for daily logic. Our reports went exactly like this:
Week One: Give us this day our daily bread!We expect to start Week Two tomorrow. That said, we have a lot of rubble-strewn ground to explore, and we'd like to cover it well.
Monday, March 16: What Professor Horwich said! The start of a meta-discussion.
Tuesday, March 17: Amazing! Fifty-six years after Wittgenstein's book, a very smart person wrote this.
Wednesday, March 18: The number 1 lives in a fairyland, and other high-end mumbo-jumbo.
Friday, March 20: Give us this day our daily bread—but also our daily logic.