Information is necessary but not sufficient for education.

Understanding implies skills for using information in unfamiliar situations.  Effective use of information implies adherence to certain rules of information processing—like not using the tools of propaganda to convince ourselves and others of the rightness of our position.  Those who don’t adhere to such rules are often seen by those who do as a bit out of whack.  We may sense that something is wrong, but still not be able to quite say what is wrong; it just "seems whacky."  Propaganda violates logic that is often a bit too abstract to be easily understood.  To that it owes its sometimes frightening success.  The Bush Administration has built a striking edifice upon a foundation of propaganda technique laid down many years ago by New Gingritch's booklet "Language a Key Mechanims of Control."

Nevertheless, we don’t have to be able to recognize which specific rules of logic are being violated to recognize that things are terribly wrong in the affairs of state—just as we don’t have to know that protanopic color blindness is missing something when it reports that orange and green are essentially the same color.  (It’s missing the red-sensitive cone on the retina.)  We see the difference between orange and green, and it’s undeniable.  But if we do understand how the eye sees color, we can go a lot further: we can, for example appreciate how a bird’s color vision is vastly superior to a human’s

Deeper understanding of logical errors should empower us.  This power is the power of education. 


In 1990, Newt Gingritch was awarded a well-deserved "Doublespeak Award" by the National Conference of English Teachers for a booklet, Language,  a Key Mechanism of Control.  It was based on two of "The seven tools of propaganda," the use of which renders communication useless as information but effective as persuasion.

A lot of things to think about

More things

a useful frame of reference 

Ignoring other viewpoints, perceptions, understandings, expertise, imperatives, needs, etc, even though they are essential elements of our problems.

"The singles" Herpes simpletonisus
Single cause - Single effect
Single purpose
Single-person subcultures (egocentrism)
Single parameter  (tensor-blindness)
(Single}mono-chromatic vision (totally colorblind) 

Herpes simpletonisus
a whole zoo of oversimplifications
Watch for improper and proper use of experts and expertise.

Improper: "Putative experts from 'think tanks,' most of whom haven't been to those countries or speak the languages are regularly called upon to give their opinions.  The result...

massive amounts of distorted information and ignorance." 
David Barsamian introducing a different kind of expert on Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran.

Proper:  Experts supply well-researched and wide-ranging knowledge, then add careful reasoning.  Expert reasoning concentrates on disconfirming evidence recognizing that confirming evidence is all too easy to find and, by itself, doesn't discriminate between what will work and what won't.
Good reasoning concentrates on disconfirmations and pays minimal attention to confirmations. Confirmations are necessary but their sufficiency is minimal. 

Look for easy-to-understand examples to compare with our issue.

toward understanding science
Logical Imperatives

Eureka! - "Once you see it you can never again not see it."  And you know you must not ignore it.

Find examples of such logical imperatives which are close to our issue.

Offer dissonances, puzzles, contradictions, etc. to ponder.

When a new insight solves an old problem and gets added to college curricula, the understanding usually doesn't spread. Rather, a few individuals pick up the technique and solve problems with it while a majority learn words and rituals for the exams.  Newton's physics breakthroughs of the 17th century are today usefully understood by perhaps 5 - 15% of those who learn them.  Physics education research of the past 30 years has greatly improved this situation by developing inquiry education that directs its students into the mental weight-lifting mode.

Ferret out subtle contradictions

Three statements that taken together should raise eyebrows:

"Energy is the capacity to do work."  (Definition of energy in about half of the physics textbooks.)
"Energy can be unavailable for doing work."  (Also found in most of those same texts -- and it contradicts their definition.)
"In physics today, we have no knowledge of what energy is.(In The Feynman Lectures on Physics and it shows much deeper understanding.)

Here's the same error where it's easier to see: Why not define vegetable, with, "A vegetable is a potato."  We object because a vegetable might not be a potato.  (Just as energy might not be capacity to do work.)  In the language of logic:  "If potato, then vegetable," is correct, but "If vegetable then potato," is not correct. 

These are implications (in the formal logic sense): "Potato implies vegetable" is true and "Vegetable implies potato" is false.  To use the false statement not noticing the difference between the two, is to improperly invert an implication.  "Energy is the capacity to do work" improperly inverts an implication.  Those text authors make a logical error--most of the other authors simply avoid giving any definition of energy.

It's a very common error.  Many statements and arguments that we sense to be wrong, although we can't quite say why,  have improperly inverted implications to support them. 

Here's a puzzle which demonstrates how that very simple relationship, implication, is also very subtle:

In a set of cards each card has a number on one side and a letter on the other.  Four cards are lying on a table.  They show an "I", an "N", a "6", and a "3".  Someone suggests the hypothesis: If a card has a vowel on one side then it has an odd  number on the other side.  The problem is to determine which cards must be turned over to test the hypothesis.  No card is to be turned over unless necessary to test the hypothesis.

Very few puzzle solvers get it right at first try.


on energy




Some common subtleties which are commonly not noticed.

Search for disconfirmations is necessary to establish truth and to justify actions.  The shortest route to disaster is to ignore the rest of the universe once we’ve found something we like.  Skepticism is essential to ward off the constant deluge of propaganda—and to sidestep self-deception.

Egocentrism, ethnocentrism, and anthropocentrism, each ignores too much about the “others” we interact with.  If we learn more about those “others,” we usually discover they are really another part of  “us.”  “We are all in this together.”  (Thom Hartmann is currently espousing these thoughts.)

Logical imperatives are often not recognized.  Most common is probably the inverted implication:  all confused with some, necessity confused with sufficiency, equivalence confused with implication or mutual exclusion, etc.

Sorting the relevant from the irrelevant is too often not done—an outcome of not recognizing those logical relationships.  (A theme from Piaget.)

Modern science concepts are not what they seem at first glance.  They are a bit more abstract than we expect and need a bit of mental weight-lifting before they are usefully understood.

Innumeracy: the failure to recognize which math is appropriate for which situations.  Never mind the higher math like solving second-order partial differential equations or solving problems in algebraic topology.  Simple ratios and proportions are very often handled incorrectly and exponential relationships are frequently beyond the point where the math gets too fuzzy to fiddle with.  Also, statistics is a dangerous trap for the mathematically naïve.  (And so a commentator recently suggested that Bush’s persistence in Iraq until “victory” is like the lottery addict who persists in putting in money until he wins.)

Multidimensional insight eludes most college students: its potential is so great that it’s worth the effort needed to gain some understanding.  Ordering athletes by size and ordering paint chips by color are good ways to get started.  Such insights are necessary for solutions to our educational problems and to lopsided distribution of wealth.  This is why many Nobel Prizes in Economic Sciences are primarily new multidimensional insight.


Thom Hartmann website

Relevance & Irrelevance

the blue handout

Things are not always what they seem


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