A Critical Perspective-Business is Belief

All Aboard

We live in a world where we are constantly having to navigate between truths and opinions, honesty, lies, faith, fact, science, belief. None of these are mutually exclusive either they have all on some level become melded with the other and yet are constantly pitted against each other too. As troublesome as these conceptions can be, it is not as though we can do away with them. There is always going to be someone out there in the world making a claim about something, and we are always going to have to try and establish whether what they are saying is factual, whether it is honest, whether we should believe them based on evidence or should we do it on faith. We face this dilemma every time we walk into a store, and a product is claiming something, and if not outrightly claiming it, it is using imagery that is supposed to represent some element of what it is or what one can gain by using the product. We need to run the test when we are being sold some kind of policy. Or someone is trying to convince us that their particular brand of rationality, investment, business venture, management style, philosophy, logic or life-style is something we should ‘get into”.

Ultimately it appears that everyone wants us to ‘buy into’ something, and every day we decide whether or not to. But have we given serious thought as to the processes that are going on in ourselves on how we verify and refute those claims?.What are the criteria that we are using to make evaluations on what we accept and what we reject? Some would say they go on gut instinct, others say it is whether they need it or not, others say they went with how they felt. Our ability to reason critically is going to have an overwhelming impact on the quality of our lives and success of our ventures, because what criterion we use to establish whether products, beliefs, processes, methods or people are right to have in our lives and business’ is going to shape what our enterprises and social lives look like. Even our common sense can only take us so far, as it too is based on material that we may not have really questioned thoroughly. Our business decisions are going to be based on what we believe and if these are not grounded in pragmatism, logic and reasoning we will find ourselves easily going down very troublesome and oft times unconsidered paths.

It seems only natural that we trust our brains implicitly, after all they are all we have with which to think and engage with the world. It would be unfair to say that the brain is merely just a faulty apparatus though because it gets things wrong, afterall it is the most complicated biological thing we have encountered as of yet, and it has a lot on its plate. Once we acknowledge the amount of demand (cognitive load) that is placed on this single organ and realize that it only has a certain capacity (cognitive real estate) for what it can do at any given time, we may be able to harness it in the light of its strengths rather than push it towards its weaknesses.

Strange as it may sound though, the brain is much smarter than we are, anyone who has read Freud may agree that this was his central thesis, hence the unbeknownst actions of the unconscious. What I mean by the brain being smarter than us is that, when we give it incredibly complex tasks but are not in the driver’s seat of solving the problem it will give us a quick, and often incorrect answer and along with it a little squirt of feel good serotonin and dopamine meds so that we are satisfied with the answer and therefore leave it alone so that it can carry on doing what it does best.

Our ability to use logic can be seen as the back door into the brain, because in the brain’s default setting it is going to be responding to sensations and generating impulses that move the body towards increasing the positive valence or decreasing whatever the negative valence of that situation is.

The Logic of Logicality

It is not uncommon for us to hear someone say that something is illogical, or that we should think logically, or that being a logical person is a good thing. This of course brings us to the question of what logic actually is. The word logic comes to us from the Ancient Greek word ‘logike’ which means variously “possessed of reason, intellectual, dialectical, argumentative”, it is also connected to the word (logos), which means “word, thought, idea, argument, account, reason, or principle” .

We can see in these various definitions that what logic is all about is the ability to give good reasons for why things are what they are, or why things should be done in a certain way. Logic is a process whereby one is constantly enquiring about the nature and factuality of things, wherein one does not simply take everything at face value.

This is why logic is something that is used as the functional basis for mathematics and the sciences. Whether one is a computer programmer, medical doctor, a research scientist or an engineer the processes of logical reasoning is the tool par excellence in their arsenal, for without it they could neither accurately classify anything, or predict anything or safely control anything. The study and development of the tools of logic has occupied the minds of many scholars from the ancient world, from ancient Greece to India and China, and has been built up and refined to a very large degree for us to use today. There are even various schools or approaches to logic that drill down into discovering the nature of very specific things.

There is ‘informal logic’ where we look at the way we use everyday language to explain our reasoning and this is the type of logic that can be riddled with a lot of fallacies. We have ‘formal logic’ which is also called ‘first-order logic’ and this concerns itself with the a formula wherein its syntax are well formed within finite expressions. There is what is known as ‘symbolic logic’ where there is an emphasis on things like the proposition and the predicate.

“I am convinced that the act of thinking logically cannot possibly be natural to the human mind. If it were, then mathematics would be everybody’s easiest course at school and our species would not have taken several millennia to figure out the scientific method.” 

― Neil deGrasse Tyson, The Sky is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist

We  have ‘Mathematical logic’ with systems like model theory which is a study of classes of mathematical structures, ‘proof theory’ which represents proofs as formal mathematical objects, ‘set theory’ which studies collections of objects and recursion theory also known as computability theory wherein brain bending  questions like “How can noncomputable functions be classified into a hierarchy based on their level of non computability?” or “What does it mean for a function on the natural numbers to be computable?”

“ Upon this first, and in one sense this sole , rule of reason, that in order to learn you must desire to learn, and in so doing not be satisfied with what you are already inclined to think, there follows one corollary which itself deserves to be inscribed upon every wall of the city of philosophy: Do not block the way of inquiry.”- Charles Sanders Peirce, “First Rule of Logic

Besides for all of the logical reasoning behind why we should or shouldn’t do things, there is another factor that we will need to serious consideration when taking a stand on any topic. We need to be aware of our own drives and compulsions for doing what we do and believing what we believe. What is at that makes us want to believe certain things and not others, why is it so important for us to hold on to beliefs. Some people are prone to think that often what people believe is an indication of how intelligent they are, but this does not really appear to be the case. Due to the fact that humans always find ways to rationalize what they believe, it turns out that the smarter ones among us may still hold on to some very erroneous beliefs but are just much cleverer at constructing more complex rationalizations in an attempt to justify those beliefs.

If we fail to question why we are so attached to something being right, we also fail in allowing ourselves the opportunity to be informed about the type of narrative we are attempting to fulfill with the story of our lives. We will come to see that what compels us so forcefully towards certain beliefs has less to do about thought than what it has to do about feelings. Try and think of any business or personal decision that you made that wasn’t driven by how you felt about something. In our avoidance of ‘bad’ feelings we will be very tempted to only associate ourselves with beliefs that make us feel that we are on the right track, even if this track is ultimately derailing the well-being of our self and others. Even our most sophisticated tools and computer programs are still limited by the quality of thinking and systems of logic that are used in their implementation and application.