Friday, February 8, 2019

A shortcoming of "reason" (Repost)

Image from HERE
I have a friend, Tom, who will often end a sentence with the observation, "...that makes logical sense."  For Tom, that makes it a done-deal.  It is the English equivalent of Q.E.D., "quod erat demonstrandum"

While it causes many people heartburn, there are many shortcomings to "reason", or in the words of my friend Tom, shortcomings to "things that make logical sense."

Just because it makes "logical sense" does not make it true

At one time it was thought that the proper way to heat treat a steel sword blade was to heat it to bright cherry red at high noon and to plunge it through the heart of the strongest slave you could afford at the local Slave Exchange and Emporium.

Empirical evidence suggested that the larger and stronger the slave the better and stronger the blade.

That makes "logical sense", right?  The strength of the slave transfers to the blade.

Everybody was happy.

The proprietor of the local Slave Exchange and Emporium was happy because he had a lot of repeat customers.  The slaves were only good for a one-time use.

The blade smith was happy, he had a way to justify the expense of his blades and the limited supply of quality slaves created a "natural" shortage of quality blades which served to simultaneously keep prices high and competition down.  (Incidentally, the inflation adjusted cost of a prime slave is $200,000-to-$250,000.  That is a considerable sum of money.)

The users of the blades were happy.  It actually provided an effective heat treat of the blade.  The tip was hard and kept a good edge.  The base of the blade was a little softer and less brittle, therefore less likely to snap in battle.  A rich user could afford a "better" blade than a commoner which gave him confidence.   The proper amount of confidence is another way to say "lucky".

The used slaves were not available to offer an opinion.

Directives that do not make "logical sense" are not optional

My current understanding of parenting is that kids will remember direction better if I tell them some of the reasons for my direction.

The over-arching objective is that I am trying to transplant my value-map (my culture) into their heads.

Adding a few reasons makes the directions easier to remember.

Adding a few reasons increases the odds of the child being able to logically arrive at the correct action when circumstances vary at some time in the future.

The problems occur when the child infers that your direction is contingent upon your reasons.  He decides that your directions are not valid if:
  • You did not include reasons this time
  • They do not understand your reasons
  • You did not give them enough reasons
  • They can think of any reason that is more compelling (to them) to do it a different way
That is, kids conclude that your direction is optional if they don't totally agree with it.

Most kids test this.  Most kids see the light with just a little bit of discussion.

"Well, Junior, I could tell you all of the reasons why you have a 10:30 curfew but we would still be standing here with me talking at you when 10:30 rolled around.  Now, we can either have that long discussion or you can agree to do as I told you and you can have the use of the car."

Unfortunately, the people with the greatest faith in central planning are the ones who spend half of their lives in an educational setting.  Educational methods use "reasons" for all of the same motives that parents use reasons.   People who spent half of their lives in an educational setting are subject to all of the failings listed above.  Further, they are oblivious to the fact that "reasons" are heavily edited to provide a smooth, compelling narrative.  History is far messier when you are living it than it will appear on the pages of the text book.  Perhaps it is because the used slaves are not available to offer our opinion.

Some things remain a mystery

A mystery is anything that is beyond human understanding.

The critical point is that no hurricane will stop and ask each victim, "Do you properly understand what is about to happen?" before it continues onward and  kills them.  Chaos does not need our approval or understanding before it messes with our lives.

It is difficult to find many compelling examples of how this works because mysteries tend to remain a nearly transparent fog.  I will give it a shot, though, and oddly enough both examples involve fish.

Salt Cod

If you read the Little House series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder you might notice that "Pa" goes to great troubles and expense to buy the ingredients of their traditional holiday meal, Salt Cod.  That seems odd given that the Ingalls family was several generations removed from New England.

Borrowed an argument from F.A. Hayek, Ma and Pa Ingalls did not need to understand that ocean fish were a good source of iodine.  Ma and Pa did not pick Salt Cod.  Salt Cod picked them.  Their ancestors were more vigorous and more competitive than the families that were experiencing sub-clinical thyroid deficiency.

Ma and Pa's ancestors were able to work longer, work harder and be more fertile than those families in the goiter belt who did not eat ocean fish.

Sometimes the best example is a failure

According to Jared Diamond one of the reasons the Norse colony on Greenland failed is that the inhabitants did not eat fish.  It is a huge mystery.  Here was a colony situated in the middle of one of the world's greatest fisheries and it starved to death.  Big, fatty, high-calorie, easy to catch fish.  The mystery deepens because Norse, in general, is a culture that enjoys eating vast quantities of fish.

Anthropologists have sifted through a couple of centuries worth of middens and have not been able to find so much as a single fish bone.

My pet theory is that the entire founding community became violently ill after eating fish that went blinky on them.  It gets warm in the summer.  Starting a colony is endless work.  They may have caught a school of fish and just left them on the beach...went to work as long as the light held out.  Near the Arctic circle that is almost twenty hours.  Then they went down to the boats and feasted on partially cooked, spoiled fish.

Logical-sense told them that the fish swimming in the ocean around Greenland were poisonous.

We will never know the reasons.  They are all dead now and they left now written record of why they did not eat fish.  For one thing, they were not the kind of people who wrote down much more than family trees, date-of-birth and date-of-death.  For another thing, they probably thought it was self evident.  Eat one of those fish and puke your guts out for the next 48 hours.


  1. Great post, and there are some curious issues with some of the burial grounds. Your explanation is probably as good as any...

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. The fact they found no fish bones indicates one thing- they found no fish bones.
    Maybe they gutted and boned the fish at sea and dumped the offal overboard so as to avoid a horrible stink at the settlement. Or the fish waste was made off with by seagulls. Or they dumped the waste in another location. Or the fillets were sliced at sea and the pin bones, being tiny, dissolved in the midden due to soil characteristics.
    The idea that a race of mariners , colonizing an island with precious few resources, gave up on eating fish, is extremely unlikely.. Hunger is the absolute # 1 driving force. People think, and act, adapt and discover. If some fish made them ill, they would suspect why, having vast experience with this exact problem,and would eat it fresher next time-you know, eat the ones that don't stink? Or they would try another species. The only hypothesis that makes sense in this context is that they were physically unable to fish- ie, all the boats were destroyed and they had no local timber to build anew.
    They were most likely run out of Greenland by colder weather than what they bargained for when they established the settlement. Same thing that ran them out of Iceland .Or they found the Inuit less hospitable than expected. Or their social structure was not supportive of a small colony.
    I have some reservations about Diamonds work, by and large, it looked to me like he was intent on using a geographic toss of the dice to explain why cultures fail or succeed. Ever see a picture of Tel Aviv in the forties? A bunch of guys decided to make a city from a dune. IMO, human social and political structures can take some awful physical situations and make them bloom and grow. I hear Diamonds argument repeated in the standard leftist mantra that the only reason the US grew to such a power was that we raped the virgin wilderness and exploited all the natives etc.The same conditions existed in Africa and South America and see where they are- admittedly, there were a few exceptions in those places, but as soon as a capitalist westernized government (AKA evil colonial western power) disappeared, the standard of living went right along with it - I am speaking of Rhodesia, South Africa, Argentina, and a few others.

    1. Hello Raven:

      First, I want to thank you for reading my blog.

      Second, I want to thank you for taking the time to post such a clear and well thought out comment.

      I want to respond to a few of your points...and I want to do it without coming across as an argumentative prick.

      Your observation that the absence of evidence is not conclusive proof of absence of an event is absolutely spot-on. Still, in this case I have to go with the opinion of the peer-reviewed crowd. I have to trust their judgement that some evidence should have been found....either bones near the permafrost, or scales (chitin?) or evidence of drying structures.

      With regard to hunger...yup, they were hungry. Hooves with dentition marks were uncovered. In snowy climates, animals kept in confinement are quickly wading in soupy manure/urine up to their brisket. I have seen it with my own eyes. A person would have to be starving to eat hooves that had been basting in that mess for six months. Also, starvation was likely to occur near the end of the winter when there were, presumably, few fishing opportunities. They might have willingly eaten fish if they had any available.

      Iceland: I do not believe the Norse were ever expatriated from Iceland, so comparing Iceland (where the ate fish) to Greenland is not a solid comparison.

      I agree with you that human social and political structures can work miracles. I also believe that humans are most creative as individuals and small groups, unfettered by the burdens of intrusive regulations. That is not in alignment with the standard, leftist mantra.

      Best regards and thanks for writing

      Eaton Rapids Joe

  4. You are welcome- You have an interesting and well written blog.
    I stand corrected on the Icelanders being forced out - my memory must have conflated it with Greenland.

    I still find it unlikely that the Greenland settlers would have willingly forsook eating fish- their cultural line came from fish eaters. They would have been exposed to the Inuit who ate fish.
    Greenland was apparently settled around 950 and the end was in the 1300"s, IIRC. This parallels the medieval warm period. My best guess would be a combination of factors including cold, pressure from the Inuit, outside conflict and lack of trade pushed them over the edge to where there was no capital available to improve- sort of like a business that never quite has enough profit to reinvest-so the machinery degrades, nobody gets a raise, it just slowly trickles down the drain. Another possibility is disease- again, IIRC, the plague in europe was around the mid 1300's. It would only take one visitor to transmit it- I believe Iceland suffered badly from this.

    Regarding Iceland- this is interesting -eyewitness accounts on the Islamic slave raids in 1627.

  5. ah- I was wrong again- the Tel Aviv pic was 1909-not the 1940's- but I think the idea stands. Take a look.


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