The study of Aristotelian logic (or in the Islamic syllabus known as Mantiq – side info – scholars like Ghazali, Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Arabi, Ibn Sina [Avicenna] and Fakhr al-Din al-Razi improvised this taking into account the tenets of Islam) was a list in my bucket and one I have always wanted to do and never had the time to. The time I had during the recent lockdown allowed me to start this journey.
So before I am classed immodest, l would hasten to add that my ego, which was briefly inflated by the opportunity to learn this, was quickly and without much delay and fuss deflated never mind confidence immensely crushed when the tutor opened the session by saying – in the Golden and Olden Days of knowledge this science was taught as mainstream subject in high schools in Europe and the Middle East to 12- to 15-years old. That alone was enough to puncture any great aspirations I may have had of going places post attaining the knowledge. Still, I am grateful I had the time to start the lessons.
The science of logic
The science of logic is a very good tool and knowledge for the young to be exposed to. It is a tool that leaders in all sectors and ranks desperately need and are sorely lacking. Mastering these skills have proven to free the mind from the shackles of faulty logic and fallacies. Mastering these skills was the foundation of great leaders, and debaters of our times.
Abraham Lincoln took a year off in his 40s to learn geometry because he kept hearing the term “demonstrate”. He learnt geometry on his own to properly understand the principles of demonstrating and rationalisation – components of logic. He honed his logical and debating skills by studying Euclid, the founder of geometry, with such diligence that he was able to later in life deliver great speeches like the famous Gettysburg address: “a new nation… dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…” He famously noted, “at last I said, Lincoln, you never can make a lawyer if you do not understand what demonstrate means; and I left my situation in Springfield, went home to my father’s house and stayed there till I could give any proposition in the six books of Euclid at sight.”
The pursuit of logic is part of philosophy which in my simplest understanding means the process of asking, seeking answers to and questions about the most fundamental issues concerning our world and ourselves. Therein the study of logic shows us – our minds have been created to understand, reason and judge. As humans we are able to abstract and deduce information. Unlike other beings, humans have the capacity to abstract from signs put before us and break this down to abstractions of concepts and ideas. We are sign makers and sign givers, and hence in most Abrahamic scriptures and otherwise, we read verses like – look at the signs, read the signs, learn from the signs and observe the signs around you.
I write this to demonstrate how important the study of logic is in the mundaneness of our daily lives. How important it is in a democracy. The whole notion of democracy is built on the stables of arguments and reason and NOT on power. Democracy is built upon consensus, and failing that we fall into the traps of logical fallacies and the denial of democracy itself. Ipso facto this means a compromised logic compromises reason and rationale; as well as the ability to self-examination, self-expression and communication in societies. That being said, we can also be victims to the fallacies of logic when misused and/or misrepresented. Politicians, preachers, scholars and leaders who have learnt this science can, with wrong intentions, manipulate and mislead and hence it is important for the masses to understand the basics of what makes for a logical argument.
Fallacies of logic
Lawyers use logic in their arguments (mostly), and so it is essential that judges understand the fallacies of logic to avoid instances where lawyers appeal to pity and/or resort to the “poisoning the well fallacy” where you essentially rubbish the other side’s argument, without demonstrating your arguments’ credibility and validity.
A Jordanian lawyer once told me the story of a judge in the Middle East who was passing a judgement on a case. He permitted the accused to present a closing statement. The accused, in his closing, cried so profusely that it moved the entire courtroom. The judge passed a guilty verdict nonetheless, astounding many of the observers as the emotions of the accused were so compelling. Someone asked the judge later why he passed a guilty verdict despite what seemed like a persuasive show of innocence by the accused, to which the judge said: “Didn’t the brothers of Prophet Yusuf (PBUH) (Prophet Joseph in Abrahamic traditions) weep and wail to their father after throwing Yusuf into a well, arguing the fox had eaten him? Crying is not a measure of innocence and the contrary is also true.” This story is often told to demonstrate fallacies of logic – i.e. call for pity.
Alice in Wonderland (along with Through the Looking Glass) is another classic demonstration of the fallacies of logic. For those who missed it, it tells the story of a young girl falling down a rabbit-hole and entering a bizarre and surreal world where nothing quite makes sense when compared to the order of her own Newtonian world. One of the most famous lines in Alice in Wonderland is “off with his/her head!” said by the queen and then will be the trial. Alice would say from where she comes from the trial is held before the judgement – to which the queen says “we do things differently here” (paraphrased). Then there is the logic of Humpty Dumpty when he says, “when I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean” – in other words it can mean whatever he wants it to mean, to which Alice would respond words mean so many different things and one cannot just make it up as one goes along.
Alice in Wonderland demonstrates a world with inverted laws of physics; some may call this the quantum physics world view where you can walk through walls and bullets don’t kill (as we watched in Matrix, the movie). Another memorable scene in Through the Looking-Glass depicts Alice and the Red Queen running as fast as they can. When Alice asks where they are running to, the Red Queen explains that they are running merely to stay in the same place and to go somewhere they would have to run twice as fast. Alice in Wonderland was the work of a logician, and it brings to us a world where when order as we know is reversed, the expected results make for no real sense. When order disintegrates, chaos ensues. And in jest, Lewis Carroll brought this to live in the Alice series.
When rules are illogically argued and irrationally redefined, we fall victim to fallacies. This hurts people, it hurts societies and growth of civilisations when done by people in positions of great responsibilities. It has ripple effects to other societies too. We have seen this by way of recent past crises of our times in the form of wars, pandemics, financial and economic crises, climate issues, breakdown of democracies and human tragedies. These are culminations of events formed by logical order going awry. The tragedy of our times is not only that our thoughts are shackled by biases and prejudices, they are also significantly aggravated by the lack of lifelong learning by people in important roles in our societies.
Leaders from all aisles and corridors today are ill-equipped in making logically coherent arguments, without riling up emotions and/or shutting down debates altogether. The damage that we now see in our civic life ensues from the loss of these “arts of communication and rationalisation.” Mortimer Adler said over half a century ago that “Where men lack the arts of communication, intelligent discussion must languish. Where there is no mastery of the medium for exchanging ideas, ideas cease to play a part in human life. When that happens, men are little better than the brutes they dominate by force or cunning and they will soon try to dominate each other in the same way.”
Freedom of thought comes when we challenge our own prejudices and default settings through the discipline of reasoning. The default settings of an untrained mind are not at a free mind at all as Hamza Yusuf, a renowned theologian and logician, said: “It contains all the toxins of a slothful mind: pettiness and prejudice, gross exaggerations and hasty generalizations, faulty reasoning and false certitude.”
When the mind is unable to abstract and logically transcend information it sees and/or is presented with by way of reasoning, judging and understanding, we start boxing events to our own illogical understanding of the world. To explain, our global systems are based on categorising us into boxes. We exist as ticks, segregated by gender, race, religion, age, income, level of education – identified by a codified number to our name. We have pretty much de-humanised and polarised ourselves. When the rules are designed to dehumanise, the laws have to defy logic to accommodate. And so the order required to make rational, moral, as well as didactic choices simply disintegrates from the Go Point.
Logic is the girder upon which legal systems are built, and it enables us to detect fallacies in arguments presented to us by politicians, corporate leaders, scientists, economists, pollsters, bankers, philosophers, scholars and preachers whose esteemed vocation can sometimes veil us from their susceptibility to fallibility and error. It is here where societies can easily be trapped by nominalist views.
Nominalist views are void of essence made by those unable to move beyond the precepts of “material gods” – where the self becomes front and centre. When we build societies based on a nominalist world view that cannot move beyond the “material gods” (like the self, status, race, money, positions and business cards, for instance), we build a society harmfully equipped to see the larger purpose and essence of life. The net effects of this are that we build a hollow and vacuous society predicated by equally hollow and vacuous men and women leading us. Human beings are created to reason and rationalise, to ascend beyond the material suffixes into thought and intellect. Losing this sense simply means losing the very essence of our own dignity of being human. We succumb then to the nonsensical logics of the kind seen in Alice in Wonderland, metaphorically speaking.
“As above so below and so as within so without” was said by a legendary Egyptian -mystic Hermes Trismegistus. This insight presents the core universal truth: all worlds are essentially identical, and the microscopic atom is structured in the very same way as the telescopic solar system. It is said that Egypt was built based on these cosmic principles and the location of the pyramids reflect the exact points of the stars above. One of the oldest civilisations in the world called Mayans strongly believed in the influence of the cosmos on daily life. The Maya civilisation incorporated their advanced understanding of astronomy into their temples and other religious structures, and geologists have found proofs of these.
I quote these examples, albeit extinct in its thought process now, to illustrate that people once lived in sync with their surroundings – understanding that they formed part of a greater order of the universe – the sky, the Earth and the oceans with the larger cosmos. These, they understood, was not created for no purpose as nothing in and around us exists independent of another, and that there is order to the seeming madness that we may feel sometimes.
Running on the same spot
In closing – though I am decades late in learning this science of logic and my journey will continue – I concede that my decision making would have been enhanced had I known it earlier. It is a skill that boardrooms and corridors of democracy, as well as schools need to apply as basic competence to better understand the larger order and essence of all that is around us and its signs.
The antithesis of not knowing is falling into a monotony of clocking in and clocking out each day on some routine, when in fact we are just running on the same spot as the Red Queen did in Alice in Wonderland – running exhaustingly fast but going nowhere. This is best described by the Beatles in their lyrics to the song The Fool on the Hill, which is about a man who is considered a fool by others, but whose foolish demeanour is actually an indication of wisdom:
And he never listens to them
He knows that they’re the fools
They don’t like him
The fool on the hill
Sees the sun going down
And the eyes in his head
See the world spinning ’round
I shudder at the thought of a life lived thinking I am on the right path, only to wake up knowing I have been running on the same spot going nowhere, and moving statically. I shiver at the thought thinking the man on the hill is the fool, when in fact I was by my own discounted and specious world view the fool after all. I tremble at the thought of a life where I thought my world view made for the most logical order, only to wake up to it, disintegrating like a sand castle.
Ultimately we mirror the world around us. We get what we give. We reap what we sow. In the order of cosmology, the skies today are a reflection of what’s on Earth and the ocean reflects the state of the Earth. It is said that 80 to 90 per cent of the fish have gone due to ocean contamination, and this contamination has killed our most prized fish. The ocean represents “consciousness” in cosmology. What is interesting is the contaminated ocean is providing a thriving environment for jelly fish – jelly fish is a spineless, brainless fish that constantly consumes.
So – is the jelly fish a reflection of what is left today on Earth? Is it a reflection of our states? Are the oceans whispering the sounds of our own actions?
Firoz Abdul Hamid, a Qualified Chartered Engineer in the United Kingdom and holder of an MBA degree from Tanaka School of Imperial College in London, is advisor to public and private sector on various issues ranging from strategy to transformation, innovation, communications, reputation management and crisis management.
Malaysian National News Agency
No.28 Jalan BERNAMA
Off Jalan Tun Razak
50400 Kuala Lumpur
Tel : +603-2693 9933 (General Line)
Email : helpdesk[at]bernama.com