Project Logicality | False Premises

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The truth is crucial to skeptical thinking, and one must always be careful to choose those facts that bear it out reliably. Even in a post-truth political world, to skeptics, facts matter. Here, I address False Premises, important components of unreliable reasoning.

False premises are statements, claims, out-of-context factoids, or assertions which are simply not true, making any argument using them unsound.

They can range from simple myths, misconceptions held out of ignorance, motivated reasoning, dishonesty, or delusion. This is a common rhetorical tactic by pseudoscientists, anti-scientists, politicians, and ideological apologists of all stripes. Here are a couple of examples:

Quantum Mechanics supports the idea that reality does not exist unless it is being looked at by a conscious observer.

Quantum Mechanics explains telepathy as a result of the shared Entanglement of particles in separate brains.

The first is false because quantum observation has nothing to do with consciousness or even the possession of any other sort of function commonly associated with a living mind at all, it simply involves the the traces left by a quantum object through the physical interaction of measurement.

It is also demonstrably false because Quantum Mechanics, as a widely-accepted and well-supported scientific theory absolutely depends on the existence of an underlying reality to be a correct understanding of the same on the micro-level, no matter who is running the experiment, when, or where.

The second is false because firstly, it’s pointless to explain something before it’s even convincingly shown to exist to begin with.

It’s also false because secondly, there is no evidence of any quantum-level effects, especially entanglement, in the thus-far detectable neurological activity of the human brain. Human brain cells are too big, too complex, and interact with too much both within and outside of themselves to operate as quantum objects. Decoherence works.

Below are three common variants of this error.

The Big Lie:

This is a false statement so extremely and obviously wrong that it is difficult for many people to think that it would be told if it were not true, especially when told with seeming sincerity, as part of intentional deception, uninformed misinformation, or even a delusion.

Three examples follow:

This starship is constructed out of corbomite. If you fire upon us, the explosion will destroy both our vessels.

I wouldn’t do that if I were you. As a man with an alien weapon in my brain, I can kill you just by looking at you crosseyed.

The scientific evidence for Psi is compelling, just Google “evidence for psi” to see for yourself.

That last example, slightly paraphrased, has been used by a commentator on this blog at least once, and, though false and baldly stated, is probably quite commonly used by trolls on blogs and websites critical of Psi research.

The Multiple Untruth:

This is also known as the Gish Gallop, after its frequent use in debates by the late creationist Duane Gish.

This is the spitting out of so many misconceptions at once that they are almost impossible to keep in mind. Though the opponent of the one using this tactic may have the time to refute a few of them, those skilled in debate must judiciously choose which claims to refute and which to ignore. Not all arguments in a debate are of equal rhetorical worth.

This is often effective because against inexperienced debaters, it creates an impression of victory to the user’s audience. What choices you make in refutation matter.

The Noble Lie:

Plato is often credited with inventing this one, and he may indeed have. At any rate, he wrote about it in his dialogue the Republic. It’s a common debating tactic, a falsehood told not only for its rhetorical effect, but also for the intended result of believing the premise.

It operates on the assumption that those it is told to cannot handle the truth or are so stupid that they cannot possibly see through it.

Those treated like fools by being told the lie, once they know the truth, often have an emotional reaction to it, dismissing out of hand anything said by that source from then on.

Plato’s writing on this describes what he thought the ideal society, in which complicity to the social order was maintained by the Noble Lie, that the citizens were placed there by the gods with status set by their essence being of a particular metal, and that because of this essence, all should keep their place and avoid presumptuous human overreach by attempting to rise in status.

If your aim is to engage in intellectually honest, truly constructive discussions, it’s a good idea not to commit this, not only by avoiding intentional falsehoods, but avoiding unintentional misconceptions by making an effort to know what you’re talking about. Nobody can be right about everything.

Project Logicality | The Argument from Ignorance

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 21.28.48One of the first things to discover when adopting a skeptical viewpoint is how vastly ignorant we  all are of much of what there is to know. But ignorance isn’t bliss, it’s oblivion. And it’s evil twin, the illusion of knowledge, is downright dangerous.

This post deals with a common mistake in thinking that preys on ignorance, trying to make it seem like knowledge, the Argument from Ignorance, also the Appeal to Ignorance or ad ignorantiam.

It attempts to make a definite statement on a claim by using what is not known rather than what is. It often takes the general form of:

I don’t know X, so I know Y.

Or put differently it goes something like this:

No one has proven X false (or true), so X must be true (or false).

Or perhaps:

I can’t explain X, so I can explain X.

A few examples follow:

No one has proven that Godzilla doesn’t exist, so Godzilla is real.

No one has proven that secondhand smoke causes cancer, so it must be harmless.

I’ve never seen any real, absolute, rock-solid proof that the Apollo astronauts landed on the Moon, so the Apollo missions were a hoax.

There’s no fallacy committed when there’s knowledge of missing evidence that should logically be found, and it’s known what the expected evidence ought to be. Absence of evidence in the right context is indeed evidence of absence when its lack is glaringly obvious, even if it’s not certain proof of absence!

There’s no fallacy committed in and of itself when acting upon incomplete data for precautionary purposes, such as the threat of terrorists, who can be expected to operate in secret until they strike, if and when they do, or acting upon the threat of global warming in the absence of complete and absolute certainty.

The following is a valid argument:

All of the scheduled openings of this library are listed. I don’t see a listing of it opening at this hour of the day. So it must be that the library will be closed until two hours from now.

This, however, is not:

I see a strange light in the sky. I can’t think of an explanation for it off the top of my head. It must be an alien spaceship.

Or this:

There are gaps in the fossil record. I do not know of a plausible explanation as to why there are such gaps. So it must be that a Intelligent Designer has created or interceded in the creation of life.

A variation of this is Confusing the Unexplained with the Unexplainable, which is fallacious because it assumes implicitly that the current state of knowledge represents the ultimate limits of the knowable, which is just wrong on so many levels.

There’s a possibly apocryphal anecdote floating about of a patent clerk in the late 19th or early 20th century who quit his job, because he thought that everything important had already been invented.

There’s also the silly claim, still circulated, that it’s impossible for bumblebees to fly because science can’t explain it, therefore it’s magic. Well, science has explained it, and it deals with the mechanics of a bumblebee’s wings and the physics of fluid dynamics.

This is understandable, even from perfectly normal, intelligent, sane, and sincere people. It’s reasoning from psychologically available information rather than an examination of more complex and difficult data that may not come as quickly or easily to mind.

It just so happens that supernatural or paranormal explanations are among the easiest to conceive of on the spur of the moment. They are more immediately available, and we are more prone to them through the biases and mental shortcuts we take in our default thinking under whatever narrative influences our brains at any given moment, to paraphrase Dr. Steven Novella.

In informal argumentation the fallacious use of the argument from ignorance is not a violation of logical form as much as an attempt to subvert efforts toward getting at sound explanations for our claims.

Project Logicality | False Choice Fallacies

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 21.28.48This post discusses a common error in reasoning, the False Choice, also known as the False Dichotomy, the Bifurcation fallacy, the Either-Or fallacy, the Fallacy of Negation, the False Dilemma, and for a common variant with only three options, the False Trichotomy.

This uses informal, or language-grounded, logic, and takes the form of a Dilemma, a class of argumentation that takes its effectiveness from resemblance to a formal argument known as a Disjunction.

A Dilemma, false or not, unlike a Disjunction, has a conclusion that follows only to a degree of probability, not necessarily or with complete certainty.

As a fallacy, this argument uses a misleadingly simple choice of two or otherwise too few options, one assumed as true to the negation, discredit, or rejection of all alternatives. In all variants, this falsely constrained selection of options are presented as though they were the only ones.

In any realistic choice there is often a much greater selection of options to take than rhetorically suit the purposes of those who like to use this argument strategy.

On occasion, however there are exceptions, when there do exist a restricted selection of options, as when a prediction made by a scientific hypothesis is either provisionally validated or falsified, or with the argument against theistic moral theories from the dialogues of Plato, Euthyphro’s Dilemma. Sets of choices that reflect realistic limits would not count as a commission of this fallacy.

I’ll provide a few of examples of the False Choice below:

Either young-Earth creationism is true or we came about through blind evolution. But I declare evolution to be false as it contradicts the literal truth of scripture, which I know to be true. Since evolution is false, young-Earth creationism must be true.

You either worship my God, or you worship the Evil One. You don’t worship my God, and since everyone worships something, you must worship the Evil One.

If these are redone as false trichotomies, we get:

Either young-Earth creationism, Intelligent design, or Darwinism is true, and since Darwinism and Intelligent design are false, young-Earth creationism must be true.

This argument completely ignores the vast variety of theological systems and creation myths of all the world’s cultures, past and present, misleadingly presenting an anachronistic 19th century caricature of modern evolutionary science, the creation myths from Genesis (Both of them!) as interpreted by biblical literalists, and Intelligent design as the only possible options.

There is also:

You either worship my concept of God, the Evil One, or the fleshy gods of materialistic science.

This ignores the fact that one may in fact worship nothing at all, no gods, no masters, no devils, no objects of worship of any kind, as is usually the case with atheists.

The rest are simple (and of course, simplistic) dichotomies…

You’re either a believer and a theist, or you’re a skeptic and an atheist.

Two words suffice to refute this: Martin Gardner.

Anyone who doesn’t support the Patriot Act supports terrorists!

Either the girl broke her ex-boyfriend’s jaw with that slugger, or it started flying around and fractured his jaw by itself!

Either your cat stole my burrito or maybe a psychic just teleported in and grabbed it? Suuure…

If you are not with us, you are against us.

You’re either pro-choice or pro-life. There’s no middle ground!

Note that realistically, not all imaginable options in a set of alternatives need to be considered, only those options that are somehow meaningfully testable, as with the rule of thumb known as Occam’s razor, or the principle of theoretical economy.

Also, there is at least one other reason that this argument is not always a fallacy, such as when it is used to further the goal of advancing a critical discussion, and not merely block further consideration or thwart attempts to resolve a controversy.

Caturday’s Astrophenia | Fortnight and Half Again Edition: Oct. 2016

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Welp, I’m a week off for this, as life issues and events prevented posting over the weekend, and the diabolical Mister Eccles is not happy with me!  I had a game last Caturday, while this last Sunday, the cosplay event happened. There, I discovered that I’m not camera-shy even with nigh-crippling stage-fright. There’s something about not seeing the audience directly that allays the terror. I had an awesome time, and both the set crew and other cosplayers were “…fantasic, absolutely fantastic…”* Recording lasted only about 90 minutes, and the Ninth Doctor’s duster I wore was just right for the room temperature, adjusted downward to protect the equipment from overheating. The camera crew was stellar, and all on set got exactly the right instructions to minimize the number of retakes. I’ll post links to the show on this blog and other social media when it airs later this month. So now, I’m back to study, and there is much catching up to do. Please have a glorious October. I have something special planned for the 31st of this month, with posts in between, and I’ll see you between now and then.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

*a partial quote from Chris Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor near the end of the 2005 season finale episode, “The Parting of the Ways,” as Nine says his goodbyes to Billie Piper’s character Rose Tyler just before regenerating into Dave Tennant’s Tenth Doctor. Time Lords do that.

All the Water on Planet Earth

Philae Lander Found on Comet 67P

NGC 1672: Barred Spiral Galaxy from Hubble

The North and South of Jupiter

Retrograde Mars and Saturn

Full Moon over Brno

M33: Triangulum Galaxy

Starry Night Scavenger Hunt

50000 Kilometers over the Sun

The Helix Nebula in Infrared

Zooming in on Star Cluster Terzan 5

Sunset at Edmontonhenge

Harvest Moon Eclipse

Heart and Soul and Double Cluster

Saturn from Above

Gaia: Here Comes the Sun

Jupiter’s Europa from Spacecraft Galileo

NGC 3576: The Statue of Liberty Nebula

Five Hundred Meter Aperture Spherical Telescope

Lynds Dark Nebula 1251

Rosetta’s Farewell

The Moving Stars of the Southern Hemisphere

The Astrognuz

Musk Reveals Plans to Colonize Mars

First Photo of the Sun, Taken in 1845

Judy Schmidt Image of Dust Complex Cyg X

No, NASA Didn’t Change Your Astrological Sign

Time Lapse Animation of the Night Sky

Kilauea Volcano: Active and Wonderful

Mount Pinatubo Only Briefly Slows Global Warming, Sea Level Rise

August 2016: The Hottest August on Record

The Largest Galaxy in the Universe

Climate Change: Already Changing Our Weather

Retro Posters for Fighting Infectious Disease

Blue Origin to Test a Capsule Abort System

Like the American Southwest: Sandstone Deposits on Mars

Presidential Candidates Answer Science Questions

Optical Illusion: The Dots Disappear When You Look Away

Evolution: Video Shows Bacteria Developing Drug Resistance

xkcd: Earth Temperature Timeline

Xkcd Takes on Global Warming
Xkcd Takes on Global Warming: Partial View

Project Logicality | the Argument from Personal Incredulity

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Here we discuss a common flaw in reasoning, the Argument from Personal Incredulity, a variation of the Argument from Ignorance. It involves denying or asserting a claim from the standpoint of a failure to accept, understand, or imagine said claim or it’s contrary.

It’s to impose one’s own cognitive horizons on reality, and like the Argument from Ignorance, pretend to a certain conclusion that one does not have the data or perspective to correctly make.

Reality is not limited, restricted or constrained by our willingness or ability to comprehend it, by what we can personally accept as true, simply because no positive conclusions are obtainable from missing evidence or a failure to generate strong or valid explanations.

Someone with a more active imagination or greater understanding may discover a way to conceive of and comprehend what we cannot. The Argument from Incredulity could be illustrated by way of example:

  • ‘Evolutionists’ and Origin of Life researchers (effectively one and the same to creationists) claim that life arose and reached its present form over billions of years.

  • Being a human with a lifetime of only decades, I can’t wrap my mind around time-scales that immense, or comprehend life arising and evolving by blind, natural processes.

  • So I conclude that evolution is false, as the only alternative I know of, young-Earth creationism, is easier to understand and accept.

or by this silly example…

  • I can’t imagine computers working without pixies transmitting the data in them…

  • So I believe pixies must be responsible for the operation of my Mac.

…or further, in this way…

  • I don’t understand the mathematics and theory behind the Big Bang, Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, and the simpler Electric Universe theory appeals more to my personal intuitions…

  •  So orthodox astronomy and cosmology is wrong and my pet alternative cosmology is correct.

This fallacy has a minor variant of its own, the Appeal to Ridicule, in which the one making the argument attempts to portray a factual claim or statement as ludicrous, often with dishonest intent in order to influence others into disbelieving it, as is often the case with portrayals of the theory of evolution by creationists like Ray Comfort, Kirk Cameron, the late Duane Gish and Kent Hovind. The following is an example of the appeal to ridicule:

  • Scientists would have us believe that hydrogen, a colorless, odorless gas, given time, becomes stars, planets, animal and plant life, and ultimately, people.

  • Now, who in his right mind would believe anything so absurd?

…As is this:

  • Mainstream astronomers are always saying that most of the mass of the universe is locked up in some invisible, fairy-tale thing they call ‘dark matter,’ and the even more silly concepts of magic ‘dark energy’ and ‘inflation theory’ unicorns they need to prop up their failing model…

  • …Therefore conventional cosmology is unbelievably comical, so my pet doctrine must be true because it’s more sensible and logical than the Big Bang with all that useless, abstract math it involves.

Never mind that no self-respecting unicorn would be caught dead in an argument like that…much less ‘inflation theory’ ones…😉

It is not an argument from incredulity to make more valid inferences, when what we know is complete enough that our ability to imagine or understand something applies to most reasonable situations, when the phrase ‘I can’t imagine this’ is just a figure of speech, as with this example:

  • We happen to know things about Quantum Mechanics that we have verified experimentally time and again…

  • We do not know anything of QM as it is currently understood that supports its use as a viable explanation for Psi, should Psi even truly exist as is claimed…

  • So I think that Psi, if it exists, cannot be adequately explained by QM.

The argument from incredulity is sometimes a tricky one to pick out, especially in one’s own arguments, as it is not always made in the form of a statement, but well worth the effort in recognizing to avoid being bamboozled in a debate, with or without creationists, electric universe proponents or parapsychologists as the opposition.

Aryabhata: Ancient Icon of Science

This is my first submission for the online eZine Agnishatdal, created by the awesome Sharmishtha Basu. The content is verbatim, and my own writing, and only the title of the permalink has been changed from the original in Agnishatdal’s  first issue for the Bengali month of Shravan. Agnishatdal is soon to be in its fourth issue for the month of Kartik. Do check it out!

Aryabhata (आर्यभत in Sanskrit). Astronomer and mathematician, he lived during the Gupta empire’s waning years, as the fierce Hunas swept down from the North.

Given the sobriquet “Asmakiya,” he’s thought to have been born in the area of South Gujarat and North Maharashtra, then Asmaka country. By his own reckoning, some 3600 years into the Kali Yuga, about 499 CE at the age of only 23, he had composed his only known surviving work. He studied and lived much of his life in Pataliputra, the imperial capital, now Patna, then in Magadha country, now Bihar.

Aryabhata has been mentioned as teaching at university there, and has been mentioned as kulapa (head of institution) at least once. He may have supervised the University of Nalanda at Pataliputra perhaps until his death at 74 in 550 CE. In his illustrious career in teaching and research, he was the author of several other works, none confirmed as having lasted to the present day except through the commentary, quotations, or criticisms of his contemporaries and those who followed in the intervening centuries.

The Aryabhatiya (not his own title): A text on astronomy and mathematics, it’s also known as Asmakatantra (“the Asmaka’s treatise”) by Bhaskara I, or Aryasatasasta, “Aryabhata’s 108” for its number of main verses. The text, composed in Sanskrit poetic meter for mnemonic purposes, is minimal but expanded on by commentary since then.

There are four chapters:

Gitikala: Offers a cosmology and units of deep time, kalpa, manvantra, and yuga; gives a table of sines (“half-chords”) in one verse.

Ganita: Here are place value numbers from 1 to 9 given; geometric progressions; rules for square and cube roots; quadratic, simultaneous, and indeterminate equations; an approximation of pi given as 3.1416.

Kalakriya: This gives the length of year, month, day, smaller units of time; Aryabhata in this chapter seems to suggest the rotation of the earth on its axis rather than the revolution of the celestial sphere about the earth; he gives a seven-day week, each day named.

Gala: Here are given matters of the celestial sphere; features of the ecliptic; day and night’s causes; shape and composition of the earth; He uses the term “Lanka” in this chapter for a point on the earth’s equator, not the island of Sri Lanka. “Ujjain” here is given as the location 23 degrees directly north of this.

So accurate was Aryabhata’s mathematical paradigm that an 18th century visitor to Pondicherry, Guillaume Le Gentil, found that his own figures for the duration of the August 30, 1765 eclipse exceeded it by 68 seconds, while Aryabhata’s methods were short by only 41 seconds, a difference in results of 107 seconds with greater error using Le Gentil’s calculations!

Conclusion: Some of Aryabhata’s earliest commentary comes from the work of his contemporary Varahamihira, his 7th century disciple Bhaskara I, and those who would follow in centuries after, like Brahmagupta and Al-Biruni. A statue of him stands at the front of IUCAA at Pune, and India’s first commercial orbital satellite was named after him. As first in a long line of famous Indian scientists and mathematicians, born in a golden age of learning and scholarship, few of his era have achieved lasting renown as he has. I consider him, not to be the Isaac Newton of ancient India, but rather Newton to be the Aryabhata of the early Modern age. That, I think, is the better comparison.

Content copyright Troy David Loy ©2016


Aryabhata: His Name, Time and Provenance (K.V. Sarma: Indian Journal of History of Science) (

The Aryabhatiya of Aryabhata (Clark, 1930) (

Aryabhata (Wikipedia) (

Ubi dubium, ibi libertas. – Where there is doubt, there is freedom.

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