Saturday, 1 April 2017

Logic And Timelines

Copied from "Religion and Philosophy" here:

When I studied logic at University, I learned:

if p, then not not-p;
not (p and not-p);
either p or not-p.

For example, if it is the case that Socrates was executed in 399 BC, then it is not the case that Socrates was not executed in 399 BC - unless there are alternative timelines, in which case logical consistency is maintained by making our propositions, p and not-p, more specific. Thus, if it is the case that Socrates was executed in 399 BC in timeline 1, then it is not the case that Socrates was not executed in 399 BC in timeline 1.

This may seem obvious but I meet people who get their idea of logic not from Aristotle or his successors but from Mr Spock. "Logic" means something like thinking rigidly and unemotionally instead of just thinking and speaking consistently which everyone tries to do. No one openly contradicts himself on a matter of fact, then says, "I am free to contradict myself because I am not bound by logic like Mr Spock." And anyone who did say that would not succeed in telling us anything. "Socrates both was and was not executed in 399 BC in timeline 1 and I am free to contradict myself..."

It might be imagined that a rigidly "logical" thinker, having denied that Socrates could both be executed and not be executed in 399 BC, would then compound his rigidity by denying that there can be alternative timelines. Merely to reply that Mr Spock experiences alternative timelines is to confuse a conceptual question with an empirical question.

A conceptual question: Are alternative timelines possible?
Answer: Yes. There is no reason why not. No contradiction is involved.

An empirical question: Do alternative timelines in fact exist?
Answer, within the framework of the Star Trek narrative: Yes. They have been discovered and entered.

Not only Star Trek. We are grateful for the alternative timelines of Poul Anderson, SM Stirling and Harry Turtledove.


  1. Kaor, Paul!

    Of course I agree with you about logic and the need to be specific. And REAL scientists have speculated that alternate worlds and universes are possible. With many examples of such speculations being given us by Anderson, Stirling, Turtledove, etc.

    But, alas, we do live in an age where many people don't seem able to think rationally. I've actually seen people denying that some opinions, for example, can be false wrong, mistaken, erroneous, etc. Some even deny that "It's my opinion that two plus two is five" is a false statement or opinion.


  2. Replies
    1. "All white men are prejudiced" is an empirical generalization and false. "All white men are men" is a tautology and cannot possibly be false.

    2. Kaor, Paul!

      It SHOULD be amazing that so many people these days are unable to think rationally. Alas, it's not. It would be a very good idea for schools to again go back to study of how to think logically. Using Aristotle's treatises on logic.


    3. Kaor, Paul!

      OR, it's my OPINION that Adolf Hitler was a wise, noble, saintly man. A PATENTLY false opinion. At least in our timeline, if you have to insist on precision! (Smiles)


  3. I agree with Popper that the basic distinction is not between true and false statements, but between those which are falsifiable and those which aren't. The inverse-square law is falsifiable; aesthetic judgments aren't, to take two examples.

    1. Mr Stirling,
      I also agree. Logic is not about truth but about truth conditions. At school, a teacher expounded the standard syllogism, "All men are mortal..." A pupil immediately denied that proposition on Biblical authority! The point of logic is not that all men are mortal but that "all men are mortal" is a propsition so what would follow from it if it were true?
      I agree with Popper's distinction. The only error is to think, as some have, that unfalifiables like aesthetic judgments are meaningless.

    2. Kaor, Paul!

      Not having read, unlike you and Mr. Stirling, Popper, I feel unable to comment on his thought. But I would argue that some aesthetic judgments are better or truer than others. Are abominations like "Piss Christ" (a so called work of art showing a crucifix in a glass of urine) or canvases smeared with elephant dung ART? I would say NO.