Logical empiricism explains why comment threads devolve into WTF

Illustration for article titled Logical empiricism explains why comment threads devolve into WTF

At last logic and reason have their own spirit animal. Ravens shed light on weird reasoning, but especially on the random statements that people make on the internet.


Is there anything you want more on a Monday morning than a logical paradox? Well, too late now. You clicked. And so you're going to hear about Carl Gustav Hempel and the case for scattered reasoning that he so logically made, using a raven.

Or rather, using a series of ravens. The idea begins with you seeing a single raven, and noticing that it's black. When you see a few more ravens, and notice that they are black also, you begin think that you might be seeing a pattern. If you wanted to prove that ravens are black, you would have to look at all the other ravens in the world, check out pictures of past ravens, and keep looking as more ravens hatched. A daunting task. But how else, Hempel asks, can you strengthen your case?


He puts forward that you have made a logical proposition - if it is a raven, then it is black. Put like that, the reverse would also be true. If it is not black, it is not a raven. So if you look at, say, a can of coke, and notice that it isn't black, and also isn't a raven, you have strengthened your case. In fact, all non-black objects that are not ravens build up your hypothesis. Saying things like "Ravens are black, the sun is yellow," is making a coherent case for a single statement - that ravens are black - even though the two things are completely unrelated to each other.

Some say that logic has no applicability to our lives, but I think this paradox shows us something very deep about the world - and especially internet culture. When someone replies to a post on a forum with a picture of an otter wearing a hat, when someone replies with a barely connected furious political screed, or when someone simply uses grammar that is so non-standard that it is unintelligible, they aren't being obnoxious. They're simply showing off every point you're not trying to make in an effort to help strengthen the case for the point you are trying to make. No need to argue with them, or snark. Thank them, wish them good luck in their continuing data collection, and move on.

Top Image: Harald Hoyer

Via EurekaPuzzles, Math Academy.


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Maybe I'm missing part of the logical argument here, but the example of a logical inverse you gave is not necessarily true. P->Q does not necessarily mean !P->!Q. In this case, the second clause in "Ravens are black, the sun is yellow" is a logical non sequitur.

I suspect the intention here might be for an "if and only if" (iff/biconditional/<->), in which case it makes a lot more sense.