While in college, I remember using the word logic and thinking it was the root of any reasonable answer to any problem. In fact, my classmates and I usually restricted our arguments to the use of Aristotelian logic. We normally argued issues using a logic that only offered options of good or bad, right or wrong, true or false, black or white, high or low, up or down, yea or nay, yes or no, etc. …. I was a mathematics major and this kind of logic made perfect sense. The answer is either correct or not correct. At least, that is the way most problems turned-out. Of course, once in a while, I would run into a problem, usually involving probability, that had an answer that was better than before, BUT not necessarily correct or incorrect. In these kind of problems, there would be an answer that included an extra statement of, for example, “this answer has a 10% error margin.” So, in other words, the answer has a chance of not being correct, but is correct most of the time. That is sort of fuzzy, isn’t it?
I read a book a few years back that was entitled, Fuzzy Thinking: The New Science Of Fuzzy Logic, by Bart Kosko. Mr. Kosko is a leader in the field of fuzzy logic or fuzzy thinking. He, in his book, shows the value of using this kind to thinking and how, when applied to life, is most likely as valuable as Aristotelian thinking. There have been scholarly papers showing the value of using fuzzy logic. Having stated all of this, is there really any value in a “new” logic for the regular everyday person when Aristotelian logic has served us well for thousands of years? Well, yes, if it improves the thinking of the regular everyday person.
I have observed many examples of thinking that we might call either-or thinking. This kind of thinking is what I was referring to in the first paragraph. I think using this kind of thinking can be dangerous when it is the exclusive way of thought. Often times in life, there are shades of gray, instead of, black or white. How can we say someone is good or bad? If we say someone is good, don’t we mean that the person is good to a certain degree, but not always good?
People who use only, either-or thinking, cannot, OR will not, consider the complexity of most situations. Of course, we will use Aristotelian (either-or) logic for analysis, at least, as a first analysis. After a first analysis, we generally have just that – a first of many analyses. In a certain way, this is very much related to prejudice. Prejudice, fundamentally, means “pre-judge” – something we all must do. YES, we all pre-judge, but we should not stop our judging with our first judgement. After all, most of the time, we are not really like a judge in a court of law, but, instead, we are more like a scientist looking for the best solution to a problem. At least, that is the way I think we should view our thinking process.
I think that most people who want to exclusively use either-or thinking, are not seeing the many degrees of difference that exist between opposites, such as, good and bad, right or wrong, etc. If they did, then they would have to use complex thinking skills and not be absolutely certain about most things. When they don’t consider the shades of gray, they get only black or white. Even a “black and white movie film,” has shades of gray. :-)
Where do we see a lack of fuzzy thinking in everyday life? Look at the local or national news media. Consider the following expressions: “you’re either with us or against us,” “if you’re not a liberal then you’re a conservative,” “all ear-marks are bad,” “America – love it or leave it,” “universal health care is socialism,” “all tax cuts are good,” “big government is bad,” and “government regulation of financial systems is bad.”
So, what should we do? Well, one thing to do, is to not look at our world as something that is based on either-or thinking. In other words, look for the complexity of the situation before deciding what to think. Be aware of your own thinking. Use critical thinking – think about your thinking, while you’re thinking, and strive to make your thinking better, by using good intellectual thinking standards to assess it. Self-awareness is crucial in order to improve how you think. You must open your mind to different possibilities, so you don’t get stuck in the either-or world. Accept a world where, between the two poles of Aristotle, (i.e. good OR bad) there is a Fuzzy part (i.e. good AND bad).