Are You Rational?

In some discussions, if you claim a person is not being rational, it’s an insult of their ability to think.    I’d like to reclaim some positive territory for the act of thinking in a non-rational way.  How is that even possible?

If you are not thinking rationally, aren’t you irrational, illogical?  No, there is another way to think without being irrational. To see an incomplete pattern in events, guess that the pattern will hold, and base actions on the pattern.

That is the inductive method of thinking.  It is the source of new ideas, used by artists, writers, and many other people.

Let me discuss right away the notion that you can make mistakes using induction.  That’s for sure.  However that is not a totally disqualifying characteristic, because the alternative to induction is deduction.  And deduction has the short-coming that it can only tell you anything you already know.  Its conclusions are restricted to truth that is inherent in your premises.

In fact, a short divergence into the scientific method will highlight this issue well—and how the two methods of thinking are melded within science.  Basically, a scientist tests a hypothesis against the results of experiments.  Using deductive logic, he decides does it confirm his hypothesis or does it falsify it.

Yet where did the hypothesis being tested come from?  Not from logic.  Not from the scientific method.  The source of the hypothesis is inexplicable by deductive methods.  It comes from induction, guessing that a partial pattern may be indicative of a general pattern.

If you look back in the history of science, before the scientific method, you’ll find Francis Bacon (~1600) advocating a different method of scientific discovery.  He proposed cataloging as many facts as possible and see what patterns emerge.

Afterwards the hypothetical-deductive model evolved which combined the hypothesis, the guessed pattern, and tested it against experimental facts.

So if someone says you are not being rational, ask yourself if you’re approaching the problem by looking for a pattern, a completely legitimate style of thinking.  That’s not an illogical method, just a different than logical method.

More on pattern-matching.

Thinking in Daily Life