Reasoning About Facts
From: L. Michael Hall
2021 Neurons #76
November 29, 2021
When you reason, you reason using facts and about facts. The process begins with data, the data is then turned into facts as a factual statement that assert something. The process for turning the details into facts involves reasoning—how you order your thoughts. This process is the very way that you and I construct meaning. We invent meaning about what exists and so in our reasoning we make factual statements, “X exists,” “There is such a thing as Y.” We invent meanings about causes, “X causes Y.” We make meanings about what’s important and significant, “X is Z (a value term).” The bottom line is that we have to structure facts, to put them together in an ordered form to construction meaning.
In this way each of us invents our sense of reality for ourselves. We express this in NLP by calling it a person’s model of the world. This internal representation of things that we select and present to ourselves operates like a map—we map what things are, how they work, the rules by which they work, what we can or should do, etc. To make all of this work, we first construct facts and then we work the facts into a coherent picture or a coherent narrative as the story we tell ourselves. As we do, we start to assume our facts and take them for granted. This moves the facts to a position where they are unquestioned, and even unquestionable. They become the premises upon which we build more elaborate theories and understandings.
Amazing, isn’t it? I hope this description brings into focus the critical nature of facts and the importance of getting your facts right. This is such an important piece for clear thinking, rational reasoning, and creation of knowledge that makes a positive difference in your life. Only in that way can your reasoning from the facts give you a map by which you then navigate your life effectively and productivity.
This description also suggests that there are several places where things can go wrong. In “getting the facts,” you may select the wrong facts or facts that are irrelevant. You may encode the facts in a way that is inaccurate or imprecise which gives you a weak foundation upon which to build. You could get facts sorted out in inappropriate proportions, that would distort things. And even if you get the right facts, in the right proportions, in an accurate code, from there you could misuse the modeling processes — deletions, generalizations, and distortions— to come up with false conclusions.
It’s not easy to be a human trying to get the facts and work with them adequately to create precise mapping! No wonder so many people fail at it. No wonder people get caught up in cognitive fallacies and distortions that make their lives a living hell. They have not learned how to think and reason to both get the facts and reason from them. Ideally, that’s what school should teach— thinking skills, critical thinking skills, creative thinking skills, accurate reasoning skills, etc.
To the extent your reasoning is contaminated by cognitive biases, fallacies, and distortions, to that extent your conclusions will be wrong, untrue, and disastrous for human life. Here is an example:
False reasoning: Fact — the percentage of black men in prison is greater than white men. Bias reasoning: America is a fully racist country, it is everywhere. Therefore: it is because of racism.
When we think systemically, we will consider many other facts in the system. Here’s a few:
Economic status of the families
Absence of a father in the family
Absence of the importance on education.
Schools that pass students on without requiring competence.
Presence of drugs in the community.
Presence of gangs and illegal guns.
Unemployment of young black men.
It is fallacious reasoning to draw a single and absolute conclusion from a single fact. If we are to answer the question about the large percentage of black men in prison, we have to gather high quality information, from many sources, and about many things. Otherwise, we will drawn an over-simplistic conclusion that will fail to solve things.
Life is more complex than most people assume. So not being equipped to handle the complexity, many over-simplify. Of course, there’s a problem with that, namley, the original problem does not get solved, it keeps returning so we have to keep dealing with it. Factual statements are not enough. We need good reasoning as well. We need clear thinking and openness to feedback in our search for truth. Finally, Eric Fromm speaks to this in this quotation:
“‘Facts’ are interpretations of events, and the interpretation presupposes certain concerns which constitute the event’s relevance. The crucial question is to be aware of what my concern is and hence of what the facts have to be in order to be relevant. Am I the man’s friend, or a detective, or simply a man who wants to see the total man in his humanity? …
What I want to show is that the one fact from which we start means nothing without the evaluation of the whole system, which means an analysis of a process in which we as observers are also included. Eventually it must be stated that the very fact of having decided to select certain events as facts has an effect on ourselves.” (Eric Fromm, The Revolution of Hope: Toward a Humanized Technology, 1968, pp. 55, 56)
- Tags: Facts