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It's Our Turn: Is a tree really a tree?

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Technology is amazing. We can now easily do things that seemed impossible 10 years ago. We tend to take these technologies for granted, but we didn’t always have cell phones, unlimited access to information on the Internet and amazing health care options. Every day we are presented with new technological marvels.

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However, one of the negative side effects of this new technological age is that we tend to think of anything old as being outdated and in need of replacement, while anything new is seen as superior – even if it’s untested.

And so, we tear down old buildings and build new ones, we constantly buy new things, and we look for new philosophies and ways of doing things.

One of the most obvious examples of this aversion to the past is in our educational system. Rather than focusing on the ability to write, think and speak well – qualities that have been considered the mark of educated citizens for hundreds of years – we now focus almost totally on science, technology, engineering and math. At a time when many employers are struggling to find people who can write and think well, we have responded by changing the SAT test to downplay the importance of vocabulary and make the essay optional.

We live in an age where science, technology and engineering are seen as our saviors. So it’s ironic that even though we see ourselves as very scientific and logical, we no longer study logic.

Part of the reason for this neglect is the aforementioned “chronological snobbery,” which is the logical fallacy that anything old is bad and anything new is good.

However, the deeper reason is probably that the study of logic no longer fits in with how we view the world. One of the defining characteristics of this generation is the belief that all truth is relative and that there are no absolutes of right and wrong. Other than in a few non-negotiable, politically-correct areas, truth is determined by the individual and the circumstances.

I guess it is sort of logical then that if there is no such thing as truth, why would you need a method to discover it? Why would you need logic?

Well, because without logic there is no reason or communication, and everything falls apart. Without logic, red is not red and a tree is not a tree, and we have no common framework and no basis for discussion. Beyond that, a basic knowledge of logic would help us sort through the piles of absurdities that we are presented with every day.

One of the basic rules of logic that is often violated is the law of non-contradiction, which states that a thing cannot both be and not be at the same time and in the same way. Another way of saying this is that a statement cannot both be true and false at the same time.

So what happens when you ignore this rule? You get statements like these: “That may be true for you, but not for me,” or “We will not tolerate intolerance.”

In the scientific realm we also find logical contradictions. For example, one of the most basic laws of biology is the law of biogenesis. This law states that life always comes from other life (except for maybe one time in the beginning when it did not apply).

These kinds of contradictions and logical fallacies are everywhere. And yet, most people are ignorant of the rules of logic and fail to see the flaws in their thinking.

In the past, every educated person was expected to have a basic knowledge of logic. People tried to be logical and expected others to be logical. Have we abandoned that expectation? Do we really believe that everything is relative? Have we embraced the illogical conclusion that a thing can both be and not be at the same time?

I don’t pretend to know all about logic. Its study was for the most part abandoned long before my generation went to school, and I wasn’t trained in it. I’m sure I’ve even made some logical errors in my writing here.

But I do know that we are living in one of the most illogical generations ever. If we don’t start valuing and teaching logical thought, there will soon be no basis for rational discussion – all that will remain are feelings, emotions and personal preferences.

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“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.

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