Reason, Logic, and Null-A

In one of the latest editions of New Scientist, there are something like seven articles which purport to give rationales as to why people don’t like “reason.” While I firmly believe that both “reason” and “logic,” particularly as applied in our society today, are severely flawed, what I found interesting about the New Scientist commentaries was how shallow most of them were.

Over sixty years ago, A.E. VanVogt wrote The World of Null-A, in which he postulated an alternative means of thinking, called “Null-A,” which rejected Aristotelian logic. Van Vogt’s premise was essentially that straight-line Aristotelian logic was inadequate for a complex technological society. Insofar as the book goes, describing his system is largely avoided, except in describing it as something like, as I recall, “multi-valued logic,” which is employed by the protagonist with the equivalent of two brains.

Weak as his written support for his concept may have been, Van Vogt was on to something.

The overriding problem with the use of logic and reason in a modern technological society is that, simply put, they often don’t work. Oh, lawyers, business theoreticians, and all of the practitioners of “applied” logic and reason can prove quite logically why their theories and approaches work. But while that may justify the theories to their developers and implementers, that doesn’t make the “business model” and all the other theories any more accurate.

The problem lies in human beings. We’re complex creatures who take in a vast range of sensory, physical, and intellectual inputs. But not all of those inputs can be quantified in mathematical or logical terms or outputs. That’s why so-called intuition — perhaps better described as conscious/subconscious integration of multiple inputs — often beats the models cold… IF that intuition is from someone who actually has enough data and experience. I suspect this was what Van Vogt was trying to explain or show through his novelizations.

But… even when someone who doesn’t have such a background comes across “cold logic” models, they often reject the conclusions because they don’t feel right.

To my mind, this is the “problem with reason” — that the verbal and mathematical terms used restrict the discussion or argument to those facts or processes which can in fact be reduced to quantification in a meaningful way… and all too often they can’t be.

Yet, surprisingly, not a single one of the distinguished authors seemed to want to touch this aspect of “reason” … although a science fiction author raised the issue sixty-three years ago.