“From a drop of water a logician can infer the existence of a Niagra or an Atlantic without ever having seen either.”
– Sherlock Holmes, The Book of Life
So said the master himself. And I think if there’s one thing that i really, really enjoy doing, it’s flexing those mind muscles. What Sherlock meant, of course, is that everything is suggestive. The world is…what’s the word? Contingent. It fits together. Information that seems two-dimensional (“flat”, as I think of it) often has a back-story, an unravellable secret world that exists behind the simplest of objects.
Logic is a bit boring to the uninitiated. It’s hard to be the life and soul of the party when you’re talking about logic. In truth, it’s not especially interesting and i try not to bore people with it. But logic, the science of deduction, the book of life…this is a secret trove of information that can be accessed just by thinking about it in the right way. I was never much good at maths, but I can see what makes maths such an obsessive subject for some. Fundamentally what I think makes logic exciting is that it makes seemingly astonishing feats of thought possible. That’s what i always got from reading Sherlock Holmes stories, Dupin, the great detectives. When they present their conclusion and the murderer is named, you go, “oh, how simple!”. That’s kind of the point. Logic makes the world simpler. It makes you see it differently.
I’m writing about this only because i recently picked up a book called “Labyrinths of Reason” by William Poundstone (cousin of Paula, suggestively enough). In it Poundstone illustrates how exciting logic can be, how we use it all the time, etcetera etcetera. And also because I haven’t done any work on the book so I have nothing in particular to write about.
But anyway. Logic, I guess, is a game. Paradoxes are fun to unravel. And I’m hardly the perfect exponent of logical thinking. Sometimes you win, sometimes you make a mess. How did Poe put it?
“The mental features discoursed of as the analytical, are, in themselves, but little susceptible of analysis. We appreciate them only in their effects. We know of them, among other things, that they are always to their possessor, when inordinately possessed, a source of the liveliest enjoyment. As the strong man exults in his physical ability, delighting in such exercises as call his muscles into action, so glories the analyst in that moral activity which disentangles. He derives pleasure from even the most trivial occupations bringing his talent into play.”
Everything is suggestive. Nothing, if you think about it hard enough, is mysterious. An example : people think that the internet gives them anonymity. But really, because everything is suggestive, what people say, the words they use, the words they misspell, usernames and passwords are all suggestive, are all connected by a complex web of logical constructions. Human beings claim to be complex, mysterious beings. They think their agendas and thoughts are hidden from the world, but…honestly? A motive is written on a face. A murder, as Dupin might have put it, is recognisable in an untied shoelace. Human beings are just concatenations of
facts. Everybody can be deconstructed.
Even the logician, of course. Quia Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? Maybe.