RE: How do you teach fundamental logic to someone that doesn't grok it?

From: John Hall (
Date: Thu May 03 2001 - 17:24:07 PDT

Good point, if someone grows up in a cultural environment where symbolic
reasoning just isn't found.

And I do know that a lot of people stumble, hard, in pre-Algebra. x + 5 =
12 -- some people just can't seem to make the leap to symbolic reasoning.

-----Original Message-----
From: Matt Jensen []
Sent: Thursday, May 03, 2001 1:17 PM
To: John Hall
Cc: FoRK
Subject: Re: How do you teach fundamental logic to someone that doesn't
grok it?

I'm trying to recall a reference I saw about two months ago, but I can't.

Anyway, it was a cognitive psychology paper about exactly such
difficulties in understanding logical forms with people in different
cultures. In brief, some 19th Century eggheads asked some Central Asian
tribesmen some "simple" logical questions, and the tribesman weren't able
to give them the answers they expected.

Something like "all big towns have camels, this town has no camels,
therefore...?" And they expected to hear "therefore this is not a big
town." But the interviewees just didn't get it. The eggheads concluded
that these people had no concepts equivalent to "Western" syllogisms.
This was a brief summary of old research, so I don't know whether followup
research was done to determine if it was more of a language problem than a
cognitive difference.

-Matt Jensen

p.s. - I know this doesn't answer your question about how to teach people
logic :-( However, much cognitive research has shown that people learn
logical concepts much quicker if they are put into a familiar, everyday
context, rather than an abstract context. A common example is the Wason
test[1], where you have four cards and you want to guess their values by
turning over the minimum number of cards. Most people get this puzzle
wrong. But if you use the same exact logical structure in a question
about four people at a bar, and who orders what and who is underage, most
people get it right.[2]


On Thu, 3 May 2001, John Hall wrote:

> > I was presented with this problem from a lady that taught logic at the > college level. > > About the simplest thing in logic is: > Given: A => B > Given: A > Conclude: ? > > What do you do with a student that can't answer that question? > > My reactions boiled down to: > a) dumbfounded that someone over the age of 12 who can dress themselves > considers that a hard problem. > b) anyone who can't get that will never get that and can't be taught logic. > Hand them a shovel. > > On the other hand, I have seen people that had trouble with: > Given: A => B > Given: B > Conclude: ? > > That seemed to be harder to understand, and for someone that misses such > questions I can think of ways to teach them, provided they could get the > first problem right. > > Any thoughts? >

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