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

From: Strata Rose Chalup (
Date: Fri May 04 2001 - 21:42:16 PDT

I think it's a frame of reference problem, or perhaps "lack of a problem
being defined as a problem by those who have their own problem."

If you look at things like Sherlock Holmes mysteries and many scientific
discoveries (the ones not explicitly credited to dreams or hunches),
you often find that considering things in a wider frame of reference
is what provides the answer.

It is very difficult to guess whose set of artificial constraints to choose
when considering a "simple" logic problem. Many people would not bring
up a topic unless it was unusual. If I say to you, "I saw a car today",
you expect me to follow it up with something about why I should bother
to mention it-- it was an unusual car, it was somewhere it shouldn't have
been, what?

What if the researchers had said: "Pretend that you don't know ANYTHING except
what you hear me say, and that NOTHING you know about the real world
matters. We are creating a make-believe world. In this make-believe
world, all big towns have camels. Let us consider a town with no camels.
What can you tell me about that town?"

The first answer that occurred to me about the town with no camels is
that perhaps they were all stolen, or had died of some disease. We have
just been speaking of big towns, so I would assume the next town mentioned
is also a big town, yet somehow it has been deprived of its camels. Maybe
a big caravan has come in, having suffered some terrible deprivation,
and purchased all of the camels in town at great price! Perhaps the
camels have heard a mysterious noise perceptible only to themselves and
a few fey dogs and children-- forming a living phalanx in the town square,
they turned ceremonially to the four winds and made a strange gesture,
some say of obeisance, some say of defiance. Then they moved off as one,
and seemed to fade like a mirage, loping at a strange angle that seemed
orthogonal to every observer, no matter his location, save the few that
saw them passing under an arch that no others saw, and who heard a
music so sweet that they woke, weeping, for days afterwards.

Those of us who construct unusual knowledge maps are often hailed as very
creative and "brilliant", but tend to do badly at word problems, "simple"
logic puzzles, and similar. Since most folks don't ever need the oddly
constrained boundary conditions defined, no one ever explicitly defines
them. And yet, the links and relationships between things that I think
are obvious and natural often have to be laboriously explained, and
(through an obviously biased selection process) usually only my friends
can make sense of them.

My old license plate was "TKNOPGN", TechnoPagan, for a reason, and it
wasn't my religious observance. Call me Ishi, and walk a mael in my
bare feet. Perhaps we'll find wherever I came from-- sure wish I


John Hall wrote:
> 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.

Strata Rose Chalup [KF6NBZ]                      strata "@"
VirtualNet Consulting                  
 ** Project Management & Architecture for ISP/ASP Systems Integration **

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