The limits of human logic
Video: The limits of human logicRemember that story I told you earlier about the man who goes to the store to buy milk. His wife asks him, can you pick up a carton of milk and if they have eggs get six. And he returns with six cartons of milk. This is meant to be a funny joke about how the man is a terrible communicator. But in reality, it's a perfect example of how bad we humans are at using logic to communicate. The wife provides the husband with a valid, logical argument and expects him to draw an invalid conclusion from it.
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Foundations of UX: Logic and Content looks at how designers, developers, and content creators can use the ancient art of logic and reasoning to improve user experiences and facilitate communication. Morten Rand-Hendriksen looks at the principles of logic, how computer logic and human logic differ, and how these differences can be used to improve communication.
The core idea of logic is to create a system in which communication is clear, precise, and unambiguous, which is (or at least should be) the goal of any website or other communication.
- How humans communicate
- Comparing human and computer communication
- Speaking logically
- Using logical arguments
- Understanding the limits of computer logic
- Formatting information for humans
- Communicating with logic
The limits of human logic
Remember that story I told you earlier about the man who goes to the store to buy milk. His wife asks him, can you pick up a carton of milk and if they have eggs get six. And he returns with six cartons of milk. This is meant to be a funny joke about how the man is a terrible communicator. But in reality, it's a perfect example of how bad we humans are at using logic to communicate. The wife provides the husband with a valid, logical argument and expects him to draw an invalid conclusion from it.
While computers work based on logic and logic alone, humans have logic as one of the many tools in their communication and deduction tool belts. And it's a tool that is often discarded for more effective but far more inaccurate ones. So while we understand logic on a fundamental level, we have a bad tendency of disregarding it. To put it bluntly, we are illogical and irrational beings at the best of times. You see, unlike computers, we're governed by emotions, influenced by our surroundings, we have opinions and ideologies.
And our perspective is surprisingly limited. Whereas a computer processes a limited stream of data within certain parameters using highly regimented logical functions that form task-oriented programs. We humans have to process a cacophony of constant data and process it in the scope of everything we have ever experienced without any form of regimented or task-oriented system. It's a wonder we can function at all. The way we deal with this is by simplifying things.
We use organization to structure our data. Causation to interpret or anticipate cause and effect. And logic to process the results. These combine to form what we call common sense. But as I'm sure you know, there're many times when common sense falls to the wayside and we make spectacular errors in logic. Our predecessors were convinced the earth was flat and that if you sailed to the edge you'd fall off or get eaten by a giant sea serpent.
Later they decided the earth was at the center of the universe and that all planets, including the sun, and stars, revolved around us. Both of these are deductions from the particular to the universal, an obvious logical error. And while we laugh at these flat Earthers and geocentrics, we make the same type of errors today in everything from personal decisions to national and even global politics. We observe one instance and assume it is duplicated in all other similar instances.
And when we're proven wrong, when our logical fallacies are uncovered, we often insist we are still right. Our emotions, opinions, ideologies, surroundings, and perspective tend to override the regimented structure of the principles of logic. Don't believe me? Try telling a small child that Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy are not real, and see how they react. The child has a firm belief that these mythical creatures exist. And even when faced with irrefutable evidence to the contrary, be that pulling on the beard on their father, or showing them a jar of collected baby teeth, they'll tend to insist that these beings are real.
Their opinions and emotions override logic to form invalid and unsound conclusions. So while we have the capacity to be logical, we have a tendency to act illogically. That doesn't mean we're always wrong though. In most cases, our logical fallacies are buffered by context and previous knowledge to produce sound results from invalid arguments. That's why the wife in our example expected her husband to bring home six eggs, and not six cartons of milk.
But the knowledge that we are illogical and prone to irrationality can be used to our advantage. When communicating, be explicit and assume nothing from the recipient. If you're exhaustive in your explanations and you leave no room for interpretation, the risk of logical fallacy is reduced. And the way to do that is by speaking logically and clearly.
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