On Logic and when it is irrelevant

The other evening I had a discussion which turned to Pit Bulls.  I never buy a pedigreed, so there is a level of abstraction to my position which makes the  fact that my dog obviously has some pit bull in him rather marginal to the discussion.

Years ago, a friend who does frequently buy pedigrees, indicated pit bulls come in two types–the killers and the lovers.  I didn’t believe her at first, but exposure to both her dog and mine have convinced me she was right.  The pit bull in Bro has to come from the lover side of the breed.

The people in the debate were of the opinion that pit bulls are inherently killers–that their breeding instills the trait and there is nothing that can be done to pull it out of them–very much like their concept of a pointer instinctively pointing.

Doubting that, and being a bit of a pit bull myself, I wound up arguing.  Eventually I decided, for the good of the friendship, it was best to withdraw, and I did.  The point I was most inclined to pursue to its endpoint, though, has bigger implications that I’m trying to better understand.  Wrestling with those implications kept me awake most of the night last night.  It seems the same logical flaw is, somehow, driving much of the opposition to the off-planet solution I propose for the environmental problem.

Ed raised the point that studies had shown that, while Pitt Bulls constituted only 3% of all dogs, they were the origin of  60% of all serious injury due to dogbite.  I’m not entirely clear on what definition was being used for “serous” but I believe it was at least bordering on life threatening.

I observed that such a statistic was unrelated to the question of whether pit bulls might have a whole subset of their breed that was passive, but the point was not at all well taken.

Trying again, I tried to think of a means for the statistic to be true at the one hundred percent level, but obviously with no message at all about the entire breed.

I wish I could have thought of  a good example at the time, but the booze and a delightful feast prior thereto obscured my ability to do so.   But I believe I can do so now: suppose there were a breed of house cat that had one member who carried a deadly virus that caused any human who breathed the same air as that cat within one minute of it’s having exhaled to turn bright purple and die of asphyxiation.

Then 100% of all deaths in humans caused by purple asphyxiation through contact with house cats would be due to contact with that cat’s breed, no matter how small a percentage of the total cat population the breed made up.  Yet this says nothing about cats in the breed beyond the one cat carrying the virus, and any retaliation against the breed as a whole would be totally unjustified.

But this is, I think, the way we tend to evaluate most of this kind of data.  Whether we mean to or not, we elevate studies that confirm, or seem to, our original opinion on a subject more highly than those which do not.  The data may not be actually counter to the opinion–rarely is, in fact–but it may be, as in this case, simply irrelevant to the discussion.  In that case, it says nothing at all about the point actually being argued, but we are not apt to notice that.

There is another important dynamic that also frequently comes into play here.  Opposition to one form of mistaken logic is, more often than not, viewed as opposition to the conclusion of the total claim.  I did, in fact, object to the whole conclusion, as is often the case when one objects to any argument, even a mistaken one,  in favor of a thesis opposed by the hearer.  But refuting the misapplication of the study’s result to the argument in favor of the thesis seemed more important to me at the time than whether the conclusion reached on the original thesis was accurate or not.  Perhaps that trait is one that stems from my long exposure to mathematical logic.

In any case, the question of whether space, in the form of colonization, should be regarded as a potential venue for coping with environmental problems or not is not a new one.  Most people who have thought at all about that question have an opinion, and it is most often a negative one.  The rationale may vary greatly, usually somewhere between thinking it not a viable solution to thinking the energy spent on any efforts along those lines would be better spent in trying to mitigate the negative effects of polution here on Earth.

But, since most people come to the discussion with an opinion already formed, we should examine the rationales offered as justifications for the overall question to be sure they are not merely irrelevant to the issue, instead of only supportive in appearance.

Let us begin with the point that money spent on space would be better spent on environmental problems.  This is a point with which I tend to agree in the abstract, but see as having been made irrelevant be the way in which it actually  seems to  be applied.

The issue is complicated by the rather large overlap of space expenditures which are devoted to study of the Earth itself.  By this I mean things like the abilities venturing into space may give to the weighing of human effects on the Earth, such as enhanced ability to make global measurements.  Most back away from opposition to the space program when this specific overlap is emphasized.

But let us dismiss that overlap for a moment.   Ignoring it, the usual attitude is that money spent on space is simply wasted.  The assumption that terraforming is beyond our capabilities is highly ingrained in our attitudes toward space exploration.  This is reinforced by the constant emphasis given “advancing scientific knowledge” in discussions of the utility of space exploration.  Until “colonization” becomes a more prominent theme in discussions of the importance of space  exploration, the whole discussion of space as a venue for addressing environmental problems is somewhat artificially restricted to the arena of unknown scientific discovery–at best a speculation.

But is terraforming off the table as a possible solution to environmental probem?  Let’s look at the alternatives.  If the environmental problems prove to be insurmountable, what happens?  If there is no alternative to Earth, we all die here.  That hardly seems acceptable.

Are there alternatives short of Terraforming?

At the AGU meeting, which I attended last week, a lot of discussion was devoted to geo-engineering.  It was largely dismissed because so many of the participants know how complicated Earth’s systems are and reject the idea that man should have the chutzpah to even suggest playing with the controls. I maintain that they are right.  When we attempt to control climate change by dimming the sun, for instance, we will only find that we have postponed calamity.  It will come back on us with yet more vigor.

As for the long term, I see no Earthbound  solutions.  Looking at off planet solutions, I see none, that are short of terraforming, since all successful proposals, again on the long-term, assume a  viable Earth for support.

That leaves us with only the terraforming option.   Waiting  for it to happen naturally is the same as not trying for a solution at all.  God may not play dice with the universe, but everyone who proposes to wait around for terraforming to happen naturally certainly is.

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