Tag Archives: Logical Fallacies

Reasons Vs. Excuses: Why The Difference Matters

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Has anyone ever asked you to do something you really don’t want to do? Actually, let me rephrase that. How many times does someone ask you to do something you don’t want to do in the past 24 hours? Let’s face it. Unless you’re a king, a dictator, or Taylor Swift, it’s happened at least once.

Whatever was asked of you, how did you try to get out of it? I know some people will just grit their teeth and do it. Those people deserve ten times the respect they get. Every now and then, if not most of the time, we try to do something to get out of doing what we don’t want to do. Whether you’re in New York City or the Gobi desert, you can’t escape these situations. They’re just part of life.

Whenever we’re in these situations, we usually try any number of things to get out of it. Whether it’s chores, homework, or ballet recitals, we all have our own set of tactics. Some are more elaborate than others.

I knew a kid in school who could throw up on demand. He didn’t even have to put his finger in his mouth. He could just concentrate, cough, and then spew the kind of chunky bile that would dissuade any teacher from giving him an exam. I lost count of how many times that skill got him out of trouble.

Most of us don’t have that talent though. We all still look for ways to get out of things we don’t want to do. I sure have. I don’t deny that. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing either. It’s a good skill to have, knowing how to avoid situations that make you miserable. However, it does reveal an important concept that I find myself noticing more and more as I get older, although sometimes I wish I didn’t.

It has to do with two simple words: reasons and excuses. They both have similar definitions. Most of the time, outside of a scientific context, we use these words interchangeably. For the most part, we understand the meaning behind them.

However, for the purpose of this discussion, as well as future discussions since this is a big topic, I’d like to focus on a particular context. Specifically, I’d like to focus on the situations and justifications we individually use to do or avoid doing something. Make no mistake. There is a difference between a reason and an excuse.

A reason is logical, narrow, and concise. It can be understood by anyone with a functioning brain and verified with simple tools. That’s not to say a reason has to be cold and callous like a Vulcan. It just has to be valid and clear.

I’ll offer a simple example. Growing up, there were a certain set of chores for which me and my siblings were responsible. If we didn’t do these chores, we didn’t get an allowance. It was that simple. The one chore I did most often was mowing the lawn. I didn’t enjoy doing it, but I still did it.

Then, one day, I got sick. I’m not talking about a headache either. I mean I got really sick, so much so that I ran a 102-degree fever. I know because my mother took my temperature twice. I was then bed-ridden for the next two days. Somebody else mowed the lawn, but I still got my allowance because I had a valid reason. My parents understood that. I understood that. There was no need for debate.

Using this same example in lawn care, I’ll highlight why an excuse is so different. If I wanted to use an excuse to get out of mowing the lawn, I sure as hell wouldn’t have chosen something that could be verified. Sure, I could’ve claimed to be sick, but that would’ve been pushing it because they could check. They could take your temperature and see if you’re running a fever.

On top of that, your parents may be really good at knowing when you’re lying. Mine certainly were. It might as well have been their mutant power. They knew when I was lying and if I ever tried, I’d just make an ass of myself.

Plus, lying to your parents isn’t just a dick move. It’s a bad long-term investment. If you lose your parents trust, especially over something as trivial as mowing the lawn, then you’ll give them way too many valid reasons not to trust you in the future, even when you have a good reason of your own.

So in order to make a more valid excuse, you need to come up with something more believable. It doesn’t have to be a lie. It doesn’t have to be completely true either. You could claim you’re depressed that your lover broke up with you. You could say there’s a movie you’d rather watch instead. You could say you just don’t feel like it. These aren’t lies. However, they are still excuses.

The primary trait of an excuse is that it doesn’t physically prevent you from doing whatever is asked of you. It defends and/or justifies your particular decisions, preferences, and what not. Being on vacation in Fiji ensures I can’t physically mow the lawn. That’s a reason. Being in a lousy mood and just wanting to sleep in does nothing to prevent me from operating the lawnmower. That’s an excuse.

With that in mind, let’s take the concept of reasons and excuses to a larger stage. Let’s assess how this applies to the overall process we use in rendering the various decisions and actions of our lives. What we do and why we do it is at the core of what it means to be a conscious human being.

For practical purposes, we like to think that we’re reasonable people. We like to think that we have valid reasons for what we do and why we do it. We break up with a lover because they’re not right for us. We buy organic food because it’s better for our health. We smoke pot because it makes us more fun to be around. Some of that may be true, but we still think of them as reasons and not excuses.

The problem with this is basically everything about it. Once again, caveman logic enters the picture and spits all over that rosy picture we have of ourselves and others. Based on our growing understanding of cognitive science and neurobiology, we have a better idea of how we make decisions and how we justify them.

When it comes to reasons and excuses, the two main factors are choice-supportive bias and cognitive dissonance. I know those sound like terms that Sheldon Cooper would use in a skit on “The Big Bang Theory” that somehow makes him sound like more of an asshole, but unlike 98 percent of what Sheldon says, these concepts are useful.

Choice-supportive bias is our tendency to ascribe positive attributes to the choices we make. It’s also a byproduct of cognitive dissonance, which is just a fancy way of saying our brain feels stressful and uncertain.

In essence, our brain is wired to avoid wrong decisions and for good reasons. Back in the caveman days, if we made a wrong decision, it usually meant we ended up as dinner for a hungry grizzly bear or ate poison berries that made us shit out our lower intestines. We’re alive because of this wiring so let’s not discount its use.

Unfortunately, nature is still a blunt instrument and our brains don’t know we only encounter bears in zoos that charge ten bucks for a soda. That aversion to making wrong decisions is still there, even when we decide something as simple as which breakfast cereal to buy.

With that in mind, we’ll do anything and everything to avoid wrong decisions and the brain stress they cause. Unfortunately, that often means making excuses to reduce the stress and justify our choice, even if it ends up being wrong.

If that weren’t bad enough, our brains don’t run our decisions through a logic filters first. Don’t worry though. That filter is still there in our brains. It’s just not at the front of the line like we all wish it were. If it were, then half the videos on YouTube wouldn’t exist.

Instead, according to current neuroscience, we make most of our decisions on snap judgments and emotions. Then, we’ll use reasons and excuses to justify those decisions after the fact. Unfortunately, since reasons are so rigid and stubborn, we’re more inclined to make excuses. Even if those excuses are mostly true, they’re still excuses.

There are so many other dynamics behind reasons and excuses. There’s no way I’ll be able to cover even half of them in a single blog post. However, there is a reason why I’m discussing this topic and it’s a good reason. It’s applies to both my novels, as well as other topics with very sexy implications.

That reason will become clearer in later posts. For now, consider this a trailer of sorts, minus the cheesy one-liners and explosions. If possible, take a moment to analyze how many excuses you make for your decisions compared to reasons. You may be shocked/appalled/disgusted by what you uncover. I promise you, though, it gets much crazier.

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Logical Fallacies And How They Mess With Your Caveman Brain

I like to think this blog offers something useful other than announcements on books from a no-name aspiring erotica/romance writer. I want to both entertain and enlighten with my writing. If I can also titillate and arouse, then that’s a nice bonus. I’d like to enhance that bonus down the line, but for now I’m willing to be flexible.

Since I started this blog, I’ve talked about numerous topics. I’ve touched on controversial issues like unfair divorce laws, body shaming, and misogyny in modern society. I’ve also touched on lighter, less serious issues like sex-positive superheroes, terrible love triangles, and the joys of sleeping naked. For the record, I still sleep naked and I don’t intend to stop.

Through many of my twisted, and sometimes perverse thoughts, I use a common phrase. That phrase is “caveman logic.” It’s something I may want to copyright or trademark because I find myself applying more and more of it to various issues, be they exceedingly serious of overtly juvenile. It’s not intentional. It’s just that it works so damn well in making sense of the craziness in this world.

I’ve started contemplating a new idea, one that would be a major departure from my typical romance/erotica aspirations. I’m thinking of writing a non-fiction book to flesh out the concept of caveman logic. It’s an intriguing thought. What else could I apply to? Politics? Economics? Religion? More overly sexy issues to explain the insane sexual landscape of this crazy world? I think you all know which one I’m leaning towards.

As I contemplate this idea, it’s worth exploring more of the finer details of how caveman logic works and how it affects us. It’s important to understand because if we can at least acknowledge the mechanisms of our craziness, then we can at least appreciate it in the right context.

Make no mistake. Context does matter. People aren’t going to stop doing crazy stupid shit. We’re a species that obsesses over cat videos, hashtags, and the size of Kim Kardashian’s ass. We’re not a logical species. We can’t expect ourselves to make logical choices in religion, government, popular culture, and sex. I’ve already covered some of the sexy parts of this illogical nature. There’s still plenty more to cover.

The main crux of caveman logic is that human beings are not wired, be it by nature or whatever magical deity you think made us, to be logical. Our biological programming, from our brains to our body chemistry, is wired for two things: survival and reproduction.

Whether it’s by nature or by deity, it makes sense in that’s exceedingly pragmatic. It doesn’t matter how smart you are. If you can’t survive long enough to get laid, your species is screwed. This is why jocks and their meathead kids still dominate in the halls of public schools today. It’s why they’ll likely keep dominating, no matter how many shitty teen movies Hollywood makes.

In the context of caveman logic, it’s important to understand that the traits that aided our survival and ability to bone emerged in the African savanna. Biologically, our bodies are adapted to an environment that allows small tribes of humans to hunt, gather, and farm food. There’s nothing in our DNA that equips us to deal with smartphones that can download unlimited amounts of free porn.

Civilization, despite its many glories, doesn’t always do a good job of complementing or supplementing our caveman brains and bodies. Nature is, by and large, a blunt instrument and not a scalpel. It can’t tweak and fine-tune itself for us as we would like.

As a result, civilization and the complexities of the universe tend to screw us over. When the situation before us doesn’t involve survival and reproduction, humans tend to do a sub-par job of making use of it. This often reveals the faulty programming of our caveman brains. It’s the reason why we do things like mutilate our genitals or overly repress our basic desires.

This faulty wiring can manifest in very specific ways. Some call them logical fallacies. I just call them bugs in human software that nature is not going to fix as soon as we’d like. Evolution and adaptation are painfully slow. Societal progress is painfully slow. There are still countries that practice slavery for crying out loud.

That’s not to say we make no progress. Indoor plumbing, smartphones, and bacon flavored lube are all testaments to just how far we’ve come as a society. However, the bugs are still there. The flaws in our biological program still fuck with us every day.

Just how much do they fuck with us? Well, the fine folks at Cracked.com once again provide a valuable service by highlighting some of those kinks in our programming and they do it in a way that’s funny. For that, I thank them and share with you just how bad those kinks are. If you’re scared, worried, or depressed afterwards, I recommend getting some bacon-flavored lube. That’ll make your day better in some way or another.

Cracked: 5 Logical Fallacies That Make You Way More Wrong Than You Think

Five: We’re Not Programmed to Seek “Truth,” We’re Programmed to “Win”

Go on any message board or talk politics with anyone who voted for George W. Bush twice. You’ll see just how deep this bug in our system runs.

It’s called the argumentative theory of reasoning, and it says that humans didn’t learn to ask questions and offer answers in order to find universal truths. We did it as a way to gain authority over others. That’s right — they think that reason itself evolved to help us bully people into getting what we want.

It helped us get laid and get food. That’s all evolution needs.

Four: Our Brains Don’t Understand Probability

Anyone who plays lotto is proof of this. For the record, I play lotto. Yeah. I’m part of the problem here.

It’s called neglect of probability. Our brains are great for doing a lot of things. Calculating probability is not one of them. That flaw colors every argument you’ve ever had, from the tax code down to that time your friend totally cheated you in a coin-flip.

Again, think back to the African savanna. Overestimating the probability that there’s a giant bear hiding under a rock may be stupid, but it decreases your chances of being eaten by a bear. That’s good enough for nature.

Three: We Think Everyone’s Out to Get Us

It’s not just bear attacks we like to overestimate. Remember, survival is a blunt instrument. You’re not going to do brain surgery with a sludge hammer and avoid collateral damage. So of course you’re go a little overboard when assessing threats. Again, you’re less likely to be eaten by a bear and that’s still good enough for nature.

Think about all the people you’ve disagreed with this month. How many of them do you think were being intentionally dishonest? Experts say you’re almost definitely overshooting the truth. It’s called the trust gap, and scientist see it crop up every time one human is asked to estimate how trustworthy another one is.

So can we trust ourselves? To an extent, we can. Let’s just be careful about that extent.

Two: We’re Hard-Wired to Have a Double Standard

I’ve talked about double standards before. There’s no logic to them, but remember. Nature doesn’t give a shit about logic and nor do our caveman brains. It sucks, but it helps us survive and get laid. That’s good enough.

It’s called the fundamental attribution error. It’s a universal thought process that says when other people screw up, it’s because they’re stupid or evil. But when we screw up, it’s totally circumstantial. Like if you notice a coworker showing up to work high on mescaline, it’s because he’s an out-of-control peyote hound. But if you show up at work high on mescaline, it’s because you had a flat tire and you needed the distraction.

So the next time you hear an athlete meltdown at the end of a post-game show, you know why he or she makes excuses. They still have to pull them out of their ass, but that’s our brain’s default setting.

One: Facts Don’t Change Our Minds

Go to any message board that talks politics and try to convince someone to change their mind. After you’ve punched your computer screen enough times, you should have sufficient proof that this is real.

Let’s go back to the beginning for a moment, and the theory that people figured out how to build arguments as a form of verbal bullying rather than a method of spreading correct information. That means that there are actually two reasons somebody might be arguing with you: because they actually want to get you to think the right thing, and because they’re trying to establish dominance over you to lower your status in the tribe (or office or forum) and elevate their own. That means there’s a pretty severe cost to being on the wrong side of an issue completely separate from the issue itself.

Facts are wonderful things. They help us make sense of the universe, seek universal truths, and expand our understanding. However, they don’t do quite enough to help us survive and have sex so they’re shit out of luck.

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