Logic, Reason, and Emotion in Biocultural Perspective
Where do we derive our reasons, rationalizations, and explanations from? How do we discover, define, and decide to adopt new concepts? Logical reasoning is part and parcel of our actions and thoughts, in everyday practice, throughout our lives. The problem with human logic is that the very symbolic systems we use to represent our logical arguments inevitably allow us to represent absurd or contradictory arguments, too. Even from the beginning, in learning to use a logical system of representation, we have to get over the fact we’re also learning arbitrary choices of symbols that are set by convention, to refer to certain concepts. So we all too easily forget that when we were young, there was a time–as late as six or seven for many of us (and we still turned out ok)–that “2 + 2 = 4” was gobbledigook nonsense. Logic can lead us into confusion, even before our more complex thoughts really get going.
When we think about logic, we tend to focus on how one can rationally draw conclusions from premises. So we make deductive arguments. In our minds. Orally. Through various literate media: writing, print, electronic. We do so in order to explain our environment, justify courses of action, establish reassurances that the world has some predictable order in it. We tell ourselves and others that certain conditions have necessary implications that we need to expect and be prepared for.
We use inductive logic, too. Perhaps even more often. We have an experience, make an observation about how two phenomena relate … or perhaps how something has changed over time, and we generalize our understanding of why the change occurred. Why phenomenon A implied phenomenon B. We build the relationship between A and B into a general concept.
Hopefully, it’s needless to say that logical thought and communication can aid effective behavior. We have to navigate intricately interrelated social, material, and ecological environments. Some logic is usually better than none. Other things being equal, an animal that can use logic to organize information and guide its course of action will have greater chances for survival and reproductive success than another population member who is only capable of random, unpredictable irrationality.
From a biocultural perspective, then, logical arguments are not just interesting for philosophers, mathematicians, and computer programmers. The capacity to make logical arguments has long been evolving in nature–in the form of embodied cognitive representations. More to the point, the cognitive capacity for logical decision-making has been shaped by natural selection–in a wide range of animals, at least in many birds and mammals–as an adaptation for learning and effective behavioral decision-making in complex, unpredictable environments.
And natural selection has certainly continued to influence the human capacity for constructing and sharing logical arguments. The evolutionary emergence of socially shared logical representations has unfolded over the roughly seven million years since the hominin lineage evolved a reproductive barrier with the chimpanzee-bonobo lineage. Still, there is an important “but” here. Human beings have a greater capacity to focus attention on and construct logical arguments than any other animal species. But …