The Triumph of Logic

By the time Europe had recovered from the Napoleonic chaos, science had advanced far enough to have a significant effect on technology. The Industrial Revolution, born in England well before Napoleon, took hold in Europe in the early nineteenth century and catapulted Western civilization far beyond any of its competitors. By the latter half of the nineteenth century, confidence in Reason had mushroomed into insufferable pride and vainglory. The Victorians were disgustingly smug about themselves; they looked down on all other cultures as inferior. One ditty sums up the military attitude of the British toward their colonies:

Whatever happens, we have got
The Maxim gun, and they have not!

Only the mass extermination of World War One was sufficient to jar Westerners out of their narrow-minded self-assurance. But Reason had tightened its grip on the imagination of Westerners; chastened they were, but still absolutely certain that Reason, as manifested through science and technology, would solve all their problems. The second jolt came with World War Two, the atomic bomb, and the use of technology to exterminate 10 million human beings. The matter was confusing: reason bestowed so much benefit upon the human race, but it was also capable of wreaking unspeakable horrors. The conflict came to a head during the 1960s, when millions of young Westerners lost confidence in the whole rationalist basis of Western civilization. Their protests took many forms and were directed at many targets, but the underlying drive was a deep-seated suspicion that Reason wasn’t such a bargain after all.

A particularly cute expression of this battle first appeared on the television show Star Trek. Reason and logic were personified in the character of Mr. Spock, while emotion was defended by Dr McCoy, who sparred endlessly with Spock, with Spock usually getting the better of the doctor. Conversely, Captain Kirk would frequently do battle with malevolent computers, always prevailing by occupying the computer with a logically insoluble problem. The poor computer would spin its wheels, blink its lights, and struggle with the problem until smoke came out of its ears, and Kirk would triumph. This basic battle between reason and emotion has been carried on through subsequent Star Trek series; it is one of the mainstays of the genre.

Although logic has triumphed, humanity has not done quite so well. The advance of logical thinking has hopelessly outpaced the progress of reason. (If this statement bothers you, re-read my
definitions of these terms.) We therefore find ourselves in the predicament of having more physical power than we can politically or socially handle. At the geopolitical level, our weapons of mass destruction exceed the political sophistication we need to control them. At the personal level, we have made guns cheap and widespread enough to permit children and mentally unstable people to wreak havoc with them.

But along with this triumph came a dangerous over-enthusiasm for the power of logic. This mania for logic swept into every crack and crevice of Western culture. Practitioners of the social sciences began seeking ways to make their work more logical. Psychologists concentrated more on laboratory rats and less on grand speculations about the human mind. Impressive leaps forward emerged as the direct result of this new logical approach to truth.

But along the way, there was a closing of the Western mind. In its enthusiasm for the strict methodologies of logic and scientific method, Western culture peremptorily dismissed all other forms of thinking as discredited or, at the very best, useless. It seemed to the Western mind that the triumph of reason could not be complete without the elimination of pattern-based thinking, contemptuously slandered as "emotional knee-jerk reaction". And so we have cut ourselves off from the most powerful portion of our minds, coldly dismissed the fundamental basis of all our thinking. It is ironic that a system of thinking that lies on top of a many-layered structure should reject the system of thinking that lies at the foundations of that structure.

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