In posting this particular blog, I am well aware that its contents may very well possess only limited interest and in consequence may not be to your own personal and particular ‘taste’. However, I have decided to include what I have to ‘say’ about cognition here, because it clearly speaks to me – and possibly to at least some of you – of a major, indeed, key dimension of mind; i.e. of the “how” and “why” of thinking, of conjecture and of decision-making. In its characteristically inextricable way, cognition infiltrates every detail and aspect of life, from the ‘cradle to the grave’ and therefore forms a basic and an essential part of our humanity, as well as of anything and everything that is both integral to but extends beyond it in terms of spirituality.
Nevertheless, whenever we try to get down to the ‘nitty-gritty’ of all that thinking entails in any attempt to articulate and describe it; this ‘second nature’ interest and activity – which is so readily available and to hand to every one of us every moment of our conscious lives – now somehow seems to peel away and become obscured by a veritable ‘thicket’ of verbal definition description and accounting. We, that is, most of us at any rate, feel that we have an inherent and implicit grasp of logic, which we can and do apply to just about our every utterance. It is as “easy as logic”, as the saying goes; but what about those necessary and fundamental laws that underpin every aspect of the logical process? Wouldn’t it help to at least possess something of a’ flavour’ of its foundations, if only just to know that they are there? If your answer is ‘no’, then most probably this blog is not for you and you can simply ‘give it a miss’. If on the other hand it is “yes” then hopefully it will profit you, at least somewhat, to read on.
It needs also to once again be clearly stated somewhere in the early stages of this blog that cognition (by which is meant, thinking and its outcomes in terms of ideas, conceptions, expectations, interpretations and meanings) cannot, in real life, be separated from memory, perception, language etc. Cognition must be understood as a whole and not as an assemblage of any such separate functions. It is the capacity to think that defines us as rational beings possessing ability and a propensity to receive, rehearse and revise in the mind what we say or do. Nor is all thinking by any means confined to verbal composition or expression. The musician expresses thought (inextricably combined with feeling) in terms of rhythm and tempo, notes, scales, keys etc., whereas the artist and painter commits his/her thought processes, via skilled deployment of brush or the knife, to canvass. The chess player’s mental deliberations find expression in a move or series of moves of chessmen around the chessboard. What all at least appear to have in common is intent and outcome in terms of a series of ordered and orderly transactions and consequences.
Having thus made the important point about the diversification, myriad varieties and variations of thought, I now wish (given the subject matter of this blog) to dwell upon the processes of reason, as they find expression in logical thought; and their outcome in terms of collective and individual performance and achievement. Almost everything we do in our individual and corporate lives that are meaningful and coherent is based upon logical reasoning, logical inference and logical consequences. Indeed, logic might well be described as the general science of inference. Nor does the power of logic attach and relate to verbal reasoning alone. Its influence pretty well pervades everything we do, say and are. This applies whether we are relaxing in the garden; on the road driving to keep an appointment; on vacation somewhere or simply and quietly gazing into the night sky. In reality, the rationale for and processes of what we do when we think and what brings meaning and purpose to it, is something that we rarely, if ever, dwell upon. Indeed, for the vast majority of people, to do so would only introduce unnecessary complication and, quite possibly, lead only to further perplexity and confusion.
Let us take an example of the sort of thing I mean. Suppose I deploy words here to define the aim of logic as the attempt to make explicit all the rules whereby reasoning may be drawn. At an instant, we somehow feel ill-at-ease and increasingly drawn into an unfamiliar morass of obscurity and uncertainty. Indeed, unless we possess a special interest in linguistical aspects of logic, we are more likely to feel distinctly uncomfortable with talk that defines or describes in this more formal manner what, in reality, we all do informally and with consummate ease every hour of every day. We, of course, very well know and are completely at ease with the thought that ideally, rationality will apply to and in that sense control all the elements of motivation, intention and behaviour as, piece by piece, they slot together. This entails our arguments, our beliefs, our decision-making and all other exercises of the human mind. To define something as being rational, is to describe the sense in which things hold together, in accordance with some pre-acknowledged goal, i.e. what we perceive to be good or right or to possess moral overtones or values, such as justice or truth. Moreover, we do – perhaps not infrequently – assert our need and desire to “be rational” in our thoughts and their myriad manifestations and implications for ourselves and others. However, we seldom if ever feel need to proceed beyond that point.
If then it is the case, as we have argued here, that human beings are characterised by their rationality, as evidenced in their capacity to think and that there are no a’priori* reasons for assuming that this process must be verbal (anymore that it must be behavioural) in form, then it would not be unreasonable to conclude that what we have called “logic” and which has been defined as “the general science of inference”, is also the ‘glue’ which holds our overall rational cognitive processes/views/ interpretations together and gives them meaning and value. (C) SB.