Thursday, April 28, 2011

Logic Makes Things Harder?

Here's a weird one. For those interested in formal logic and logically precise thinking, have you ever found that such precision has made it more difficult for you to deal with certain situations?

For instance, I remember as a kid I played the first Pokemon video game in a strange way due to my way of thinking. Pokemon may not need any introduction, but just to be clear: In the game there's more than just simply catching Pokemon; you also have to make them get stronger by engaging them in battles. Now as a kid I thought the abbreviation "exp." stood for "exercise points" rather than "experience," so my conception of the way to make my Pokemon stronger was to engage them in physically strenuous battles. You've got to work out intensely to develop muscle tissue, right? It's a perfectly logical assumption to make in considering why a character is growing stronger: The battles are equivalent to intense exercise.

The game isn't programmed according to that logic, however. Absurdly, a Pokemon can grow stronger even if he doesn't lift a finger in a battle. All you have to do is make sure he's the first Pokemon to appear in battle and then swop him out for another immediately, and at the conclusion of the battle the Pokemon that didn't fight will still receive an equally divided fraction of the experience points and grow stronger. A sign in the game even explicitly notes this, revealing that the game developers wanted players to level up their weak Pokemon without them getting crushed by stronger foes.

However, I couldn't process this as a kid. Except until after you beat the game and find a secret area, the majority of wild Pokemon you catch are too weak to be useful in battle, so at a lost for what the game expected me to do I did the hard thing: I battled with only one Pokemon exclusively and strengthened him to an obscene level, beating the game with him alone. Of course, this meant I died dozens of times since he wasn't fit for all situations, but it quickly came to be the case that he could defeat any enemy in a single blow. The game probably took much longer and was unnecessarily harder because of this, all because my logical thinking couldn't process the game's illogical ways.

Another more prevalent example, one most likely easier to identify with, is in interpreting people's speech and thoughts. People these days tend to speak very carelessly and often say things they either don't really mean or don't mean precisely. One time in math class my teacher said to practice a certain mode of diagramming *several* times, and since the word bears similarities to the number seven I ended up practically overflowing my page with writing, and my teacher actually meant us to practice only three or four times. Just a few weeks ago I was taking a quiz to prove my personal identity as part of changing my address online somewhere, and while I knew for certain what the correct answers were I kept worrying that the quiz was constructed with approximate figures and that I might fail anyhow.

Imprecision bothers me because it can lead to nothing other than more imprecision. Epistemologically, it's a systematic poison that makes it harder and harder to keep one's thinking straight since the amount of imprecision will simply continue to accumulate if not remedied. Those people who care not an ounce for keeping precise I have found to be nearly impossible to deal with, as miscommunication is happening continuously and without end. I remember once I kept shuffling furniture pillows around for several minutes because the person couldn't comprehend that they were asking me to move their couch cushions, not pillows.

So have you found that in your own life that exercising logic makes it harder to deal with illogical situations, or to expect incomprehensible approximations around every corner?

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