Reason, a weapon to win arguments or path to truth?


Reason, rationality, etc. are undoubtedly seen by many as part of the methods that lead you straight to truth.  If you have your axioms right, as they say, rigorous deductive reasoning would give you nothing but truth.  I remember doing quantum mechanics once upon a time.  The texts usually began with five (or were there six?) postulates, and then we had theorems, lemmas, proofs, results.  We would also solve differential equations and evaluate their physical meaning based on a set of boundary conditions.  This process of reasoning led inevitably to what we considered to be the ‘Truth’ about the physical universe.  There was never any doubt about this in our minds.  Classical mechanics was also similar, just beginning with a different set of postulates.  Tweaking those postulates a little gave us the theory of relativity.  Notice how Einstein set up the postulates of the special theory of relativity in his famous paper On the Electrodynamic of Moving Bodies:

They suggest rather that, as has already been shown to the first order of small quantities, the same laws of electrodynamics and optics will be valid for all frames of reference for which the equations of mechanics hold good. We will raise this conjecture (the purport of which will hereafter be called the “Principle of Relativity”) to the status of a postulate, and also introduce another postulate, which is only apparently irreconcilable with the former, namely, that light is always propagated in empty space with a definite velocity c which is independent of the state of motion of the emitting body. These two postulates suffice for the attainment of a simple and consistent theory of the electrodynamics of moving bodies based on Maxwell’s theory for stationary bodies. [emphasis mine]

And as the formalism consistent with these postulates unfolded, the world witnessed a radically altered, but ‘true’ picture of the universe.  Reason led to Truth.

Now, however, some research into ‘reason’ seems to be revealing that reason evolved mainly to win arguments and not to search for the truth.  That is the subject of an article in NY Times today titled Reason Seen More as Weapon Than Path to Truth.  A brief quote below:

some researchers are suggesting that reason evolved for a completely different purpose: to win arguments. Rationality, by this yardstick (and irrationality too, but we’ll get to that) is nothing more or less than a servant of the hard-wired compulsion to triumph in the debating arena.

hard-wired compulsion to triumph in the debating arena? As hard wired as the language itself?  The day to day deployment of reason to win arguments, or the lawyers use of reason to win cases–that makes sense to me.  But reason as the servant of a hardwired compulsion to win, that may have far reaching implications.

For those of you who may be interested in knowing a bit more about it, here is a brief history of quantum mechanics from the science channel:

and, here a nice visualisation of the special relativity:

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About Irfan

I am an independent researcher and blogger interested in everything under the sun, but more so in the philosophy and history of education and education reform generally, and specifically in the so-called post colonial contexts

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