Last week I argued that our pursuit of love from the world is best understood as the pursuit of affirmation, not limited to self-affirmation, but broadened to include all evidence we can interpret as confirming the bets we live out.

To get at what I mean I’m going to dip into what to me is clearest and most realistic version of what logic is. It comes from the work of philosopher Charles Peirce. It’s a little long, but investing the ten minutes it will take to read this is a good bet.

Aristotle developed logic, introducing the syllogism: two statements and a third deduced from them:

  1. All men are mortal
    Socrates is a man
  2. Therefore Socrates is a mortal

Notice that there are three terms in it, Socrates, man and mortal. Socrates is a thing, mortal is a characteristic of things. Man can serve either way. In the syllogism above it’s a characteristic of a thing. But you could also say man-like, or as Muddy Waters the blues musician sang, ‘manish.’ A lot of things can be turned into characteristics. For example, we could say Socratic. Anyway, logic is about how we categorize things by their characteristics, and how we develop categories from clusters of things.

Mind Readers Dictionary: The Podfast : Play in Popup

Mind Readers Dictionary : Play in Popup


As you can see from the diagram, deduction is nice and tidy, in fact irrefutable so long as premises one and two are right. In this example we don’t doubt that they are. But that’s not always the case. Check out this deduction:

  1. All men are stupid
    Socrates is a man
  2. Therefore Socrates is stupid.

This is also airtight logic. A diagram of this argument would have Socrates nested snugly in man and man nested snugly in stupid so of course it would have to follow that Socrates is snugly in the category stupid. If premises one and two were true, then there would be no denying the conclusion. But we’d say it was wrong because the first premise is wrong. Likewise:

  1. All turtles are green
    Socrates is a turtle
  2. Therefore Socrates is green.
  1. Socrates is a man
    Socrates is a mortal
  2. Therefore all men are mortal

This is known as induction. Basically you look at something that has two traits and you generalize that those traits always come together. But notice that it’s not airtight. Just because Socrates happens to be both mortal and a man, it doesn’t mean that all men are. Socrates was Greek and homely too, which doesn’t mean all Greeks were homely. One example doesn’t prove a correlation. So to tighten inductions, we look for more instances.

How many instances does it take to make an induction airtight? Well, if you’re dealing with the past, the answer is all of them. For example, if I could prove that all past men are mortal once I’ve checked them all out and found that they were dead. But for predictions about the future, the answer is unfortunately, an infinite number. Even a no-brainer like man’s mortality could be overturned if you ever encountered one immortal man. We depend on inductions all the time and some are much more iffy than man’s mortality. For example:

  1. Today I freelanced
    Today I was paid well
  2. Therefore freelancing pays well.

or:

  1. Today I’m just being me
    Today he adores me
  2. Therefore he adores me just being me.

Sounds good and you hope it’s true. But it’s not airtight. So every day that you’re paid well or that he adores you for who you are feels like an affirmation, like love from the world, a sign that doesn’t just feel good today but also bodes well for tomorrow. It suggests that you’re on the right track, that your hunches are paying off and will continue to do so.

Induction covers that first premise. How do we get that second one? How do we know that Socrates is a man? Of course, we just know, but to get specific, we know because we use a kind of logic that Peirce called abduction:

Here we find traits in common between two things (man and Socrates) and then we lump the two together. Abductions aren’t any more airtight than inductions. Just because Socrates lived in Athens and so did Zorba the Greek, it doesn’t mean that Socrates is Zorba. So how do we strengthen Abductions? By finding more things that they have in common:

  1. Socrates is mortal
    Man is mortal
    Socrates has two legs
    Man has two legs
    Socrates is hairy
    Man is hairy
    Etc. etc.
  2. Therefore Socrates is a man

Detective work relies on abduction:

  1. The murderer had brown hair
    Joe has brown hair
    The murderer was there on the night of the 16th.
    Joe was there on the night of the 16th.
  2. Therefore (we bet) Joe is the murderer.

And we rely on abduction:

  1. The new hire must have three years experience
    I have three years experience
    The new hire must be a specialist in tax law
    I am a specialist in tax law
    Etc. etc.
  2. Therefore I’ll be the new hire.

If you’ve been preparing and betting on eventually getting this kind of job, you would welcome any evidence that affirms your bet. Not only do you want the job, you want the evidence that you know how to bet, that your bets will continue to pay off. In a word, you welcome affirming evidence not just for it’s direct benefits but for the evidence it provides that you are savvy, that you fit, that you’re customized to the world’s customs, that the world loves you after all and isn’t going to treat you badly. Notice that deduction and induction are reciprocals of each other. With induction we use instances to correlate characteristics. With abduction we use characteristics to correlate instances. Even the diagrams for abduction and induction can be combined to show how they’re related, and that there’s a tension built into them. We define our instances by the characteristics that unite them, while uniting our characteristics by finding them correlated in instances. The characteristics are like lassos we use to cinch the instances together. And at the same time we add more instances to shoulder the characteristics into alignment with each other. And with both induction and abduction the work is never complete. Your inductions could be challenged by new unwelcome, disaffirming evidence, new instances that throw into doubt a correlation you’ve come to rely upon. For a whole month, your freelancing earns you no money. Yuck. You’re forced to wonder whether you should go get a salaried job, or somehow find a way to dismiss the evidence the instance of a month is. For three months your partner could stop adoring you and begin complaining about the way you are. Yuck. It throws you into doubt about whether you should change, whether things will get better, or whether it’s just plain over.

Likewise, your abductions could be thrown into doubt by new evidence, an overlooked disaffirming characteristic. You though you were the best candidate for that job. There were all of these characteristics that you and the ideal hire had in common. And then you hear that they want someone under 25 and you’re already in your 30s. Yuck. So are you and the ideal hire really one and the same?

What I described two weeks ago as wanting love from the world, and last week as our appetite for evidence that affirms our bets, I’m suggesting this week is really an appetite for news that affirms our inductions and abductions. Evidence not only that we’re doing well now, but will be doing well in the times ahead.