Where's the Proof?

Perhaps you are telling yourself, "This is all very curious and you have raised some interesting points, but you have not offered any proof. Taken as a whole, this entire work consists of nothing more than a random pile of interesting conjectures. It’s pure speculation, not science."

If so, then you have completely missed the central point of this hyper-document. The very concept of proof is part and parcel of logic, and I am arguing that human cognition is capable of another form of reasoning: pattern-recognizing reasoning. Now, pattern recognition can be tricky business, because what I see as a good pattern fit, you might see as a bad fit. There’s an inherent subjectivity in pattern recognition that is blessedly absent from logic. If you prove a mathematical theorem, there’s no arguing, no quibbling, nothing whatever to discuss. You have proven it, and I must accept the truth of it, period. Clearly, logical proof is much to be preferred over the subjectivity of pattern recognition, for which the very concept of proof is inapplicable.

But in many fields of intellectual endeavor, we are reaching the limits of logic. It is inconceivable that we will ever prove anything interesting and substantial about the operation of the human brain, or history, or society, or politics, or a thousand other important fields. Rigorous methods have produced a great many fascinating tidbits of solid knowledge, but our attempts to integrate those tidbits into some larger, useful theory have been swamped by a tidal wave of complexity. The slow, steady accumulation of facts and proofs will not lead us to the day when we can make reliable, detailed predictions about the behavior of brains or societies. And the subject matter of this hyper-document falls into the same class of phenomena; the development of complex biological information processing systems will never be understood to the same degree that we can trace the development of microprocessors. Those who insist on proof will never get their answers.

This hyper-document offers no iron chain of logic; it offers a spiderweb of ideas, cross-connected and mutually supporting, that hangs together nicely. Some readers will contemptuously rip through the spiderweb with a wave of their hand, laughing at its frailty. Other readers, I hope, will gaze upon the spiderweb and admire its unity, its completeness, its harmony. I claim that the pattern of ideas I offer here is so harmonious as to convince any reader not wedded (welded?) to sequential reasoning.

Indeed, the single most important implication of this work is that pattern-based reasoning is every bit as useful as sequential reasoning. We have spent so long establishing cool logic as the preferred basis of our deliberations that we have banished pattern-based reasoning to some distant desert reservation, to languish in poverty and rejection. While I certainly don’t deny the power and efficacy of logic, I think it’s time to acknowledge the utility and importance of pattern-based reasoning. This hyper-document loudly declares that pattern-based reasoning has its place in the intellectual sun, that in some situations it is to be preferred, and that in the larger world of human intellectual inquiry, logic is neither the sole nor even the dominant way to think. It has its place -- just as pattern-based thinking does. And in fact, two of our most rigorous fields of intellectual effort,
science and law, rely completely on pattern-based reasoning for their fundamental conclusions.

Your reception of my thesis will likely depend far more upon your personality than your reasoning process. I expect females to be more receptive to the thesis than males, because many women have honed their expertise in pattern-based social reasoning where men tend to rely more heavily on physical-reality sequential reasoning. I expect younger, more aggressive men to be especially dismissive of my thesis, as it undermines the system of power/dominance/proof that plays such a large role in the emotional life of young men. We can be certain that many criticisms of my thesis will be suffused with anger and the vocabulary of power and dominance. This is not to dismiss in advance all criticisms of the thesis; this tiny hyper-document cannot begin to address the complexities of its subject matter and surely contains many errors and shortcomings. I look forward with genuine eagerness to the many criticisms I expect to receive, whether constructive or not, that honestly address the weaknesses of this thesis. And to those angry readers who completely reject my thesis, I have this to say: go prove something!