The Fallacy of Induction
“This must be how it is, because that’s how it’s been.” False. It gets used a lot, especially by people who consider themselves logical. What an irony, given that they’re employing a logical fallacy. They’re confusing induction with deduction. Permanent objective properties will allow us to DEDUCE with certainty. Pulling from your life’s subjective observations for expectations is INDUCTION, which does not carry the weight of certainty. Every time you think that it does, you’re committing a logical fallacy.
A good example is, “don’t worry; the sun will rise tomorrow because it’s risen every day before.” That sounds sensible. But the supporting reason is exactly wrong. The sun will rise tomorrow based on a series of physical laws, which, as long as a force doesn’t perturb our terrestrial rotation and trajectory of revolution around the sun, will most likely lead to the sun rising tomorrow.
In health and fitness I hear it all the time: X can’t work for me because it never has; Y is best because it used to always work for me. Then, people get confused when the always-reliable tactics no longer work. Or, they get confused when “such-and-such was never a problem before.” Newly-noticed achy knees and backs are usually cumulative damage and imbalance from years of unproductive patterns. But because we don’t tend to address anything until it becomes bad enough to notice, we assign to it some recent acute cause.
That’s all induction fallacy. The prior dice rolls in no way impact the outcome of the next dice roll. And then we add to this fallacy our rounding errors. That is, we tend to round up or down to simplify a narrative (ie - I’ve ALWAYS been a depressed person; I’ve ALWAYS been upbeat; this has NEVER been a problem before; I’ve NEVER seen it, heard of it, encountered it). Well, no. Life is impermanent. The only status which you can ALWAYS count on is change. The only status which NEVER changes is the fact that things don’t stay the same. Your perception has absolutely nothing to do with what biochemical laws must do.
And induction fallacies aren’t relegated to our victim narratives, or our health and fitness beliefs. We can see induction fallacies widespread in how people wrestle with the Covid pandemic. People say, “it’s just like fill-in-the-blank-with-something-during-my-life-time.” Or, if they accept that it isn’t like something during their life time, then it’s a conspiracy. Well, no. We enjoyed 102 years of no pandemic plagues. But actually, prior to 1918, plague was the norm. We’ve been overdue. The entire history of mankind was mostly dealing with plagues, and contagion, and threats which regularly wiped out 5-90% of the population in each generation or more regularly than that. Viral mutation makes this obligatory. It’s a physical law. Our experience from 1919 to 2019 was a momentary aberration, not the law.
That’s why it took so long to build up the world populace. Prior to the Enlightenment, industrialization, and modern sciences, people would have 12 children so that 2 to 8 might survive. That got us to about a 1 billion person population in the 1800s. In the past century, as people have had fewer and fewer children, the population is nearing 8 billion. Think about that.
Referencing our tiny sliver of life experience to determine pathogenic realities isn’t just a fallacy. It’s delusional. Especially when we factor in how much more international travel there is today, there is no way to induct from prior time periods, let alone the past 102 years.
That said, we can utilize fundamental tools from overcoming one challenge to inform how we may face the next one. Mankind has come to understand many “impossible” things, like flight, space travel, transmission of thoughts at a distance (radio, phones, internet). Indeed, right now many teams are working overtime to combat this threat from multiple vantages.
Likewise, you can pull from your other successes to identify fundamental tactics which likely help you better troubleshoot your own health and fitness. Notice I said “identify” and “likely”. We cannot DEDUCE from a past subjective observation what MUST BE in the present, or what WILL HAPPEN in the future. We don’t know. All we can do is increasingly reduce uncertainty, removing ineffective tactics. Over time, we close in on the effective ones.
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