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In the future. Introduction & Chapter 1 – Bathrooms

Introduction

Sometimes throughout my life I thought about how things would change if society would slowly march towards a utopian future, the “In the future” series of posts will reveal some of these thoughts. Because my idea of what a proper future could look like may differ from yours, do fell free to leave it in the comments section.

Chapter 1 – Public Bathrooms

Lately the topic of unisex public bathrooms has been popping up in the media and I remembered that when I was a teenager I’ve questioned myself about this subject, those thoughts still hold true today.

To me, gendered public bathrooms made no sense in a variety of ways, those were:

More expensive – At least an extra wall needs to be built and tiled/painted in order to separate both bathrooms and it will take up extra space. A proper public bathroom needs to be scaled to the average expected necessities of people with some tolerance for peaks, smaller bathrooms have proportionally larger peaks, therefore, a gendered bathroom (2 small bathrooms) should have a bigger tolerance than a unisex one thus taking up even more space. Bigger bathrooms will have more repetition, as in, more consecutive stalls and taps, along with bigger contiguous flat surfaces, which makes the work of the janitor more “production line” and thus more time-efficient. It’s easy to imagine that, for example, in a shopping mall, a better usage of space will lead to more shops, and more efficient maintenance will lead to less janitors, both of which will lead to more profit, this coupled with less costs during the building process will lead to faster return-on-investment, even if marginally.

Anatomically unjustifiable – All humans excrete waste products from roughly the same location, that’s why male and female bathrooms have no fundamental differences and serve the same purpose. Male bathrooms might have urinals (that will, in theory, save space) and typically do, but, it’s no secret that urinals entail a lack of privacy and that the “gap urinal” isn’t a myth precisely due to that, some guys don’t even use them anymore or won’t use them if they can’t have a “gap urinal” and prefer to urinate while standing in a bathroom stall.

This was so obvious to me that I couldn’t believe that other people hadn’t thought of this before, so, I assumed that there would be sensible explanations for this phenomena given that the only bathrooms that are not unisex are those outside of people’s homes, which led me to think about stranger danger.

Especially rapists would have more naturally presenting windows of opportunity for their criminal actions. Considering that sometimes there’s not a lot of people, that nobody would find it suspicious to see a male going into the unisex bathroom and that males can more easily physically overpower females than the contrary, it’s quite possible that male criminals would give higher preference to unisex bathrooms as “hunting grounds” than they do to gendered bathrooms, among other possible problems. Some recent experiments with unisex bathrooms already failed due to voyeurism.

But what about transgender rights? Some might ask. I admit that I haven’t thought about that problem when I first “internally debated” this issue. From the articles and testimonies that I’ve read the problem seems to boil down to not being considered manly or womanly enough to be in a gendered bathroom and having laws that dictate gendered bathroom usage on the basis of assigned gender rather than gender identity. To me, the most practical immediate solution seems to be making the male bathrooms trans-friendly because it doesn’t entail any costs, keeps things almost the same for non-transgender users (99.7% of them) and makes life easier for transgenders. Making the female bathrooms trans-friendly wouldn’t work so well considering that the vast majority of sexual predators are male and that it would be trivial for them to get into female bathrooms by claiming that they’re transgenders.

My opinion is that in an ideal world where crime is almost non-existent and pretty much everyone knows how to get along with each other, all bathrooms are unisex, they’re prepared for disabled people, kids, and people with babies, also, because of privacy, showers and urinals (if urinals exist by then) reside in their own appropriately sized stalls.

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Male circumcision before being able to consent, an unbiased perspective

The practice of male circumcision (surgical removal of the foreskin of the penis), especially in the newborn period (0-28 days old), is still common in the United States, where it has been suffering a slight decline in popularity, and most common in Africa and the Middle East. In this article I’ll be evaluating arguments that are typically put forth for doing or not doing this procedure. My perspective will be biased towards developed nations.

Disclaimer

This article may attract very opinionated individuals, if you think that your opinion is worth more than facts please don’t bother commenting as you’re only going to make a fool out of yourself. If you have any genuine objection to the information that is presented here and wish for me to correct it or add to it, quote what you disagree with, show me how you’d correct it, make sure that your information is of higher quality and do feel free to leave it in the comments. If there’s enough interest from people to see this post updated I’ll eventually do it and as many times as necessary.

Morality

Forcing someone to have a surgery that will modify his genitals permanently and irreversibly surely seems immoral, but, considering that parents are supposed to decide for the well-being of their offspring, it can certainly be said that if the health benefits were very significant it could potentially be immoral not to circumcise.

There are more reasons to circumcise apart from medical ones, but, unfortunately, they’re just the wrong reasons, most of which can’t stand basic scrutiny, like, religion, when babies don’t even know what that is, hygiene, even though removing skin to avoid washing it in the future is absurd, the father being circumcised, even though the importance of comparing missing body parts is very questionable, and because it looks better, even though the target of the procedure never complained about that. Sometimes I wonder if these parents don’t think that 1 week old is just too soon to start doing cosmetic surgery or what they would do if the father was missing a leg instead of the foreskin, but I digress. The last reason I’m going to discuss is almost perfect to morally frame this dilemma, the popularity with the opposing sex sounds like a reasonable concern because rejection might inflict a serious blow to one’s self-esteem, but it isn’t reasonable at all, I’ll explain…

Female Genital Mutilation is a procedure that can involve removing the clitoris of a female (greatly reducing the ability to feel sexual pleasure), has no medical benefits at all, it’s common and even routine in some African countries, and is acknowledged globally as a human rights violation in all of it’s types. FGM of type 1a is the equivalent of circumcision as it consists in the removal of the clitoral hood which is the female analogue of the male foreskin. In FGM cultures, among other motives, it’s believed that FGM prevents extramarital sex and ensures virginity (which is probably true for types 1b and 3, respectively). In these cultures many men will reject marrying a female due to lack of FGM, this is enough social pressure that women will often swallow their self-respect and undergo  the surgery, other times they’ll be forced by their parents while young to do so because “it looks better” or due to “better marriage prospects”, does this remind you of anything? Circumcision, obviously.

Assuming that both FGM type 1a and circumcision have no health benefits, would it be immoral if someone that was mature wanted to have one of the procedures if that person wasn’t pressured or lied to about it? Obviously not. What would make this scenario immoral would be pressuring people and lying as if the procedures have actual benefits until they submit to it and/or force their young to do so. For now it should already be blatantly obvious that circumcision before being able to consent is immoral if it doesn’t have enough health benefits to justify it and that the same can be said if the problems cancel or outweigh said benefits, indeed circumcision without proper medical justification can be seen as violating various codes of ethics.

In short, the morality of circumcision will hinge on the positive balance of benefits and issues in health and lifestyle that may arise from the procedure and on the subjective moral importance that parents attribute to the right of their son to decide over his own body on this matter.

Physical health

The foreskin provides, under itself, a place in which microorganisms can thrive, so it should come as no surprise that it’s easier for the uncircumcised to become infected with something during their lives, but this alone isn’t enough to advocate “away with the foreskin” as the advantages and disadvantages need to be considered first, after all, there are more body parts that people could live without that are affected by illnesses. Indeed most pediatric societies in the industrialized world only recommend circumcision under very specific circumstances, not as routine.

HIV / STD’s / STI’s

The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) states that the risk of being infected with HIV is 40-60% lower in the circumcised and many are the studies and authorities that affirm what numerically to the untrained eye seem like fantastic, almost miraculous results.

The point being, 40-60% is great sometimes, while other times it’s merely better that nothing, this is such a case. Condoms work by setting up an impenetrable barrier for all STI (Sexualy Transmitted Infections) pathogens around the whole penis, for this reason, condoms are highly effective, so much that 15000 rounds of intercourse between HIV negative and HIV positive persons that used condoms consistently resulted in no HIV transmission, thus making whatever protective benefit from STI’s that might be had from circumcision completely irrelevant for someone that practices safe sex. Also, in contrast with condoms, there’s no evidence that circumcision has a protective effect against all types of STI pathogens, only against some of them, and with much inferior effectiveness.

Certain STI’s, like HPV (Human Papillomavirus), have diverse methods of transmission and points of entry that condoms can’t cover, and so neither can circumcision as the protective effects from both methods are restricted to the penis. HPV is known to be a factor in a variety of cancers and that’s precisely why vaccination against the most problematic strains of the virus is recommended.

For countries where STI’s are epidemic and it’s still difficult to ensure decent healthcare, sexual education, and hygiene, the recommendation of circumcision might be warranted, unsurprisingly, that’s also the only circumstance where the WHO (World Health Organization) considers male circumcision to be an acceptable means of STI prevention.

On top of all this, using STI prevention as an argument for neonatal male circumcision is preposterous as prepubescent (before puberty) males don’t have sex.

Phimosis

The inability to retract the foreskin over the glans penis (head of the penis) is commonly used as a medical reason to circumcise, however, this is typically misdiagnosed and actually a part of normal penile development.

Only 4% of males have a retractable foreskin at birth in contrast with 94% when they’re 9 years old and 99% when they’re 14, there are methods to solve even severe cases of phimosis using methods like topical steroid ointments and skin stretching instead of surgery.

Smegma is a buildup of dead skin cells and skin oils between the foreskin and the glans penis that should be washed off during the course of a proper hygiene, but it’s hard to do so if phimosis occurs, however, seeing as smegma is virtually non-existent up to 9 years old it naturally follows that phimosis isn’t a cause for alarm up to that age (unless it’s severe).

In 3% of the neonatally circumcised, the characteristic constriction of phimosis will appear due to scarring from circumcision and lead to trapped penis (penis gets trapped inside the body behind a narrowing in the skin). This problem can typically resolve itself over time without the need for surgery.

Balanitis

This inflammation of the penis is roughly twice as prevalent in the uncircumcised resulting in a total risk of 6% from 4 months to 12 years old, often due to deficient hygiene (the uncircumcised typically exhibit worse hygiene habits), it’s thus debatable if the lack of circumcision is actually the cause of any significant number or cases. Balanitis is very easily treatable.

Penile cancer

This is a rare cancer, the lifetime risk is approximately 0.17% for uncircumcised Americans down to 0.06% for Danish (almost all uncircumcised). The lifetime risk of penile cancer in neonatally circumcised Americans is hard to know with even relative certainty due to its rarity but the overall lifetime risk in Israelis (almost all circumcised) is 0.0075% which is about 12.5% that of Danish males. The 5 year survival rate for someone that developed penile cancer is 50%.

Phimosis may be one of the biggest risk factors for penile cancer, HPV is thought to be responsible for around 36% of them and smoking can increase the risk by 4.5 fold. Other causes are inflammations (like balanitis), smegma, congenital anomalies of the urinary tract, STI’s, hygiene and many sexual partners (in no particular order). In short, most risk factors of this rare cancer can be addressed voluntarily through proper hygiene, reduction of risk behaviors, and HPV vaccination while only some of them might warrant circumcision.

As opposed to developed nations, penile cancer is a common condition in certain African and South American countries, which further reinforces the notion that circumcision can have a situational rather than global importance.

Notes: When I speak of lifetime risks, if the figure isn’t in the linked resource it’s because it was calculated from yearly odds using 75 years old as average life expectancy or lifetime odds or raw figures.

Urinary Tract Infections

This review has calculated that the lifetime risk of UTI in the uncircumcised is 32% (probably overestimated) and in the circumcised is 9%, according to this, 4.3 circumcisions would be needed to treat 1 UTI. UTI’s are typically easy to treat with antibiotics and only very rarely they can lead to significant problems like sepsis (that can lead to death), these sorts of problems are so difficult to quantify that I couldn’t even find a ballpark figure. For a healthy degree of perspective on this matter, 84% of UTI’s occur in females, thus, even the uncircumcised are at significantly inferior risk than females.

Notes: The 32% and 9% figures are probably quite different from reality because there was only one study of adults in the review and it used a small non-random sample, the other studies only had males below 18 years old, and there were no studies on the elderly. The reason why the difference between the quantity of UTI’s in circumcised and uncircumcised males is probably overestimated is that one study that reported a significantly smaller difference (from birth to 3 years old) had a much better quality than any of the other studies. I’ve used this review because I couldn’t find a better one that estimated the lifetime risk of UTI in circumcised and uncircumcised males. I’ve tried to find data about the mortality and severe effects of UTI’s but couldn’t find anything useful, many UTI’s and related deaths happen due to hospitalization (which implies a pre-existing health condition) and usage of catheters which complicates getting usable data.

Immediate surgery complications

Circumcision is surgery, and as such, it entails risks. When done neonatally and properly the risk of immediate surgical complications is 0.2 to 0.6%. Serious immediate complications are very rare but they do exist in the form of, for example, hospital-acquired infections, death, removing almost all of the skin of the penis (de-gloving) and necrosis/amputation of the glans penis.

Late physical complications

Meatal stenosis (narrowing of the urethral opening of the penis) occurs in 9-10% of circumcised boys and needs surgery (meatotomy) to fix, this condition is rare in the uncircumcised. One study reports that meatal stenosis is preventable in those circumcised before reaching 2 years old if petroleum jelly is applied to the circumcision site after each diaper change for 6 months, unfortunately it doesn’t supply any information for those over 3 years old which apparently is when most cases of meatal stenosis develop.

Revision circumcision (having to circumcise for a second time) is very common and in 2009 it happened for approximately 22% of recently circumcised Americans up from 10% in 2004. Revision is mostly done in cases of redundant foreskin (when the first circumcision removed “too little” skin).

Penile adhesions (skin connections between parts of the penis that aren’t supposed to be connected) occur in 71% of circumcised males under 1 year old but resolve themselves over time down to 2% by 9 years old. At least 2% of the circumcised develop skin bridges by the time they reach 9 years old (a type of penile adhesion) involving the circumcision line for which surgical intervention is recommended.  Skin bridges are often considered to be “an uncommon complication of circumcision” which probably explains why I couldn’t find a number for the uncircumcised even though this problem is known to affect them as well. It’s possible to reduce the reincidence of these adhesions by pressing the suprapubic fat pad (the fat on the groin) to force the penis to protrude and then applying petroleum jelly (it makes mechanical sense that the primary incidence can also be reduced via this method). In recent years 12% of the circumcised eventually have a surgical intervention due to penile adhesions.

Pain

There’s a lot of pain if no anesthetics are used but there are also some very efficient techniques for mitigating pain. Of the physicians performing circumcisions in the U.S. only 45% use anesthesia for circumcision (the questionnaire was made in 1998 so it might not correctly represent nowadays practices). I’ve seen bigger percentages being mentioned but wasn’t able to confirm them, anyway, it’s still shocking that this number isn’t 100% or close to that, only a normal intelligence plus a working eye and ear are needed to understand that babies suffer a lot of pain if circumcision is performed without anesthesia, just search some videos of it and you’ll see, also, endorsement of the practice of torturing newborns (or any human being) isn’t in any known code of medical ethics. Maybe some infants don’t feel much pain (as per anecdotal evidence) but because we can’t tell those that won’t from those that will it’s always wise to request that the procedure is performed under adequate anesthesia.

Psychological trauma

There are concerns over psychological traumas that may arise due to circumcision and anecdotal evidence of suicide and depression, but, in general, there just haven’t been enough studies on this matter to be able to say much about it. It’s a fact that extremely distressful events (circumcision without anesthesia certainly qualifies) can potentially be traumatic and thus lead to abnormal behavior (like PTSD). Neonatal circumcision (especially without anesthesia) has been correlated with altered pain response 6 months after the procedure hinting to permanent or long-lasting psychological changes. 10% of the circumcised resent having been.

Sex

No arguments of improved sexual function/pleasure are valid for neonatal circumcision because, as stated above, prepubescent males don’t have sex.

Pro-circumcision advocates try to dismiss the foreskin as an erogenous zone (places that generate sexual arousal) while intactivists seek to include it. This division is deeply unhelpful, yes, the foreskin is very innervated and capable of transmitting many sorts of stimuli, but, our knowledge of it and how it relates to sexual pleasure is still clearly not complete enough. Sexuality is very complex and subjective, some people don’t feel much of anything when stimulated in the nipples or can’t experience a vaginal orgasm, others can reach an orgasm due to a foot massage or while experiencing intense pain, it would be totally unsurprising if the stimuli from the foreskin, even if it was mostly unconnected to sexual pleasure, would be very important to it for some people. Indeed there’s anecdotal evidence of increased pleasure after foreskin restoration (stretching shaft skin to make a crude foreskin replacement), so, it’s quite possible that that’s the case.

A way to predict or test the sexual outcome of circumcision for an individual would prove valuable for males facing this dilemma later in life as the reduced quality of sexual life, depending on how severe, might be far more difficult to accept than an increased chance of certain health problems, this same tool could also be used to promote circumcision for those that would sexually benefit from it.

Studies remain controversial as to what are the implications of circumcision in erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, sexual pleasure and overall sexual satisfaction. Much less studies were made that attempt to evaluate the effects of circumcision not in the circumcised but in their sexual partners. The WHO reports that the impacts of circumcision on sexual function remain unclear due to substantial bias.

Some of the effects of circumcision can be predicted using a bit of logic and understanding of the mechanical properties of the penis. The foreskin is part of the mobile skin of the penis, the more mobile skin is removed (due to circumcision), the less mobile the remaining skin becomes. In an uncircumcised penis this mobility allows for masturbation through vigorous comfortable stroking as the foreskin will roll over the glans penis repeatedly, stimulating it and producing sexual pleasure. The less mobile the skin is the shorter the strokes can be and the less it can roll over the glans penis and stimulate it. Sometimes there isn’t enough skin mobility remaining after circumcision to stimulate the glans penis and so other strategies like applying friction directly with the hand to the glans penis in a stroking motion are necessary, often with the aid of a lubricant to avoid chafing (you can confirm all of this by just watching some videos of it). Circumcision objectively limits males masturbatory options which might explain why it was advocated for masturbation prevention long ago when it was believed that masturbation was a mental disorder.

The mobile skin will reduce friction in the glans penis when penetration starts and in the shaft of the penis during thrusting. More friction means that more lubricant is required for the same action. In a scenario where only vaginal fluids are being used as sexual lubricant, and being produced in just enough quantity for the needs of comfortable intercourse with an uncircumcised male, a circumcised penis would cause chafing. I’ve searched for studies that talked about dyspareunia (painful intercourse), chafing, and unusual sensations in relation to circumcision status, unfortunately, none of them questioned the participants about their use of lubricants (like the always available saliva), which means that the findings are totally useless. Anyway, lubrication concerns can probably be considered minor as they’re easily solved by buying single use personal lubricant in bulk in the same way that’s typically done with condoms.

The reduction or lack of mobile skin leaves the glans penis more exposed during intercourse and thus more susceptible to stimulation which might explain why in certain studies many of the circumcised report a more pleasurable intercourse.

Other lifestyle implications

Both circumcised and uncircumcised should practice safe sex, keep their health in check and clean regularly, it’s easy and avoids most problems.
For the uncircumcised, while the foreskin is non-retractable, only clean what is seen, when it’s retractable, retract and clean.
For the circumcised, apart from everything that was already stated, there are still two more logical consequences of removing the foreskin. One is glans penis skin dryness as the foreskin keeps the glans penis moist (solved by moisturizing regularly) and the other is discomfort/pain in the glans penis during daily activities. The glans penis is very sensitive to pain and circumcision leaves it exposed to aggressions, more commonly it’ll be friction with clothing. There’s no shortage of circumcised males in Q&A websites and forums complaining about all of this, and, from the hundreds of testimonies that I’ve read, only very rarely someone that’s uncircumcised had the same complaints (it would be nice to have actual figures but I couldn’t find any).

Weighing the evidence

For this step I’ll exclude the STI’s, finding numbers for all of them divided by sex plus knowing which of those were caused by lack/improper condom use or lack of circumcision is a daunting task and completely unnecessary seeing as the effectiveness of circumcision can’t even compare to that of condoms and not using condoms nowadays completely defies rationality. I’ll be using the data collected above, only a small portion of it isn’t representative of a lifetime and I’ll be ignoring detail for the sake of achieving a comparison.

In 1,000 Uncircumcised males throughout their lives:
Phimosis – 10-60 cases that require treatment (1-6%)
Balanitis – 30-60 cases from 4mo-12yo (3-6%)
Penile cancer – 1-2 cases with 50% 5-year survival rate (0.06-0.17%)
UTI – 320 cases, an overestimation, associated deaths unknown (32%)

In 1,000  Neonatally circumcised males throughout their lives:
Balanitis – 30 cases from 4mo-12yo (3%)
Penile cancer – 0 cases (0.0075%)
UTI – 90 cases, associated deaths unknown (9%)
Immediate complications – 2-6 cases, deaths unknown but probably none (0.2–0.6%)
Meatal stenosis – 90-100 cases that require surgery, probable overestimation (9-10%)
Revision circumcision – 100-220 additional circumcisions (10-22%)
Adhesions – 20-120 cases that result in surgery (2-12%)
Circumcision – 1000 surgeries

Overall
Uncircumcised: 361-442 cases, 0-1 deaths, 361-442 treatments, 0 surgeries
Neonatally circumcised: 232-346 cases, 0 deaths, 122-126 treatments, 1210-1440 surgeries
Circumcision results in: 15-210 cases, 0-1 deaths and 235-320 treatments prevented with 1210-1440 surgeries for every 1000 people.

Conclusions

For each 1000 neonatally circumcised males in the U.S, it’s possible that 1 of them is saved from dying with penile cancer to go die from something else a few years later as the median age of diagnostic is 68 years old, which means, that in terms of preventing mortality in developed nations, circumcision is just a bad joke, especially seeing that from those 1000, 16 would kill themselves at some point during their lives.

The number of problems that are prevented with circumcision, the overwhelming majority of them minor and easily treatable, are at least 83% less than the number of circumcisions and associated surgeries, which means that it’s wiser to treat when there’s actually something to treat and only perform circumcision as a preventive measure in cases that truly justify it.

In developing nations where penile cancer and STI’s are a big concern the surgery can probably be postponed to puberty where the opinion of the minor will weigh on the parents decision as all of the protection from STI’s and the vast majority of penile cancers is still obtainable by then.

Unsurprisingly, the consensus of most health professionals is correct in not recommending routine neonatal circumcision on ethical grounds because the health benefits are too small to warrant a violation of bodily integrity.


The stuff that I think you should know (part 4) – Morality

In the grand scheme of things, morality is relative, proof of that is that stealing isn’t wrong or right in every situation, even the concept of right and wrong can be blurry at times, for example, when good actions might have been done for noble causes but ended up provoking unintended negative consequences. Some accept that morality is completely relative, and while that can certainly be true it just isn’t practical for most purposes, after all, fortunately, pretty much everyone everywhere understands that murder (the killing of other people without any appropriated justification) is always wrong, so, not really that relative.

Morality is extremely important in order to build harmonious social relationships but also to guide our rational thought process, proof of that is that a change in morality can lead to very different rational solutions to the same problem.
Example: Let’s say that food distribution issues have been solved throughout the globe but there’s still too little food to feed everyone. A moral person could appeal to a temporary rationing and a temporary increase in taxation for building massive state-funded agricultural facilities that would address the food shortage as quickly as possible, while an immoral person, on the other hand, could appeal to killing all elderly people in order to solve the same issue.

Rationality is very useful and, dare I say, in short supply nowadays, but, without positive and reasonable core values behind it, as evidenced above, rationality can go very wrong.

End

I hope you got some use out of what was discussed in this series of articles, many people would make much less mistakes if they got used to utilizing only a fraction of this. If you like the idea of thinking more clearly do know that this series of articles should be interpreted as the beginning of a learning curve, not the end.


The stuff that I think you should know (part 3) – Reasoning

This third article of the series of articles “The stuff that I think you should know” will explain how to utilize certain properties of logic and other useful related concepts. I will not be explaining logic in depth but with simple examples instead so it’s possible to “intuitively” grasp how it works.

Logic

Logic concerns itself with the form of arguments, if an argument has a certain form that obeys the rules of logic then it’s said to be logically valid.

Arguments

Arguments are formed by premises and conclusion. Premises are phrases that are meant to be analyzed logically in order to reach the conclusion, premises can also be used to increase the amount of support for a certain conclusion.

Deductive reasoning

Example:
Premise 1 – All humans are mammals
Premise 2 – Mary is human
Conclusion – Mary is a mammal

In a valid deductive argument if the premises are true and the language is unambiguous then the conclusion is necessarily true, like in the above example.

If the premise 1 was “All pandas are mammals” then a conclusion would not be logically possible because the premises shared no logical relationship.

If the premise 1 was “All humans are immortal” then the conclusion that “Mary is immortal” would be logically valid, however, because the premise that “All humans are immortal” is false then it should come as no surprise that the conclusion can also be false.

If the conclusion was “Mary is a plant” it would mean that the conclusion is logically invalid for it wasn’t logically derived from the premises (independently of if it’s true or not).

Inductive reasoning

Example:
Only 10 ducks were ever observed and all of them were white
All ducks are white

Inductive reasoning makes a logical “leap” (called an inference) from the premises to the conclusion. In inductive reasoning the premises provide support, the conclusion can vary in terms of likelihood but will never be guaranteed.

If the premise stated 100 ducks instead of 10 ducks the conclusion would be more likely.

If a premise saying that something was found in the ducks DNA that prevents them from being born non-white then the conclusion would be even more likely.

If a single non-white duck is observed, the hypothesis that all ducks are white is false and no amount of supporting evidence can ever sway it towards true again.

Abductive reasoning

Example:
The lawn is wet
If it rains the lawn gets wet
Therefore, it rained

Abductive reasoning, also known as inference to the best explanation, attempts to generate a probable explanation for an observation, informally we may consider this as guessing which is something humans do pretty well. This sort of reasoning is the same that is used in diagnostic medicine where doctors will take an educated guess to find the disease that supposedly caused the observed symptoms. There are typically many possible conclusions in abductive reasoning and it’s up to the person who’s using it to find the simplest and most likely of them. In the example above it would be possible for the conclusion to be wrong even though the premises were correct, there’s more than one cause for a wet lawn, like, sprinklers, garden hoses, plumbing leaks, and so on, so, for this reason, abductive reasoning should be avoided unless necessary (also, because it’s fallacious, more about that later in this article).

Informal discourse

Arguments don’t necessarily have to be stated as the above arguments were, arguments in real life tend to be stated in a much more informal way. Here are some examples of how the first argument of this article could be informally stated:

  • If all humans are mammals and Mary is a human then Mary is a mammal.
  • Mary is a mammal because she’s human and all humans are mammals.
  • How is Mary not a mammal? All humans are mammals and she’s human after all.

Equivalences

Some phrases are logically equivalent to some other phrases like “If it’s a human then it’s a mammal” is equivalent to “If it’s not a mammal then it’s not a human”. There are many types of logical equivalences and sometimes it’s helpful to rephrase in order to make connections or mistakes more apparent. It would be lengthy to go in-depth on this topic but a good way to spot what works and what doesn’t is to think of categories as it was explained in the previous articles.

Example:
“If it’s a human then it’s a mammal” clearly states that the human category belongs to the mammal category, hence,“If it’s not a mammal then it’s not a human” can only be true and equivalent. Other true phrases can be derived from this information even though they aren’t logically equivalent, like “if it’s a mammal it might be a human” and “if it’s a non-human we have no idea if it’s a mammal or not”.

Fallacies

Fallacies are reasoning errors, sometimes intentional sometimes not, it’s not very difficult to identify such errors but an easy trick is questioning ourselves something along the lines of “what does this have to do with what we’re discussing?” or “in what situations is this statement demonstrably false?”. Some of these errors are so common that names were attributed to them, I will list a few:

Burden of proof fallacy – When someone says that their own claim is up to others to prove or disprove.
Ad hominem fallacy – When someone attacks a person (usually with insults or undermining it’s credibility) instead of their argument.
Appeal to ignorance fallacy – When both parties cannot prove that something is or isn’t true one of the parties will assume that his claim is correct by default.
Bandwagon fallacy – When someone says that because a lot of people do and/or believe in something it must, therefore, be correct.
The fallacy fallacy – When someone says that because it’s opponent’s reasoning contains a fallacy then it’s claim must be deemed false.
Cherry picking fallacy – When someone picks data to support their claim while ignoring data that goes against it.
Red herring fallacy – When someone creates a distraction to shift the focus of a discussion.

And many more…

Standard of proof

Should you believe everything people tell you? Of course not, it would be very mentally challenging and very unproductive to do so, but, it would also be extreme and very unproductive to never believe anything, so, where do you draw the line between what you don’t know, what you think you might know and what you think you know, the barely/very/extremely likely or unlikely? In short, when are you certain enough to believe something?

The amount of evidence it takes for you to make these decisions is called a standard of proof, it’s not very helpful to define to yourself what would your standard be for everything you come across but it’s important that it’s reasonably reachable. If there’s a topic that can be subjected to rational inquiry and you don’t have a standard of proof you’ll either believe everything people say about it (be a mindless drone) or you won’t believe in anything about it (be a closed-minded person).

Standards of proof are used all the time in courts depending on the nature of a case, ranging from “more likely than not” to “beyond a reasonable doubt”, however, unlike courts that consider people “innocent until proven guilty” and therefore make the burden of proof rely heavily on the accusation, science and philosophy don’t hold that position for claims, if you claim it, the burden of proof is on you.

Occam’s razor

Occam’s razor is part of a group of tools called philosophical razors which are typically single phrase rules of thumb meant to cut through clutter to get to the bottom of things, it’s also the only razor I’ll mention here even though other useful razors exist. Philosophical razors, just like real razors, should not be used carelessly, they are useful but sometimes they can also cut important things, no conclusion from the usage of a philosophical razor is guaranteed.

Occam’s razor, specifically, is a principle for elegance and simplicity that states that “Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected”, this means that if two hypothesis have the same power for explaining a given observation the one that assumes less unproven things is considered the most likely candidate by default.

Example:
The car has flat tire.
Option 1 – We ran over something sharp that punctured the tire
Option 2 – Someone drove something sharp into the tire thus puncturing it
Occam’s razor – Both options have the same explanatory power, however, option 1 assumes one thing while option 2 assumes two things, therefore, option 1 is the most likely.


The stuff that I think you should know (part 2) – Perspective

This second article of the series of articles “The stuff that I think you should know” will attempt to explain some concepts that allow you to change your perspective in the context of problem-solving.

Categorizing

Categories can encompass a variety of things that share one or various properties between themselves, they can contain, be contained, be independent and overlap with other categories, relations between categories can many times be context dependent.
Examples: If one is told to organize the categories “Horses” and “White” in a realistic way he can’t put “Horses” inside “White” as not every horse is white and he can’t put “White” inside “Horses” as not everything that is white are horses, due to some horses being white he can’t separate them either, so, these categories necessarily intersect, but, if the context was “colors of horses” then it would become perfectly acceptable to put “White” inside “Horses”.

Abstraction

Abstraction is a way to make complex things more manageable (seemingly less complex) by producing abstract concepts of those things or by simply ignoring less important details.
Think of a tree, not a specific tree, just a tree. Most people will imagine something with a dark brown vertical wooden trunk with some simple or ambiguously shaped crown with a lot of green leaves, not all trees have these characteristics, obviously, if we see a tree with a white trunk and a purple crown we will certainly mention those categories along with the word “tree” if we want to communicate what we saw to another person because we believe that the other person’s concept of “tree” is similar to ours, which is probably true. In this situation the general look of all trees was reduced to that basic description that is our abstract concept of “tree” because there was no need for more detail.
Think of what trees do for us humans and our environment. Suddenly, the look of the tree becomes a secondary or irrelevant thing and what’s in your mind is more likely to be that it provides oxygen, shade, fruits, lumber, and so on. In this situation trees were reduced to a simple narrow set of characteristics because, again, there was no need for more detail.
Draw something that’s enough to be identified by most people as a tree. A brown vertical line with a green circle on top is probably enough.
These are examples of how abstraction works and how we use it in our daily lives.

Blackboxing

Blackboxing is a kind of abstraction that focuses on cause and effect. To open a locked door to his house the owner just inserts the key in the hole in the lock, rotates it a certain way, and the door opens as a result, it works even if he doesn’t know anything about how the lock works inside, this is an example of blackboxing, the owner can treat the lock as a metaphorical black box, as something mysterious, the only thing he needs to know about it is that when the lock is supplied with a certain input (key + rotate) a certain output occurs (door opens).
This is a powerful abstraction method that allows to very quickly determine how to do something complex by taking several “black boxes” and organizing them together until a certain input results in the desired output. Each successive black box that is connected will output a modified output of the previous black box until the desired result is reached.

Let’s say that someone wanted to build a flashlight but knew next to nothing about electricity and electrical components, he would essentially need some source of light that operates on electricity (so a black box that takes electricity as input and outputs light) and a source of electricity (a black box that outputs electricity). Now he would begin his search for the real components represented by the black boxes, he would find that for the “electricity black box” there are rechargeable and non-rechargeable batteries in a great range of different chemistries, dynamos, photovoltaic panels and so on, as for the “electricity as input, light as output black box” he would also have some choices like incandescent, fluorescent or LED, the point being, without even being aware of his choices he was capable of identifying at least two hypothetical crucial components, their rough properties and how they related to each other to achieve a certain goal. Sometimes the available choices for the real world representation of one black box don’t exist or don’t seamlessly connect with the choices for other black boxes, the solution for these cases is to either pick alternative components or add intermediary black boxes that convert the output of one to an input that the other can work with.

Analyzing

Analysis consists of breaking things down (concepts, hypothesis, sentences, etc..) to it’s constituent parts and examining them in depth as the situation may require in order to obtain a more complete understanding of said thing.