Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Weak Reason

Steve, a local author and long-term martial artist (who gets the credits for one of the best insults I've ever heard) picked up on something in the post "Balancing Act" that is worth a look. The meat of it:

"Reason, as I understand the term, is hardly weak. Expecting other folks to act reasonably, in their own best interests, that's a different beast. People do stupid things.But one of the reasons you train is to be able to do the smart thing when necessary, and without a foundation in reason, you can't learn those things."- Steve Perry

Each piece is sensible. It just rarely works.

There is nothing wrong with the _process_ of reason. The scientific method is the best bullshit detector ever discovered. Deductive logic is a powerful tool; inductive logic probably more powerful if also more prone to sampling error.

The problem with martial artists or administrators or politicians trying to apply reason to violence is that reason is based on extrapolating from knowns to unknowns. Very few people have any idea how many of their "knowns" especially in violence, are actually "thunks" as in, "I thunk so...".

Peope try to reason from what they know of human movement and come up with good moves... but people don't move the same way under adrenaline load.

They come up with expectations of effects of impact and pain and damage... none of which are quite the same when the threat is enraged or drugged or psychotic or...

They base their defenses on reasonable attacks, defining a reasonable attack from their own experience, a balance of offense and defense designed to give you the best chance of winning a fight with the least chance of taking injury... and are totally unprepared for the speed, power, surprise or extremely close range of a sudden assault.

Even reason itself, the ability to make good decisions, is severely affected by fear and surprise, leaving the problem that the brain that learned what to do is chemically very different from the brain that has to pull it off.

Steve is right- it's not that reason is weak, not by itself. But the products of reason, the systems put together because they 'should' work fail very consistantly. They work really well when tested in laboratory (or dojo) experiments. They fall apart in chaos.

The problem is that the reasoners not only have no good valid basis for their extrapolation, they are unaware of that fact. Just like some people assume that the worst pain they have felt gives them a touchstone to the worst pain someone else has felt (never tell a mother who just lost her child that you understand because your goldfish died when you were five) they assume that the conflicts they have dealt with (schoolyard fights or boxing matches or family arguments) prepare them for an ambush or a gang stomping or an experienced killer.

It's not the same. A gold medal in fencing will teach you about as much about rape survival as getting raped will teach you about fencing.

In things we consider technical fields, this is obvious. Medics need to learn how physiology works to start guessing at solutions to problems. Reason without background led to medical beliefs like "any red flower must be good for the blood." Pure logic led to the obvious belief that heavy things fall faster than light things- and this is a good analogy, because to disprove that, Galileo had to drop some stuff off the tower of Pisa. Just like finding the holes in a self-defense system, somebody had to go out and try it in the real world.

Violence is special because very few people have enough experience to try to deduce and, for me, the more experience I have the more signifcant the weirdness and luck seem and the less likely I am to say "X is true, Y is false."
Yet every one, it seems, everyone feels that they have some instinctive understanding of it. They act as if the years of daydreaming about fighting the gang to win the girl are actual experience.

I think language is the closest analogy (which brings it back to Steve). Everyone speaks, has done so for most of their lives, and so many assume they can write. People who don't actually speak that well think that they do, and then decide that they can write well and then... they reason out what would be the next sure-fire block buster. How often does that work? How often was a classic written with classic in mind?

Violence and Language. Steve writes, and he writes well (I dimly remember some of his books from the days of yore when I read fiction- that's a high compliment) and it was a combination- he wrote a lot, he practiced and polished his craft BUT (and this is the difference between a best seller and a wannabe) he put it out there, sent it to magazines and publishers. The real world told him which of his bright ideas or clever wordings were actually good, solid or insightful. At this stage he probably doesn't remember how many of his worst early writing habits and assumptions about 'good writing' seemed reasonable and logical all those decades ago.

I've even seen him try to share his experience with budding writers.

Steve, thanks for making me think this out.

To sum up, reason must be based on a set of basic facts. If those basic facts are wrong, the reasoned solution is liable to be ineffective. Most people, dealing with violence are starting from a set of facts that range from myth to nonsense- and what they produce is ...less than optimal.

14 comments:

Kai Jones said...

Yeah, look, reason is a *tool*--it's a method, not an answer. The result of using it still depends on the materials you use it on, and the person operating it.

What's tripping me up in your examples is that the assumptions you describe people making are stunningly stupid to me.

Steve Perry said...

I think perhaps we are closer, but not there yet. I didn't see anything that makes "reason" weak, only that an unrealistic expectation is apt to get you thumped.

Reason is why we can put on our pants; why we came up with them; why we call them that -- common language being reasonable as compared to everybody using his or her own word for 'em.

Training in angry pajamas in bare feet on a padded mat gives you something, but it probably isn't street cred.

And obviously, even in "realistic" training, you can't cut completely loose without breaking your toys, in which case you can't play with them.

Somewhere there is middle ground, else why bother to train in anything?

The stereotypical three-hundred-pound biker on angel dust is apt to be difficult to predict -- maybe he'll behave '"reasonably," maybe he won't. Having spent some time training in a state mental hospital, I did learn that such hopes weren't something upon which you wanted to risk your ass.

If, as a martial artist, you are behind the power curve and reacting, you are in big trouble.

I like your posting on dealing with the blade -- it mirrors my training, which is that a guy with a knife who has a clue what he is doing against a barehanded guy is going to have himself a fine old time slicing and dicing. Bare, you are gonna get cut, and if you are lucky, you might be able to direct it somewhere non-fatal.

In such a case, even though it would seem anti-intuitive, going in against the knifer might work better than backing away. That's based on something that has worked, and is, therefore, a reasoned -- and reasonable -- response.

Part of our particular martial philosophy boils down to this: What you do isn't as important as what I do. If I wait for you to come to me and launch your attack, maybe I can pass it, maybe not. But if I go in before you get good and cranked, the advantage shifts.

Me, I'm going to be the guy walking away, so whatever I have to do to manage that, that's what I do. What happens to you, your problem.

What will I do? Won't have a clue until it happens, but I'm fairly confident something will be in the toolbox. I've spent forty-odd years stocking it, the last dozen or so in silat, and I could be wrong, but it would be a reasonable assumption to think I might have something other than covering my head and crying for mercy ...

Steve Perry said...

Insults? Moi? You must have me mixed up with somebody else.

What, uh, was it I said?

Steve Perry said...

Another thought:

In a formal syllogism, a thing may be constructed logically, as you point out, but still untrue: Joe is a crow. All crows are white. Therefore, Joe is white.

Logical, but based on false information, and the conclusion is untrue, since all crows aren't white.

Try this one, and see if my reasoning is weak or untrue:

Police officers are often required to arrest people.
Criminals sometimes violently resist arrest.
Therefore ,to arrest people, police officers should sometimes be prepared to overcome violent criminals.

And this one:

Psychosis, drugs, or heightened emotional states can cause a person to behave irrationally. Criminals are sometimes psychotic, drugged, or emotional labile. Therefore, criminals will sometimes behave irrationally.

Knowing this, then being prepared for the irrational makes sense. Logical, reasonable, sense. And if that preparation is based on experience -- either yours or whoever taught you -- then your chances for success would seem to me to be improved.

Most of the stuff I've learned in MA would not be suitable for a street cop in dealing with bad guys.
Nor could I teach enough of my current art in a weekend seminar to be particularly useful. Our art involves learning a system based on principles, and it takes a fair amount of time to learn properly. It's like a car -- take away any big part of the motor, it doesn't run well, if at all.

Street cops require specialized training, I'll stipulate that, and a lot of what comes out of traditional martial arts doesn't transfer. Classroom knife blocks and passes for the slomo Norman Bates overhand stab will surely get you killed against somebody who can actually use a knife.

On the other hand, citizens not working as LEOs have different standards of conduct, and are allowed different ways to defend themselves.
I don't have to arrest some psycho who is cranked up, all I have to do is keep him from bashing my head in. If his arms don't work or he is unconscious, that will go a ways to keeping my skull intact ...

Kai Jones said...

Steve Perry wrote: I don't have to arrest some psycho

Exactly, and in fact the author of this blog teaches this to people who are not LEOs.

Steve Perry said...

Kai --

I'm not debating whether or not police tactics can be taught to civilians to some good effect, or that Rory isn't expert in such tactics. I'm here because a martial artist I respect pointed to this blog, and I like much of what I've seen here.

I'm postulating that the statement "reason is weak" has not been demonstrated in this discussion to be true.

Burden of proof is on the affirmative. What I've heard is that the assumption that somebody will behave reasonably can get you into trouble if they don't. No argument with that. Expecting a violent criminal to behave rationally might indeed be a tactical error, which is what I think Rory is actually saying.

Not "reason is weak," but "expecting reasonable behavior from a crazy person is unwise."

More a question of semantics and defintions, I think.

Being unprepared to deal with crazy shit does not equate to "reason being weak." Because some people are irrational doesn't mean that everybody should abandon that way of thinking. From where I sit, to do so would be foolish, since this particular tool is one of the most useful ones ever devised, and so far, nothing said here shows me otherwise.

The premise of a good martial art as I understand it involves learning effective ways to move; there are only so many of these. No matter how you dress it up, a punch is a punch. There are only so many ways to launch it. They are, ispo facto, limited by the form of the puncher.

If a loon goes postal, he is still going to be limited by his bipedal form, along with the physics of living at the bottom of a gravity well. If he wants to cover the space between himself and me, he has to obey those laws and use the same physiology as other humans.

Martial arts look at the possible ways for him to get from there to here, and what best one can do to prevent that.

Yeah, he can jump into the air, slap himself on the arse, and cluck like a chicken as part of his attack, but that's not the most efficient way of covering the ground. If a defender learns effective ways of dealing with efficient attacks, lesser ones should, in theory, be easier to handle.

If you leap at me, once you are in the air, you aren't going to alter your trajectory a whole bunch. I see you coming and both my feet are on the ground, I can move out the way, and you can't do anything about that until you land.

If I can take care of your Sunday punch, then your Tuesday shot isn't going to be a problem. Yes, if you are amped on drugs or seeing demons, that might give you more juice than the average guy, but the point is the same: If I can deal with the worst you can offer, then I'm good.

Reason tells me to to train for that. Without reason, we ain't having this debate. Reason is the bedrock of science, and stronger than spider silk.

Kai Jones said...

Steve, I come back to reason is a tool. In a sense it's the only one we have (although many people don't choose to use it), so I don't know how you can measure how strong it is. We don't have much in the way of instinct (which is a substitute for reason, I think).

Would you consider that an alternative to reason is choosing based on feelings?

PS I am not a student of MA, although in a larger sense I consider myself a student of Rory's.

Perhaps we could continue this over drinks at Orycon? I'd be happy to buy the first round.

Steve Perry said...

I'll be there -- there's a schedule of where and when, but I can't find my copy. Look me up, you get a chance. I dunno how much free time I'll have -- we got in-laws and a niece and nephew coming in early for Thanksgiving, and they might be there, but at least say hello ...

Mark said...

There goes my wife again, making dates....

Kai Jones said...

Steve: will do.

Mark: you're welcome to join us, I know you like Steve.

Mac said...

Kai - you exactly defined the crminal mentality - they choose based on feeling. It's why, when you ask them to explain/define their crime, they automatically lie - you know it's a lie, but to them, it's the truth - their truth based on the way they feel at the time of the question. They act based on feelings - a more 'primitive' and thus faster and more powerful system of expression. No reason - just action.

Rory said...

Scotch at the con sounds good. I'll bring some Ardbeg.

Steve, in a way, you are an order of magnitude off from what I am actually trying to say. To paraphrase greatly: Bad guys are often irrational, hence hard to predict. Preparing for that is reasonable.

First, there are three bases for martial knowledge-
1) Tradition, which is learning what other people have taught you.
2) Experience, which is finding out the hard way
3) Reason, which is attempting to decide what is likely to work from the facts at hand.

The problem with solutions or techniques based on reason isn't because the bad guys are illogical. Many of them are coldly efficient (I'll have a video there this weekend).

The problem is that if the reason (and often the tradition) don't occassionally get a field test, they spin off into pure fantasy. It is very easy, and fun, to use logic and extrapolation to design an animal for a specific environment, but if you haven't seen the environment, you can't even tell which of your most basic assumptions are incorrect.

I'll have a video at the con this weekend that I've been given permission to share. It shows a deputy being murdered. There is no question that he was trained in what to do, no question that he knew what he had to do and even when... but he couldn't make himself do it and he died, screaming.

The most basic assumption in most training- not just martial arts but most cops ignore it too, is the belief that you will fight with the same cognition and physiology that you train with. You don't. (In the third stage/ second second of a fight, if you are lucky enough to get there, all the training pays off and you start to approach it).

When the cornerstone assumptions- this is who I am, this is what my body can do, this is how I make decisions- are short circuited, everything reasoned from those assumptions is likely to fail.

Experience can point this out, but it is hard as hell to survive enough experience to really find "answers" or even general rules.

Tradition is good, if it came from good sources and has been properly transmitted it is just other people's accumulated experience, but it is very vulnerable to being 'fixed' by people who don't know what they are doing.

Clearer?

And for the record, I don't consider this a debate. A lot of good people, Mac in particular, have spent enough time on the edge that we've had to make up and adapt our own words. The thoughts and insights are rarely the problem, it's almost always the words.

Kai- Sorry if it trips you up, but, kiddo, when you've seen knife disarms that cut your own throat and the sensei can't see it or people advertising "safe and effective knife disarms"... it takes some pretty damn stupid assumptions. Or a willful blindness to real life.

Kai Jones said...

Mac: I have an "advantage": I grew up with criminals. My mother's boyfriend, from the time I was 9 until I was 15, was a drug dealer; most of the family friends were drug users, thieves and fences.

Rory: You know you don't have to shape your words for me, I was just whinging about the work I have to do to be a receptive listener.

Mac said...

Kai, check out Dave Grossman's puppy brain vs reasoning brain for a good explanation of the disconnect of rationality vs reason.