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Davis, California

Friday, February 23, 2024

Runner-up, reason

Something I’ve come to realize about UC Davis, the public school system and perhaps the whole of American intellectualism is just how much emphasis there is on reason, so much so that I believe that there is an over-emphasis on it. A quick word of caution to all you rationalists out there – stop for a second, take a few breaths into a little brown paper bag and read the rest of this before you decide to somehow reason me into a small poof-cloud of nonexistence.

In order for any claim or argument to be accepted by our community, it must first be logically proven or at least sound enough to provide a working foundation to build upon with further claims to knowledge. In many cases, this is rightly so because it’s not wise to take anyone’s word on just anything. In the process of learning, being scrupulous is fundamental. However, I wish to distinguish between learning and discovery.

Throughout our school “career” we’ve been taught things that someone else has discovered. Logic and reason served as our intellectual strainer. But now we are rapidly approaching a position from which we are able to make discoveries. Many seem to think that reason is also the sole ladder to reach these new truths. I argue to the contrary.

I concede that some discoveries have occurred by this reasoning process, taking two things we already know confirmed by logic, manipulating them to form something new and then make a new piece of knowledge. It’s kind of like the Power Rangers forming their giant cardboard robot. However, the truly world-changing and mind-altering discoveries began with faith or a certain intuition or just plain old luck/coincidence/providence. In general, the story goes: some genius suddenly understood something, and then reason caught up later on.

Take Isaac Newton for example. He somehow just understood that masses attract one another, and even more remarkably, he understood that they did so in predictable patterns. He then used reason and logic to confirm that this was so, but there was no explanation why. Why do masses attract each other? A question that becomes, why does quark “spin” create this attraction? He didn’t know. He just used this leap of faith to create the cornerstone of physics, and by extension the headaches and tears of millions of undergrads everywhere.

This brings me to Albert Einstein. I hesitate to make the following reference, not only since it will undoubtedly bring about my own social destruction but also perhaps my girlfriend’s or anyone else who is even associated with me as my friend (sorry Mae and everyone). But according to a Big Bang theory documentary on either the History Channel or the Discovery Channel that I was watching either Friday or Saturday night, Albert Einstein began with certain inklings, intuitions or beliefs about the universe and then proceeded to confirm them with reason. Going about in this way resulted in his theory of relativity, the notion of a weaving together of space-time as an explanation for gravitational forces, and a forever altered face of physics as a whole.

Having just revealed how I spend my weekends, excuse me for a second while I recoup and try to salvage any social acceptance I have left.

That was just physics. My claim holds with the greatest of discoveries like Alexander Fleming and Penicillin, Euclid and his axioms, Frege and his system of logic, and early man and fire. All of these are either accidental or so revolutionary that there were no pieces of knowledge present that they were able to build off of, but instead made their own foundation from their intuition.

I just find it interesting that the greatest discoveries in what are considered the logical and scientific disciplines required a certain amount of faith.


JEREMY MALLETT welcomes any and all e-mails except for the ones that contain arguments that will poof him out of existence. He would very much like to keep his asocial existence. Send them to jjmallett@ucdavis.edu.


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