Reason Zara Akhtar's digital portfolio


  • Zara Akhtar
  • Ben Abueg, Tyler Handin, Eduardo Gonzalez
  • February 14th - February 23rd
  • WOK Badge: Reason
  • The Limits of Reason

Journal 2/16/17

Beginning of class: What is the main point about your WOK that you want to make in your Badge Project? If you haven’t decided yet, write out possible points you want to make.

I think the main point that we want to make in our project regards the natural rationalness of humans. Our essential question is “Are humans instinctively rational?” I am not sure about the answer to this question right now, but I have some ideas on points to make. The first is that there is no black and white answer, we can use our specific premises to make a general conclusion (inductive reasoning), but there is no overarching, universal, response that can be true for every person. In other words, we can’t really come to a valid conclusion, as there will be no way that the conclusion is an escapable result of the premises. There will always be outliers, even if there are very few, therefore the conclusion can never be inescapable in this case. I think we might try a skit to show how humans might or might not be instinctively rational. Something else we can explore is "How reliable is reason as a way of knowing?" We can talk about the main point "Reason is only as certain as the premises on which it is based." We won't be talking about syllogisms, because they are at a basic level and we want to explore something more advanced. We could do a skit and show how reason is reliable or not as a way of knowing.

End of Class:

I think that we’re going to stick with our question, but change up the wording a little bit. It is now “What are the limits of reason as a way of knowing?” We also changed our main point, and the improved one is “Reason works well when used with other WOK’s, but does not provide us with the truth when used alone.” Our main focus will be validity and invalidity, as well as the fallacies. In this class period, we struggled to find an original way to present our information.This is because people in our group have done these things before, and we don’t want to repeat them so the presentations aren’t too similar. During this class period we struggled to figure out an original way to present our ideas; everything that we were coming up with would play itself out as a skit or experiment. We finally settled on a game of sorts, where we will involve the students so they can have an interactive learning experience. We are going to have a deck of cards, and we’ll have either premises or conclusions on them, we’re not sure which one at the moment. The class will have to guess the conclusion or what premises it came from, and then we will move on to explain validity, invalidity, and fallacies.

Journal 2/21/17

Beginning of class: What’s your plan for your project? Restate your point.

So we decided to focus on the essential question: What are the limits of reason as a way of knowing? We want to make the main point that “Reason works well when used with other WOK’s, but does not provide us with the truth when used alone.” We want to teach a lesson to the class, and to make sure that it isn’t boring we are going to do some sort of a fun activity. Our working idea is to have a deck of cards with conclusions on them, and we will ask the audience to try and think of the premises. We will stress how sometimes false premises can lead to valid and true conclusions, and how sometimes even true premises can lead to invalid and false conclusions. We want to make sure to demonstrate that our way of thinking and “reason” are inherently flawed, and cannot always be completely trusted. This systematic thinking is a process which goes on in our head, but we don’t think about the steps. We want to break down the steps and explain how our mind actually thinks about things, and in so we will portray how our mind can come to false conclusions. We also want to talk about the ten fallacies. One thing that we want to make sure of is that we don’t turn our activity into a boring lesson; our aim is to make it as fun as possible so the audience can learn and be interactive in the discussion.

End of Class: What did you learn today about your WOK? How prepared are you for your Badge Project? What’s left to do? Be specific.

I learned about fallacies and how our systematic thinking is inherently flawed. There are many different types of fallacies, and many of them are very prevalent in our everyday life. Some of them that stuck out to me were ad hominem, ad ignorantium, and post hoc ergo propter hoc. Ad ignorantium is very relevant to our society, and says that it exists when one “claims something is true because it cannot be proven to be false.” An example of this is ghosts, where people claim they are real because it hasn’t been proven that they aren’t real. Ad hominem is shown when someone attacks/supports the person rather than the argument. An example of this is “Einstein supported world government, meaning it must be a good thing.” In this case, the reader is supporting the person rather than the actual argument. Post hoc ergo propter hoc is when someone confuses a correlation with a causal connection. An example of this if someone eats candy bars before a test and makes an A, they cannot say they made an A because of the candy bars. We are pretty well prepared for our badge project, we just need to finish up our powerpoint and organize our cards in the way they will be handed out.

Journal 2/23/17

After presentation/Reflection Journal:

I think that our presentation went fairly well, as we communicated our points in an organized and efficient manner. Our playing card idea played itself out pretty well, and the class came to the conclusions that we wanted them to. I honestly did not realize how many fallacies were present in our daily life, and how we tend to overlook many. Ad hominem is everywhere in our current day politics, and Donald Trump is a very good example. When he responds to people’s arguments, he doesn’t critique and respond to the statement itself, but attempts to undermine the other’s argument by attacking the person who said it. He is a perfect real-life example of ad hominem being overlooked in our time. Another one fallacy that is really common is ad ignorantium. You hear it all the time when people are arguing about something that is clearly wrong; they say that because it has not been proven to be false, it is true. This is an incorrect statement because, as we learned from our badge project, you cannot prove a statement to be false. I also realized that we tend to trust reason a little too much, as it happens so fast in our head that we just assume it to be true. We don’t think everything through, and end up jumping to conclusions. This presentation really opened my eyes to the fact that the systematic thinking in our heads can just as easily be incorrect.

Three knowledge questions I encountered:

  • What are the limits of reasoning?
  • How reliable is inductive reasoning?
  • Are humans instinctively rational?

Elective Reading

Colm Kelleher: “What is Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox?”

Essential Question: What are the limits of reasoning?

I think that Zeno's dichotomy paradox relates to how unreliable our reasoning actually is. There are so many instances where the structure of our thinking is correct, but it leads us to an incorrect conclusion. In Zeno's paradox, you divide the time it takes to get to a destination in half, and then add the remaining time in half, and logically you should be able to reach your destination in the same amount of time. But if you look at the numbers, they will never add up to the original amount. This flaw is known as Zeno's Dichotomy paradox. This is a limit of reasoning because the systematic structure is completely correct but it leads to a false conclusion.

Extension Proposal

Ted talk by Steven Pinker and Rebecca Newberger Goldstein: The Long Reach of Reason oldstein_the_long_reach_of_reason

This relates to the essential question: are humans instinctively rational? It talks about how irrationality seemed to rule both politics and culture in the past, and people pondered whether or not reasoned thinking had lost its power. Psychologist Steven Pinker and philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein discuss if reason is actually the key driver of human moral progress, even if its effect sometimes takes generations to unfold. I think that this should be added to our elective readings because it pertains to the topic of reason and connects to a particular essential question. It also applies reason to politics and history, making it more applicable to our interests.

Badge Project Presentation

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