Extract from Chapter 2. The nature of your nature.
The general form of the specious appeal – this seems to have certain traits in common with that, therefore this is that – is a comically obvious error when you state it plainly. The people who make these sorts of arguments can’t state anything plainly, of course, so you need to train your mind to unpack their claims. If there are significant differences in kind between the “this” and the “that” – regardless of their seemingly “uncanny” similarities – the argument is most probably deploying the Specious Analogy Fallacy.
As a sort of pocket-reference to the kinds of bogus arguments made about your mind – claims you will see everywhere if you look for them – take note of these three general categories:
1. “We now know we know nothing!” Either your mind is inherently unreliable or the world outside your mind is fundamentally incomprehensible.
2. “Your good behavior is not to your credit, but at least your bad behavior is not your fault!” The actions you think of as being morally good or evil are either causally unavoidable or are caused by something other than your free will – hormones, brain chemistry, genes, brain defects, drugs, diseases, your upbringing, your environment, your wealth or poverty, memes, etc.
3. “Dancing bears are just like us!” Either animals such as apes or dolphins (or even “artificially intelligent” computer programs) are just as smart as you, or you are just as flailingly ignorant as an animal.
Note that all three of these categories are self-consuming: To uphold them, necessarily, is to deny them. If we know we know nothing, then we must know at least that one something – begging the question of how we can know even that little bit of nonsense. If the human will is not free, I cannot will myself to persuade you of this claim – nor even simply to make it – and you cannot will yourself either to accept or reject it. And if your mind works “just like” an animal’s brain, then you cannot discover anything at all about how your mind works, nor record or communicate your findings. Do you doubt me? If so, please have your pet or your software project write a peer-reviewed paper denouncing my egregious intellectual arrogance. No one believes this hogwash. They just want for you to believe it – or at least not dare to challenge it.
But what about denigrations of your mind that are factually true? For example, can adrenaline in your bloodstream temporarily induce you to act out of proportion to your circumstances? Yes. Can pheromones goad you to dance horizontally with someone you should never even have danced with vertically? Yes. Can you make an error of perception in your apprehension of sense evidence, or can you make an error of knowledge in your reasoning about that evidence? Yes. Can you choose unwisely? Oh, yes! – especially when it comes to choosing whom to listen to about the nature of human nature.