Proofs of Logical Decision Making
It is estimated that, on average, people make approximately 35,000 decisions a day. From the moment we wake up, we decide things as large as what to wear to things as small as where to place our feet when we walk. Subconsciously, we forget these smaller choices in light of the bigger ones, the ones we see as most influencing our future selves. But this in itself is impossible. A professor of mine recently explained it as a matter of physics: “To examine an object in motion, you must segment time. However, in doing that, you can no longer predict where the object is going or from where it came.”
People also have the ingrained need to make sense of things. Even my phone’s lock screen is an artistic rendering of the words “It will all make sense.” We attach human qualities to inanimate objects, and we try to justify our actions in terms of what’s “good.” We often unnecessarily overlay our own opinions on other people, offering advice that we ourselves don’t follow. And in this way, we subjugate our lives to one particular set of these 35,000 decisions, instead of the literal infinite number of ways they can play out (seriously–just try taking the factorial of 35,000).
Nonetheless, people still try to fit others’ decisions into a one-size-fits-all rubric. Similar to a geometric proof, we assume that if we follow a singular line of logic, we will eventually lead each other to one understandable, satisfactory answer. In his extensive paper, “The History and Concept of the Mathematical Proof,” mathematician Steven G. Krantz describes the use of mathematical proofs as the following: “[the geometric proof] is the tightly knit chain of reasoning, following strict logical rules, that leads inexorably to a particular conclusion. It is [the] proof that is our device for establishing the absolute and irrevocable truth of statements in our subject.”
Given: Let explanatory proofs equal x, let life equal y, and let the concept of beauty equal z.
Now let’s say that I’ve found evidence saying explanatory proofs (x) are beautiful (z). Next, let’s say that I’ve found life (y) to also be beautiful (z). Therefore, if both x and y equal z, then x must equal y, thus making life explainable via a single proof. In fact, I’ve had many people try to convince me of this proposed truth.1
Prove that x=y=z
|1. “You should be a doctor or a lawyer.”2||Six figure median pay scale|
|2. “You need to experience life outside of your hometown, away from your parents.”3||The rural brain drain4|
|3. “You don’t have a boyfriend?”||MRS Degree5|
|4. “Of course you want to get married and have kids!”||Cult of Domesticity6|
|5. “You’re wasting your potential.”7||Erikson’s Industry vs. Inferiority Complex8|
|6. “You shouldn’t tell people you voted for [insert Democratic candidate here].”||The elephant in the room9|
|7. “Should you be eating that if you have diabetes?”10||Side effect of the DietCulture11 prescription|
|8. “Stop worrying. If you would just do what I’m telling you to do, everything will work out. You’ll be happy.”||And wouldn’t that be beautiful?12|
1 “You will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance
2 As opposed to my chosen occupation (and much smaller salary): a high school teacher.
3 This is said regardless of the fact that I have attended the Governor’s Honors Program, the Washington, D.C. Youth Tour, and a mission trip to the Philippines all on my own merit and volition.
4 Term which gives name to the idea that being from anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon Line automatically means you have to move north to be successful; see also: the idea that I can’t actually enjoy living with my parents or any member of my family.
5 I am currently majoring in Writing and Communication, not Husbandry.
6 The Cult of Domesticity refers to the belief that women should devote their time solely to homemaking and traditionally feminine hobbies. Spoiler alert: I don’t buy into that.
7 I got this comment when I first announced that I would be going to college a mere twenty minutes from my house, instead of a larger “real” school.
8 I assume this was said to me because the opposing party felt the need to prove their superiority in making decisions for me. Erik Erikson was the developmental psychologist who proposed the theory of Industry vs. Inferiority. He believed that children developed in stages. This fourth stage, supposedly occurring around the time that children are in elementary school, cultivates competency, humility, and accomplishment. However, it is speculated that this stage is also the beginning of narcissism.
9 The elephant in this room is of course the Republican Party’s elephant logo circa 1877.
10 Considering my thirteen years as a type 1 diabetic, we will go with my experience, not yours. Please and thank you.
11 Diet Culture (n.): Not a medicinal prescription, but the collection of societal beliefs equating weight with the picture of health
12 Yes, I have to agree, the forfeit of all responsibility does appear quite beautiful.
In a perfect world — very much unlike the one in which we live, but identical to the one in which I choose to allow others to make my decisions for me — I could follow a single proof’s logic. According to Dr. Krantz from before, “[all proofs] are all built on one simple rule: modus ponendo ponens. This rule of logic says that if we know that “A implies B,” and if we know “A,” then we may conclude “B.” Thus a proof is a sequence of steps linked together by modus ponendo ponens.”
Now let’s go back to those 35,000 decisions we make on a daily basis. And God forbid, what happens on the days that we have to make 35,001? What happens on the days when we end up with illogical questions and illogical answers, and the nice “modus ponendo ponens” box we’ve been carrying around full of others’ opinions of us spontaneously combusts into flame?
These are the days in which we witness the degradation of the proof.
Given: People identify themselves with numbers. We reside in numbered houses, we call each other on numbered phones, and we wear numbered clothing. Our ages are numbered, which then count up (or down) to our numbered days. We have “first” kisses or “second” dates, and we find solace in the fact that “the third time is the charm!” And while there is comfort in these seemingly significant digits, I struggle to find a predictable pattern.
Once again, let explanatory proofs equal x, let life equal y, and let the concept of beauty equal z.
Using similar statements as before, prove that x≠y≠z.
|1. “A majority of the time I think I want to be a teacher. On other days, I’m not sure.”||a. Fear1
|2. “I don’t have to experience life outside of my hometown, away from my parents, to know that’s where I’m most comfortable.”||2|
|3. “I don’t have a boyfriend.”||For more information, reference possible verb conjugations for the English infinitive “to have”; i.e. it’s complicated|
|4. “I’m not sure I want to get married and have kids!”3||As a single person, you are responsible to the world for 1 person.
In the event of marriage, increase your responsibility to the world by 1.
In the event of children, increase your responsibility to the world by each. You are now also responsible to your children for the world.
|5. “I’m not wasting my potential.”4||Law of Conservation of Energy: Energy can be neither created nor destroyed. It only changes form.|
|6. “I can tell people I voted for [insert Democratic candidate here].”||But is this done at a personal expense?|
|7. “I can enjoy being myself, especially as a diabetic.”||Unknown variable causes pancreas to not produce insulin à Diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes à Takes insulin by injection à Wears an insulin pump à Can enjoy traditionally “unhealthy” foods in moderation like regular5 people|
|8. “I can trust myself to decide what I want to do.”6||Until the case in which I cannot, and then I’m lead back to statement #1.|
1a My biggest fear is being backed into an inescapable corner.
1b And what will I do if I hate it? How do you take back something like that?
1c Do I have enough passion for it? I think I do, but do I?
1d “Those who can’t do, teach.” Am I willing to take on that judgement and ones like it?
1e Do I have a purpose for something else? Is there a bigger “yes” for me out there? If so, how do I find it?
2 I’m not contesting this one unless taken in the form of a Rogerian argument. This is an explication, not persuasion.
3 Cue gasps by most people I know.
4 Potential energy: the energy of an object relative to its location; directly related to kinetic energy, the energy of motion.
5 The use of regular here is, of course, quite ironic, considering the regularity of my life and its experiences, even in light of my pancreas’ lack of insulin production.
6 I’m partially saying this to convince myself. At the least, please disregard this as a lie of omission.
As people, “we set our definitions and axioms in place before we do anything else. In particular, before we endeavor to derive any results we must engage in a certain amount of preparatory work” (Krantz). Therefore, we seek to make others’ decisions for them. We find solace when we think we can solve another person’s problem (even if we can’t solve our own) because it makes us feel necessary. Suddenly we cast all other possibilities aside, and we function linearly, each cause given to one effect.
But to those receiving the advice, there is no concept of outside logic, because it no longer exists. Like my professor said, “To examine an object in motion, you must segment time. However, in doing that, you can no longer predict where the object is going or from where it came.” The commenter cannot see the motivations for the decision, nor can they see the end goal for where the decision is going. Examining another person’s choice destroys the beauty of it, and how can there be proof of what cannot be proven?
Kaycee Aultman is a senior Writing and Communication major at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Georgia. In her free time, she can be found watching The Princess Brideand drinking Diet Coke. She has been previously published by the National Federation of Music Clubs and in Pegasus literary magazine.