Rant: Lumping

Rar rant time.

Lumping is a term in Physics used to decribe when one combines two objects which, for the purpose of the problem or experiment, can be considered one object. This is most commonly seen in situations involving friction, acceleration, and blocks sliding on slopes. The first Physics class I took in high school the teacher taught us how to properly employ lumping. It was a useful tool with two entirely critical points to remember.

1) Although lumped, the two objects are merely represented by one object.
2) Unlumping must take place when there comes a point where the two objects can no longer be treated as one.

These two fundamental points did not sink into much of the class properly, and some very, very bad Physics resulted. The teacher rued the day he attempted to teach lumping and struck it from our syllabus. He outright forbade its use from then on, swearing heavy penalties for its use. No matter how many times he's reiterated these points, too many students continually forgot them.

There is a very good reason I went into that nerdy Physics stuff, and that is because it is an excellent analogy for another form of lumping.

I really enjoy debate. Thinking about other people's positions, wrestling with what answers will or will not make sense, asking the tough questions, these and more are aspects of a good debate I enjoy. There are a vast number of fallacies, idiocies and downright crazy things people do in debates that turn them sour. Lumping is one of these.

Lumping is closely related to the flaw of generalizations. Generalizations always have exceptions, otherwise they would be rules. As a brief aside, a commonly cited paradox is the "all generalizations are false" generalization. I have come to the conclusion that this is not a generalization itself, but is in fact a rule. Rules do not have exceptions, otherwise it defeats the purpose of a rule (see Sherlock Holmes).

To return to the topic at hand, lumping is when a person putting forth and argument or point "lumps" a group of people together. This happens all the time, it would be hard to talk about "the American people" or "martial artists" without lumping. However, much like its Physics counterpart it requires two points to be kept constantly in memory.

1) While lumped, the numerous people are merely represented by the category or term.
2) Unlumping must take place when there comes a point where the numerous people can no longer be treated as one.

I recently participated in a debate over the blindness of faith. For reference, here is my response to the parent comment which began this saga. Someone had made the statement that "faith requires lack of reasoning". I responded with a correctionary statement that "blind faith requires a lack of reasoning". They responded in turn to say that "All faith is blind". I probably should have seen the warning signs immediately, but I didn't.

I proceeded to lay out arguments that there is a fundamental difference between faith that is oblivious, willfully or otherwise, of any contradictions, and faith that actively acknowledges these and wrestles with them. I've been working on my terseness, so I kept it simple and short (although I worked in a somewhat subtle reference to The Raven). I did not meet the expected outcome. The partner in this debate saw no difference between the two.

I then compared the latter type of faith to the scientific method, noting the parallels in hypothesis, in testing, and in observation. I specifically brought up how theories and hypothesis are labeled such because they aren't conclusively proven, meaning that on some level a step or leap of faith must be taken to believe their veracity. I probably shouldn't have wasted any more of his or my time after this point, as it should have been painfully obvious what was going on. He proceded to dispute the idea that there were any parallels between science and religion at all, declaring science's ability to "turn on a dime" and trumpeting the dogmatic practices of religion.

The specific instance that spawned my concious realization of his fallacy came in his final response, final because I stopped responding. Aside from demonstrating he wasn't informed on Cold Fusion, he also brought up how when the Shroud of Turin was carbon dated, "Religion" denied the acquired date stating "carbon dating is a sham". This was when I had my epiphany as to what was going on, one other than him being a zealous, dogmatic, and simultaneously ignorant scientismist. That's judgemental of me, and possibly unfair. I probably looked quite the zealous defender of "Religion" myself, except I wasn't the one who brought up God, religion, or the Shroud of Turin. I was arguing in entirely scientific terms until non-scientific ones were brought in, with the possible exclusion of "faith" itself.

In any case, my opposite in this quarrel demonstrated a remarkable talent for improper lumping.

He used the extremely broad term "Religion" when referring to the reaction to the Shroud of Turin's carbon dating. To my knowledge, the only affected religion was Christianity. I'm not aware of any Daoists, Buddhists, Shintoists, Hindi, Wiccans, or Muslims who raised an outcry about this. I'm pretty sure Scientologists were equally indifferent.

That was only the outer-most level of it, while there were certainly Christians raising a cry over the result it certainly wasn't all Christians. I'm fairly confident that large portions of the Church did not participate in the outcry, did not care, or even accepted that the Shroud of Turin might not really be what it was cracked up to be. I'd even wager that there wasn't a single major denomination which was completely unified in its response.

What we have here is a failure to unlump. The actions of a small fraction of "Religion" or "Christianity" are attributed to the whole when the representation no long holds. This would have gotten a big ZERO on those Physics tests.

Perhaps I have misjudged the person, but their tone and message seemed rather clear to me. They seemed condescending, selective in their evidence and facts, and lumped people and events into "Science" and "Religion" in ways that were fair to neither. I will not claim that my points or ideas were perfect. However, I do feel that my "grey" arguments collided headlong into "black and white" thinking.

I suppose I frequently post these altercations here for a second opinion. I want to know if I'm being mean-spirited, dogmatic, "black and white" or otherwise judging unfairly. When I'm arguing over the internet, this is the only accountability I have.

1 comment:

jocelyn said...

Arguing over the internet is intrinsically problematic. That previous sentence is a generalization. All generalizations are false. :)

I don't think you were being unfair to the person in question. In fact, IMO, your position requires a lot more free thinking than what he seems to have. You've identified patterns and commonalities between scientific and religious thinking that I hadn't previously thought about, though I feel strongly in agreement with the statement that science and religion aren't mutually exclusive.

And using the physics terminology "lumping," is extremely appropriate in this situation. Lumping is a fallacy regardless of which "side" you fall on in a debate, and it's hard for people to acknowledge faulty thinking when they're too busy trying to be right about something else (rather than right in their thought process).