Exploring and understanding fallacious arguments

Throughout our lives, we find ourselves engaged in arguments with other individuals pertaining toward a variety of topics.  Some arguments that we come across may not seem very well constructed or may even be factually incorrect. Having explored how individuals may be manipulated by external stimuli, we know that without awareness we raise the risk to being influenced by manipulative external stimuli, but how are these stimuli able to manipulate us?

One of the largest external stimuli that we interact with daily is other individuals. When interacting with other individuals, there may be various attempts by them to manipulate others in a variety of ways. Whether or not the individual is aware of what they are doing is another question, but through knowledge and understanding we can determine the tactics individuals may use to manipulate us. Being social creatures, the best way for humans to communicate ideas is via discourse, namely an argument. One of the biggest mistakes an individual can make in an argument is a fallacy, which can be defined as “an often plausible argument using false or invalid inference”. Identifying fallacies can be a difficult task, but through understanding of what they are, we can start to determine whether or not an argument is fallacious.

Fallacies come in various forms, but are generally put into two categories: Formal fallacies and informal fallacies. Formal fallacies are arguments which contain errors in logical structure. The following is an example of a formal fallacy:

“Some boys like cars.”

“Jim is a boy.”

“Therefore, Jim likes cars.” 

While it is true that many boys do like cars, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Jim likes cars. We can assume that Jim may like cars because he’s a boy, but we cannot assume that he likes cars because he’s a boy.

On the inverse, informal fallacies are arguments that do not have structural faults, but have faults within the arguments content. Often these fallacies occur when appealing to something (fear, popular opinion, ignorance). An example of an informal fallacy follows:

I believe in God. Nobody has proven that God doesn’t exist.

This type of informal fallacy is called an appeal to ignorance, which asserts that the proposition of the claim (God existing) has not yet been proven; therefore their belief (in God existing) must be true.

Generally, fallacies are used innocently, stemming from an individual’s ignorance toward a subject, but some individuals, such as, but not limited to politicians or those with radical ideologies, may be aware of and use fallacious arguments for their own selfish purpose.

When we interact with other individuals, it is crucial to determine whether or not they are speaking fallaciously, not only for our own growth as individuals, but to help others grow. An argument that is fallacious in nature may seem alluring and agreeable, but, when we start to explore what people are actually saying, we see that individuals use fallacies daily in their social interactions. We live in a world riddled with fallacious arguments. Understanding how an argument may be logically and factually misleading allows us to objectively understand the argument.

If you found yourself interested in fallacies, please take a look here for further reading into the myriad of fallacies out there.

Exploring the Science of Depression

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Too often the general public relegates mental illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia to just that, mental illness, diseases of the mind. However, with modern science, we are beginning to see more and more the folly of this simplistic viewpoint. We are now seeing the science behind these illnesses;  the changes in brain form, function, and chemical balance that alter how our brain functions and perceives the world around us. For the next  month or so, in my “Exploring the Science of…”  mini series, I will be talking about how what happens in our brain impacts what happens in our mind. For my first post, I would like to talk about how adjusting a few key elements in our brain can cause depression.


What Is Depression?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), signs of depression include long term feelings of sadness and emptiness, feelings of hopelessness, excessive tiredness, and more. Suicide is also a risk in those suffering from depression. Depression can be moderate to severe, and by NIMH’s count approximately 7% of the American population suffers from Major Depressive Disorder, a clinical term for depression. Depression is commonly treated with SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) or MAOIs (Monoamine oxidase inhibitor), therapy is also helpful in changing thought patterns that can help make a person depressed.

Brain Changer

A brain is a brain right? Wrong. Turns out there are a lot of things that can go awry inside our brain, just as there is in our body. One of the things that gets wonky in depression is something called neurogenesisa fancy word for the generation of new nerve cells, particularly in the brain. It is believed that those suffering from depression cannot regenerate cells as fast as those without. This leads to loss of brain mass, particularly in the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for memory and recollection. Stress is believed to inhibit nerve growth, which may be one reason why the hippocampus is smaller in those that suffer from depression.

But the hippocampus isn’t the only area of the brain that changes due to depression. The amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for behavioral reactions and high level functioning, is also different in those that suffer from depression. According to Harvard Health, amygdala activity is much higher in those that have depression…even when they are not currently depressed!

The Juice

Brain function isn’t just about form, what goes inside that form matters too, specifically the juice of our brain; neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are a bit like messengers, to keep it simple (it gets a bit complicated). They tell your brain what to do, how to feel, and how to function. The neurotransmitter most looked at in depression is called serotonin. Serotonin is responsible for feelings of happiness, so it’s no surprise that it might be involved in depression.

Those with depression do indeed have lower levels of serotonin in the brain. We all saw that coming, but how do we fix it? Adding more serotonin of course! Well, yes, and that is the goal of many anti-depressants on the market today, but perhaps not for the reasons you might think. In depression, not only does serotonin make you happy, it also regenerates nerve cells…see the connection? Serotonin levels rise, neurogenesis increases, the hippocampus is happy, and you’re happy. This also explains why anti-depressants take a few weeks to kick into effect; neurogenesis takes time.

The Takeaway

Depression, like so many mental illnesses, is a complex disorder. It affects the brain as well as the mind, and requires treatment so that it’s sufferers can live a full, happy life. By understanding the science of why depression happens, scientists can create better treatment, tests, and therapies for it. If you feel you are suffering from depression, or have been diagnosed with depression, I hope you find comfort in knowing that this is a medical illness, with causes we can see, and not the fault of yourself. Thank you for reading and I hope enjoyed this, the first article in the “Exploring the Science of…” series.

Giving Thanks: Appreciating What We Take For Granted

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This week is one of the best I’ve had in a long time. No, I didn’t win the lottery, or get a surprise inheritance, or even get a piece of really good news. I am happy because, for the first time in 6 months, I have gone an entire week being able to study whenever I want to. It was amazing, and I am so terribly happy. I won’t lie, I even started to tear up with joy when I finished reading that first chapter.

But now, of course, I’m sure I’ve confused some of you. After all, since when is studying worth celebration? Well, when you’ve been through what I have, it’s worth a full on party. You see, about eight months ago, I had a problem. That problem was that I simply could not study. I am not talking about lack of focus or not wanting to study. I literally could not understand the words I tried to read, my textbooks suddenly became unreadable tomes before my eyes, the words indecipherable. I would try to do math problems and instead end up sitting there staring at the paper for thirty minutes, unable to do something so simple as adding two numbers together. Chapters of reading piled on as I was unable to keep up, unable to understand the words on the page in front of me.

This went on for hours a day, every day, as I struggled in vain to get my mounting schoolwork done. Nothing I did worked, and I felt useless and stupid for my perceived failure as a student. In addition, voices haunted me at night. When things were at their worst, I found myself frozen, immobile, and thoughtless, a state called catatonia. Even with these frightening symptoms though, the inability to process was still the one I found most troubling.

After weeks of being this way, some days being unable to do so much as read a sentence, I reached out for help. Even after I took the first step to fix my problem, it took months to get the right diagnosis, and to get me on the proper medication. With the cognitive setbacks, catatonia, and auditory hallucinations, the diagnosis I was given was rather dark; prodromal schizophrenia (which I talk more about here), the early stage of the disease.

It took four long weeks for my medication to take full effect. The entire thing was a crapshoot. There was a chance that the medication would not even help ease my symptoms, or the side effects would be too severe to tolerate. There were even chances that I might die or suffer permanent nerve damage due to rare reactions to the atypical anti-psychotic I was on. During this time I eagerly awaited signs of improvement. Slowly they appeared as I was able to study longer and longer each week, and the screaming, tormenting voices subsided. Luckily, I suffered no adverse reactions, and my symptoms were much improved. I was unbelievably happy.

Two weeks ago now, the dosage for my anti-psychotic was raised to help manage my symptoms even better. With the increase of the dose, my ability to concentrate has also increased, and my other symptoms have all but disappeared. I credit my medication, amazing mental health workers,  and my strong family support system, for my recovery. Looking back from where I am today, I can see that I was one of the lucky ones, my psychosis is not severe, I did not have to be hospitalized, and I have a supporting family with the will and means to get me the help I need. Many in my shoes are not half so fortunate.

Through all I’ve been through, I think my favorite memory is, and shall remain, that first time after starting the anti-psychotic that I could actually sit down and study. It’s easy to take something like this for granted, something so simple as reading a book or answering a question. You never expect to lose something like that, something so base and fundamental as thinking or understanding. I know I never did. We all take things for granted. But nothing lasts forever, and what you have now may not be there tomorrow, even life is not a sure bet.

I encourage everyone reading this to take a day, just a day would suffice, and set it aside to think of the things and people that you may now take for granted, and to take the time to appreciate them in a way you may not have before. Take time to appreciate a walk in the park, the sound of a bird singing, the warmth of a fire, the comfort of a good book. Especially take time to appreciate the people in your life; they mean the most of all.

Remember that the current is only a snapshot in your life, and it is a beautiful one. To truly appreciate the current is not to take anything for granted, and that’s something that’s as important for me as it is for anyone else.  I’m not sure what my future will bring, I might get worse, I might have a breakdown, I might end up spending my entire life in a mental hospital. That doesn’t matter right now, because in the current, I can pick up a book and study as hard as I damn well want, I can do things that please me, and I am happy.  That is the current, and that is what matters the most.

Exploring and understanding radical ideologies

While we are going about our journey through life, we as individuals of society have to interact with other individuals on a daily basis. Considering that we live in a world consisting of billions of people, each with their own unique set of ideologies and virtues, interacting with others can at times be quite trying, or painful. We have individuals who view the world with such strict adherence to their ideologies that they no longer see what is objectively true. Without awareness of how these radical ideologies are formed, an individual may be at higher risk to adopt a radical ideology, which raises the question: how are radical ideologies formed?

In order to understand how radical ideologies are formed, we must first understand what an ideology is and how they are formed. An ideology, according to Wikipedia, is “the imaginary relation to the real conditions of existence”, which is a system of belief reinforced by external stimuli. How an ideology is formed largely depends on which external stimuli are at play. If you have an individual who is constantly being bullied by someone (the external stimulus) for being fat, that particular idea is being reinforced. In instances like this, continual reinforcement by that particular external stimulus may lead the individual to believe that they are fat, even though that may or may not be true. All ideologies are formed in a similar, reinforced manner. An individual performing well at school may have their parents (another external stimulus) reinforce the idea that they are doing well in school. The continual reinforcement of this particular stimulus will lead to the individual doing well academically. Ideologies like these may or may not impact an individual’s life, depending on the external stimulus’ level of reinforcement in relation to the individual’s awareness and knowledge of how external stimuli may emotionally manipulate them.

Radical ideologies are formed the same way as all ideologies are, except they are reinforced to the point where an individual believes it in place of an objective truth. Those who adapt these ideologies are able to manipulate people emotionally into believing the ideology. Whether or not they are aware of what they are doing, or how they do it are different questions, but a great example in the past would be the Nazis in World War II, with Hitler manipulating Germany into following his radical cause. Radical ideologies like these stem from oppressive external stimuli. When there are many individuals being oppressed and oppression is continually reinforced, radical ideologies start to form and spread among those being oppressed.

With technological progression and the internet allowing everyone to have a platform to communicate their thoughts and ideas, more radical ideologies are being reinforced and spread by those who are consumed by them, such as cults, politicians or radical religious/social sects. Knowing why an individual has a certain ideology is crucial to understanding and interacting with them. It allows one to interact with any individual in a civil manner while protecting their ideology from unwanted contamination, but at the same time allows one to be exposed to information from these radical idealists and objectively analyze and learn from the experience.

Enter the Beast

Hello everyone. My name is the Beast. I am writing to you today to introduce myself as a new author on the blog. Daniel has kindly allowed me to share my writings here alongside his own. As of such I will be writing about one or two articles a month for the blog. Since I will be writing for you, I would like to tell you a little about myself.

I am college student majoring in biology. I also have a strong interest in writing, orchids, and photography. I have been diagnosed with prodromal schizophrenia, and am currently undergoing treatment (I talk more about schizophrenia here if you want to learn more).I will be writing primarily about mental health, mental illness, and mental health stigma.

I look forward to writing for you all, and hope that you will enjoy my articles.

You can like me on Facebook here, and follow me on twitter here.

Thank you.