Mental Skill

Chapter 7

Do you want to check your level of mental skill? Consider your attitude toward saying, "It is so." To the unskilled, an affirmation of truth seems justifiable only on some kind of recognized authority. To the skilled thinker, truth is an identification of reality based on perceptual evidence and taking all that is known into account. It can be proved, so there is no fear of saying it.

At any level of mental skill, it is possible to see the truth. To comfortably speak the truth, one needs the skill of proving it—which means showing how it is connected to perceptual evidence, and how it fits with all knowledge.

If my mental skill level is low, I will not think of "It is so" as originating in my own mind, but in some better mind, to be relayed by me. At a medium level of mental skill, I will think of saying "It is so" on my own, but with trepidation—"It probably is so." At a high level of mental skill, there will be no qualification and no hesitation. I will own my identifications with confidence, because in my mind they will be nestled securely in the arms of "because..."

Talking is linear, but thinking is inclusive. You cannot state reasons and conclusion all at once, but you do think them all at once. Seeing this is part of grasping the nature of the conceptual method: particulars seen in the light of principles, conclusions seen in the light of reasons, facts seen in relationship to all other facts, nothing seen in isolation.

To see the essence of mental skill, you must free your mind from the idea that you think like you talk—this first and then that and then the other. The reason that excitement makes words tumble out in confusion is that you are thinking many thoughts at once, and having trouble arranging them in a linear order. The way to clear the confusion is not to line up thoughts in a queue, but to keep the hierarchy, so you know which are most basic. Then you know which to say first.

A basic truth on which others depend is called a principle. Thinking in principles means forming a habit of looking for basic truth to apply in each particular case. If you can already prove the principle, you know how to prove the application. If you can prove that all living things are mortal, then you don't have to prove separately that dogs are mortal, trees are mortal, and men are mortal. If you know why faking reality causes you trouble, you don't have to decide separately whether or not to lie in a particular case.

The skill of forming principles is the skill of going from case to class. If faking reality caused me trouble in this case, will that always be the case? How can I say that lies as a class will cause me trouble?

One way is by rote. All the authorities say don't lie, or else I'll get in trouble. So I declare lying immoral. But this is not me speaking truth; it is me obeying orders.

Another way is by enumeration. I lie and get in trouble, lie again and get in trouble, and eventually assume that lying gets me in trouble. But if I grab a basketball and shoot for the hoop and miss, should I assume that shooting hoops is impossible? After a number of tries, should I assume that the ball is faulty?

The best way is to examine the nature of lies to see if there is an essence all lies have in common that will cause me trouble. In other words, use the conceptual method. Put things into mental classes by common essentials.

A lie is a communication intended to deceive. The conceptual common denominator is communication, and the group we pick out consists of the ones intended to deceive. What all lies have in common is opposition to truth. If I want to speak truth, but also want to lie, I am caught in a blatant contradiction. If people know that I sometimes fake reality, then I will forever speak truth in vain, because nobody will listen.

When I see the fundamental nature of lying, I can mentally integrate all cases of lying into a class of lying, all members of which get me in trouble. The amount of trouble varies, but I omit that measurement to form the class. This use of the conceptual method is called induction. Here it results in the principle that lying gets me in trouble. This conclusion does not come from authority or enumeration, but from identity—investigating the nature of things.

Investigating the nature of water leads to the induction that it all boils at a specific heat and pressure, and it all freezes in the cold. To prove this principle, it is not necessary to boil lakes and freeze oceans, but to show that the chemical nature of water causes it to change its form under specific conditions. Proof connects the principle to direct perception, and also to all that is known about molecular action. It says this does happen, and it must happen, because of the nature of things.

Induction does not investigate the number of things, but the nature of things. Its mental action is not a creep, but a leap. It does not proceed from case to case to case to case, gathering confidence bit by bit. Instead, it studies each case in the light of established principles and in the light of possible induction. It looks at case and class together. That is, it examines the metaphysical concrete while taking into account the epistemological method.

As soon as I tell a lie, you ask yourself if I am a liar. You don't wait until the tenth lie; you consider now my case of lying as possibly putting me in the class of liars. You investigate to find out if this is so. You ask me what I think of lying. If I think it works for me, then by nature I am a liar. If not, then you need more evidence to make a decision.

A mind skilled in the conceptual method sees every case as part of a class, and every class as consisting of cases. That is, it sees concretes as instances of principles, and principles as connected to concrete perception. It never sees one without the other, but it never confuses them. One is metaphysical, the other epistemological. One is the evidence before you, the other is what you can do with that evidence.

So the question, "Where does a brand new principle come from?" is easily answered. It is the process of invention. In investigating the nature of things, you compare observations and known principles. At some point, looking at this in the light of that reveals something new about this. That is your clue for further investigation, and the germ of a new idea.

When you are sure that you understand something new about a particular case, you are already considering the inductive leap. Is it true of an entire class? This means: will the cause operating in this case also operate in all similar cases? Is it a basic principle of the class?

Your survey of the class becomes purposeful. Can you observe or infer the same cause operating in every corner of the context? Can you show that the cause must be common because it operates on the essential that forms the context? If so, the inductive leap is justified.

Now you look for exceptions. If there are exceptions that cannot be explained, then your class does not contain as many cases as you thought. You must narrow the induction down. Your truth is not as broad as you thought, but your method worked. Without the broad principle to start with, you could not have identified the exceptions.

Most inductions are not new discoveries, but established truths. You are told that what is true here is true all over. But you must still prove it to yourself by identifying the essentials, tracing them to direct perception, and fitting them in with all your knowledge. Otherwise, you are not speaking your truth, but reciting your lines.


The first way to practice induction is to observe how often you practice induction already. If you learn that your friend Mabel thinks you talk too loud, you wonder, "Do all my friends think so?" Maybe Mabel is confusing case and class; you talked loud just once and she made a hasty generalization. Or maybe your idea of loudness differs from other's. You have to make some observations and investigate the nature of loud talking. You have to find some objective standard for measuring the loudness of talk. That will make it possible to find a principle that will help you control how loud you talk. Or perhaps the induction you will finally make is, "Watch out for Mabel."

Induction is an everyday affair because it is a use of the conceptual method. The word induction is used to indicate that this use is of more than everyday concern, and is being done with special care. The term scientific induction is used to indicate that your ambition in this use is very high, and your proof will be very stringent. The scientist's inductive leap is not more timid than yours; it is very much bolder. That is why the proof must be more thorough. When Isaac Newton decided that all masses exert a gravitational force, he started a process of proof which has not entirely ended even to this day. But notice that the idea of gravity is so thoroughly integrated with all your knowledge that you could not get rid of it if you wanted to. Before Newton, that could not have been true, but now it is. Basic inductions are very powerful.

You say people are hard to please? That induction was made when you were quite young; rethinking it now would be good practice. Life is not fair? It would be good practice to investigate what the hell is meant by fair.

When practicing induction, you must watch out for errors—for confusion of case and class. The most common one is loss of the causal link, as in "Oh, he always does that!" You leave out what in the nature of things makes him always do that—what makes the case into a class. Without the causal link, all you have is an arbitrary declaration.

A common observation is that people make mistakes. Often, this is cited as proof of the induction that man is fallible. The case is expanded into a class without any reference to causality. Done that way, "Man is fallible," is not an induction but an arbitrary declaration.

To make the induction, you look for a cause. Is there anything in the nature of man that could cause fallibility, defined as capacity for error? Yes, there is free will. Man does not inherit mental abilities, but learns them. That involves choice. So our nature includes the capacity to be right, and the capacity to be wrong.

Another common induction error is using nonessentials, as in "I can't help my temper; that's just the way I am." That is, bad temper is a fundamental essential of my nature. Unless I am claiming to be a maniac, this cannot be so. My pretended induction is an arbitrary declaration.

A radio talk show host complained that the government was stealing too much of everyone's money by taxation. Listener after listener called in to inform him that taxation is not stealing. Each caller was challenged to name the essential difference between the two. How would you meet that challenge?

The callers agreed with the host that you find the action called "taxing" by looking among forms of taking. The host said that the essential to use in picking out what you want is force. Stealing is forceful taking, and so is taxing. The callers said that the essential to use is authorization. Stealing is unauthorized taking. Taxes are authorized taking.

To decide who was in error, you look for deeper essentials—fundamental principles on which a broader context depends. In this case, you look for the essential of ownership. Does ownership include the right to both use and dispose of an asset, or only the right to use it? If it includes both rights, then only I can authorize the taking of my asset. For the callers to be right, the essential of ownership must be use only.

At this point, a mind skilled in keeping the hierarchy of concepts will notice that something does not fit. If the asset is an apple, eating it disposes of it just as much as giving it away to be eaten. Using an asset is disposing of it. Use includes disposal. The distinction is arbitrary, and the callers are in error.

It is good practice to look for such errors whenever you hear generalizations. Practice in judging other's inductions fosters skill in judging your own.

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