Have you ever thought about how you think? No, I'm not high, that was a serious question. Well, today I'm going to give you some insight about how we as humans answer life's questions. I now present to you: Deductive vs Inductive reasoning.
First, what is reasoning? Reasoning is the method of arriving to conclusions based on known information that is assumed to be true. In other words, answering a question. Now, reasoning is an important process for us as humans because it dictates just about everything we do. Reasoning is what allows us to make new discoveries in life or solve our complex problems. It is what we use to not only survive, but also thrive. Reasoning can be split into two different categories: Deductive and Inductive.
Deductive, also known as the "top-down" approach, is the form or reasoning most commonly associated with logical thinking. There's a reason for this! Ha! Get it? All right, I'll shut up now... Deductive reasoning seeks to first create a theory, and then prove it through experiments and testing. A common example of this is the scientific method. A hypothesis, or theory, is first conceived by the scientist, who then runs multiple experiments in a laboratory to either prove or disprove it. This process is quite logical and familiar with us, which is why it's preferred in the sciences. However, to reason deductively, the generalization must be true and the conclusion must follow a systematic process. What's a systematic process? In this case, one that follows an "If x, then y" statement. The start leads to the finish, not the other way around.
- "All humans are mortal. Therefore, if I am a human, I am mortal." See? The generalization that all humans die it true. In addition, the conclusion was reached using that systematic processed described above. Pay close attention to the words "human" (x) and "mortal" (y).
- "iPhones are quite fragile. If I one on the floor, it should break." This example more clearly shows the scientific method at work. A theory that iPhones will break if dropped was made, and is now ready to be tested.
Guess what? Inductive is quite literally just the exact opposite method as Deductive reasoning. It's even known as the "bottom-up" approach! Basically, inductive reasoning seeks to first experiment and explore, then forms theories based on the results. How can this be? Well, take making a new recipe, for instance. You'd have to keep trying mixing multiple ingredients together until you find the combination that works best. Then you'll write the recipe down for future reference. If you didn't notice already, the common example for inductive reasoning is experience. Experience is used as the backbone for many people's skills, so obviously deductive reasoning has it's limits. However, so does inductive reasoning. A major flaw with inductive reasoning is the process isn't that systematic or logical. A false conclusion can still be made even if the generalization is true. Inductive follows an "If y, then x" statement, which can be a bit weird sometimes.
- "I woke up at 8 o' clock this morning and made it to work. Therefore, I will make it to work every morning if I wake up at 8 o’ clock." Makes sense right? RIGHT? Well, what happens if there's a traffic jam on the road or the line at Dunkin' Donuts absolutely blows? Now you're late to work and your conclusion was false even though the original generalization was true! Now, pay attention to the process used, "8 o' clock" (x) and "work" (y). See how the statement is reversed?
- "Every time I drop an iPhone, it breaks. Therefore, iPhones are quite fragile." The experience example is shown here. Testing was done by dropping iPhones, and a theory that they are fragile was made.
Which is better?
I just made inductive reasoning seem inferior with my recent explanation and examples about it. However, this is not the case. Both deductive and inductive are useful methods for gaining knowledge. In fact, most normal people will use both methods often and rather seamlessly, without anything going terribly wrong. Scientist still like deductive a whole lot, though.
The easiest way to determine which method to use is to examine the problem you'd been challenged with to answer.
- Deductive is best used with close-ended problems. These are problems where a decent amount of prior knowledge is known, like equations, concepts, and variables. Solving the area of a rectangle based on the length and width given is a close-ended problem, since the equation, concept, and two variables are known. All that's needed now is to put them together, get an answer, and test to see if it's right.
- Inductive is best used with opened-ended problems. These are problems where there isn't much, if an, prior knowledge known. They're also problems were the answer isn't straight forward and many different answers (opinions, usually) could exist. For example, is pepperoni or cheese pizza better? You can't measure that and there's no equations to use. There's virtually infinite answers. All you have is your own experience and those around you to answer the question. Usually anything that involves experience will involve inductive, too.
A couple centuries ago, the Western world was chest deep in the enlightenment and scientific revolution. During this period, two schools of thought existed: Rationalism and Empiricism. Rationalists believed that logic would lead to knowledge (Deductive). Empiricists, on the other hand, believed that experienced would lead to knowledge (Inductive). As I've already discussed, both are quite useful and one won't be better than the other all the time. Luckily, a man named Immanuel Kant tried to balance these polar opposite schools of thought, with both having their uses at different times. Kant's new method of reasoning balance is what is currently practiced today, and what has led to our civilizations becoming so advanced. Thanks, Kant!
So now you know all about reasoning, how it works, how you can apply it, AND some of the real life history behind it! Dang! That was a lot of learning for an article around 1k words! I hope that I didn't bore you too much. Of course, if you're someone who's actually interested in reading some internet user's lesson on human thinking I'm sure you were bored to tears already. Anyways, thanks for reading!