“The fruit of the poisonous tree” is a legal doctrine. It states that if a piece of evidence is inadmissible then all other pieces of evidence derived from it are also inadmissible. If the tree is poisonous then its fruits are also poisonous.
I’ve been thinking about this principle a lot lately and how it applies to assumptions. Because if the underlying assumption of an argument, an ideology, a theory or a philosophy is wrong then the whole thing collapses. It doesn’t matter how sophisticated the arguments are if they were derived from a wrong assumption. They are the fruits of a poisonous tree.
It’s like building a castle in the clouds where there is no connection to the ground. The huge moat, the tall walls, the imposing towers – they are all irrelevant. It might be pretty to look at, and there might have been genuine ingenuity behind its architecture but it’s going to come crashing down and you’d better stay clear when it does.
The miseducation of John B.
When I was in university, I studied sociology, philosophy and educational theory. I learned a great deal of interesting theories about human behaviour and human society. But when I graduated from university, my curiosity compelled me to learn more about the “hard” sciences such as biology, evolution and physics. It came as quite a shock when the first great castle in the clouds came crashing down.
I felt like Wile E. Coyote when he has run off a cliff. He doesn’t even notice at first that the ground isn’t there anymore. He is running on nothing but air – defying reality by the sheer force of his belief. But the illusion only works as long as he doesn’t look down.
For me, this is The Death Of God: the existential terror of looking down. It’s the gazing into the abyss.
The just world fallacy
The just world fallacy is when people confuse what they want to be true with what is true. This fallacy is the architect of many a cloud castle. We first decide what we want to believe and then work backwards from there. We start to force reality to conform to the tools you use to understand it – as opposed to the other way around. If all you have is a hammer then everything starts to look like a nail.
Any that’s structure that is built from the top-down will inherently become unstable and fragile. It doesn’t matter if it’s an argument, an ideology, a belief system, your self-image or a society.
Get your head out of the clouds
In The Book of Five Rings, the 16th century Japanese samurai master Miyamoto Musashi talked about the difference between the observing eye and the perceiving eye. The observing eye sees the world as is. The perceiving eye sees the world as it wants it to be.
Observing is looking at the world as it is. It’s a process of removal – removing things which are not really there. Perceiving means bringing ourselves into everything we see – even where we don’t belong. Our own reflection is what distorts reality. Observing is correcting those distortions.
A castle in the clouds keeps afloat only if you don’t look down. The fall is long and hard but at least the ground is real.
Start over. What do you know to be true? What is the closest you can come to base reality?
Build from there.