Category Archives: logic

Sell Your Crap

I was looking up something on YouTube and found a Ted video (it happens to me a lot). It’s a talk about selling your stuff and following your dreams.

The author makes a lot of claims, so I thought we could look at the logic (or illogic) or them. Generally, I’m all for getting rid of your stuff (unless its books) and living your life free. Back around 2000 or so, I was working for the Cornell Computer Science Department, and I decided that I wanted to go to India to explore. So I sent every other check I made straight to my student loan bill until I paid it off (my repayment book went through 2040). Then I sold my truck, quit my job at Cornell, and spent five months living in India.

Is that a logical thing to do? Let’s look at some syllogisms:

Consider my freedom,
I’m not taking advantage of it,
Because I’m in debt.

True or false? Run the tests: Test #1: is there a connection between freedom and being in debt? I would say yes, having debt has implications on your freedom. Test #2: If you’re in debt, must it be the case that you are not taking advantage of the potential freedom you have? No, if you like the “script” (working, raising kids, living the American dream) then you would be taking advantage of the freedom you have, potentially by taking on debt.

Consider living my dream,
I must get rid of my debt,
Because I can’t live my dream with debt.

Test #1: You could argue that it’s not true you can’t live your dream with debt. I have a friend that just did a three-year meditation retreat still owing $40k on her student loans. It’s more stressful, sure, but it can be done. But even if you say that test #1 was true, then test #2 would be, “if you can’t live your dream with debt, must it be the case that you must get rid of your debt?” No, you can go on living without living your dream. Sounds sad, but anyway the syllogism fails.

Does that mean we should run around and run up a bunch of debt? I didn’t say that. I’ve posted on this subject before on my old blog, but what mental seeds do you plant by borrowing money and not paying it back? I always say, “I know a lot of Buddhists that wouldn’t steal, but they’ll borrow something and not give it back.” You tell me how that’s different.

Consider borrowing too much money,
I shouldn’t do it,
Because it will plant the mental seeds for stealing.

Run the tests: test #1, if I borrow too much money, am I planting the mental seeds for stealing? Yes, we just discussed it. At some point you will find difficulty paying the money back, in which case you’ll be stealing. Test #2: if I plant the mental seeds of stealing, must it be the case that I should’t do it? Yes, if you plant the mental seed for stealing then it must be the case that, at some point, you will not be able to get something you need.

But there’s another point Adam Baker makes: we buy things to get over the stress we make for ourselves by borrowing more money.

There are thousands and thousands of people out there living lives of quiet, screaming desperation who work long, hard hours, at jobs they hate, to enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like. (Nigel Marsh)

True or false?

Consider buying things,
I don’t need them,
Because ultimately they can’t make me happy.

Rabbits in the Moon

Following up on my last post, is thinking that the moon has a rabbit enough to put a rabbit in the moon?

Let’s talk about forks for a second. What makes a fork a fork? On one level, in the beginning was the word; a fork is a fork because we all agreed to call “a tined instrument used to eat food” a fork. We could just as easily have decided to call a fork spoons and then we would all call forks spoons. In other words, on one level if we all agree to call a fork a fork that’s what makes it a “fork.”

But does it really? Is it that simple? We have to say no: if calling a fork a fork made it a fork, then calling a fork a fork would make it a fork for your dog. But can your dog use a fork as a fork?

This is the same as the pen example we always use, but it applies here. If I define a pen as “an instrument that uses ink to write with” then a pen is not a pen for a dog, because they can’t use it, actually they can’t conceive of it, as a thing to write with. In the same way, you can show a fork to a dog, tell him it’s a fork, show him how to use it‚Ķ he can’t think of it that way; it’s not a fork for him.

There has to be something else going on. You’ll say, “Oh, that doesn’t explain anything, dogs are dumb.” That’s true, but that doesn’t help you explain what’s going on. If a fork was a fork from its own side, it would always be a fork. If you can call a fork a fork because you’re so smart, then you’re making the fork a fork–not the fork.

Is a fork a fork because we decide it’s a fork? It is for us, but not for any Spanish, German, or Chinese-speakers in the room (unless they also speak English). Is there a rabbit in the moon? Maybe for Tibetans, but I can’t see it. So is there a rabbit in the moon?

In the monastery they say “su la”: for whom? Is there a rabbit in the moon? For who? For me? No. For a Tibetan? Yes? So let’s write it as a syllogism:

Consider the rabbit in the moon,
It exists for Tibetans,
Because they see it.

True or False? Run the tests. Test #1: Do Tibetans see the rabbit in the moon? Yes. Test #2: If they see it, does it exist? Yes, having a valid perception of something is the definition for existence (existing in Tibetan Buddhism is defined as “that which is perceived by a valid perception”). So if a Tibetan has a valid perception of the rabbit in the moon, then it exists for them. But does that mean that it exists for me?

Consider the rabbit in the moon,
It exists for me,
Because Tibetans see it.

True or false? Test #1: Do Tibetans see the rabbit in the moon. Yes. Test #2: If Tibetans see a rabbit in the moon, does it necessarily exist for me? This is something I think you could debate. Can you think of a case where someone saw something that you didn’t see?

But to make the point more clear–consensus is not really a proof–let’s say all Tibetans decide the moon is a rabbit. Would that make it true?

Consider the moon,
It’s really a rabbit,
Because Tibetans think it is.

Test #1: Let’s say they do. Test #2: If Tibetans think the moon is really a rabbit, does that make it a rabbit? No, I don’t think so.

To use our fork example, let’s say we decide to calls forks spoons? Fine, no problem. But now let’s say you’re looking a spoon, can we decide that it’s a fork? If we all agree a spoon is a fork, will that make it a fork?

Consider this spoon,
It’s a fork,
Because we all agree it’s a fork.

Test #1: Let’s say we do. Test #2: If we all agree that something is a fork, does that make it a fork? Try it on a spoon at your house and see if it works.

Consider a green sun…

This is getting to be a bad habit; I’ve left a lot of loose threads open in these posts (as described in my last), but I wanted to write a quick post here. I’m off to Sacramento tomorrow to teach the ACI logic course (again), but before I go, I want to share something a friend of mine sent me:

Reading your book and enjoying it very much. Regarding the example on page 29. Well….. The sun is also GREEN. Although The sun is actually white, most of its energy is emitted on a wavelength of the color green. More info can be found here:

So the part of my book he is mentioning is from page 29; I wrote, “Conversely, consider the reason ‘because the sun is green.’ That reason is false, because a green sun does not exist.”

So if you go ahead and read the linked article, what you’ll find is that the sun is technically white, which means that it includes the entire spectrum of color. And, unfortunately for my example, the most predominant color in that spectrum is actually green. ūüėČ

Actually, I’m okay. White is not green. So if the sun is white, then sun is not green. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t emit green light; I didn’t say that. But the sun does not appear green. (Actually, maybe that would be more clear and maybe I will change that line in my book to read ‘because the sun appears green to the human eye.’)

But the reason I bring all this up is what I noticed in almost the last line of the article: “Sometimes the display color of the Sun is culturally determined. If a kindergartener in the USA colors a picture of the Sun, they will usually make it yellow. However, a kindergartener in Japan would normally color it red!”

It’s a big question whether belief can determine the truth of something (maybe I can tie this in to my last post yet); usually I approach this question by calling it the proof of consensus. For example, when Tibetans look at the moon they see a rabbit. I’ve tried for years; I can’t see it. But any Tibetan I’ve met will insist there’s a rabbit there.

So is that enough? Is there a rabbit in the moon?

Top 10 Most Common Atheist Arguments

I’m getting way behind on my posts, but I’ve noticed two things. One, this blog is turning out to be more about religious topics. So if you’re more interested in logic as it applies to business, finance, relationships, or health, then visit my sister blog over at

The other thing I’ve noticed is I keep wanting to come back to conversations about God. So I’ll come back to the question about identifying single causes to single results, my discussion of proving Buddhas, and a question I received about free will. But for now, I want to talk about an article a friend commented on Facebook, “Top 10 Most Common Atheist Arguments, and Why They Fail.”

Before discussing any particular points in the article, the first point I want to make is what I commented to my friend:

“Heya Frank; there are some talking points here, but by and large this article wasn’t so useful‚Ķ I’m not sure what he means by “argument.” He appears to think that if he has a rebuttal that’s the end of the matter. The beauty of Tibetan logic is that you take a syllogism and if you can disprove it, you have to posit one yourself–which then they can try to tear apart. But it only works if you keep to the structure; western or Tibetan there’s no structure to any of these “arguments” which makes “debate” mostly meaningless.”

Without structure, an “argument” becomes just that–in the negative connotation of the word, it degenerates to “Is so! Is not! Is so! Is not!” and again, for all intents and purposes, becomes meaningless. So in the monastery (and I would encourage anyone actually interested in pursuing developing thinking logically as a skill to do the same) you have to stick to the structure–it could be Platonic logic, or formal mathematical logical symbols, or whatever you prefer–but find a structure and stick to it.

My training is in Tibetan logic, so I’ll try to apply that here, and I’m going to take the author to task a bit, because at the beginning of his article he bemoans that the debate between atheists and monotheists has gotten stale. But if he wants to improve the quality of the debate, he has to use some structure to his arguments or again, the “debate” will just degenerate into “You’re wrong! No, you’re wrong!”

But for the record, I am not an atheist–unless you mean by atheist someone who denies an unchanging creator God. Again, definitions are important, and we have to be clear. So when you say “atheist,” what do you mean? Someone who denies Christianity? Someone who denies a creator God? Or someone who denies that higher powers could exist at all?

Since no definition was given in this article, I’ll assume by “atheist” the author means someone who denies God as defined by Orthodox Christianity. That being said, let’s look at “argument” number one:

1. There is no evidence for God’s existence.

Okay, so if I’m going to debate this, I need it in the correct structure. So that structure for me is a syllogism that includes a subject, assertion, and reason. So maybe something like this:

Consider God,
He does not exist,
Because there is no evidence for God’s existence.

That’s a pretty big claim. From Mr. Atheist’s side I’m assuming by “no evidence” he/she means no scientific evidence; that is, there’s no experiment that can prove God’s existence. If you really mean “no evidence” that’s a much bigger discussion, because then you would be denying that anyone had ever had any personal direct experience of God–a thing which would be very difficult, if not impossible, to prove logically. Muslims believe Mohammed met an angel who gave him God’s word, Tibetan Buddhists believe the five books of Maitreya were given by him directly to Master Asanga, Moses and the burning bush–there are many examples in scripture of direct contact between human beings and divinities. Maybe you don’t believe those stories, but logically proving those stories to be false would be difficult. (Were you there? Or please refer to the chapter in my book on using negative reasons.)

In any event, the author has two “arguments” against this line of reasoning. His first is, a Christian doesn’t have to answer this question. “For the Christian who believes in a transcendent God, he can offer no such evidence; to produce material evidence for God is, ironically, to disprove a transcendent God and cast out faith.”

So basically, to use our structure, the author is saying “kyabba ma jung” (SKYAB PA MA BYUNG)–not necessarily. In other words, it fails test number two: just because there is no [material] evidence for God’s existence, that doesn’t mean God does not exist.

And that’s actually a quite good argument, because, although the author doesn’t seem to know how to acknowledge it, in Tibetan logic there are two ways to know if something is true; two ways to establish something as a correct perception (TSAD MA): direct and indirect. Direct perception is what we can see with our senses; indirect perception is using deduction (logic). So that’s what we use to argue the importance of studying logic: if you can deduce correctly that something exists, then it does–it has the same ontological status as something you can see (for example).

So, the answer “not necessarily” to this syllogism is correct: just because there is no [material] evidence for something does not mean that it does not exist–because there is another way to establish the existence of something: to use deduction. (Take, for example, Buddhas.) So for Mr. Atheist, sorry, this argument doesn’t work.

But to stay in the structure of the debate, if our author says “not necessarily,” then the atheist should answer:

“So, just because there is no material evidence for God’s existence does not mean that he does not exist?” and our author says “Yes, that’s true.”

Then Mr. Atheist should say:

“It is so true that if there is no material evidence for God’s existence he does not exist, because you have no correct perception of his existence.”

The definition of existing in Tibetan logic is “that which is established by a correct perception.” If you have no correct perception of a thing, you cannot say it exists. Do horned rabbits exist? No. Why; how do you know? Because you haven’t seen one, nor can you prove that one exists.

So this has become a bit complicated; I hope you can follow it. I try to avoid doing this in my book; I’ve noticed whenever a debate depends on background information that is not common knowledge I lose people. But to understand this, you just have to know that you can’t say something exists unless you can perceive it directly or prove it exists logically. Otherwise, anything would be true: we have to have some basis logically to posit the existence of something or you can just believe whatever you want. (The moon is made out of cheese. Why? Because I think it is.)

So the author’s answer to this “argument” doesn’t make any sense (avoiding the irony, for a moment, that Mr. Atheist is wrong): to the syllogism “It is so true that if there is no material evidence for God’s existence he does not exist, because you have no correct perception of his existence” the author answers, “For the Christian who believes in a transcendent God, he can offer no such evidence; to produce material evidence for God is, ironically, to disprove a transcendent God and cast out faith.” So to the question you have no proof for God’s existence the author is basically saying, “I don’t have to prove God exists, because that would deny my faith.”


What kind of debate is that? Prove God exists. No, I don’t have to, because I believe in him on faith. Good for you, but how is this any answer to the question?

If you going to use faith as an answer that’s fine. I’m not here to challenge anyone’s faith. But if you are going to give faith as an answer, then don’t try to give me “reasons” why my arguments fail. If you’re in the faith business, you’re not in the logic business. Pick one or the other, you can’t have it both ways. (Actually, faith can be based on reasoning, but reasoning can’t be based on faith.) I posted on Facebook:

“I respect everyone’s beliefs (as long as they don’t hurt anyone), but it’s funny to me that you’re using reasons to try to prove logic is not valid. You can’t have it both ways; either God is faith or God is reason–chose one. If your belief in God is faith based, then you can’t use reasons why logic isn’t valid. But you’re on the right track; if Jesus is the truth, the way and the life, then you should try to inspire by example, let your relationship with his Presence be your guide to others.”

Again, this is fine. But then don’t tell me you have “reasons” why you are correct. Faith is not a correct reason; here it’s just an excuse to not provide a good reason. (Again, the irony being there is one.) If I were to write it out as a syllogism, it would look something like:

Consider faith,
It is not a valid reason,
Because it’s not based on a correct perception.

His second “argument” gets me back into discussing some of the issues I’ve discussed before, so I’ll save that for my next post.

Assumptions, Green Dragon Kung fu, and Removing Suffering

In reference to my last post, a friend of mine sent me this:

For example, here, to start off are, I suggest, two underpinning assumptions: (1) that a particular result can be properly attributed to a single cause (as opposed to a complexity of multiple causes and conditions); (2) that the cause is something that is able to be permanently prevented as opposed to being necessarily perpetual or otherwise some inescapable facet of our condition.

So these are good questions, I’ll start with the latter. But first, a quick work about assumptions‚Ķ I discuss assumptions in my book; I often hear from people the opinion that we don’t need to worry about whether something is logical or not because all “logic” depends on assumptions. I disagree, for more please see Appendix F of¬†my book.

But the gist of that chapter is that one of the purposes of logic (especially in its form as debate) is to undercover assumptions. So we often make assumptions, but eventually we should prove them all out. So let’s do some ¬†here.

I want to take up the second question first, because that is where I was going next with our argument to prove that Buddhas exist. To prove that Buddhas exist (or any divine being), the first necessary step is to prove that it’s possible to become such a being. This involves proving that the cause for a Buddha (the collection of merit and wisdom) is possible. The collection of merit is a collection–a positive thing–the collection of all of the good deeds of a Buddha. The collection of wisdom, however, is actually the elimination of a thing: the obstacles to omniscience. This involves permanently removing all of your mental affliction obstacles.¬†

Is it possible to do such a thing? If you believe so, then why? If you do believe it’s possible, but can’t give me a reason, then I would argue that you’re in danger of practicing green dragon kung fu.

So let’s prove that you can.

Consider your mental afflictions,
You can eliminate them permanently,
Because you can eliminate their cause.

So then the question is, can you eliminate the cause of your mental afflictions? In traditional Tibetan Buddhism, the root cause of all mental afflictions is that we misunderstand where things come from. From the Yoga Sutra (1.2), yogash chitta virti nirodhah: Yoga is stopping the wrong turnings of the mind. We twist around where things come from; we misunderstand the real causes of our experience. If you accept that, then the question becomes, can we stop misunderstanding our world?

So, if my debate partner answers “reason not established” to the syllogism above, I follow it up with:

Consider your mental afflictions,
You can eliminate their cause,
Because there is an antidote.

And that antidote is right understanding. If you take the vaccine for chicken pox, you can’t get chicken pox. If you understand where things come from, you will eliminate the causes the suffering.

What do you think?


Proving Buddhas

So how do we know if Buddhas exist? One way to approach it is to ask, “What does it take to become a Buddha?” In Buddhism, the cause of a Buddha is called the two collections of merit. What this means is, is it possible to eliminate all bad mental seeds and collect a mental seed that would produce everything good?

So we’ll do the latter first: is it possible to eliminate the causes for pain and suffering?

This is the foundation of traditional Buddhism. Buddha sat under a tree and realized four things; but the first and second are what we’re interested in here: what is suffering, and what causes it? Because if we can identify the cause of suffering, then, by extension we can eliminate it. Because if you remove the cause, you must remove the result.

Consider suffering,
You can remove it,
Because it has a cause.

So this is the root of all we talk about; when I teach why I think people should learn logic, I tell the story of Charles Whitman. His father was raised in an orphanage and went on to own a successful plumbing business; he described himself as a “self-made man.” So what did he teach his son? If you work hard, you’ll be successful. Is that true? (I cover this in my book.) It wasn’t for Charlie. (He got court-martialed and demoted and in the marines, and never achieved financial independence from his abusive father.) So to prove to everyone he was a hard worker and was good at something (the last thing he wrote was, “I never could quite make it. These thoughts are too much for me”), he bought five rifles and a shotgun and shot seventeen people.

This is an extreme example, but we think like this. If I work hard, I’ll be successful. Then when you’re not, you suffer and wonder why. But it was never logical to think that way in the first place.

So run the three tests on our syllogism above and let me know if it isn’t true.

Creating Buddha

So I was talking about the logic behind whether or not God exists, but someone in Doylestown asked me, “How do we know that Buddhas exist?”

This is an important subject for me, because one of the classical reasons for studying logic is to prove the existence of things that we cannot see, but need to understand, such as: whether Buddhas exist, is it possible to reach Nirvana, and/or is the Buddhist conception of emptiness true?

I always tell my story about Green Dragon Kung fu; how someone made up a style called “Green Dragon Kung fu,” because they didn’t want to pay the franchise fee to their kung fu teacher. So they changed some things, made up some new kung fu forms, and viola! Green Dragon Kung fu.

The problem with practicing Green Dragon Kung fu is, does it work? If someone just made it up, we’re not talking about something that has worked for thousands of years: are you going to spend your time studying something that might or might not work when you need to defend yourself?

How important then is it that what you study for your spiritual life is true? Should what you believe in be true or not? Are you going to spend the little amount of free time you have studying something that isn’t true?

If you consider yourself a Buddhist, do you believe that Buddhas exist? If not, how are you a Buddhist? If so, how do you know Buddhas exist? Have you seen one?

If not, then do you believe in Santa also? What’s the difference between believing ¬†in Santa or believing in Buddhas, if you don’t have a reason for believing in one or the other?

In Doylestown we covered a couple of different proofs for why Buddhas exist; I’ll do the easiest one first:

Consider Buddhas,
They exist,
Because the Dalai Lama says so.

So run the tests; the important test is going to be is it true that if the Dalai Lama says Buddhas exist, must they exist?

This is the concept in Tibetan Buddhism that they call “valid authority.” Of course you’re not supposed to believe something just because someone says it; if you do that then I have a bridge to sell you. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t believe what people tell us; we do this all the time. How much do you know about quantum physics? If not much, would you accept what a scientist tells you as true about quantum physics? Why or why not?

Whether you accept this syllogism or not depends on two things: whether you believe the Dalai Lama would lie to you or not and whether or not you consider the Dalai Lama to be able to possess such knowledge. If you believe the Dalai Lama wouldn’t lie to you, then the only thing left is to prove that he has the ability to know whether Buddhas exist or not. So we’ll cover that in the next post.


Creating a creator God

I received this comment to my FB page from my friend Leza Lowitz:

Love this post. How is “uncreated creator God?”defined? Why add the word “uncreated” here? Is that scriptural in Tibetan Buddhist texts? So then the question is– if Buddhism denies the existence of an “uncreated creator God” then does it accept the existence of a “created creator God?” And if so, who or what created that?

So these are good questions; I’ll try to answer them here.

I obviously can’t speak for Christianity; each denomination or church has different ideas about what God is or how we should think of God. But a simple google search gave me 100 Bible verses about how God is unchanging. I grew up Catholic and Church of Christ and both told me that God created the world, but was still somehow unchanging (unchanging and uncreated here being synonyms).

So as we said in the last post, logic would deny an unchanging creator as an internal contradiction. But then is the opposite true? Could a changing creator God exist?

This is the reason I do this debate; in Tibetan Buddhism we learn about hlas (LHA), that is, angels (also sometimes translated as “diety”). For example Chenrezig, Tara, or Manjushri. Tantric angels include Vajrayogini, Vajradhara, Chakrasamvara, or Yamantaka. What are these beings? How can we describe them?

Often in texts they are described as having created a mandala–meaning they have created their own world/paradise. Is this possible? Is there any logic behind it?

Basically, if you’re familiar with Geshe Michael teaching how the pen is coming from us, then if you extrapolate, everything is coming from us. This includes our world. So if the world is coming from us, then we are all changing creators: we all create the world we experience, based on the seeds we plant.

And so does Vajrayogini, for example. So:

Consider Vajrayogini,
She is a changing creator,
Because she projects the world she inhabits.

True or false? You have to run the tests…

There is no God

I went into DC this last weekend and found a place to stay on airbnb–I recommend it, save yourself some money and meet someone new. I met my new friend Chris, who is a thoughtful Catholic. We had a lot of nice conversations and hopefully both learned something new.

But I wanted to clear up what I see as a common misconception, that Buddhism denies the existence of God. Buddhism does not deny the existence of God. Buddhism denies the existence of an uncreated creator God.

I always teach in my classes that the first thing you have to do, if you want to debate with someone, is clarify your terms. It doesn’t do any good to debate with someone about the meaning of God, when one person thinks “God” is an old man in the sky and the other person thinks God is a divine formless principle; the debate will go nowhere.

But Buddhism does deny the existence of an uncreated creator God. Why? It’s a self-contraction. Anything that creates something, by the act of creation, changed: before you were something that hadn’t created something, but now you are something that created something. In the moment that you created something, you changed: you became someone who created something.

A syllogism would be:

Consider a creator God,
He/she must have changed,
Because he/she created something.

How do we know if this is true or false? We have to run the three tests:

Test #1: Did a creator God create something? Yes, they created the world.

Test #2: If someone created something, must they have changed?

Test #3: If someone did not change, must it be the case that they cannot have created something?

We would say “yes” to all these tests. What do you think?

Also, I’m in Doylestown so I’m going to randomly repost my event poster…


The logic of deterministic free will

We’re always asked on DCI tours, what about free will? If seeds determine everything that is going to happen, then the universe is deterministic and everything is already decided; the Calvinists were right.

The answer I usually give is that if the first law of seeds is correct (seeds are definite; that is, they must produce a similar result), then what is the result that must come from offering someone else a choice? A friend of mine just emailed me about this, so I thought maybe I would write it out as a formal syllogism:

Consider the ability to make choices,
It must exist for you,
Because you have offered choices to others.

True or false? Let’s run the tests:

Test #1: Is there a connection between the ability to make choices and offering choices to others? I would say yes, that’s the very seed for that thing.

Test #2: If you offer choices to others, must the ability to make choices exist for you? Yes, the law of seeds #1 says that.

Test #3: If you the ability to make choices does not exist for you, does that mean you have not offered choices to others in the past? Again, I would argue yes here too. If you don’t give away money, you won’t have money in the future.

What do you think?