“All You Need Is Love?” How important is Learning to Think?

Life probably did not spend the last two million years evolving frontal lobes for the fun of it. Executive functions like problem solving as well as parietal lobe functions like language have huge adaptive advantages. This is so obvious that it is something of a mystery why so many people who seek spiritual growth distrust reason and tend to view people who ask questions and look for evidence as cold, egg-headed intellectuals, as if it were impossible for love and reason to co-exist. The truth is, reason without love is, like Mr. Spock in Star Trek, dispassionate and seemingly lacking in compassion, while love without reason, like Alice in Alice in Wonderland, is naively trusting and less than honest about its true preferences, for fear of offending others and appearing unloving.

For these reasons, Integral Deep Listening (IDL) attempts to honor both love and reason. It honors love by showing respect, not only to other people, but to dream characters and the personification of our life issues. It attempts to treat all others, not just all other people, as we would want to be treated if we were them. Is there a higher form of love? More specifically, love is taught by IDL through its interviewing protocols and the application in our daily lives of the recommendations that issue from them. IDL honors thinking by teaching problem solving, objectivity and reasoning ability as essential tools to become unstuck from our current dramas so that we are free to move forward. It teaches reason by encouraging the examination of personal scripting so we can transcend its imprisoning injunctions, cognitive distortions, so that emotional, logical and perceptual delusions do not act as filters that stand between us and our life compass, our direction forward. All these areas and their rationales are addressed in Waking Up. 

What follows is the chapter in Waking Up on logical, or formal, cognitive distortions. These are common errors in reasoning which, if unrecognized, create misery, misunderstanding and self-inflicted barriers to development regardless of how much love you have in your heart, how pure your intent is, or how wise your particular guru might be. IDL believes that if you do not learn to recognize and call out these forms of irrationality they will keep you from thinking clearly and solving the interpersonal and life problems that matter to you. If you meditate to learn to witness, to gain objectivity regarding your life dramas, but do not recognize and catch these logical fallacies, your meditation will continue to operate in a prepersonal, prerational, belief-based context rather than in the transpersonal context that you desire and are sure you are in.  That’s how important it is to understand and catch logical fallacies.

Therefore, you are encouraged to start looking for these common flaws in thinking in what you read, your conversations with others, and, most importantly, in your own thoughts. Once you identify one, name it for what it is. This is the first, essential step in learning to choose a way forward that is both loving and rational. As always, IDL welcomes your questions, experiences and contributions as we help each other to wake up and move into more effective, compassionate deep listening and service to all sentient beings.

7: Getting Rid of Your Logical Cognitive Distortions

Why logical fallacies matter

We have seen that identifying when others are in the Drama Triangle provides you with the objectivity to choose not to respond with a complementary role, saving you untold amounts of interpersonal grief. We have seen how identifying when you are in the Drama Triangle in your thoughts and feelings — your cognitive domain — provides you with the objectivity to choose to stop persecuting or rescuing yourself or playing the victim in your own thoughts and feelings. We have also seen how identifying when you are in the Drama Triangle while you are dreaming provides you with the objectivity to stop generating the drama that is the seedbed for waking suffering.

We have also seen how identifying your emotional cognitive distortions interrupts drama. Irrational thoughts and images no longer generate dysfunctional emotional conclusions, including anxiety and depression. By identifying your cognitive distortions you are cultivating the witness by objectifying your feelings. Instead of your feelings describing you, as in “I’m sad; I’m angry,” they are characteristics or expressions that are available to you: “I am feeling sad;” “I am choosing to feel angry.” Such witnessing is one of the six core qualities. It allows you to observe yourself and the drama of your life going by. It is meant to be applied in your relationships, thinking and dreaming.

Logical fallacies are rational, or mid-personal delusions, which is very different from emotional cognitive distortions, which are pre-rational, mid-prepersonal delusions. Logical fallacies are a formal type of cognitive distortion and represent categories of delusional ways of thinking that are broader than emotional cognitive distortions. As such, logical fallacies are more abstract and therefore more difficult to grasp at first. They require causal or rational thinking, not simply the habitual, scripted impulsive language of emotional cognitive distortions. However, once you recognize these categories you will not only think more clearly but you will find yourself getting drawn less frequently into the delusional thought processes of friends on social media, newscasts, salesmen, politicians, bosses, employees, and family members.

Although anyone at any level of development can indulge in emotional, logical and perceptual cognitive distortions, logical fallacies are fundamentally errors in reasoning, and reasoning is a mid-personal level competency. Failure to catch logical fallacies is a sign that cognitive development, generally the leading line, is not yet mid-personal, so those behaviors and statements that appear to be above and beyond, such as altruism and mystical experiences either indicate outstanding developmental lines or authentic healthy expressions of lower stages of development.

Because cognition is a line of development, the ability to think logically is also a sign of your degree of cognitive development. Just because you have had mystical experiences, lucid dreams or are psychic is no indication that you think straight and therefore are anywhere past early personal, at best, in your overall level of development. If you want to have clarity about mystical experiences, states, and stages, you need to learn how to recognize and avoid logical cognitive distortions, which are different from emotional cognitive distortions. While both are delusions, fallacies are mistakes either in your assumptions or the conclusions that you draw from them. They do not so much make you depressed or anxious as they keep you stuck in thinking you’re right when you’re wrong, real when you’re illusory, clear when you’re muddy, and straight when you are as twisted as a barrel full of eels.

Just because you access a transpersonal state in no way indicates that you are at a transpersonal level of development. In order to stabilize at a higher level of development on a permanent basis you have to learn to think straight. Why? Because the transpersonal transcends and includes both prepersonal faith and belief and personal level rationality. If something isn’t rational, it may be a miracle, it may be oneness, it may be unifying, or divine love, but it doesn’t represent and individual at a transpersonal level of development. Instead, it indicates a transpersonal state, and children and criminals can and do have them.

Mystical experiences of all sorts do not translate into ongoing transpersonal states. To access and maintain a higher level of development you have to learn to witness both your prepersonal and personal levels of development. Staying out of the Drama Triangle is a way to teach you to witness your emotional identifications at whatever stage you are presently stuck. Staying out of logical cognitive distortions is a way to teach you to witness your rational blockages at whatever stage you are presently stuck. Recognizing logical fallacies is a further refinement of this ability to witness personal level delusions that can and will be carried into mystical states if you do not learn to witness those delusions.

You are unlikely to make many friends by pointing out logical fallacies, so be careful! People tend to take personally being shown that they are irrational or don’t know what they are talking about when they generally are sure that they do and are confident that they are making perfect sense. Practice a little empathy and realize that you are likely to be viewed as opinionated, arrogant, non-empathetic, a stickler for details and someone who just misses the point if you point out the logical fallacies of others. Of course such reactions are defenses to keep us from facing the fact that we just don’t know what we are talking about, but are already so self-critical that we take the noting of our logical fallacies as personal criticism. Consequently, unless your relationship is a good one, you are a teacher, or you have some other permission to point out formal cognitive distortions, it is generally best to note them to yourself and avoid the topic if you can. However, lie in wait for neutral moments when you might be able to bring up the fallacy that was used but in relation to someone else who used it with the person. If you point it out and see how it operates, they are learning about it and are less likely to use it themselves in the future.

There are over three hundred identified cognitive distortions! Here are some of the more common ones, why they are dangerous and you need to avoid them and some suggestions about how to do so. In the tables accompanying each category, the initials “ECD” and “DT” stand for “emotional cognitive distortion” and “Drama Triangle.” For a fuller list and treatment, see “Logically Fallacious: The Ultimate Collection of Over 300 Logical Fallacies.”

Ad Hominem

Latin for “to the man,” ad hominem is an attempt to discredit an opinion, perspective or point of view by attacking the person instead of their argument. Here are a couple examples:

“What do you know about intuition? You’re a man.”

“What do you know about business? You’re a woman.”

Do you see how insulting this sounds? Do you see how evasive ad hominem is? Do you see how gender has absolutely nothing to do with the point in question?

The best response to ad hominem as well as all logical cognitive distortions is to shift levels. If you protest an argument (“I know a lot about intuition!” “I have been in business for forty years!”) you have given a diversionary argument credibility. Instead, you have to refuse to play. You do so by simply saying, “That is an ad hominem argument. You are attempting to discredit what I am saying by attacking me. That’s a logical fallacy.” What you are doing is responding to a personal attack with information. This keeps you in a neutral, responsible adult role and relatively out of drama.

Example That’s not an ad hominem …. you idiot.
Summary Translates as “to the man” and refers to attacks on some opponent rather than on the validity of their evidence or logic.
Related ECD/DT Blaming oneself, a form of self-persecution, is a form of ad hominem attack; because you fail you attack yourself as a failure.
Avoiding it. Assume attack on personality or character is this logical fallacy until proven otherwise.

Faulty Cause

Also called Post Hoc, these arguments assume that because one thing happened after another that it must have been caused by it. Instead of showing a causal link between ideas you are substituting association or relationship:

“Many women claim to be pacifists, but before women got the vote, there were no nuclear weapons.”

“I ate spinach and came down with hives. Eating spinach causes hives.”

You can see that there is no causal relationship between the conclusion and premise of these statements.

To deal with ad hoc, ask questions. “How is it that you think that turning on the seatbelt sign causes it to get bumpy?” “What makes you think that eating spinach causes hives?” Simply questioning may cause a person to realize the absurdity of their claim.

Example Because Russia is our enemy, Russia must have done it.
Summary Instead of showing a causal link between ideas you are substituting association or relationship:
Avoiding it Question the underlying assumptions.


Dogmatism is one of the most basic and primitive of logical fallacies because it doesn’t even pretend to be rational. The speaker is so sure of his or her certainty and truth that it is offensive and beneath them to even appeal to rationality. There is an obvious and evident disdain for logic, reason and causation because they are beneath the level of trans-rational truth that the speaker discloses.

This form of irrationality remains remarkably prevalent and current in an increasingly skeptical world that expects proof, reasons and knows how to fact-check. The reason why it is still so widely used is because dogmatism cannot be refuted because it never claims to be rational or logical in the first place.

Anything that validates or justifies itself on the basis of some metaphysical reality or entity, like God, or some faculty that cannot be measured, such as intuition, a hunch, luck, fate, the heart, psychism or spirituality, takes upon itself the burden of proof to show how and why it is not dogmatic.

A simple way to determine if a statement is dogmatic is by observing the response to any request for proof or validation. It will typically be an appeal to the authority of one’s own “inner voice,” to God, a psychic, or to scripture, all sources which are themselves dogmatic, in that they do not base their truth on reason or logic. If the validity of these sources is questioned, the response is generally a form of anger, indicating a sense of violation and personalization, a fundamental emotional cognitive distortion.

Example “I believe because it is absurd.” (Tertullian)
Summary A direct appeal to the authority of belief, ignoring or defying reason.
Related DT Self-righteous persecutor seeing self as rescuer
Avoiding it Name it: “That is dogmatism.” Explain why it is toxic and shuts down communication.

False Dilemma

You present only two possible alternatives to a complex situation when in fact there are many more possibilities.

“You don’t support our troops, and that makes you a traitor.”

“You are either with God or you are against him.”

“I thought you were a good person but you weren’t in church today.”

One response is to point out that it is a logical fallacy, as a question, and then to explain why:

“Isn’t this a logical fallacy called a false dilemma? Isn’t it possible for someone to not support our troops and be patriotic when they are fighting and unjust war?”

“…Isn’t it possible that one might not believe in God or support some things attributed to God, like blessings, and not others, like earthquakes and disease?”

“…Isn’t it possible that good people might not go to church or perhaps the church is filled with bad people who only think they’re good?”

Example “You either love me or him.”
Summary You attempt to force agreement or rejection by presenting a black and white, yes or no choice when other possibilities are present.
Avoiding it Name it: “That is a logical fallacy called “false dilemma” because there are other choices available.

Guilt by Association

I will attempt to undercut your credibility by associating you with someone terrible, like Hitler.

“How can you defend Christianity? Torquemada was a Christian.”

“You hang out with rednecks; therefore you must be a redneck.”

The best response is to say, “The strength of my argument stands or falls on its own merit, regardless of who makes it.”

Example “You’re Jewish so you must be a Zionist.”
Summary A form of hasty generalization, a logical fallacy.
Avoiding it Question your assumptions and seek additional information to verify them.

Loaded Question

Your question puts controversial or unjustified conditions on my answer:

“In your opinion, what makes the iPhone the best smartphone?”

“Do you still beat your wife?”

You can see pretty clearly that there is no way you can answer a loaded question without being manipulated. In the case of, “Does this dress make me look fat?” this is a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. Therefore, the best response is to say, “That’s a loaded question which is a type of logical fallacy. No answer I give can be truthful or accurate.”

Example “Have you stopped beating your wife?”
Summary Any answer to a loaded question is a trap.
Avoiding it Name it: “That is a loaded question. If I say ‘yes,’ it implies I was beating her before; if I say ‘no,’ it implies I am still beating her.”

Straw Man Fallacy

You make stuff up and attribute it to your opponent, hoping either your opponent will waste time defending what she didn’t say or that listeners won’t know your opponent’s position well enough to know that you are not attacking it. The other person’s position is presented as so extreme that no one will agree with it.

“Since you don’t believe in God or souls you are a nihilist and nihilists find no meaning or purpose in life. Therefore you are saying life has no meaning or purpose.”

Respond by saying, “That is the ‘straw man’ logical fallacy because you are arguing that I am a nihilist when I am not.”

Example You Support Hitler, who gassed Jews.
Summary Raises a false argument and destroys it
Related ECD Jumping to Conclusions
Avoiding it Say, “You are changing the subject. I said I support peace.”

Hasty Generalization

One blind scholar grabs an elephants’ trunk and declares an elephant is like a snake. Another, its ear and concludes it resembles a palm leaf, and so forth. This is a failure to ask questions and gather a broad body of evidence on which to reach some statement of truth. This is a formal variety of the emotional cognitive distortion of “Jumping to Conclusions.” The difference is in the level of abstraction. Jumping to conclusions will be primarily motivated by feelings or evoke strong ones, like blaming a child for farting at the table when it was the dog underneath it. Hasty Generalizations cloak emotional bias in statements that sound objective and factual: “All politicians/men/women are the same.”

Deal with Hasty Generalizations by asking questions. “Have you considered grabbing the tail as well?” “Isn’t Bowzer lying under the table?”

Example If I won once (at the casino) I will win again.
Summary Mistakes a small incidence for a larger trend.
Related ECD/DT A common rationalization to support addiction
Avoiding it Ask, “Is there information on probability I should take into account?”

Begging the Question

“Begging the Question” is a circular argument in which the conclusion is included in the premise. You make an assumption and don’t ask if the assumption is correct. You avoid asking the important question.

“I believe in God because God IS.”

“The Bible is the Word of God because God tells us it is…in the Bible.”

“Psychic experience is real because I have had psychic experiences.”

Say, “Aren’t you presupposing that the claim that psychic experience is real is true? How is this not circular reasoning?” See if you can identify the important underlying question and ask it: “How is that a proof of the existence of God?” “How do we know God and not people wrote the Bible?”

Example Climate change deniers are dangerous because they deny climate change.
Summary Repeats the same argument over and over again, instead of providing substantiation for it.  A = A, with nothing else!
Avoiding it Ask,”How are you not saying this is true because it is true?”

Ad ignorantiam

“My belief is true because we don’t know it isn’t true.”

This fallacy is pervasive among believers in placebo cures like homeopathy, kinesiology, energy medicine, shamanism, laying on of hands or prayer and those advocating systems of belief that cannot be disproved, like intuition, “gut feelings,” psychic perception, God, souls and life after death.

The philosopher Karl Popper pointed out that if an idea, belief or assertion isn’t falsifiable there is no way to prove it to be true. That is, if you don’t have any way to disprove a claim then you have no grounds for believing in it either.

The way to deal with arguments from ad ignorantiam is to innocently ask, “Is there any evidence that this operates above chance?” What this statement does is attempt to avoid the endless anecdotes and examples of miracle cures and proofs of God’s existence from near death experiences. However, True Believers will simply be offended and dismiss you as an overly-critical skeptic anal asshole. Therefore, unless you don’t mind being the skunk at the picnic, it is perhaps better to change the subject in an informational way: “Are you familiar with the fascinating research into placebo effects?” or, “Are you familiar with the ad ignorantiam logical fallacy?” The object is to attempt to have an informational conversation without getting into a preachy or condescending place.

Example “There is an ancient civilization under the ice of antarctica.”
Summary If you manage to drill through miles of antarctic ice and find nothing it is because you have searched in the wrong place.
Avoiding it These arguments are irrational and pre-rational; therefore there is really nothing you can say that is going to be heard. At most you can point out that it is a logical fallacy called ad ignorantiam, because it cannot be disproven. Treat these claims like the tar babies they are – avoid them.

Burden of Proof Reversal

I make a claim and make it your job to prove or disprove it.

“We know Jesus walked on water. You can’t disprove it.”

“Reptilian aliens call Dracos exist and control the governments of the world.”

“A pre-Adamic civilization billions of years old has been discovered under the ice of Antarctica and its existence hidden from humanity by the government.”

This is a relatively easy fallacy to recognize and counter. Just say, “May I see your evidence?”

Example “There is a world-wide conspiracy.”
Summary Generally the statement of an assertion as fact, with the implication that you have to disprove it.
Avoiding it Asking, “May I see your evidence?” may work in some cases, but beware – this can enmesh you in endless debate about irrelevant or difficult to prove topics

Non Sequitur

The conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise.

“”People died of cancer before smoking was invented, so smoking doesn’t cause cancer.”

“People like to have mystical experiences. Therefore they should drop acid.”

Say, “Excuse me…I’m confused. Could you please explain to me how that conclusion follows from your first statement?” Since this cannot be done, the other party generally figures out that they have been caught and then changes the subject.

Example If you loved me, you’d love this car.
Summary Translates as “it does not follow,” confuses correlation for cause, because one thing followed another — but there might be another cause.
Avoiding it Ask: “Could there be another cause?” “Are these two ideas related?”

Develop a healthy sense of skepticism.

Bandwagon Fallacy

If it’s popular, it must be correct!

Because “everybody” believes something it must be true.

“Everybody says Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, so it must be true.”

“Everybody says Russia is a threat that hacked our elections, so it must be true.”

“Everybody I know believes in no-gluten diets so they must work.”

“Everybody is smoking, getting tattoos and piercings, drinking, doing drugs and having sex, so I should too, especially if I want to be popular.”

Ask, “How does the popularity of no-gluten diets have any relevance at all to whether it is effective or not?”

Example Everyone’s doing it, so it must be OK.
Summary Uses social acceptability as a cudgel to demand conformity. Ignores the reality of non-majority information, facts, and arguments.
Avoiding it Ask, “Is this groupthink, another collective delusion?”

Argument from Authority

You appeal to the authority of a popular or authoritative person rather than to a knowledgeable one.

“Because I said so, that’s why.”

“To assert that the earth revolves around the sun is as erroneous as to claim that Jesus was not born of a virgin.” Cardinal Bellarmine, Trial of Galileo, 1633.

Ask yourself, “Does this information come from someone competent in this field?”

Say, “That is an argument from authority, a logical fallacy. What does the endorsement by this person have to do with deciding whether this product/point is useful/valid or not?”

Example He’s popular and he smokes… smoke and you’ll be popular too.
Summary You change the subject from the evidence to some respected endorser of it.

Victims require rescuing, creating susceptibility to this fallacy,

Ingnorance requires expert opinon, creating susceptibility to this fallacy.

Avoiding it Ask, “Does this authority have expertise in this area?”


Interrupting is your way of demonstrating that what you have to say is more important than what the other person has to say. Interrupting is manipulative, controlling, thoughtless and selfish, providing that the other person isn’t being controlling by talking in paragraphs or telling long stories that require patient listening, without first getting the permission of the audience.

Interrupting is a very common and effective way of establishing control in a conversation and dominance in a relationship. Therefore it has large emotional and social benefits and is a difficult habit to break.

If you don’t want to be interrupted, do three things:

  1. Don’t interrupt. If you do you are giving others permission to interrupt you.
  2. Don’t talk in paragraphs. If you do you are giving others no choice but to interrupt you.
  3. When people interrupt stop what you are saying and point out that they are interrupting. Have a conversation about the reasons and consequences of interrupting. Get an agreement that you will not interrupt each other.
    Example “…it’s sufficient reason to…”Which reminds me of the time when..”
    Summary Perhaps the most common and overlooked form of abuse and persectution in the Drama Triangle.
    Avoiding it Ask, “Do you realize you just interrupted me?”

Changing the Subject

You have probably noticed by now that formal cognitive distortions use confusion or distraction to change the subject. When this is the case, your job is to politely say, “That may be true, and I will be happy to talk about that as soon as we are done addressing this issue.” What you will be surprised to discover is that rarely, if ever, does the other person ever return to their subject, proving that it was a manipulative ploy designed to derail you and take the heat off them in one way or another.

Notice that some logical fallacies, like ad hominem, involve changing the subject to you, hoping you will get defensive and protect yourself, while others, like Straw Man, change the subject by reconfiguring the argument.

It is unrealistic to expect other people to be rational and logical; these are higher order skills that have to be learned and that generally are not necessary or rewarded at home, school or work. Recognize that in everyday life what is rewarded is agreeableness, compliance and efficiency, not logic or reason. Therefore, respect and honor the level of development of others while remaining vigilant. Just as with scripting, the Drama Triangle and emotional cognitive distortions, your responsibility is to get clear of your own logical filters and delusions so that you can deeply and respectfully listen to others.

Example Well, it wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t…
Summary The simplest and easiest way to avoid responsibility, it is found in many logical fallacies.
Avoiding it Say, “That may be true, and I’ll be glad to address it as soon as we have dealt with…”

Ignoring Occam’s Razor

“There is a face on Mars, proving extraterrestrials exist.”

Later, more detailed satellite photography disclosed that what appeared to be a face was a completely natural formation that only appeared to be a face because of the particular shadow and lighting at the time the picture was taken. The problem with this statement, besides the fact that it had no evidence to support it, was that it was not the simplest explanation available that covered the known information. This is the principle of Occam’s Razor: When faced with more than one explanation for a situation, experience or phenomenon, favor the one that is simplest and still covers the available information. For example, deja vu experiences can be very convincing and synchronicities quite amazing. However, while these may indeed be psychic experiences, Occam’s Razor says that the most likely explanation is mental association of similar memories and coincidence. We tend to routinely underestimate some events, like the likelihood we will run into someone with the same birthdate or that whom we know when we are traveling, and routinely overestimate others, like “proving” that there is only a one in a million chance that something like Fukushima could happen.

The cure for ignoring Occam’s Razor is simply to ask, “Is this the simplest explanation available that covers all we know?”

Example Sunspots are caused by human wars and emotional disturbances.
Summary Occam’s Razor is the scientific principle that the simplest of any given hypothesis that covers available data is likely to be the correct one.
Avoiding it Ask, “Is this the simplest explanation to cover all the known facts?”

Weasel Words

Like weasels, weasel words are hard to catch. The problem is that you think you know what they mean, but your meaning is entirely different from that of the speaker. Examples of weasel words include spiritual, quantum, energy, scientific, statistically valid, love, patriotism, God, soul, freedom, democracy, and justice. For example, when George W. Bush said that he was going to invade Iraq to bring freedom and democracy, freedom meant submission to the US and democracy meant the installation of a government suitable to the US. Ken Wilber has shown that “spiritual” can refer to either a feeling, a state, a stage of development or a goal, like enlightenment. If one doesn’t carefully define what they mean the results will either be misleading, confusing or outright manipulative. You will think you the speaker means one definition when they mean another. Another example is “love.” How many people have been abused, divorced or killed in the name of love?
If you must use a word with multiple meanings that is also emotionally charged and often used to manipulate people, specify what you mean and don’t mean. When someone else uses a weasel word assume that you don’t know what they mean and enquire.

Other words that keep you stuck in emotional cognitive distortion

There are several words that will put you in the role of persecutor in the Drama Triangle, two of which we have discussed above, one or two that will put you into the role of victim, and one that will put you into the role of rescuer. These are to be learned and avoided, both in communication and your self-talk. For a full explanation of why each is to be avoided, see Words that Keep You Stuck in Drama.1

Persecutor role words and substitutions:

should > want/need to

ought > would be better if…

must/must not > want/ don’t want

fault > responsibility

blame > responsible

always > usually/mostly

never > infrequently/hardly ever

Victim role words and substitutions:

can’t > can/will/hope/believe/not sure

I don’t know > How can I find out?

But > and

Rescuer role words and substitutions:

need > want

Why don’t you.. > What are your options?

Two Advanced Logical Cognitive Distortions

The following two logical cognitive distortions, the pre-trans fallacy and the ranking fallacy, are “graduate level”, because they are more about failures in thinking about thinking. They are logical fallacies that support, but do not create, perceptual cognitive distortions.

The “Pre-Trans Fallacy”

Procrustes was a robber in Greek mythology. He would waylay travelers and tie them to his bed, which was a rack. If they were too short to fit it, he would stretch them on the rack until they did. If they were too long for his bed, he would “shorten” them until they fit. This is a metaphor that describes exactly what you do to your world when you use this cognitive distortion. First described by Ken Wilber in 1978 in The Atman Project, the pre-trans fallacy creates and validates grandiosity.

It does so by confusing early and late developmental stages in one of two ways. Either experiences associated which higher and expanded states of consciousness are confused with early ones in a fallacy called “reductionism,” or early developmental stages are confused with later ones in a fallacy called “elevationism.” In either case, the result is grandiosity. Reductionism occurs when you “reduce” experiences that transcend and include your experience to your level or to a previous, less developed levels, usually as immature delusions. For example, this occurs when near death or other mystical experiences are reduced to brain chemistry and psychotic hallucinations. Most 20th century scientists, from Freud to Skinner to Watson and Crick, commit this fallacy.

Reductionism is also a form of discounting. It cuts you off from your emerging potentials by assuming they are of no value or importance. An excellent example is the common assumption that dream characters are mere aspects of self or “day residue,” largely bizarre or insignificant reflections of mundane or trivial events. Reductionism aborts your development by blocking all the stairs that lead upward by claiming they actually lead downward, to the basement. When you use reductionism, you describe your experience in ways that makes growth past a certain point impossible. Use of drugs cannot open you up to emerging potentials; they can only confuse you and lead you toward decompensation and psychosis. The conflict between potentials that want to emerge and the truncated reality you insist on validates grandiosity because it confirms that your present level is the peak of human development.

Famous reductionists include Freud, who believed science and reason was the crowning achievement of humanity and therefore viewed mystical states as regressions to infantile forms of oneness and religion as a delusion; Descartes, who believed animals were machines; Richard Dawkins, who viewed life as an expression of genetic mechanisms; and Marx, who famously viewed religion as “the opium of the people.”

Elevationism, on the other hand, aborts development by substituting delusion for growth. Voodoo trances, childhood clairvoyance or lucid dreaming by children or criminals are taken to be indications of advanced development. “Intuition,” “spirit guides,” channeled messages, one’s “still small voice,” mystical and near death experiences or “feelings” are considered unquestionable sources of truth. To question them is often taken as a personal insult.

Why does this occur? Those who have had near death, psychic or mystical experiences know what they know. Such experiences are normally not only expansive but transformative. They may broaden one’s world view and move us to a much less self-centered, compassionate, accepting and peaceful approach to life. Who can argue with that?

Such experiences are openings into broader, more inclusive perspectives. These are normally temporary, transitory, and notoriously difficult to duplicate. As such they are states of greater potential or vision. These states are typically mistaken for the actual attainment of advanced developmental stages.

This occurs because of a variety of the fallacy of authority: because they had such a special experience, they must be special too. They must have some knowledge, some experience or some secret that I don’t. People go away from such experiences often convinced that they are special, that they have gotten the Holy Spirit, seen the Secrets of the Universe, spoken directly to God, or are now an enlightened master. If such a person is highly charismatic his conviction will inspire and sway others. This is the story of Saul of Tarsus and it is the story of Andrew Cohen, creator of “What is Enlightenment?” magazine and famous discredited cult leader.

If someone has had super-special experiences, you can easily be inspired, in awe, and conclude that they must be super special. Because they have accessed higher states, you assume that your teacher is enlightened. The same holds true for you. If you access one of these higher mystical or yogic states, like lucid dreaming, it is easy to conclude that you are, therefore, enlightened. This is called ego inflation or grandiosity. It is higher-order narcissism. If others become convinced by your certainty, passion and charisma and naively reach this same conclusion. This is the psychology behind the long history of belief in the apocalypse; followers suspend thinking and reason and simply believe. In fact, this has been a mainstream teaching within world religions for millennia. For example, St. Augustine famously said, “You are not required to understand in order to believe, but to believe in order to understand.” Because of this mutual delusion, those convinced of their enlightenment present themselves as someone who needs to be listened to as the enlightened conveyors of truth, rather than encouraging others to listen to their own life compasses. Consequently, they inflict their partial and unbalanced development on those who listen to them.

It is common for believers in integral, new age energy and quantum everything, positive thinking and miracles, to view science and those who insist on things making sense and who require “proof,” as reductionists. They tend to dismiss scientists and philosophers as “humanistic materialists” who do not believe in anything. They view themselves as much more enlightened and open-minded by comparison. In addition, they tend to see scientists and philosophers as selfish, unloving, rigid and close-minded in comparison to themselves. Paradoxically, they tend to claim that their own methods, generally “intuitive” and “heart-centered,” are scientific. They become easily seduced by people, methods and groups that use scientific jargon or claim to be founded on science, like neuro-linguistic programming, quantum anything and radionics. Beneath a superficial smugness, dismissal and superiority, a secret desire to possess the social status of scientists is implied.

Despite its reputation for being inspirational and progressive, elevationism is regressive. People who take the Bible as literal Truth and put creationism on the same level as evolution are elevationists. They are comfortable in their churches but find themselves out of their depth with scientists. However, this conundrum is deeper than religion and science. Scientists can be elevationists for various reasons. Telihard de Chardin was an anthropologist, Jesuit scholar and elevationist. Carl Jung was a medical doctor who saw psychic phenomena as openings into higher dimensions. There is much good in the thinking of both men, but elevationism holds out false hope. Religions, particularly their ecstatic and mystical branches, are elevationistic, as are mediums, channelers, gurus and most spiritual teachers. Integral philosophy, which takes the existence of transpersonal states accessible to children and criminals as proof of transpersonal stages, is elevationistic.

Elevationism boils down to irrational optimism. It is irrational because it lacks good reasons to support it and necessary proof. Anyone who bases their reality on their beliefs will find themselves out of their depth in a culture that is free to question and challenge all beliefs. Similarly, anyone who bases their reality on reason will find themselves out of their depth in a culture that is trans-rational, meaning that it thinks clearly but yet does not base its meaning and worth on logic or logical conclusions.

Reductionism and elevationism develop because pre-rational stages of development and post-rational stages of development are both non-rational, meaning that they are easily confused. Because people who are pre-rational or rational have read about mystical states or experienced them themselves, they think things that are psychic or miraculous are post-rational, when they can and do occur at any level of development.

While we normally think of elevation in the realm of religion and spirituality, far greater damage is done in the field of economics. While economists generally know nothing about the transpersonal and care even less, they are very concerned with making principled arguments that are posed as being for the betterment of all mankind. In such a way, they consider their motives to be reflective of the greatest good for the greatest number, which means that from their perspective, their economic theory is better than anything trans-rational, if such does exist, which they doubt. Marx’s vision of egalitarian society, idealistic in the extreme, was twisted and corrupted to validate massive oppression and brutalization. This is an example of the first variety of pre-trans fallacy, of reductionism, in which greedy and selfish people take a noble, uplifting ideal and use it to enslave masses. On the other hand, neo-liberalism, a conservative-libertarian form of capitalism, is an example of elevationism. It so elevates the ideal of prosperity, in the form of policies based on trickle-down and austerity, that it destroys entire economies, from Chile, to England, to the United States. In neo-liberalism, greedy and selfish people concoct seemingly rational, analytically sophisticated and principled reasons to rip off individuals and entire cultures. These people are neo-Darwinian plutocrats who care primarily for their own class and empathize only superficially, for purposes of publicity, with the needs or concerns of those who lack wealth and power. Their goal is to maximize profits by externalizing costs, which means having someone else, anyone else or nature, pay the price for their exploitation. As the noted economist John Kenneth Galbraith said, “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” From these two economic examples, we can see that the pre-trans fallacy has immense practical consequences, not only for human development, but also for the quality of everyday life. It determines whether people even have the luxury of the time to consider such issues.

An example closer to home commonly occurs when you know what your partner, children or co-workers are wanting as soon as they approach you. You don’t have to listen, because you have heard it all before. You believe you can tell them what they are going to say, so why listen? This is elevationism of your knowledge to the level of intuition, clairvoyance and principled wisdom. It might as well be transpersonal, because in your mind you know what they are saying and why they are saying it, and you already know what the answer is. Can you see how audaciously self-centered and disrespectful such a presumption is? It is also reductionist and discounting behavior, because you know that the other person will not present information that transcends and includes your understanding. Your certainty of your knowledge justifies your ignoring them, thinking about something else, cutting them off or smiling, nodding and summarily forgetting what they said. You think you are listening, but if you were asked to repeat what they said, could you? Most people will answer affirmatively, but when put to the test and actually required to paraphrase the gist of what someone said to them, most people hear about 30% accurately. IDL interviewing is designed to first interrupt and then eliminate this extremely common and arrogant habit. It does so by teaching a phenomenological method that involves suspending all such judgments in favor of practicing deep listening.

You can probably recognize ways that you are commonly a victim of reductionism and elevationism, but how about the pre-trans fallacy itself? You may be a victim of the elevationistic branch of this logical fallacy if you believe any of the following are signs of spiritual attainment or enlightenment:


psychic phenomena, including telepathy, precognition, psychokinesis or past life memories

lucid dreaming


visitations by deceased relatives or ascended masters


the ability to do psychic healing

near death experiences

out of the body experiences

nature, saintly or sage mysticism

claims of enlightenment

Any of these experiences can happen at any level of development. If you claim to have them or seek to develop them, first consider that such desires may be signs of personal inadequacy. You may be trying to compensate for some sort of emptiness by claiming exceptional abilities or attempting to develop them. Such elevationism can also be a sign of narcissism and grandiosity. While it may be due to none of these, it is wise to first rule out the above. How to do so? An IDL interview or two should bring a lot of clarity to exactly what’s going on.

On the other hand, if you automatically jump to the conclusion that any of these unusual and amazing experiences are always delusions concocted by ignorant or foolish people, you are ignorant and foolish yourself, a victim of the reductionist version of the pre-trans logical fallacy. Try reading something both scholarly and persuasive, like Michael Murphey’s The Future of the Body.

  • Reductionism: Near death or other mystical experiences reduced to brain chemistry and psychotic hallucinations.
  • Elevationism: Voodoo trances, childhood clairvoyance, or lucid dreaming, even it it is by children or criminals, is taken to be indications of advanced development.
  • Reductionism fallacy – confusing late development stages for early ones. Cuts us off from emerging potentials because it assumes they have no value. Creates depression & anxiety because of the conflict between the future you that wants to emerge, and the truncated reality you insist on holding on to. Validates grandiosity because it assumes current level of development is the peak of human experience.
  • Elevationism — aborts development by substituting delusion for growth; causes depression & anxiety because it is regressive.  Grandiose, in that it imagines that we are more evolved than we are, generally by confusing temporary state openings into the transpersonal with stable enlightenment.
Avoiding it Look for ways that you habitually do both.

The Ranking Fallacy

This logical fallacy carries the rather formidable name of “performative contradiction.” All that means is that you view ranking things as bad, because rankings discriminate. Performative contradictions are a type of ranking fallacy, the tendency of people at late personal level of development to hold everyone and everything equal in a communal, pluralistic, egalitarian embrace and to deplore any and all attempts to point out the reality of hierarchy, separateness, and distinction. The result is a mushy, fuzzy, glowing unity that has no clarity because there is no ability to recognize the facets of the diamond. Wilber points out that performative contradictions are logical fallacies, in that they declare all views are equal, except those that disagree with the proclamation that all are equal. In that instance, it imposes a hierarchy between egalitarians and non-egalitarians, thereby contradicting itself. This hierarchy is what makes a performative contradiction a ranking fallacy.

Ranking fallacies say one level or rank is better than another in some way, with the result being that some people lose out because of their race, income, language, intelligence, health, education, interests, habits or preferences. Social injustice is the result. Therefore, all hierarchies, which are forms of rankings, are viewed with suspicion and condescension. Examples of such ranking include believing whites are superior to blacks, those who major in the sciences or go into law or business are superior to those who study the arts, Eastern religions are superior to Western religions, private business is better than government services, Western capitalism is superior to traditional, non-property-based forms of social organization, primitive, matriarchal societies are superior to subsequent patriarchal ones, the wealthy are superior to the poor, the powerful are superior to the weak, animal lovers are better than scientists that experiment on bunnies and rats, vegetarians are better than meat eaters, Christianity or Judaism is superior to Islam, humans are superior to dolphins or monkeys or Eastern saints are superior to voodoo witch doctors. You may disagree with some of these rankings and agree with others, yet not commit this logical fallacy. You may even say, “Those who rank are judgmental and discounting” and not commit this logical fallacy. People who rank things may or may not be judgmental and discounting; that’s different from making discriminations. Unfortunately, “discriminate” means two things, to see and make distinctions, which is simply a function of language and reason, and to be judgmental and discounting. You can discriminate without being judgmental and discounting. You can rank and you can respect hierarchies without being judgmental and discounting.

However, this is a different issue from making a ranking fallacy. That occurs when you say, based on a desire for egalitarianism and pluralism, something like, “You are discriminating when you claim that humans are smarter than dolphins.” This is a ranking fallacy because you yourself are discriminating. You are saying, “It is better to not rank than to rank,” which means that you are discriminating against those who rank! There are legitimate reasons to object to people claiming that humans are smarter than dolphins, such as the fact that their intelligence is not comparable due to the fact that it is designed to deal with radically different environments. The problem arises when you object to hierarchies of any kind on grounds of egalitarianism and pluralism. Why? Because equality says, “ranking threatens equality; because pluralism says, “ranking disenfranchises some voices.” While this may be true, these statements are themselves rankings. You can say, “I think my rankings are better than yours” without committing this logical fallacy. The problem occurs when you condemn ranking when you are doing so yourself. To commit a ranking fallacy you must say, “This person who ranks in such and such a way is discriminating,” while at the same time not recognizing that you are yourself discriminating between those who rank and those who do not. You yourself are ranking but not realizing it. You have just created a hierarchy or a distinction, between those who do not rank and those who do, between good and bad or between the “washed and the unwashed,” without realizing it. You have just contradicted yourself by saying, “Your ranking is bad, because it discriminates, but my ranking is good and doesn’t discriminate,” when you are ranking and, therefore discriminating, yourself.

This logical fallacy is important because it ranks heterogeneity or communalism, among societies, species, abilities or capabilities above hierarchy or meritocracy. It wants to validate everybody and everything, without exception, except for those who find such distinctions to be valuable. Those who value hierarchies are to be discounted and discriminated against. So, we need to picket animal experimentation, patriarchal bastions, meat eaters, the rich and the powerful. It is not politically correct to point out that astrology is pre-scientific, that monkeys lack human intelligence, that conservatives are relatively self-centered when compared to liberals or that shamanism does not rise to the level of say, Buddhism. The problem is that hierarchy exists, and that value distinctions are not only real, but important. Nature evolves in hierarchies of sophistication and capabilities. The more complicated levels evolve out of the less complicated ones and sustain themselves by incorporating the less complicated into themselves. Those with evolutionary advantages have more offspring and survive longer.

When this understanding is turned into the religion of neo-Darwinism, it is used to justify inequality and selfishness, which is generally the sin that gives rise to the current use of this logical fallacy. In reaction, people put egalitarianism and pluralism before common sense, rational discrimination and meaningful distinctions of value, leading to self-created absurdities. The spirit of justice breaks down somewhere for almost everyone. We won’t kill shrimp, but how about mosquitos and fleas? Taken to a logical extreme, you need to become a Parsee, spending your life sweeping the ground in front of you to avoid the injustice of accidentally stepping on a living creature. However, since we know that doing so is unavoidable, to be consistent, we need to stop breathing. We need to die if we want to respect all life, because our mere existence is sustained by incorporating lesser developed life forms into our own. There is no escaping that reality, nor should one try. You can learn to respect and protect all life and still respect and protect the knowledge that ranking is real and that hierarchies exist for the furtherance of the evolution of consciousness.

Humans and life itself evolve in both heterogenous, communal and hierarchical, discriminatory ways. The unwillingness to accept this is a reflection of a deficit in an important developmental skill: the ability to hold and balance two or more conflicting and contradictory perspectives, opinions, preferences or beliefs at the same time, yet remaining willing and able to choose among them. Instead of being confused or blocked by ambiguity, you can learn to welcome it and use your mind to sort through information to focus on what is most important for the task at hand. Children do not know how to do this. Adults do not automatically learn this higher order competency, unless they have been exposed to someone who insists on it, teaches them why it is important, as well as how to use it. You will notice that your interviewed emerging potentials are generally more evolved than you are, when they score higher than you in the six core qualities. They make discriminations. They are discriminating. At the same time, they embrace egalitarianism and pluralism. They can and will teach you to honor both ranking and justice.

Example “All those that don’t discriminate are good; but the fact that I discriminate between those who discriminate and those who don’t does not make me bad.”
Summary In the example you are saying” it is better not to rank, than to rank,” which means that you are discriminating against those who rank.

The problem occurs when you condemn ranking, at the same time as you are doing it yourself.

The problem is that hierarchy exists, and that value distinctions are not only real, but important. 

Avoiding it Recognize the need for both; realize hierarchy and community co-exist harmoniously in nature.

1 http://www.dreamyoga.com/words-that-keep-you-stuck-in-drama

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