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#20 - Taylor: From observing close friends and relatives

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Complete Question Explanation

Flaw in the Reasoning—CE. The correct answer choice is (B)

Taylor has come the conclusion that telepathy is “possible between people with close psychic ties.” As evidence, Taylor offers the frequency with which people who are good friends or family members know what each other are thinking or feeling. This frequency cannot be mere coincidence, Taylor concludes. While Taylor does not use causal language, implicit in this conclusion is that telepathy causes close friends and family members to have this special knowledge about the people to whom they are close.

Taylor makes a common causal reasoning error, inferring causation from correlation. While it is possible, perhaps, that telepathy is responsible for this special knowledge, there may be another cause. In fact, Taylor hints at an alternate cause by mentioning the relationships between the people involved in the argument, close friends and family. Instead of telepathy, it may simply be the case that these people have long histories and know each other well.

An interesting twist to the argument is Taylor’s use of the word “psychic” to describe the ties that bind these people. However, the word “psychic” has more than one meaning. While it can refer to a paranormal ability, the word is also simply an adjective relating to the thoughts and emotions of a person. So, if the close friends and family members have “psychic” ties, they have developed relationships over time in which they have begun to think alike, and to have the same emotional responses to stimuli. If you interpret “psychic” as referring only to the paranormal, then this would appear to be a circular argument. However, Taylor’s conclusion clearly relies on the frequency of occurrences, not on a presupposition that the people are psychics.

We know from the question stem that this is a Flaw in the Reasoning question. Our prephrase is that the correct answer choice will describe Taylor’s error in inferring a causal relationship from evidence indicating only a correlation.

Answer choice (A): Taylor’s conclusion is not a broad generalization. Instead, Taylor concludes only that telepathy is possible. For this answer choice to be correct, the argument would have to be something like, “because my close family and friends are telepathic, all close friends and family members are telepathic.”

Answer choice (B): This is the correct answer choice, because it describes Taylor’s error in concluding that telepathy must be the cause of the subjects’ special knowledge, when a plausible alternative theory is that the close friends and family members simply know each other very well.

Answer choice (C): Although Taylor refers to a person’s feelings, the argument does not make an appeal to emotion. An appeal to emotion occurs when a speaker attempts to use emotion to cloud the issue being discussed.

Answer choice (D): Taylor spoke only about what close friends and family know about each other. The opposite situation, in which the people are strangers, plays no role in the argument.

Answer choice (E): This is a very attractive answer choice for those who took the phrase “psychic ties” to mean paranormal ties. However, the evidence offered for the conclusion was the frequency of the occurrences, not the presumption that these individuals are psychic. It is not surprising to see LSAC test this ambiguity in the last answer choice. By long experience, and presumably not telepathy, LSAC knows that we are more susceptible to picking attractive incorrect answer choices when they are placed last. We have a need to be finished with the question and move on to the next one, and that urge makes an answer choice such as this even more tempting.
reop6780
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The correct answer is B while I chose E.

While B was my contender I chose E because E seemed to describe circular reasoning.

For me circular reasoning has always been confusing concept regardless of its simple definition that premise equals conclusion.

I am not completely sure but it seems as if answer E points out a circular reasoning, am I right?

I guess more important question is whether the stimuli is circular reasoning. How would I possibly discern whether the stimuli is circular or not in this case?

Of course B points out the flaw that it could be the accumulated experience between close friends that let each other know better rather than telepathy.

I just easily fell into answer D believing that it addresses a more conspicuous flaw in the stimuli only if the stmuli has circular reasoning.

Help me out with circular reasoning concept and trick not to fall for it, please.
Lucas Moreau
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Hello, reop,

Circular reasoning can best be thought of as just repeating the same statement over and over again in different ways. This isn't that.

It says "Telepathy must be possible, because friends and family can know what each other are thinking." It's giving evidence in support of the conclusion that telepathy must be possible. It would be a circular argument if it said, say, "Telepathy must be possible, because it can't be impossible."

Circular reasoning is most often an incorrect answer choice, so keep that in mind as the actual flaw of circular reasoning will not often appear, but look in the Online Center under the Flaw in the Reasoning section to see more questions like that.

Hope that helps,
Lucas Moreau
jlam061695
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Can you explain why B the correct answer? I understand that "all instances of the observed phenomena" is referring to the observations of a good friend or family member seeming to know what "one is thinking or feeling," but I don't understand what the "highly plausible alternative" is? I chose C for this question, though I understand why it is wrong. I just have a hard time "liking" B.
Clay Cooper
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Hi jlam,

Thanks for your question.

Let me answer it with a question: the observed phenomenon is real. How do you explain it, if not by ESP?

I would explain it by saying that having close psychic ties with another person very often enables me to learn their patterns of thought and behavior by repeated experience, and that this knowledge, in turn, allows me to predict their thoughts and actions - sometimes with astonishing accuracy (my oldest sister - an otherwise very intelligent and reasonable person - will always, every time, blame the refs when Kentucky's basketball team loses; my father will reliably make an outrageous, provocative political comment whenever our extended family gets together).

In other words, isn't it possible that getting to know someone very well is what allows us to be aware of their likely thoughts and actions in certain situations? Doesn't that seem more plausible than ESP?

I think that explanation is the highly plausible alternative that the stimulus fails to consider.

I hope that helps.
jlam061695
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Thank you for the example! It seems much more plausible now! :)
JD180
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Clay Cooper wrote:Hi jlam,

Thanks for your question.

Let me answer it with a question: the observed phenomenon is real. How do you explain it, if not by ESP?

I would explain it by saying that having close psychic ties with another person very often enables me to learn their patterns of thought and behavior by repeated experience, and that this knowledge, in turn, allows me to predict their thoughts and actions - sometimes with astonishing accuracy (my oldest sister - an otherwise very intelligent and reasonable person - will always, every time, blame the refs when Kentucky's basketball team loses; my father will reliably make an outrageous, provocative political comment whenever our extended family gets together).

In other words, isn't it possible that getting to know someone very well is what allows us to be aware of their likely thoughts and actions in certain situations? Doesn't that seem more plausible than ESP?

I think that explanation is the highly plausible alternative that the stimulus fails to consider.

I hope that helps.



I have trouble agreeing with this. Your explanation would weaken the conclusion that telepathy is indeed possible between people with close psychic ties, but it doesn't DISABLE us from drawing that conclusion. Let's take a look at the actual answer: "Fails to address a highly plausible alternative explanation for all instances of the observed phenomenon." Let's assume B and that I said "It's highly plausible that what you perceived to be telepathy is actually a result of years spent learning to understanding each other through relational experiences." This would NOT disable us from drawing the conclusion, but rather would simply weaken their conclusion.

In a vulnerable to criticism question, I was under I impression that I have to find an answer that would not allow us to draw the conclusion at all. Weakening the conclusion would still allow us to draw it, but it would just be weaker.

Here is why I chose E:

If we paraphrase the second sentence, we realize that this premise is actually a premise and subconclusion: it could be written as "Because of the amazing frequency with which a good friend or family member knowns what one is thinking or feeling, this cannot be dismissed as mere coincidence."

There is a subconclusion here that "it cannot be dismissed as mere coincidence". I would only be able to accept this subconclusion ONLY if I accepted the conclusion "telepathy is indeed possible between people with close psychic ties".

Thus, E is the correct answer. I could only accept the premise (i.e. the sentence containing the subconclusion) ONLY IF I accepted the conclusion to be true in the first place. If I don't accept the conclusion to be true, then I wouldn't accept the premise, and so no conclusions at all can be drawn AKA valid criticism.
Dave Killoran
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JD180 wrote:In a vulnerable to criticism question, I was under I impression that I have to find an answer that would not allow us to draw the conclusion at all. Weakening the conclusion would still allow us to draw it, but it would just be weaker.

I think this might be the problem here. If I'm understanding you correctly, you are saying that in these "vulnerable to criticism" questions you are looking for an answer that destroys the conclusion originally made in in the argument. That's not the case. If you can do that, then great, but that's not a requirement of the correct answer. You just need an answer that would cast some doubt on what the author says, or points you in a direction where some doubt can be found. Answer choice (C), with the possibility that it's just close relationships, succeeds in pointing out a hole in the argument that would call it into question. Does it destroy telepathy? No, but in giving an equally good alternate makes us question whether it's for sure telepathy.

Note that the explanation above then addresses the "disable" point you were making above, because it's no longer an issue (and Clay didn't talk about disabling anyway).

With answer choice (E), must the conclusion be first accepted in order to accept the premise? In my opinion (and, more importantly, LSAC's opinion), the answer is no. I get the argument made here about possibility being necessary to accept the premise idea, but that's part of the broad commonsense sphere of the LSAT: things under discussion are typically thought to be possible as part of the overall construct (grant me some latitude there, in the main my point holds). Otherwise, any argument where a scenario discussed in the premises was touched on in the conclusion would be susceptible to a similar criticism. Just talking about the topic here doesn't mean that we fully accepted telepathy; Taylor made it clear it was based on observing close friends and relatives.

This is a fine-line distinction that I'm not sure I'm making clear, so here's an analogy that might help explain how LSAC is thinking here:


    Premise: I bought a car.
    Conclusion: Buying cars must be possible.

Metaphysically, one could make the argument this is circular since actually buying a car implies it's possible to buy a car, so the occurrence justifies the possibility. But LSAC wouldn't say this is circular because at this level, the existence/possibility of things is accepted as part of LSAT reality (although, this example is a bit basic). LSAC would instead say that the premise is used to prove that something is possible, and it successfully does so while also being different from it. Or, in other words, they would say that once the event happened, you then looked backwards and then imputed the idea in the conclusion to the premise, even though your point was to get to the conclusion. Just because the bridge could be walked both ways after it was built doesn't mean that during the building it was built both ways; it could have been built in one direction.

It's a tricky idea and really plays with the idea of how they view these very big ideas of what exists and what is possible, but it's clear here they don't see this as circular, and since we know there's an angle that allows for that view, we have to try to figure out why it's not circular. I'm not sure we can go much further with it, to be honest. Thanks!
Dave Killoran
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JD180
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Dave Killoran wrote:
JD180 wrote:In a vulnerable to criticism question, I was under I impression that I have to find an answer that would not allow us to draw the conclusion at all. Weakening the conclusion would still allow us to draw it, but it would just be weaker.

I think this might be the problem here. If I'm understanding you correctly, you are saying that in these "vulnerable to criticism" questions you are looking for an answer that destroys the conclusion originally made in in the argument. That's not the case. If you can do that, then great, but that's not a requirement of the correct answer. You just need an answer that would cast some doubt on what the author says, or points you in a direction where some doubt can be found. Answer choice (C), with the possibility that it's just close relationships, succeeds in pointing out a hole in the argument that would call it into question. Does it destroy telepathy? No, but it giving an equally good alternate makes us question whether it's for sure telepathy.

Note that the explanation above then addresses the "disable" point you were making above, because it's no longer an issue (and Clay didn't talk about disabling anyway).

With answer choice (E), must the conclusion be first accepted in order to accept the premise? In my opinion (and, more importantly, LSAC's opinion), the answer is no. I get the argument made here about possibility being necessary to accept the premise idea, but that's part of the broad commonsense sphere of the LSAT: things under discussion are typically thought to be possible as part of the overall construct (grant me some latitude there, in the main my point holds). Otherwise, any argument where a scenario discussed in the premises was touched on in the conclusion would be susceptible to a similar criticism. Just talking about the topic here doesn't mean that we fully accepted telepathy; Taylor made it clear it was based on observing close friends and relatives.

This is a fine-line distinction that I'm not sure I'm making clear, so here's an analogy that might help explain how LSAC is thinking here:


    Premise: I bought a car.
    Conclusion: Buying cars must be possible.

Metaphysically, one could make the argument this is circular since actually buying a car implies it's possible to buy a car, so the occurrence justifies the possibility. But LSAC wouldn't say this is circular because at this level, the existence/possibility of things is accepted as part of LSAT reality (although, this example is a bit basic). LSAC would instead say that the premise is used to prove that something is possible, and it successfully does so while also being different from it. Or, in other words, they would say that once the event happened, you then looked backwards and then imputed the idea in the conclusion to the premise, even though your point was to get to the conclusion. Just because the bridge could be walked both ways after it was built doesn't mean that during the building it was built both ways; it could have been built in one direction.

It's a tricky idea and really plays with the idea of how they view these very big ideas of what exists and what is possible, but it's clear here they don't see this as circular, and since we know there's an angle that allows for that view, we have to try to figure out why it's not circular. I'm not sure we can go much further with it, to be honest. Thanks!


Thanks Dave, I'm going to mull over what you've written here over the next couple hours. I don't think I'm appreciating this specific king of stimulus, so I'm going to hang on your every word here.
jrafert
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I'm still really stumped by this. If you claim that someone "knows what you are thinking," then you are taking it for granted that someone has telepathic powers? She's essentially saying "Clearly, it's possible for people close to me to know what I'm thinking. Why? They always know what I'm thinking!"

Know what someone else is thinking = literally the definition of telepathy. E was the obvious choice for me: her argument is weak because she's blathering on about how everyone around her is telepathically deducing what she's thinking - IE, she's assuming telepathy is possible, without stating it- and then using this to bolster the very assumption she used to come to the conclusion that they know what she's thinking.

PS B seems wrong because it says "Fails to address a highly plausible alternative explanation for the observed phenomenon" - you can't "observe" someone knowing what you're thinking. Taylor doesn't actually know whether her family knows what she's thinking. She's only assuming so, because she assumes that it is possible to know what someone else is thinking without them telling you, IE to engage in telepathy...

Gosh.