PROPAGANDA, ARTEFACTS, REASON AND LOGIC A commentary on reasoning in Languages of Common Use



Revisiting his magnum opus Brave New World, Aldous Huxley cites the story of an Institute founded by a group of philanthropists in New England in the late 1930s. Established to counter the Nazi propaganda-machinery rampant during those times, it was named “Institute for Propaganda analysis”. Among other things, it undertook a venture to develop and distribute textbooks containing detailed instructions to analyze and refute various modes of propaganda for high school and University students.

Edward Filene, an American business and philanthropist, founded the Institute for Propaganda Analysis in 1937.
Edward Filene, an American business and philanthropist, founded the Institute for Propaganda Analysis in 1937.

Although developed under a very welcome goal of exposing irrational propaganda, the initiative came under attack from a host of establishments: certain group of educators thought that it would make students “unduly cynic”; the military thought it would adversely affect their command structure; the clergy feared that it would “undermine belief” and reduce church attendance; advertisement firms worried that it would disturb brand loyalties and adversely affect the market.

Inspite of the protests, the Institute went on reasonably well until 1941, when the Second World War broke out. The war brought on a shift in the manner in which the institute activities were regarded. The situation so arouse that the Allied had to resort to propaganda in order to boost the morale of their people. Thus any sort of rational analysis that could question authority was considered inimical for the war efforts. The Institute of Propaganda Analysis was soon closed down.

If an overview is attempted, much more than the effect IPA did indeed exert on the 1930s political and cultural terrain, what appears interesting is the effect the institute was anticipated to exert. The nature of establishments that rouse against it reveals a lot.

What is the common factor that rattle the church, the military and the advertisement firms.?

The abstracts of IPA’s work is available through the database of many Western Universities  and public libraries (; .

The scope and depth of the works done by IPA is unthinkable in our times. They used methods of science in analyzing new paper articles, advertisement clippings, cinematic stereotyping, political pronouncements, racial relationships and so and so forth. It was only understandable that IPA has to be closed down due to ‘dearth of funds’ when the World War II broke out.

The necessity of an accessory tool like that propounded by IPA in analyzing discourses in public space (news reporting, statements by politics, advertisement, media portrayal etc) is related to a significant deficiency in the Languages of Common Use (LCU) in processing information and conveying it accurately.

To examine this proposition, one has to follow the nature of information processing that is carried out in LCU.


People think in terms of languages they use. Language serves as standardized conventions, which help to conceptualize ones thoughts and thereby make sense of the world around. The more advanced is the language the more refined will be the capacity to think. Conversely the less refined is your language, the more truncated will be your thoughts. This is precisely because of the fact that just as language is a means of communication, it is a means of reasoning. Many of the threads of thought arise from the meaning that has got identified over linguistic units than from the bare facts-of-the-matter. Propaganda acts by simplifying and short-circuiting correct reasoning by deficiencies inherent in the way languages of common use is structured.

Consider, for instance, the statement “Human mind has great powers”. This statement arose out of the corruption of usage, which lends to assume that there is something called mind, just as there is something like heart or liver. This, in turn, arises from the flaw in language architecture, which does not aid to distinguish a virtual reality or a phenomenon from an objective reality or the source of the phenomenon. Since this lacuna is not clearly articulated we tend to reason mind as an object, which can have all attributes of a ‘real’ object. We call such items that look like ‘real’, but is indeed ‘virtual’ as artifacts (fact of ones own creation; an invention by means of a biased interpretation of reality. For discussion on what constitute ‘reality’, see the article Model Based Realism)

Another instance that can be considered is the usage of the word ‘fate’ in many of the Indian languages. ‘Fate’ vis-a-vis ‘destiny’ is a linguistic connotation that is applied to things which has happened, and therefore beyond ones control. The latter, on the contrary, is the ‘future’ that may or may not be controlled by the person’s will. Fate cannot be controlled by a person’s intention because it is something, which is the past at any point of lime. The event under question is beyond ones control because it is a happening of the past, and not because the event is per se uncontrollable. But in most Indian languages, this linguistic usage is confused as an entity itself. Thus we seem to ‘have’ something called ‘fate’ that control everything, before which people are mere pawns who just play out their roles. Another possibility is that all those factors which cannot be controlled by human effort is designated, at the onset, as fate, which in course of time gets so evolved as an discrete entity having its own sovereign existence. It is as if in a system of classification, the unclassified (or the miscellaneous) become so confused that it tends to be considered as equivalent to a class itself.  Here we encounter another example of an artefact of LCU.

English Philosopher Alfred Ayer demonstrates that a whole expanse of metaphysical speculation arise out of confusion pertinent to the grammatical structure of language. He together with Bertrand Russell extended the argument so much that they lend to reduce the whole process of philosophizing as investigations into the manner in which language is used.

Alfred Ayer was a key figure in the philosophical movement of logical positivism. His book, Language, Truth, and Logic, called the bluff of nonsensical statement made by many idealist philosophers.
Alfred Ayer was a key figure in the philosophical movement of logical positivism. 


The idea that LCU perform, albeit badly, as apparatus of reasoning is very significant with regard to question of developing a tool for propaganda analysis- for propaganda many a times are a collection of propositions that do not stand together.

The reason for the poor information processing capacity of LCU is that there is no  ‘in-build’ tool in it that distinguishes a good argument from a bad argument. This provides enough scope for anyone with good ‘command’ of language to mislead people in reaching at faculty conclusions. This ability of sabotaging the line of reasoning using ‘flair of language’ is the crux of what is known as ‘rhetoric’.

Let us consider, for example, a statement rendered by a gentleman during a talk on Homeopathy.i “In Homeopathy there are drugs for all diseases, but not for all patients”.

Although sounding very pithy at the outset, the statement is a meaningless proposition. For one, the seat of the disease is the patient. And in the none other than the patient can have the disease be treated. This very fact itself will make the statement unverifiable and thus nonsensical. Notwithstanding that if you give allowance for a hypothetical situation in which the gentleman could treat one patient each with every conceivable disease, the statement remain unverifiable, for the nature of the statement dictates that it is a principle, and a principle should have relevance through time-the past, present and future. Here the person who delivered the statement can always assume immunity even if he could not manage to cure a single patient after he had rendered the statement, thus making the statement unverifiable and therefore absurd.

It is important here to clarify that a statement that cannot be falsified by any means is essentially a ‘nonsensical’ statement. For instance, the statement ‘today it may or may not rain’ is not falsifiable because it involves all the possibilities that the statement can have. The statement is indeed always true. Yet it has to considered ‘nonsense’. On the contrary, the statement ‘Today it may rain’ is a falsifiable statement, because the statement carries a future situation that makes it liable to be proven or not. In other words, statement that cannot be proven or disproven has to be considered as ‘nonsensical statement’.

In the classical treatise Language, Truth and Logic which gave birth to ‘logical positivism’ Alfred Ayer gives quite a few examples of such nonsensical propositions.ii One instance cited is attributed to an idealist philosopher  Bradmann: “…..the absolute enters into, but doesn’t participate in evolution & progress….”

Ayer wonders whether this means anything at all. For one, we don’t know what this ‘absolute’ is about, and for another we can never ascertain whether (his unknowable absolute enters in evolution and participate or not in it!

Let us look at another passage by the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer:

Philosophy must at all costs be idealistic; indeed, it must be so merely to be honest. For nothing is more certain than that no one ever came out of himself in order to identify himself immediately with things different from him; but everything of which he has certain, sure, and therefore immediate knowledge, lies within his consciousness. Beyond this consciousness, therefore, there can be no immediate certainty …

There can never be an existence that is objective absolutely and in itself; such an existence, indeed, is positively inconceivable. For the objective, as such, always and essentially has its existence in the consciousness of a subject; it is therefore the subject’s representation, and consequently is conditioned by the subject, and moreover by the subject’s forms of representation, which belong to the subject and not to the object.

According to Ayer such statements have no meaning. Plainly they are just nonsenses. They are the outcome of writers who get confused themselves and get entangled in the liberty provided by the language and their own thoughts.

Although of the creed of philosophers called logical positivists to whom Ayer belonged had a decline, his statement on the nature of language remains true to a larger extend. We came across similar misuse of language in the writings of the so-called ‘postmodernist thinkers’. Physicists Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont have written a well-researched book on this. In the book, aptly titled  Fashionable Nonsense, Sokal and Bricmont state that their subjects ‘manipulate phrases and sentences that are, in fact, meaningless’. They add that some of these authors exhibit a ‘veritable intoxication with words, combined with a superb indifference to their meaning.’

Alan Sokal’s hoax of getting a pompously titled nonsensical article published in the postmodernists journal ‘Social Text’ exemplified the shared sociology of nonsense in disciplines that do not use any rigorous tool to weed out nonsense from their language of communication.



I shall quote a particularly hilarious one to clarify the point. The following is by Katherine Hayles, an interpreter of Luce Irigaray, a French feminist-psychoanalytic cultural theorist:

The privileging of solid over fluid mechanics, and indeed the inability of science to deal with turbulent flow at all, she ( Luce Irigaray) attributes to the association of fluidity with femininity. Whereas men have sexual organs that protrude and become rigid, women have openings that leak menstrual blood and vaginal fluids. Although men, too, flow on occasion-when semen is emitted, for example-this aspect of their sexuality is not emphasized. It is the rigidity of the male organs that counts. These idealizations are reinscribed in mathematics, which conceives of fluids as laminated planes and other modified solid forms. In the same way that women are erased within masculinist theories and language, existing only as not-men, so fluids have been erased from science, existing only as not-solids. From this perspective it is no wonder that science has not been able to arrive at a successful model for turbulence. The problem of turbulent flow cannot be solved because the conception of fluids ( and of women) have been formulated so as necessarily to leave unarticulated reminders.


Katherine Hayes seems to have ‘extracted’ the above ‘meaning’ from the original essay of Luce Irigrray which runs as follows:

—It is already getting around-at what rate? In what contexts? In spite of what resistances? – that women themselves according to modalities scarcely compatible with the framework of the ruling symbolics. What doesn’t happen without causing some turbulence, we might even say some whirlwinds, that ought to be reconfined within solid walls of principle, to keep them from spreading to infinity. Otherwise they might even go so far as to disturb that third agency designated as the real- a transgression and confusion of boundaries that it is important to restore to their proper order.

So we shall have to turn back to “science” in order to ask it some questions. Ask, for example, about its historical in elaborating a “theory” of fluids, and about the ensuing aporia even in mathematical formalization.

Now if we examine the properties of fluids, we note that this “real” may well include, and in large measure, a physical reality that continues to resist adequate symbolization and/or that signifies the powerlessness of logic to incorporate in its writing all the characteristic features of nature. And it has often been found necessary to minimize certain of these features of nature, to envisage them, and it, only in light of an ideal status, so as to keep it/them from jamming the works of the theoretical machine—

— And how are we to prevent the very unconscious (of the) “subject” from being propagated as such, indeed diminished in its interpretation, by a systematic that remarks a historical “inattention” to fluids? In other words: what structuration of (the) language does not maintain a complicity of long standing between rationality and a mechanics of solids?

Katherine Hayles work interpreting Luce Irigaray was titled Gender encoding in fluid mechanics: Masculine channels and feminine flows. Irigaray titled her book on feminism as “The ‘mechanics’ of fluids”.

It was heroic of Sokal and Bricmont to get into the territory of postmodernists mumbo-jumbo and state that their utterances mean nothing. They did so in late 1990s. Alfred Ayer did it much earlier in 1936. In fact, he was prescient of what was to come in the form of postmodernism.

Majority of the so-called ‘intriguing truths’ that one find hopelessly unintelligible are nothing but quagmires of linguistic excesses. Such examples of linguistic waywardness are particularly rampant in texts of idealistic philosophy that one finds enough reason to shelve them en masse into the dustbin of cultural history.

One example may suffix. A highly celebrated aphorism from Ishavasya Upanishad states: “if whole is taken from the whole, what remains is still the whole” Again, though sounding very profound at the outset, this statement directly defies all mathematical wisdom. For, if you tend to take whole from whole what you get is definitely not the whole, but something less-and that is NOT the whole. The contrary will be true only if the whole you consider is either zero or infinity. However, in both these cases the statement can be only be literally true, but not factually or conceptually: Reason one. Zero cannot be considered as a whole; Reason two, both zero and infinity are virtual entities that have no real existence, ie. Neither zero nor infinity is conceivable in the absence of a conceptual device like the numerical series.iii In other words, zero and infinity exist because of the peculiar make up of the numerical series than notwithstanding it. ie. both these entities are conceptual virtual realities (or virtual reality of virtual reality).

Thus, the statement has to be absurd even if it has been framed with the object of the ‘whole’ as zero or infinity, for the simple reason that any statement of the virtual of the virtual cannot be a philosophical statement intended to explore the nature of the sensate world ( sensate world= a world that is perceived through the means of sense organs).

Indeed, logical positivists like Alfred Ayer question the authority of philosophers to ‘explore’ the ‘nature’ of the sensate world thus denuding an area hitherto considered as their exclusive bastion. Instead he highlights the job of philosophers as to clarify the significance and validity of linguistic terms vis-a-vis the purported meaning, and thus set the stage of philosophy as a tool as rigorous as of mathematics.


This can be further clarified if we examine the significance of the process of reasoning, and then go on to substitute the conclusion regarding the status of reasoning in LCU.

Reasoning is the process of drawing conclusion from a premise. It is the means by which we justify a proposition upon a foundation through a series of intermediary propositions. Here the proposition that is justified is the conclusion and the foundation upon whose basic the proposition is justified is the premise. In this process the premise is an assumption and the conclusion the ‘fact’ drawn from the assumption. What aids this process of drawing a ‘fact’ from an assumption is the series of propositions that come in-between the premise and the conclusion.

An argument can be a good argument or a bad argument depending upon how lightly is the intermediary propositions laid down to each other and to the conclusion and the premise. A bad argument means that the conclusion does not follows the premise, and a good argument signifies that the fact of conclusion necessarily follow the assumption of the premise.


An entire branch of thought has been laid down to decide what are the necessary elements, which distinguish a good argument from a bad argument. The laws and principles of this body of thought constitute what is known as logic. To repeat, logic is nothing more than the necessary set of principles that help one to distinguish a good argument from a bad one.

Logic never comments on the ‘fact’ of the premise. Rather, it just helps to demonstrate whether a conclusion follows the premise. It is, as a rule, a unity. It exists independent of time, place and person. This is best exemplified by the statue of its formalized adaptation, mathematics, emerging in almost identical molds in different civilization, in different times but as surprisingly independent stretches of imagination. This universal validity of formal logic stems from the factor that it is nothing but a procedural convention developed to verify the consistency of reasoning; that it does not comment on fact of reasoning as it does on the process of reasoning.


The significance of the commentary of logic on the process of reasoning is rooted in certain modes by which knowledge has evolved. Reasoning as a process is made necessary because of an inherit deficiency of human intellect. It points to the inability of human intellect to ascertain the full significance of a statement at the first go. If we had infinite intellect, we would not require reasoning. Things would have been immediately grasped. Its like travelling in a car with headlight that shines 50 meters further versus a car that has a headlight that clears 100 meters further. The length of the head beam is the grasp, while the remaining assumption of the way further is arrived by connecting the information shone by the length of the head beam. If people had infinite capacity of intellect- say if human was ‘God’, he or she would not need the tools of reasoning. But as human intellect is limited, she need to have tool is to connect information bits. While reasoning is the tool, logic is the formal rule-based system that ensures correct methods of using the tool of reasoning.

Subject to the capacity of our intellect a fact or a proposition drawn from it tend to have two levels of meaning: One explicit and other implicit. The explicit meaning of the proposition is the meaning as it is evident before; while its implicit meaning is that which arise out of its relationship with the established body of knowledge.

Elucidation of the significance of the relationship of a proposition with other body of knowledge is the process by which the implicit meaning of it is brought out. It is this process of establishing the relationship of a given proposition with the established know-how, the core of reasoning. Logic is the tool that lays the essential principles by which a valid reasoning has to be carried out.

How eminently is this process carried out by a pure body of logic is illustrated by the history of mathematics as a tool of reasoning in pure science as physics.


The pre-17th century stature of occidental inquiry into the phenomenon we come across in the subject matter of present-day physics was so much that of wild speculations and blind dogmatism that one could easily compare it with any of the social sciences as it is now The study of physics was regarded basically as a part of Aristotelian theology, and was largely restrained to the confines of textual interpretation of views laid down by the ancient Greek veterans. The scope of controlled observation and its systemization was absolutely unrecognized, and what was known as investigation into the nature of physical phenomena was nothing but naive translation of nature ‘appearing’ as it is. Thus come the interpretation of an ‘overtly revealing’ universe, ‘explicitly’ geocentric (for it was very obvious that sun & stars move around earth and not anything otherwise), platy-surfaced (no one could ever doubt that earth was anything but flat to eternity) with a all powerful man as the facsimile of god. ( See discussion on Scholasticism in In the Cradle of Renaissance)

Then came Kepler and Galileo. Throughout their works they questioned the validity of Aristotelian method of physics cooked around ‘facts’ as they appear. For the first time they adapted what is now known as the spirit of scientific inquiry-of following an event through a series of observation, analyzing the data by controlling variables and systematizing it through the apparatus of mathematics. Perhaps for the first time it was recognized that what is explicit is not always true, and the essence of intellectual inquiry is to transcend the mirage of ‘obviousness’.

The singular tool that could be used to analyze things, notwithstanding their explicit reference was the system of mathematics. Subsequently it was recognized that mathematics is indeed the only tool through which one could establish the unattended link between a number of discrete controlled observations, and [hereby bring about the significance of their relationship undistinguished when they are viewed just as they are. The validity of this process was so established that there is an entire clan of physicists devoted almost exclusively to theoretical reasoning, the tool of which is the system of mathematics. The significance accorded to this process of reasoning is such that a fact of observation is considered devoid of its conceptual elegance in the absence of a theoretical intervention that could reduce it into mathematical notations.

The resultant of this integration of mathematics lo the study of physical phenomena is central to colossal strides of physics as a discipline of ‘certain’ knowledge. Needless to say, it is this toll of reasoning, which has elevated the garbage of Aristotelian to the marvel of modern physics.


The rise of physics to the stature it is now is paralleled by its enormous capacity to undertake a process of theoretical prediction. Thus we see the phenomena of Bose-Einstein condensation was predicted by pure theoretical deduction in the late 20s, while it took 60 years since then for it to be experimentally demonstrated. Quantum physics exemplifies the device of theoretical reasoning running far beyond the ‘native'(obvious) reason of everyday life that many of its deductions, while eminently lucid in the pasture of mathematics, seems esoteric & mystic within the schemes of languages of common use.

This almost ‘supernatural’ prowess for theoretical prediction that physics demonstrate celebrates the capacity of the process of reasoning and thereby that of the laws of logic upon which it is structured.


Reasoning, we saw, is a process of drawing the implicit out of the explicit-a process of linking a discrete information bits to the intricate matrix of a body of information and thereafter elucidating the significance or meaning of such linkage. This means that the in-formation regarding (he phenomenon of B-E condensation was ‘there’ even before Satyendra Bose and Albert Einstein put up their theoretical projection, but was unrecognized. It was unrecognized because the linkage between the information bits that carried the information regarding the phenomenon was not established. What Bose and Einstein did was to merely facilitate this linkage in the correct sequence so that what was up to then implicit suddenly became explicit.

Should the process of linking one proposition with another be anything ‘faulty’, (he resultant of the investigation would be of no predictive value. Not only that such instances of faulty constructions creates fallacies (hat tend to build up on its own until it become a ‘reality’ itself. Unchallenging perpetuation of these lines of reasoning finally make things so intricate that at the end of the day one fails to sec what all are real and what all are invented, Such ‘facts’ invented are artifacts.



Creation and perpetuation of artifacts is linked to the problem of interpretation, which, in turn, is a problem of faulty reasoning: Two different point of views arise out of a single subject matter because either or both of the reasoning which lead on to the view points is faulty. In other words, if we adapt a strictly logically formatted tool as the device for reasoning, we can get, for a given amount of information, only one valid viewpoint.

But this does not mean that logic will ensure you a unity of viewpoint to eternity. Over a period, the amount and nature of information that is available for undertaking reasoning alters, and therefore the resultant viewpoint will also undergo change. To put it succinctly, logic ensures a unity of viewpoint upon a point of time, but not over a period of time.

A comparison of the stature of knowledge in pure science as physics with that in any of the lesser disciplines shall clearly draw the distinction.

In physics there can be any number hypothesis, conceding to every tendencies to speculate, but never arc these speculations allowed to muddle too much in the body of knowledge that constitute the discipline. Hypothesis, until and unless systematized with appropriate mathematical interventions is not given the stature accorded to the finished products’ of knowledge termed as theorems.3 Theorems, by virtue of the mathematical fool proofing underwent, never assume a multitude of positions for any identical period of time. They arc the ‘certain truth’* until when new breaks of information emerge to provide a better refinement for the ‘truth’.


In the absence of a rigorous tool of logic as mathematics, no such distinction between hypothesis and theorem exist in lesser science like biology or any of the humanities.iv Here hypothesis, which can be nothing but fancies of unbridled imagination, arch  to squabble freely in the body of the discipline as if it is ‘definite’ knowledge. This ‘as if greatly compromise the validity of information conceptualised in the discipline- For a hypothesis is indented just to explain, while a theorem, thanks to the systemizing machinery of logic it subscribes, is endowed with a phenomenal capacity to predict. Moreover, there can be any number of hypothesis at a given point of lime, all equally competent to explain the phenomenon it is supposed to, but nonetheless equally incompetent to be anything decisive beyond the plain act of interpretation. In other words, hypothesis is just a resourceful imagination, while a theorem is imagination approximated to certainty.

The cutting edge between pure imagination and its approximation to certainty is the device of logic; and it is only through logic that one could ascertain that what one thinks and feels (the so-called intuition) as true is indeed true.

We see that more a subject follows the rigorous conceptual discipline as imposed by logic, the more successful the subject tends to be. Thus while we sec physics at the tallest peaks of intellectual achievement, we see such vagaries as homeopathy (which summarily refute any nuance of logic), in a quivering in a quagmire of imprecision and indecisiveness. This gulf of this disparity was foreseen by Immanuel Kant way back in 18th century that he used to regard disciplines with no backing of mathematics as ‘a Science’, but not as ‘the Science’ a position he exclusively granted to physics (“eine Wissenschaft, aber nicht Wissen schaft”).

This process of ‘short-circuiting’ reasoning by a ‘sleight of language’ is known as rhetoric. Rhetoric is the art of persuasion using oratory. If logic helps to approximate truth, rhetoric lends to ‘appropriate’ it. In its means, it sabotages whatever vestige of logic there is in the language of common use. Indeed it is the single most important trump card every politician, evangelist and military man use as a tool of survival.  And quite often, this treacherous trump card wins while the whole pantheon of reason and rationality looks on.

A tool to analyze propaganda means a tool to question the ghost of all familiarity-whether it is religion, politics, military or ad firms. But such an effort appears sacrilegious, as the ghosts of our familiarity have become more real than reality itself.



i. This example was actually used by a busy homeopathy practitioner in a speech, which delivered in one of informal discussion clubs in Calicut Medical College two decades ago.

ii. In 1999, just after my graduation, I came across Alfred Ayer’s book ‘Language, Truth and Logic’. This book was a sort of watershed in my understanding of the literary world. Ayer provocatively stated that lot many things written and considered as ‘part’ of great philosophies are just ‘nonsense’. Many of these so-called philosophies arise as confusion in the usage of language, and can be deciphered only when we know the limitation of our language and our ability to know. This present article is an updated version of the article published in student magazine of Calicut Medical College 1999. The article was evidently inspired by Alfred Ayer’s statement on nonsenses in languages. However, the article extends the argument well beyond the territory initially articulated by Ayer. In many ways, this article the thoughts discussed in this article has been a ‘torchlight’ through which I saw the world ever since.

iii.  I have seen distinguished science communicators using the example of division of any number by zero as a phenomenon as daunting as issues around the ‘Event Horizon’ in cosmology. The issue of division by zero is an artifact of the way numerical system is created. It is a no-problem. To distinguish artefactual problems from real problems is itself a Herculean work in the ‘art ( and science)’ of accurate communication through LCU.

iv. Theorem is established statement in mathematics. The term is not exactly used in physics. But as mathematics is closely linked to physics, I am using the term here for illustration purpose. I plan to revise the term if I come across an appropriate terminology.

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