Friday, March 9, 2007

Non sequitur and the domino theory

The second most common reason that I will roll my eyes while reading a book is the slippery slope fallacy. In short, it is a non sequitur argument that relies on the theory that if the first thing happens, then the second thing will happen, and surely then the third will, too. It’s the kind of logic that will stop me dead in my tracks while reading.

Think about it, you’re reading along and really involved with a character. You think he/she is smart, reasonable, believable, the whole shebang. Then they are presented with a situation, such as whether or not to tell another character, say a subject expert, about an important bit of information that would bring the story line to a quick conclusion. The author, wanting to extend the story line, has the character come to the conclusion that if he/she tells the subject expert, said expert would get upset and would to tell his/her mother. If that happens, the mother would have to tell her friend and then that person … and so on until the antagonist would have all the information needed to foil our hero’s plot. *sigh* In the middle of this, I always think the same thing, “why not just explain to the subject expert that if he/she tells said mother, and the situation does spiral out as it was predicted, said mother would probably be (insert consequence).” It's not a slippery slope because most people can be reasoned with and thus stop the slip.

Do you have a favorite slippery slope fallacy?


writtenwyrdd said...

It's like the domino effect vs. brownian motion. You cannot have both at the same time. And in a real world, which the fictional world is pretending to be, you can't have a straight-on domino effect when the environment has any randomness at all.

I see that trend in a lot of books. Particularly in fantasy genre, possibilities branch and the writer has to deal with this so that the reader finds the actions and choices logical.

If I want to be really irritated, I watch Star Trek Voyager, because their plots are so illogical. I'm constantly yelling at the tv that no one in their right mind would act the way these characters act.

Nicole Kelly said...

Well put! It's like the butterfly effect, which I hope never to see talked about in popular media again, as it is almost alway used to talked about time travel and usually inaccurately. The domino effect never takes into account that people are chaotic systems that cannot be really relied on to do any one specific thing.

For my favorite example of an author pointing out the flaws of domino theory, I have to point to P.G. Wodehouse, especially the Jeeves and Wooster series. He loves to set up scenarios in which Wooster is depending on a chain of events to occur in order for his plan to work. It always fails. In one of my favorite lines, Jeeves says of one of these plans, "I find a plan the depends of three people needing to be at the right place and the right time, dubious."