Harvard graduate walks down the street where a 50-lb sack of cement blocks his way. He reaches down to shift it but discovers that despite all his might the bulk won’t budge. He says to any who will listen, “I am a Harvard graduate with big muscles, and I cannot move this weight; therefore, it cannot be moved.”
This is a fallacy because any man not bound for government employment could easily lift the sack. That this two-legged anemic could not is insufficient (logical) evidence that nobody could.
Stated thus, the fallacy is plain and is so obvious that only a Harvard graduate (GPA 4.0 in Women’s Studies) could make it. It survives, though, and is not uncommon because it isn’t usually stated in terms of prodigious physiques but of mental muscles.
This logical infirmity strikes politicians and pundits particularly, where it often leads to the False Dichotomy, which is a special case of the Big Muscles. A politician will say, “We have to raise taxes because nothing else will work” and the pundit will agree: “I have a degree and therefore since I can’t see an alternative, there isn’t one.” But these examples are many and low and so we pass quickly on.
Take something meatier, such as the philosophical “problem” of other minds. Some academics say that since we cannot prove there are other minds, other minds therefore don’t exist. It is rare to state the conclusion as bluntly; still, the denial is implicit in the long-winded and futile attempts at proving what all can see. From Plato:
That other human beings are mostly very like ourselves is something about which almost all of us, almost all of the time, are certain. There are exceptions, among them philosophical sceptics, and perhaps those suffering from some abnormal mental condition…
Unsurprisingly, given that human beings are social, if not all necessarily sociable beings, this lack of agreement is more than a case of philosophers engaging in some abstractly theoretical controversy and contestation…
There is general agreement among philosophers that the problem of other minds is concerned with the fundamental issue of what entitles us to our basic belief that other human beings do have inner lives rather than whether we are able in specific cases to be sure what is happening in those inner lives.
However, there are (at least) two problems of other minds. There is the epistemological problem, concerned with how our beliefs about mental states other than our own might be justified…
It is not that proof in the form of argumentation for what we can know of other minds (minds which are obvious) won’t provide fascinating and rich details, which is very true, but that some philosophers really do in their more enthusiastic moments embrace their doubts and believe the existence of other minds can’t be known.
We see the same sort of arguments over solipsism, free will, and so forth. Everybody can see that there are other minds, that they alone do not exist, that we all have free will, but then, for some, theory enters. Certain premises (the theory) are embraced which lead inexorably to the conclusion that other minds can’t be known, that the theory holder alone exists (or they exist in a “vat” or simulation), that the theory holder doesn’t have free will, that things can’t be know as they are in themselves, and on and on. There are no seeming problems with the premises; they must be true. The conclusions necessarily follow.
The argument becomes, “I can’t see how any of the premises are false; therefore, none are false. Thus the absurdity follows.” The Harvard graduate hasn’t been able to lift the weight, the weight cannot be lifted. The faith the person has in his abilities—his self esteem—has triumphed over plain reality.
The Big Muscles in this way is no different than the dullard who says, “I don’t see how a material thing can be both a wave and a particle; therefore, it must be one or the other,” Or, “I can’t figure out a better system of government than democracy, which is said to be better than all the other ones; therefore, it is the best.”
We musn’t confuse the Big Muscles with the Deadly Sin of Refication, which shares similarities. Reification, like Big Muscles, occurs when a man embraces theory over reality, but in Reification the premises really are true and the conclusion thus also true, but where the premises or conclusion replace reality. Thus a mathematician will lay out a set of self-consistent equations and say, “These represent another universe which exists” and where the act of mapping the symbols in the equations to reality has taken place only in the mathematician’s mind.