Monty Python’s Formal Logic (LSAT Edition)
September 16, 2013
Everywhere on the LSAT – logic games, reading comp and logical reasoning – you’re provided with rules, facts, statistics: things we’ve been told to accept as true. It’s vital to remember that, at least for the purposes of answering the questions, that information is the gospel. It isn’t our job on the test to question the premises given; in fact, questioning what is presented as fact on the LSAT can be a major distraction and source of wrong answers.
And now for something (almost) completely different: Monty Python and the Holy Grail is one of my all-time favourite movies – if you’ve never seen it, you need to make some moves immediately to correct that shocking situation. In fact, the next time you have a rainy (or snowy) day to kill, have a Monty Python marathon (be sure to include Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life on your playlist). I saw the Holy Grail so many times as a teenager that I can still recite much of it by heart. My law school roommate and I actually rented (this was back in olden times when “rented” actually meant “went to a video store and borrowed VHS tapes”) the entire Flying Circus TV series to watch as comic relief while studying for exams.
One thing Monty Python loved to do was play word games – twist language in a way that on its face seems perfectly fine, but when carried out to its logical extreme reveals total absurdity. There’s no better example of Python twisty logic than the Witch scene. Here’s the true genius of the scene: it’s clearly ridiculous logic, but on first watching it’s tough to argue that she’s not actually a witch. In fact, if you accept the premises (as we have to do on the LSAT), you actually can conclude that she’s a witch. As ludicrous or flat out incorrect as the statements themselves might sound, if this was an LSAT question, we would have to accept them without blinking an eye. In fact, since a nod’s as good as a wink, let’s turn this scene into a Logical Reasoning question to illustrate.
Both witches and wood burn. Witches burn because they are made out of wood. Wood floats in water, as do bread, apples, and, perhaps, small rocks. Ducks also float in water. Accordingly, if a woman weighs the same as a duck, she must be made out of wood.
If the statements above are true, and if it’s also true that all women made out of wood are witches, which of the following must be true?
a) if that woman over there (who may or may not have turned someone into a newt) with the false nose weighs the same as a duck, she’s a witch.
Would you have the fortitude to select (a) as the correct answer? You should! Remember, it’s never your job to determine whether the info provided is true – the question stem tells you it’s true! As long as you stay task oriented on test day (know what your task is and what method to apply), you won’t fall into the trap of questioning logical reasoning evidence, logic game rules, facts or opinions given in reading comprehension. You know better.
Now, if you need an example of the kind of “never give up, never surrender” attitude you want to bring to LSAT test day, check out the ever-resilient Black Knight.