Posted by: cochinblogger | February 17, 2011

Drunken Logic

The other day over dinner my father told me about a hotel (that’s how an eatery is referred to in Kerala; restaurant is too long a word) that used to operate on the opposite side of the road in front of our house in the 1950s. The owner (Varkey) used to get drunk on toddy every evening and then sit at the counter of his hotel, barking commands at his staff and talking up the customers.

One evening a customer asked for a plate of rice. The waiter said there was no rice. (This is a direct translation from Malayalam: Chore illa.)

Varkey immediately corrected the waiter loudly: “If you say there is no rice, it implies this is not a hotel. You should have said ‘the rice has got over.’ Next time say that.”

I had to think about Varkey’s logic. I first argued that the waiter’s statement was incorrect because there may have been uncooked rice stored somewhere in the establishment. But my father reminded me that Malayalam, unlike English, has different words for cooked and uncooked rice. The customer had, naturally enough, used the word for cooked rice.

A friend my father narrated his incident to wondered aloud: “How could a drunk think of such a subtle logical point?”

Whatever the logic, Varkey’s suggested reply sounds better than the waiter’s.

I was reminded of a lawyer my grandfather (also a lawyer) knew who was a notorious tippler. The strange thing is that the more drunk he became, the more logical were his arguments in court.

Unfortunately, most drunks do not conduct their arguments like lawyers. That is why bars in Kerala, by government fiat, remain closed on election days, and on days when votes are counted.

Here is a mathematical take on drunken logic: A Non-Judgmental Reconstruction of Drunken Logic

This snippet caught my eye:

The possibility of the analytical truth of a proposition becoming questionable under the influence is also evidenced by discussion as to whether conference submissions that can be understood while drunk are novel enough to be worth accepting.

My father, a research mathematician, got the key idea of his PhD thesis while drinking with friends in a bar. The idea did stand up to the cold light of the following day, and his PhD adviser, a man well known for not giving away his PhD’s easily, certified it to be an excellent thesis.

Small amounts of alcohol are known to act as a stimulant; the depressant effect kicks in only with large amounts. So a state of pleasant drunkenness need not be incompatible with logical thought.

But, of course, this tippler is biased. 🙂

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