Problem of Induction (jacob Ginsberg)

She said, “Conclusions arrived to on the basis of inductive reasoning are probable, but not certain.”

He had promised himself not to bullshit on this date, so he said, “I don’t know what that means.” Fair, he thought, since she’d said it in response to a question about the weather.

“Induction is a method of reasoning,” she said patiently, without condescension. “Whereas deductive reasoning gives logical conclusions that must follow from the premises — like, Sacramento is in California; I am in Sacramento; therefore, I am in California — right?”

“Right,” he said. They were at a Mexican restaurant in Hoboken, New Jersey. “Logic.”

“So whereas deductive conclusions must follow, cannot be false, inductive conclusions rely on projecting from repeated phenomena. But observing a pattern doesn’t give certainty that the pattern will continue. We might think it will continue, based on experience, but we can’t say we know it will.”

He was a little lost, which he thought was obvious on his face, but he was also trying, which he hoped would count for something. “Could you give me an example? Like Sacramento?”

“How do you know the sun will rise tomorrow?”


“How are you sure that in the morning the sun will come up?”

“It just will. It always does.”

“Right — that’s induction. The sun has always risen up until now; therefore, it will rise tomorrow. The premise is true, but the conclusion isn’t necessarily true. Likely, but not definite.”

“Are you saying the sun might not come up? Like maybe a black hole will suck it out of existence?”

“I’m saying that everything we think we know about the principles of nature, the laws of physics, the world around us isn’t certain to carry on the way it has been. I’m saying that according to the rules of logic, there’s no reason things can’t be different.”

She reached across the table to take his hand. He felt lighter than air at her touch, a sinking feeling in his stomach. Then there was no table, no Mexican restaurant. They were ten thousand feet above Sacramento, watching the sun throw pale pink light on the clouds as it set for maybe the final time. He squeezed her hand more tightly.


Jacob Ginsberg (he/him) is a writer and teacher living in Philadelphia, PA. He’s big into ospreys. His work has appeared in jmww, the Schuylkill Valley Journal, HAD, and other cool journals (like Rejection Letters!). He can be found on Twitter at @JacobGinsberg1.


image: MM Kaufman