Straw Vulcan

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to: navigation, search
A mind all logic is like a knife all blade; it makes the hand bleed that wields it.
Rabindranath Tagore

A straw man used to show that emotion is better than logic.

It starts by having characters who think "logically" try to solve a problem. And they can't. Either they can't find any answer, or they're caught in some kind of standoff, or they're even stuck in a Logic Bomb-type loop. Once this is established, someone who uses good old human emotion comes up with a solution that the logical thinker can't. This provides An Aesop that emotion is superior and that the logical thinker shouldn't trust logic so much.

This is, of course, a Broken Aesop. Fiction often gets the concept of logic wrong in a number of ways.

The most common mistake is to assume that logic and emotion are somehow naturally opposed and that employing one means you can't have the other. Excluding emotion doesn't make your reasoning logical, however, and it certainly doesn't cause your answer to be automatically true. Likewise, an emotional response doesn't preclude logical thinking -- although it may prevent you from thinking in the first place—and if an emotional plan is successful, that doesn't make logic somehow wrong.

Because the author is more concerned with setting up their straw man than in handling logic correctly, they will often misuse and distort the concept to create contrived examples where what they're calling "logic" doesn't work. Common situations include:

  • The Straw Vulcan will only accept a guaranteed success. A plan that only has a chance of success is not "logical", even if the chance is the highest possible. This is actually a well-known error in logic, called the Perfect Solution Fallacy.
  • The story assumes a "logical" plan is one where every step makes the goal visibly closer, and accepting a short-term disadvantage for a long-term advantage is not "logical". There's nothing inherently illogical in accepting a short-term set-back if it makes the long-term success more likely.
  • The Straw Vulcan will be completely unable or unwilling to plan for unexpected and even illogical behavior of other parties.
  • The Straw Vulcan either assumes that self-sacrifice isn't "logical", even though there can easily be situations where self-sacrifice is "logical", or treat it as a matter of numerical "trade off" with insect-like disregard of self preservation.
  • The story assumes that anything which doesn't fit a particular mathematical model of logic isn't "logical".
    • For instance, assuming that "logic" means "using syllogisms". Even speculation and testing hypotheses can then be called "illogical", despite being the foundation of modern science. Heck, even logicians don't use syllogisms all the time.
    • Or assuming that all logical choices must make one side better off on an individual basis, without considering cooperation; this is known as a Nash equilibrium, although you'll never find the actual term mentioned, mostly because the word "equilibrium" is far too logical-sounding for authors claiming its inferiority.
  • The Straw Vulcan, and by extension all logical thinkers, will be uncreative, or at least less so than emotional people. He will be unable to come up with an imaginative answer to an unusual problem, while the emotional protagonist, often despite having no real experience with this kind of situation, will be able to save the day. This is supposed to show that "logic" is inferior to "emotion" in that emotion can provide a third and more favorable option to the logician's bad and worse options.
  • A Straw Vulcan will have to consider everything about the problem in full detail even in time-critical situations, while the emotional person will make the snap decisions necessary in this sort of situation. This will demonstrate how the "logical" Straw Vulcan is useless under pressure and therefore inferior to the emotional protagonist. Which would make a point, if the author didn't forget to mention that consistently good decision making needs training just like problem solving does, and at very least enough of background to understand the situation in question correctly in the first place.
  • There's also the case where the emotional person suggests a course that shouldn't work, period, but the Straw Vulcan's ideas all involve some aspect that the "non-logical" character find objectionable. So Straw Vulcan is outvoted, they go with the dumb emotional plan, and lo, it works... due to sheer dumb luck. This is then lauded as a victory for emotion, when in fact it's a victory for the Million-to-One Chance principle.
  • The Straw Vulcan will often commit the Fallacy Fallacy, dismissing a conclusion simply because it was based on invalid logic or on emotion. While the fact that an argument contains a fallacy is grounds for dismissing an argument, it does not prove that the conclusion is wrong.

A Straw Vulcan (much like Star Trek Vulcan) often quickly slips from stating adherence to "logic" as opinion or personal principle to an obvious obsession or phobia. In which case the whole picture makes more sense (noticeably disturbed people are not considered best decision-makers or planners for a reason that generally they, indeed, aren't), but invalidates the mental experiment for purpose of making any other point.

Like most extremes, this one is vulnerable to Poe's Law; the pseudo-skeptics[1] tend to act closest to the caricature image above, and Marxists traditionally are the most prone to be indistinguishable from a parody, but due to the way extreme movements develop, any group relying on claims of intellectual superiority to push its interests risks having its fringe caught in this.

See Dumb Is Good, You Fail Logic Forever, Giving Up on Logic and Unweaving the Rainbow. Compare Straw Hypocrite. The existence of this character means that the writer falls on the Romanticist side of Romanticism Versus Enlightenment. Contrast to Emotions vs. Stoicism. Opposite Tropes to Strawman Emotional.

No real life examples, please; real people are not crafted for a specific purpose.

Examples of Straw Vulcan include:


Anime & Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Rossiu in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann touches on this after the time-skip; when the citizens are rioting over the destruction caused by the Anti-Spirals, he tries to placate the populace by having Simon arrested and scheduled for execution, since Simon is technically responsible for the actions that led to the villain's attacking them (even though everyone else did just as much) and caused a lot of property damage by destroying an enemy in a populated area. He also wants to have the Ganmen and Lagann destroyed because it's outdated technology, and tries to save humanity by having them hide underground or evacuate on a spaceship. When this turns out to be futile... Simon saves the day by kicking reason to the curb and breaking through the impossible. Because that's what the show's about, baby!
    • It's played with, too, Rossiu is not criticized on-screen for his actions after the fact by anyone other than himself, everyone else in fact pats him on the back for doing what he thought was best and making a painfully hard decision.
    • Oddly, the leader of Rossiu's old village was an aversion: since it was a small village they wanted to avoid overpopulation and any time there were more than fifty people there they would draw lots to exile the extra people. However, he isn't needlessly antagonized because of this, and the ending even suggests he was doing the right thing (it helped that he left Gimmy and Darry with Team Gurren instead of just throwing them out).
  • Thomas Norstein from Digimon Savers often turns into one, though Masaru's abuse of Dumb Is Good doesn't help.
    • Takeru Takaishi was occasionally treated like this, mostly because he had to serve as the foil to the resident gogglehead. The idea that a temporary retreat could lead to a future victory seemed abhorrent to The Determinator.
      • It should be noted, however, that unlike most examples of this trope Takeru actually has rather poignant emotional outbursts of his own. Related mostly to seeing his Digimon die in the previous season.
  • Kyoya from Ouran High School Host Club averts this to a degree; his actions are based purely upon what he can gain, and he acts exactly as a truly logical person would. In one manga chapter, Haruhi hypothesizes that emotional gains might be part of these. Kyoya is intrigued.
  • Stein Heigar from Infinite Ryvius. He starts out as one of the most competent members of the Zwei, but as things get worse his inability to control the situation leads him to Jumping Off the Slippery Slope and eventually having a total breakdown.
  • Taiki may count as this in episode 177 of Sailor Moon Sailor Stars, unless this more counts as an example of Grumpy Bear. In this episode, Taiki looks down on Ami for believing that dreams and romance are needed in academics, and when the prospect of rain clouds the possibility of seeing a waited-for comet, he challenges her with "can your dreams and romance beat the rain?" This being Sailor Moon, the rain stops in time for the girls and Taiki to view the comet, and Taiki concedes that he can see the dreams and romance while viewing the comet.
  • In Darker than Black, Contractors are supposedly perfectly logical and steered by self-interest rather than emotion. Characters' actions rarely support this. Very few of them show any guilt about killing, but they can be quite emotional. Part of it may be the show failing at logic, but as the series goes on it's increasingly implied that it just isn't true in-world.


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • In Logicomix, Ferge is totally honest and devoted to truth & logic. Sadly, this devotion combined with Ignorant of Their Own Ignorance leads to Black and White Insanity in the form of a Straw Vulcan despise for women and jews. On the whole, this make him a Troubled Sympathetic Bigot who is desperately trying to do the right thing.
  • One of Brainiac 5's roles in the Legion of Super-Heroes is to be a Straw Vulcan for the more emotional superheroes, like Dream Girl and Bouncing Boy.
  • Oddly enough, Averted Trope in the Transformers comics with regard to Shockwave. Shockwave is a cold, calculating Decepticon warrior who embraces pure logic... but his definition of logic is, in fact correct - "the course of action with the highest possibility of victory." In the old Marvel Transformers comics, he once ceded leadership of the Decepticons to Megatron, convinced that Megatron's logic was superior.
    • In IDW's recent comics, the trope is played with when he's confronted with the raw, animal fury of the Dynobots (known in most other continuities as the Dinobots); his usual cold, calculating strategy was unable to stand up against their savage assault, and he decides to think like the enemy... and goes berserk simply to match their brutality pound-for-pound, allowing an emotion to become a factor in his logic. That emotion was rage, and it served Shockwave well, winning him the fight. An unforeseen weapon on the Dynobots' ship incapacitated him by causing a volcanic eruption once he'd switched off his anger program, but note that he gave in to emotion simply because it was logical to leave cold reasoning behind and embrace fury.
  • The Guardians of the Universe have been made into Straw Vulcans more and more with each writer. They did always have a stoic and cold sense to them, but recent story arcs put great emphasis on their hatred of all emotion, even from those within their own Corps, all while they become less competent and trustworthy. In the Blackest Night Crisis Crossover one of the Guardians, when asked why his people chose to defend the cosmos, replied "I don't remember," in spite of their motivations having been well-established for some time.


Film[edit | hide]

  • Not even Robot Monster could calculate love...
  • An example that may or may not be an aversion: In the In Name Only movie I Robot, part of the backstory of the protagonist is that earlier in his life, a robot was faced with a choice of saving him or a young girl. He had a 45% chance of survival, and she had a 11% percent chance of survival, so the robot chose to save him. His complaint is that the wrong kind of logic was applied; her life was worth more than his, so she should have been saved. This became the main reason for the protagonist's hatred of robots.
    • Additionally, V.I.K.I.'s motivations are entire rooted in logical thought. Sonny even comments that he can understand the logic behind the plan perfectly, "but it just seems too... heartless."
      • To be exact V.I.K.I.'s motivations are logical for her premise, it's her premise/goal that is wrong. She is looking to save lives at all costs, if that is her goal then she took quasi-logical action (one could argue there was a much better way to go about the coup that wouldn't set up an us-vs-them mentality that would encourage humans to fight to the death. The problem is that most humans don't want to have maximum life at all costs. We would rather accept small risk if it means enjoyment, and we couldn't be happy in a world dictated by robots. If she had started out with the premis of "I must preserve human happiness" instead of "I must preserve human life" things would have been far different.
  • Roy calls Deckard's leap of faith near the end of Blade Runner "irrational"; Deckard himself immediately agrees. Considering it was his only real hope of survival, clearly neither of them knows what "irrational" means.
  • Used in the 2009 Star Trek film (probably as an intentional Shout-Out) when Spock seeks to regroup with the rest of the surviving fleet, yet the seemingly invincible Narada is headed to destroy Earth; Kirk takes the opposing emotional side, notes the Earth will be doomed while the fleet rallies and opts to face the Narada in a head on, likely suicidal confrontation. This time, however, Spock is captain, and outranks Kirk. Later Kirk shows that Spock is emotionally compromised and takes command. In both instances we are talking about the young Spock from the alternate timeline created by the Narada at the beginning of the film.
    • Both subverted and played out straight in Star Trek VI. At one point Spock answers an appeal to logic from his protege Valeris by saying, "Logic, logic, logic. Logic is the beginning of wisdom, Valeris, not the end." During the remainder of the film, Spock is often telling outright lies or asking crewmembers to do so (acts that certainly go against what Vulcans traditionally consider logical) and describing the lies as "a miscommunication" and other euphemisms...anything but "a lie." But in the end, we find that for reasons she considers "logical," Valeris has conspired to assassinate Klingon Chancellor Gorkon and frame Kirk for his murder. When she says she doesn't recall the names of her fellow conspirators, Spock asks, "A lie?" She replies, "A choice."
  • I don't know that they use the word "logical," but the computer in WarGames is supposed to have mastered all sorts of game theory, without ever having realized that there could possibly be a game in which neither player could win (until, of course at the end, they introduce it to tic-tac-toe, and have it play against itself).
    • Hmm. The message isn't so much that you can't win a nuclear war but that the correct move is not to "play the game" at all. At least that seems to be the Aesop. In any case, WOPPER's "logic" is sound and subverts the notion that one can rationally plan a nuclear war, so this may count as a subversion of the trope.
  • Dr. Ellie Arroway in Contact is a SETI researcher who argues that Occam's Razor makes it more likely that humans invented the idea of God rather than God creating the world without a shred of proof pointing to his existence. During the hearing in which Ellie claimed she had a trip through the Stargate and encountered an alien (when all the witnesses and recorded data indicates the Stargate was a complete failure and nothing happened), Occam's Razor is flung back in her face: is it more likely that she hallucinated the journey or that the aliens sent her through the Stargate without leaving a shred of proof? Ellie concedes this but refuses to withdraw her position because her experience was too monumental for humanity's future to dismiss on logic alone. The kicker: the Christian philosopher whose personal religious awakening she (politely) dismissed as a psychological phenomenon is the first person to believe her: not because If Jesus, Then Aliens but because they're both committed to the truth. She ultimately continues her SETI research in hopes of finding more signs of extra-terrestrial life, proving that (at least where aliens are concerned) faith and logic can coexist.
    • Of course that's based on a popular but flawed understanding of exactly what Occam's Razor is. It doesn't say that the simpler an explanation is the more likely it is to be true. Rather, it says that the simpler the explanation the easier it is to disprove. In other words, it's a model for efficiently testing competing theories. You start with the simplest and thus easiest to disprove and move up through increasingly complex theories until you find the correct one.
      • Actually, in its canonical form Occam's Razor simply advises "Do not multiply entities needlessly" - meaning, do not assume the existence of anything as an explanation for anything else, unless there is no possible explanation that does not require that assumption. For instance, if certain physics results could be explained by an undiscovered particle, you should only hypothesize that particle if there is no other way to explain those results. This is not technically the same thing as claiming that simpler explanations are always better, or even more likely to be true, or more or less easy to disprove. It simply posits that an ungrounded assumption - especially regarding the existence of a thing for which there is no other evidence - adds nothing to a theory if the theory can be made to work without that assumption. (In many cases, theories with fewer "entities" will in fact be easier to test, since there are fewer points to control for, but that is not the immediate implication of Occam's Razor.) In other words, "simplest" means "least extra assumptions," not "easiest to explain to a three year old."
  • Scarlett in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra ("Emotions are not based in science. And if you can't quantify or prove something exists, well, in my mind, it doesn't.")
    • Subsequently somewhat parodied by Ripcord, paraphrasing Scarlett's line while doing a (bad) Spock voice.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • Frank Herbert's Dune plays with this a lot, especially considering that almost all the characters are highly intelligent and rational. Then there are the Mentats, whose job is to think logically.
    • The Mentat Piter makes several correct predictions of Duke Leto Atreides' actions, but wrongly predicts that his Bene Gesserit concubine Jessica will have a daughter rather than a son; his logic was actually correct (this was the Bene Gesserit plan), but he (and they) failed to take into consideration the possibility that Jessica would defy her orders out of love for her husband.
    • Paul's final plan against the Emperor and Space Guild is a hefty subversion of the first example in that it is risky and could have possibly resulted in the stagnation of their civilization; Paul himself calls out the Space Guild in that they chose the safe course and never took a chance at taking control of the spice like he did.
      • This is actually a very logical course of action if you are willing to accept the consequences, one of Paul's maxims is that "He who can destroy a thing, controls that thing." He is willing to destroy civilization as he knows it, and knows the Guild is not.
        • Herbert explains much of why Paul does what he does in a set of correspondence with the legendary John W. Campbell, where the two of them mutually note that Paul is a teenaged boy with vast knowledge, esoteric powers, and now enormous political and economic power, but he's not really wise. He can't be wise, not yet. He doesn't have enough life experience to be wise. His later actions prove this to be painfully true. His intentions are (mostly) good, but he makes a mess on a truly epic scale and it falls to his son Leto II to really clean things up.
  • Terry Pratchett's The Last Continent provides a nice page quote but it must be pointed out that the Discworld is a place where million to one chances crop up nine times out of ten, logic really can only take you so far in that world.
    • Actually, logic works perfectly in Discworld once you account for the trope-based physics there. Purposefully lowering your chances until you have only one in a million chance has actually been used as a successful battle plan in the books.
      • Or rather, it's been attempted by the Genre Savvy, who inevitably fail because they aren't statisticians, and therefore fail to make their chances exactly a million to one because they're working with rough estimates. They will then be saved by some other thing which is exactly a million to one.
    • Parodied in The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett. Tiffany Aching, having gone to enormous trouble to get into fairyland to bring her brother home, finds him sitting in a pile of candy, wailing his head off, because he has arrived at the conclusion that he cannot eat any of it based on Buridan's Ass logic: he can grab any piece of candy he wants, and eat it, but any piece he chooses means he's not choosing another piece, and that's just not acceptable. Justified in that A) he's approximately three, and B) it's implied he's been fed so much candy the sugar rush has addled his little three-year-old brain already.
      • That, and he's in the Fairyland that tends to drive people insane if they spend too much time there.
    • Ponder Stibbons in Terry Pratchett's books that involve wizards is often assigned this role, and gets to express frustration because he lives in a world where thunderbolts really are signs of gods' annoyance instead of massive bursts of static electricity.
      • The books often lampshade this outlook as neither rational nor healthy by describing it as a "curse".
  • The Warhammer 40,000 novel Soul Drinkers features a version in which an Adeptus Mechanicus Archmagos steals the holiest relic of the eponymous Space Marines, then expects them to do the logical thing and back down when threatened with a floating space artillery piece. Two things went wrong:
  • Possible example in E. E. Cummings's poem since feeling is first, although it doesn't say logic is wrong per se, simply that it's less important than love.
  • Subverted by Paul Redeker in World War Z. While his rather amoral plans to save parts of the white population of South Africa during a black uprising make him universally despised, these plans end up saving millions.
    • To be fair, he does have a breakdown after Mandela embraces him to endorse his plan.
  • Dagny Taggart and the other protagonists of Atlas Shrugged are repeatedly accused of being this by the Strawman Emotional antagonists.
  • Used in the second Little Fuzzy book in the character of Jan Christiaan Hoenveld. It's pointed out that this is why he doesn't make a very good scientist.
    • More specifically, its pointed out why he makes a poor choice as a researcher, which requires a capacity for speculative thinking. As a scientific investigator he is first-class, and acknowledged as such. The problem is that he was assigned as head of Research & Development, not Quality Control.
  • Played with interestingly in E.E. "Doc" Smith's Skylark Series. The Llurdi, introduced in the fourth book, are an absurdly logical race. They have virtually no imagination or creative ability, rely on other 'illogical' races to make intuitive theoretical breakthroughs and confine themselves simply to applied engineering using physics principles discovered by others, often reason from extended syllogisms, and their entire body of philosphical thought (let alone their governmental system) is limited to a variant of rule utiliarianism. However, despite this they seem engineered to avert every single one of the Straw Vulcan characteristics listed at the top of this page, save for the one about creativity:
    • The Llurdi avert the Perfect Solution Fallacy hardcore. Their response to a situation is the one they compute has the best chance of working, regardless of whether that is 100% or not. In fact, in one specific scene the Llurdi's ruler orders a defensive system to be prepared "so that no even theoretically possible attack on this planet will succeed", but the Llurdi engineers still do not get caught up seeking an unattainable perfection but simply stop once their system has contingencies sufficient to handle any contingency they compute has a probability greater than 0.01%.
    • The Llurdi are entirely willing to use a plan that makes a short-term sacrifice for a long-term gain. In one scene, after it is made absolutely plain that a captive population absolutely refuses to breed in captivity and artificial insemination is not viable, the Llurdi simply release them back into the wild -- with the intent of following them later and abducting at least some of the children they will have years later.
    • The Llurdi not only expect and prepare for illogical (by Llurdi standards) behavior from every other sentient race in the universe, they are actually nonplused on the few occasions that other sentients match them logic for logic.
    • The 'mathematical models' one is the only subtrope that the Llurdi even begin to fall into -- but given that Llurdan logic allows for both inductive and statistical methods along with deductive ones, they're doing no worse than real-world humans are regarding math limits.
    • In a complete reversal of the 'logical' race needing excessive time to ponder every response, it is explicitly mentioned and demonstrated in text that Llurdi have a faster reaction time to unexpected emergencies than any other sentient race in the universe. The author directly lampshades that a truly 'perfectly logical' mind would not have its performance inhibited by any form of emotion -- and "shock" and "surprise" are both emotions. In one scene a council of senior Llurdan bureaucrats are subject to a terrorist attack in the middle of a government meeting with absolutely no warning -- and immediately react to the attack with a speed and precision more characteristic of veteran special operations troops, because they were able to instantaneously process the new data and formulate a useful response.

Live-Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Joan of Arcadia defeated the best chess player in the school, despite not knowing how to play chess. Apparently, logic and order is unable to detect a potential checkmate from chaos that does unpredictable moves.
  • Happened more than once in Star Trek: The Original Series, where Spock often was the literal Straw Vulcan.
    • The whole trope is discussed in relation to pop culture in general and Star Trek specifically in the Skepticon lecture 'The Straw Vulcan'. Yes, the title is taken deliberately from this trope - apparently, the speaker is One of Us.
    • In "The Galileo Seven", we're shown Spock's first command, as the shuttle he is in charge of crashes on a desolate planet filled with savage aliens. Spock determines that a display of superior force will logically frighten away these aliens while the crew make repairs to the shuttle. Instead, as Dr. McCoy points out, the aliens have an emotional reaction and become angry and attack, something Spock did not anticipate. In the end, Spock's desperate act of igniting the fuel from the shuttle to create a beacon proves to be the correct action since it gets the attention of the Enterprise and allows for a rescue. When called on this "emotional" act, Spock replies that the only logical course of action in that instance was one of desperation.
    • Happens straight in the second Pilot. Spock and Kirk play 3D chess. Spock is about to win, Kirk makes an "illogical move" and wins. So what is illogical about making the necessary move to win? Sacrificing pieces? Except that's a valid and basic tactic of chess to begin with!
    • However, the trope is notably averted at the end of the second film, when Spock makes a Heroic Sacrifice on the basis that he alone can survive the radiation exposure long enough to make needed repairs to the warp core, under the premise that "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one." In the same film, Spock argues that Kirk accepting promotion is illogical ("a waste of material") because he makes a better starship captain than an admiral. In most scenarios, choosing to do what one loves over accepting a higher rank is presented as the "emotional" response.
    • Averted in Space Seed, where we see fairly clearly from early on the episode that Kirk, Scotty, and (worst of all) Marla McGivers are looking at Khan through various sorts of romanticized shades, reading things into him that were never really there and deceiving themselves about who and what he really is. Spock, on the other hand, clearly recognizes that Khan is, fundamentally, just a mass murderer and a power-hungry egotistical thug who escaped from the catastrophe he helped create and is now potentially dangerous.
    • Averted painfully in City On the Edge of Forever and Where No Man Has Gone Before. In the first Spock's cold, clear-eyed logic reveals to him what the choices before Kirk and himself in the time-trip into the 1930s are, and that Kirk's love for Edith Keeler is beside the point of those choices. He is not unsympathetic, as we see in his quiet words: "He knows, Doctor." after Kirk prevents McCoy from saving Edith. In WNMHGB, Spock analyzes the necessary implications of the changes in Kirk's then-best-friend Gary Mitchell, and the trend of where those changes are taking Mitchell, and knows that there is no way out, either Mitchell dies or catastrophe follows, and subsequent events prove him right, Kirk very nearly does wait too long out of sentiment, even after Mitchell himself affirms that Spock is right. In both cases, cold logic is revealing a painful truth that emotion and sentiment can cloud but not change.
    • Also subverted in "A Piece of the Action".

Spock: It would seem that logic does not apply here.
McCoy: You admit that?
Spock: To deny the obvious would be illogical.

      • Spock is the one being(shock!)illogical. Taking account of the illogic of others is logical, in fact it is not doing so that is illogical(if you play roulette you do not assume the rules are the same as chess). Furthermore it is not true even that Spock is dealing with illogic. All the mobsters are following the logic of clan politics which is the same clan politics as has been there for thousands of years, was normal on Earth until recently, is still normal among Klingons, and once was normal among Vulcans. People immersed in such a situation can and do get emotional about it but ultimately they do not survive by being stupid.
    • 'Requiem for Methuselah' has Forget
    • Subverted and inverted in an episode of Deep Space Nine; Sarkona, a Vulcan, joins the Maquis because she agrees with their position and believes their rather crude and barbaric actions to achieve "peace" to be logical... but she's called out by Quark, locked in the brig with her after her plans are exposed, noting that, as the Federation had caught the Cardassians (the Maquis' enemies) red-handed supplying their people with weapons to fight against the Maquis, sitting down with them and hammering out an arrangement would bring the peace in better and "at a bargain price" compared to continuing the fight.
    • In another episode from Deep Space Nine, Captain Solok has been hassling Benjamin Sisko across the known galaxy for the past two decades, all in the name of proving that emotional, illogical humans (like Sisko) are inferior to emotionless, logical Vulcans (like himself). Somewhat subverted by the end of the episode, when the Deep Space Nine crew successfully goad Solok into losing his temper.
        • "Human? Did I leave my spots at home?" "All that Vulcan intelligence, and he doesn't even know what a hew-mon looks like."
    • In one episode of The Next Generation, Troi beats Data at chess. She then explains to him that chess isn't just a game of logic, but also intuition. As the Nitpicker's Guide puts it, "Try playing 'intuitive' chess against a computer and you'll lose in no time flat" (and then suggests that perhaps she had his Difficulty Level set to "below novice"). Shown for laughs in xkcd 232.
    • In early episodes of both The Original Series and The Next Generation, humans who have uploaded their minds into android bodies discover that they have lost some ineffable, illogical, human quality in the transfer. Despairing at this loss, they choose to terminate their existence—a strangely emotional reaction for beings which now supposedly have none.
      • Ironically, this is referenced and deconstructed by Data, of all people, in an episode of The Next Generation; a scientist wants to disassemble him and dump his memory into a computer so he could study him and learn how to create more like him, and Data refuses, fully believing in that same ineffable quality to memory and believing he, himself would lose it in the transfer, despite himself being an android. In an attempt to explain this, he compares it to how learning how to play poker from a book isn't the same as actually playing the game, in person, implying that the "ineffable quality" being lost is the personal importance and significance of those experiences, the context which makes the event special for that individual, which—when read out of that context as a mere descriptive text readout—cannot be fully understood or appreciated—an actually logical argument when you think about it.
        • Also, it isn't that Data thinks the ineffable quality cannot be duplicated, but he believes Bruce Maddox doesn't possess sufficient understanding of Data's construction to fully replicate it. Data encourages Maddox at the end of the episode to continue his research.
    • The Animated Series episode "The Magicks of Megas-Tu" neatly subverts or perhaps averts this. In a parallel universe where magic works, McCoy scoffs at Spock's attempt to perform a magical ritual. His reply? "It must work, Doctor. It is logical -- here."
    • Tuvok on Voyager often acted as a Straw Vulcan.
      • Played with in this dialogue (when captured):

Tuvok: Resistance is illogical.
Seven: Logic is irrelevant.

      • This from one usually quite logical person.
      • In one episode of Voyager Tuvok is being impersonated, and when he encounters the impostor, they are at a standoff.

Impostor Tuvok: Logic would dictate that neither of us is at an advantage.
Tuvok: Your logic is flawed. {Shines a light in his eyes}

      • At least the writers seemed to acknowledge that Tuvok was a tightass even by Vulcan standards. From the episode "Flashback":

Sulu: Mr. Tuvok, if you're going to remain on my ship, you're going to have learn how to appreciate a joke. And don't tell me Vulcans don't have a sense of humor, because I know better.

  • Star Trek: Enterprise. Over the course of four years T'Pol undergoes a Mind Rape that brings up traumatic memories of losing her emotional control in a jazz nightclub, remembers repressed memories of a line-of-duty killing (that also led to a loss of emotional control), suffers from Pa'nar Syndrome that degrades her neural pathways (leading to loss of emotional control), becomes addicted to Trellium-D (which causes loss of emotional control), and is infected by a microbe that makes her undergo a premature pon farr (leading to loss of emotional control and clothing). It seems that the writers believed that the only way T'Pol's character could develop was to take away the characteristics that made her different from humans.
    • While T'Pol is probably the queen of all Straw Vulcans, she's also often proved completely right for all of the wrong reasons.
    • That said, there was also an episode where the crew met an offshoot culture of Vulcans who ate meat and believed that emotion in moderation was not harmful in the slightest; as long as you had control over your emotions, there was no reason you couldn't allow yourself to feel and express that emotion. They were sort of an exploration of what would happen if you had Vulcans who weren't straw.
    • One of the plans for the fifth season (had there been one), was to reveal that T'Pol's father was a Romulan spy, which would go a long way towards explaining her Straw Vulcan tendencies in the earlier seasons.
  • Although widely used and occasionally subverted or lampshaded in Star Trek, as noted in the many examples above, the trope is notably averted in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Redemption II". In an operation involving a large number of ships and not enough captains to go around, a number of senior officers, including Data, are given command of various ships. Data's first officer repeatedly questions Data's orders and the fitness of an android to command a ship, until Data (seemingly) angrily tells him, "Mr. Hobson! You will carry out my orders or I will relieve you of duty!" Data correctly realizes that the emotional response is the logical one, necessary in order to motivate Hobson.
  • Farscape takes delight in simultaneously subverting and playing this trope straight whenever a protagonist's crazy plan works despite the logical objections of others, but also leads to lasting consequences which always come back to bite them in the arse. Characters will continually point out this trend, but usually concede to the fact that they're screwed either way and really don't have a choice.
    • Played painfully straight in the episode "My Three Crichtons," in which the three Crichtons in question are the original, a primitive caveman-like creature, and an advanced version with a brain so big it has distended his skull. The advanced Crichton is explicitly stated at several points to run on pure logic, which in practice means that he's a gigantic, backstabbing Jerkass.
  • Doctor Who, "Destiny of the Daleks", has the Daleks and Movellans, two "perfectly logical" races, at war in a perpetual stalemate because neither of them, each knowing the other will anticipate and compensate for their logical strategies, can find the best time to attack. This is possible if there's a Cold War-type mutually assured destruction, but it's written as Straw Vulcan "logic", including the "logical" computers not accepting short term losses (losing some soldiers) and not accepting other than a guaranteed success. The groups want Davros and the Doctor respectively to use illogic to help them win, and Davros eventually orders some Daleks to sacrifice themselves to destroy the Movellan ship. The story ends with An Aesop about making mistakes leading to winning.
    • This one is especially weird because the Daleks are shown elsewhere to be anything but a "perfectly logical" race, being very emotional indeed (albeit the usual emotion being "hate"). And they don't even have the excuse, such as it is, of falling into Did Not Do the Research; this story was written by Terry Nation, the Daleks' creator and the writer of over half the other Dalek stories to this point.
    • The prime directive of the Daleks is not Omnicidal destruction, it's the survival of the Dalek race, as seen in the Victory of the Daleks. They will do anything to complete their mission of destroying all life as long as they themselves dont get completely wiped out. That seems to me like being very logical.
      • The real weird is when the Doctor demonstrates the problem of perfect logic by getting two Movellans to take part in Rock-Paper-Scissors and noting that they always draw? Why should they draw? The game is a game of pure chance, there is no logical reason to chose any option so purely logical beings should just produce random choices. (Unless their random number seeds were all set to the same value).
      • His reasoning here is that the Movellans are not too rigidly logic but rather ridiculously short-sighted. After the first rock versus rock loss, if one assumes that the opponent will try the counter to rock (paper), then the logical response is to counter that with scissors - and they both do. Then they both think the opponent will try rock to break scissors and both play paper, and so on and so forth. The Doctor thinks one step ahead and plays the counter of that counter-counter round after round. A perfectly logical being would have deduced that such short-sighted automatic responses fail! The Movellans are not purely logic, they just suck at playing I Know You Know I Know.
    • The more recent episode, Evolution of the Daleks, works the logic/emotion debate more realistically, as Sec's newly acquired ability to feel emotions other than hate makes him far more "logical". This is a genuine Heel Face Turn (considering his Heroic Sacrifice), but there was pragmatism here, as the recurring flaw of the Daleks, especially in the post-time-war era, is their tendency to let genocidal xenophobia trump their logic. Sec reasoned, quite logically, that the best way to ensure the survival of your race was not to carry the Villain Ball everywhere.
    • The Cybermen in particular suffer from this trope; they've removed all of their emotions and are supposed to function completely by logic, as according to them, emotion is weakness; the fact that they don't have any emotions often completely scuttles them, because their logic is thus totally flawed.
      • It's cruelly subverted, however, in a Doctor Who comic strip, in which an army of invading Cybermen are confronted by a military leader who tells tham that, for all their claims of logical superiority, the emotional strength of the humans they are facing will defeat them. The Cyberleader's response is to douse everyone present with a hallucinogenic agent that sends all of the humans into complete emotional breakdown. Completely crushed and driven half-insane, the humans present beg to be converted into Cybermen; against such a weapon, emotion really is a weakness.
      • Also, in most of their 80s appearances, it was heavily implied that they hadn't been entirely successful with the removal of emotion. While this was never used to its full extent, it was recurring enough to not just feel like bad writing, and some of their defeats can, partially, be attributed to emotional Cyber Leaders. Excellent, indeed. In Earthshock in particular, the Cyber Leader takes a curiously gloating pleasure in Tegan's pain at the possibility of her planet's entire destruction for a supposedly 'emotionless' being.
        • The New Model Cybermen don't seem to have worked all the emotional kinks out either, judging from Yvonne Hartman's Heroic Sacrifice.
    • The effect of this trope on the viewer was made visible with the "new" Cybermen in "Doomsday": when the Cybermen propose an alliance with the Daleks, they claim to bring "elegance" of design to the table, and manage a subtle dig about the lack of it in the Dalek physical form. As noted above, logic is about how to achieve goals, not about what those goals are, so there's nothing illogical about the Cybermen prizing "elegance", as they pursue it in a logical fashion. This did not stop a number of fans from shouting "That's not logical!" about the exchange. In fact, "Elegance is good. Cybermen are elegant. Therefore, making more Cybermen makes more elegance, and, by extension, more goodness" is actually a far more logical motive for their actions than the traditional Cyberman strategy of "Survival is good. Therefore let's send our entire race off on incredibly risky invasions of Earth following pretty much the same strategy that has failed and led us to near extinction several times already" used repeatedly through the classic series.
      • The 20th century British physicist Paul Dirac would doubtless have had some very stern words to say in response to the suggestion of logic and elegance being mutually exclusive.
      • Just after the Cybermen have boasted of elegance, we see the procedure they go through to fire their built-in weapons. The Dalek's simple point-and-exterminate is far more elegant—and effective.
        • Although as far as logic goes, both sides would be a lot better off spending less time shouting "Delete"/"Exterminate" and just shooting already.
  • In Super Sentai, The Hero is almost always a loudmouth with more adrenaline than brains (similar to the Digimon franchise's goggle-wearer). In an episode of Magiranger in which The Hero and his mentor switch roles, the very Family-Unfriendly Aesop was to not waste your time thinking, and just charge in yelling as The Hero does. Right Makes Might, and thinking only gets in the way.
  • Bones lives on the Odd Couple relationship between emotional and intuitive Booth and logical and rational Brennan: she's frequently shown as being wrong in the end, or being right for the wrong reasons.
    • It get's really jarring when you consider that Bones is very rarely rational or logical at all. In a recent episode Angela pointed out that one of Brennan's skills is, rather than being rational, rationalizing her actions.
      • In some ways she is. When she says she is the best scientist in the country, it is not because she is bragging. It is because she is the best scientist in the country and it is absurd to waste time pretending otherwise. When she corrects someone else's error she is not trying to annoy them. It is because she really would want to be corrected when she is wrong. It is not her logic that is at fault it is her information deficiency that comes from not sensing other's emotions.
        • The point being made is that its a failure in her logic to not realize that she has this 'information deficiency' problem and take appropriate coping measures. To be unable to recognize your limitations and act accordingly is not logical. Especially when its a known syndrome.
      • Consider her as borderline Hollywood Autism who was severely emotionally damaged when her parents abandoned her. All of a sudden her retreat into pseudorationality makes sense. It's still annoying.
    • When Brennan lost her memory of the last couple days and was framed for murder; she argued in favor her own guilt as the most logical conclusion even though the police had no motive whatsoever and Booth pointed out she was not capable of murder.
    • Speaking of Bones, Zack's decision to work for a cannibalistic serial killer because "his logic is unassailable". Really? Even accepting all his premises, where exactly does eating people and making a skeleton from their remains fit in to this plan?
      • Which is why Bones managed to take Gormogon's logic apart in thirty seconds.
  • Stargate SG-1; the hyper-logical Asgard, on the verge of defeat in their war against the Replicators, come to Earth seeking ideas from a more primitive, more savage race. Immediately averted by Jack saying "You're actually saying you need someone dumber than you are?" Carter, as it turns out, is indeed dumb enough to win that battle. The fact that the Asgard, practically alone among Sufficiently Advanced Aliens, are able to acknowledge they are not perfect and, more importantly, humanity and Earth in particular actually have something to contribute is one reason they are such great guys.
    • Of course, the Asgard's main reason for coming is that they are so advanced they have trouble coming up with low-tech solutions (for example, launching pieces of metal at a high speed using a small explosive to deal with targets that have shielding against energy weapons) or solutions to problem their technology can't solve. Which makes sense, as similar things happen IRL. People living in the 21st century would often not think (or even be aware) of several tricks and trades used centuries prior - and not think of using such tricks when they might again be useful (see the Real Life section of Rock Beats Laser for example).
  • Averted in an episode of Stargate Atlantis; there's a Ticking Time Bomb scenario, and one of a daunting number of identical circuits will save the day. Since there's no penalty for guessing, The Smart Guy is methodically trying each one, but there won't be time for all of them, so a more empathic, intuitive type tells him to start trying them at random. Smart Guy, quite sensibly, points out that that would mean a chance of trying some of them twice, thus wasting precious seconds.
    • Played straight in the first meeting with the Genii. While infiltrating a Wraith Hiveship, Teyla discovers some human prisoners. She becomes emotionally moved and stays behind (with one of the Genii) to free them... except that the success of the mission crucially depends on the Wraith not realizing that it ever took place. After pointing this out to Teyla and being subsequently ignored, the Genii, as the Straw Vulcan of the day, "logically" shoots down the prisoner with his unsilenced firearm. This, of course, instantly alerts the Wraith; the Genii is shot and paralyzed just after, and Teyla leaves him to die, despite the fact that he's an old friend of hers and the show typically operates on a No One Gets Left Behind premise. But hey, that's the price you pay for being logical and trying to avoid the deaths of many of your people.
    • It's hard to say whether the Genii are meant to be jerkasses or Jerkass Straw Vulcans. While they may be said to be overly pragmatic (they do believe in the importance of the Genii people and society over individuals, to rather harsh, but somewhat justified means and ends), they aren't paragons of wisdom, nor are ever said to be logical.
  • Parodied by The Colbert Report, where Stephen Colbert's character often sets up the "liberal elite" as a Straw Vulcan. In case you've been living under a rock and don't know this already, we aren't supposed to agree with Colbert's character; the character himself is the real Stephen's Strawman Political.
  • Nick Stokes of CSI can make his co-workers look like Straw Vulcans as he is generally more concerned than his co-workers with establishing rapport with the victim's family and keeping the human dynamics of a case in mind. He's not a better CSI per se because of this but he's more suited to the parts of the job the police academy doesn't train you for; giving reassurance to the victim's family and reaching out to reluctant witnesses.
  • The Professor from Gilligan's Island although it's more "imagination is better than logic." Honestly, after all the stuff that goes on on that island you'd think the Professor would EVENTUALLY realize that science isn't going to work there.
    • Then again, you would think he would come to the logical solution to keep Gilligan far from any experiment or device he is building. By force, if necessary.
  • One episode of M*A*S*H featured a logistics expert who was treated as little more than a cold and calculating monster because he projected casualties before a battle in order to make preparations for receiving them. By the end of the episode, of course, Hawkeye had taught him the "error" of his ways. Also overlaps, as these things often do, with Straw Man Has a Point.
  • In the Modern Family episode "Lifetime Supply", Jay and Manny go the horse track with Manny's father, Javier (Benjamin Bratt). Jay chooses his horses based on the information in the Daily Racing Form. Javier bets on a horse because "I looked him in the eyes, and he told me this would be his day". Guess who wins? To add insult to injury, Jay chooses a horse this way and it wins ... only to be disqualified.

Music[edit | hide]


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Tech-Priests in Warhammer 40,000.
    • To be fair, most characters in the lore think they are straight up nuts and their methods of fixing stuff are not so much logical as they are religious doctrines. The rite of pressing the "on" rune is a common one. It involves much prayer and chanting. Though it's very Depending on the Writer - sometimes they need to chant before activating a light panel, sometimes just enough ritual to make things more satisfying.
  • A variation of this can happen to Alchemicals in Exalted—as they grow into cities, install Exemplar charms, or go long periods without human interaction, they accumulate Clarity. The sourcebook for Alchemicals goes out of its way to point out that this means they focus on efficiency and do not become needlessly cruel.
    • On the other hand, most can become aware of this and are usually willing to at least listen to their more emotional advisers.
  • In Genius: The Transgression, we have Atomists, the Lemurian technocrats. They believe every problem can be solved with technology... including social ones. When you combine this with their literal insanity it has predictable results.
  • Averted in In Nomine with the Elohim, despite many mocking comparisons from both angels and demons. The angels of this ultra-rational Choir must always do the objective "right thing" regardless of their own emotions, but they neither dismiss emotions nor lack them. In fact, because of their own inner balance, they are more capable of *perceiving* the emotions of others and judging what sort of actions those emotions will lead to.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Averted with First Lieutenant Lin from Advance Wars: Dark Conflict (AKA "Days of Ruin", outside of Europe), a highly logical tactician who nevertheless concedes command of the army to Ed (Will in Days of Ruin), on the grounds that he is better respected by the troops and civilians and will therefore be a more effective leader. At one point, she even commends Ed for giving an emotional speech to motivate the troops.
    • There's also the scene where she had Greyfield/Sigismundo at her mercy, and he tries to save himself by pointing out that she'd be doing the same thing he did. She agrees... and shoots him anyway.
  • The New Enlightenment in the Interactive Fiction Square Circle embodies this.
  • Dissidia Final Fantasy: Onion Knight gets this, spelled out in that story's ending narration: "He thought that avoiding mistakes and making decisions based on logic - instead of emotion - was the only way to reach the truth. But the boy has learned ... that he can tap into immeasurable strength when he searches deep inside his heart."
  • Before gaining emotions, Gale of Digital Devil Saga is one of these. One plan has him suggest destroying an abandoned Ocean Liner to kill a Chronic Backstabber, even though it's implied in the second game that the ship has some emotional significance to the Mysterious Waif. He also doesn't understand things such as Argilla's anguish after Jinana dies and why Lupa vows upon his honor.


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • This episode of Bob the Angry Flower exhibits typical straw logic. Meanwhile acting extremely emotional. "Stop trying to control me!" indeed.
  • Parodied in Fans!, where one of the Big Bad's plots was to go back in time and insert more instances of this trope into fiction—thus making all of humanity stupider as a whole.
  • Shortpacked parodies an instance of this from G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra in this strip.
    • Willis labeled the strip "Is this something already covered by TV Tropes? I haven't checked yet." in his update blog.
  • xkcd had "Think Logically".

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Sokka of Avatar: The Last Airbender is often put in this position when the Gaang is trying to help people. However, it's subverted in "The Fortuneteller", where they have to convince the people that the volcano will erupt. Although a lot of times Sokka will act on instinct and emotion. Oftentimes he is actually very practical and logical in the non-straw sense.
  • Squidward is frequently put as a Straw Vulcan counterpart to Spongebob and Patrick.
  • Averted in, of all places, The Replacements. One episode revolves around the problems of Riley displaying some "Straw Vulcan" behavior.... however, it's never labeled as "logical", and in the end, it's determined that it's not innately inferior to more impulsive behavior... but just that each is better-suited to certain problems and situations.
  • Dr. Perceptron in Futurama is utterly crippled as a psychoanalist by his adherence to "logic". For example, he ignored Fry's claims of humanity solely because he was in an institution for robots, thus meaning he was clearly a robot.
  • In My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, research magician Twilight Sparkle disregards repeated observational evidence of Pinkie Pie's "Pinkie Sense" because it's not Sufficiently Analyzed Magic. Then, under the influence of severe repeated head trauma and possible stress-induced brain anyeurism, she concludes that it "just makes sense," and that you "just have to choose to believe" in things you don't understand. In defense of the show, after the inevitable Internet Backlash, the creator of the show, Lauren Faust, apologized, saying that that wasn't meant to be the moral to take away from the episode.
  • The original Prowl from Transformers was described as being logical to the point of shutting down when faced with an unexpectedly crazy situation. In the cartoon, this wasn't really touched on and he was portrayed more as a just-the-facts-ma'am style military policeman.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • The Stalin era Soviet Union followed the 'everything but this specific model is not really logic'. For example, probability mathematics was declared a 'bourgeois pseudoscience' and the Law of Large Numbers a 'false theory'. The idea of anything less than perfect and total determinism just somehow irked them. Things improved a bit after Stalin croaked, and but the damage had already been done.
    • Bear in mind, this is a government which banned genetics because things like Mendel's laws were incompatible with their politics. Hmm... where have we heard this one before?
  • There is a well known paradox called Buridan's Ass, which tries to show the problem with relying too much on logic. The eponymous ass (donkey) is positioned equidistantly between two equally sized piles of hay. It wants to eat one of them, but can't choose between them, since there is nothing to distinguish between each one, and hence, no reason why the option "Eat haystack A" should be considered better or worse than "Eat haystack B". The idea is that a logical answer is an answer which is better than all others, and thus, when there's no "better" choice, you can't choose at all. However, since "Stand here forever and starve to death" is obviously a less favourable option than either choice, the answer that's actually most logical is to pick one at random and start eating.
    • This is formally known as the false dichotomy fallacy.
  • Pythagoras' response to the challenge "find root 2", which requires an irrational number, was so confounding to a man who thought all numbers were integers or ratios of integers, he killed the man who suggested it and swore all present to secrecy. Legend tells.
    • Legend also suggests the same fate befell the man who dared point out the fifth Platonic solid, ruining Pythagoras' mathematical mysticism in which each Platonic solid represented one of the four elements. The Pythagoreans were actually almost as bizarre as Reign: the Conqueror makes them out to be.
      • Actually, there was a fifth element: Aether. It was considered too rarified and sublime for "regular" people to know about, and was associated with the dodecahedron.
    • They also actively suppressed the concept of "zero" because it didn't fit properly into their world view.
  • The act of actually going through and evaluating matters assuming that everybody will act perfectly according to logic is a logical fallacy for a very good reason.
  • John Nash considered the game of Go to be flawed, since a player who makes the first move and places all their pieces perfectly from then on can still lose. He responded by creating his own board game, later marketed as Hex, in which first move and perfect play will guarantee a win. Rather overlooking the fact that Go is a tremendously complex and subtle game with numerous valid strategies.
    • And probably also the fact that the game would be uninteresting to two perfect players, as the winner is just determined when determining who goes first. A good example of this is Nim, especially the single-heap variant.
      • This is true of any game without chance. It's just that a few, such as Nim, are humanly possible to play perfectly.
        • Perhaps the simplest example is Tic-Tac-Toe. Unless someone makes a mistake, the game will always end in a draw.
    • Also ignoring the fact that there are games for which perfect play guarantees victory for the player that goes second.
  • This trope was explored (and TV Tropes namechecked) in a speech by Julia Galef at Skepticon 4 in 2011. The talk is about common misconceptions of rationality is called "Straw Vulcan", named after this very page!
    • She also discusses it a few times on the Rationally Speaking Podcast, usually when she and her co-host are discussing rationality, logic, intuition, logical fallacies, or common misconceptions about the above.
  1. activists who passionately denounce as "unscientific" everything that disagrees with whichever Great Teaching they follow, while exercising no skepticism whatsoever toward the latter, even when its preachers fall into self-contradictions