Monday, January 28, 2008

Your opinion

Tragically, we're to stupid and young to have and especially deep understanding of most issues (people are working on those problems), but we still have opinions! This causes some problems because other people who've thought about stuff as little as we have disagree with us and since it's so very obvious that we're right we naturally conclude that our enemies are evil.

I've been putting off writing a post like this for ages, because my thoughts on this are somewhat longwinded and that's bad. Sooo, how should we go about formulating our opinion with limited information and engaging with people we disagree with?

  • The fact that some really smart person (even if this person is an expert on the issue) shares our view is not sufficient to feel the case is closed. There are many smart experts.
  • Even if you have the energy to actually read and digest the basic arguments of these experts (say in columns, popular books or even journals) the case is not closed. All this proves is that they are smart experts (see above).
  • It is possible to construct convincing, reasonable arguments for wildly different views. So don't be overly seduced by them (see points above).
  • The fact that getting to grips with the details of the arguments doesn't guarantee that you'll be right does not mean that it's pointless to master these arguments.
  • Take that warm fuzzy feeling of rightness when reading a great explanation of why you're right and try to imagine yourself feeling that exact same feeling after reading something with the other view. It's easy to psychoanalyse people who disagree, but they're just like you.
  • Some people are just dicks who do not make arguments in good faith. These people are not worth engaging with. This conclusion should not be reached lightly however.
  • If experts in the field are roughly split on an issue your confidence that you're right should not be very high.
  • We should really try to keep the number of assumptions down and become more aware of when we make them.
  • Reading lots of similar stuff will rapidly hit diminishing returns and feed into confirmation bias. (It is fun to read stuff we agree with though; this fits with my view that we care for entertainment more that loftier ideals.)
  • Discussions are opportunities to learn stuff. Contrary arguments should not be upsetting; they should be a source of entertainment.
  • We should recognise how unlikely it is that we are right. We can still have opinions but often they should come with a disclaimer, "these opinions are for entertainment purposes only!!!!"

This is to long, and almost certainly incomplete. I welcome corrections and improvements.


Tracy said...

In a management book that I read: The Fifth Discipline by Senge, 1990, he recommends using the world dialogue instead of discussion.

Dialogue is not about trying to prove your point of view, but rather exposing your ideas and assumptions so that others can examine them, and vice versa. It has to be an open and trusting environment where everyone acknowledges that they have an incomplete view of the world and that they can learn from others.

I don't know if using the world 'dialogue' makes any difference. But I don't think we often have discussions like this. It is, however, one of the reasons I enjoyed Sofie's poetry evenings. We were quite open to listening to other people's thoughts and the environment was very trusting. We could have perhaps 'questioned' each other more.

Swart Donkey said...

1) The natural deference to `smarter' people is problematic, but often we assume because a person is smart in their field their opinion in other fields counts more, which is crap. See scientists who are religious being used as justification for religion. Maybe bad example, but you get my point?

2)True... and the energy is scarce


4)little bit of vomit :-) Touche

5)Maybe its worth trying not to feel that?

6)Yup, the problem is the people in between who are worth engaging with but are so dogmatic/illogical in certain respects that you start weighing up the value of that engagement



9)Reading one book often gives you a `reading list' for others, so your list for things you agree with is normally longer.

10) My problem is I sometimes enjoying the stirring, This is also something I should maybe try stop. An I do try. Promise.

11) for improvement purposes only?

mutt said...

We shouldn't feel that fuzziness.

stirring can be fun. we shuld be able to enjoy it. part of the way we should change.

I've lost two long comments.

I'll write another post instead of a 3rd long comment.