I enjoy having challenging intellectual discussions with people from broad ranges of perspectives and backgrounds. However, I have found myself getting repeatedly frustrated when participants detach themselves from what I see as basic rules of debate. Each discussion can be boiled down to a verbal formula of sorts. We are essentially laying variables out on a table and moving them around to see which ones might work, and why some formulas don’t compute. There have been a number of key scientific discoveries made in the past few decades that should be both understood and acknowledged by both parties before entering any kind of honest debate or exchange of ideas. This would make the world a much happier, more efficient place. It would also push our conversations along to arrive at solutions and discoveries, instead of getting mired down in semantics and tautological reasoning. The primary source of all these roadblocks for an enlightened conversation stem from ignorance about scientific facts. So, let’s make a neat, pretty little checklist we can pull out and use as the givens for our equation, before we waste three hours getting nowhere but emotionally drained and irritated.
Agreement #1 : Science / The majority of the scientific community will dictate what our facts are.
If your kid gets stabbed and you use snake oil, prayer, or magic crystals to try to help him instead of taking him to the hospital…. Then, we can save ourselves some time, and call it a night. If you reject double-blind, peer-reviewed, published scientific research as evidence for our debate, then there’s just nowhere for us to go from that point. All parties must agree that only scientifically embraced evidence, ideas, and concepts can be admissible to the arena of discussion. Otherwise, we end up debating exceptions and bullshit stories. (I’ll get to the using an exception to prove your general point rule in a moment)
Agreement # 2 : We must understand that our default setting is self-delusion.
Tied to Agreement #1, if we agree that scientifically proven concepts are going to be recognized, then we need to thoroughly examine and clearly grasp all of the scientifically proven pitfalls and imperfections that exist in the natural wiring of our minds. It is essential to keep the immense list of cognitive biases at the forefront of our consciousness as we proceed in the discussion. These biases are REAL, and need to be recognized and compensated for at every point in the conversation. If we don’t do this, we will get sidetracked quickly and end up spinning our wheels in the mud. Case in point (Credit to David McRaney @ youarenotsosmart.com) –
The Backfire Effect :
“The Misconception: When your beliefs are challenged with facts, you alter your opinions and incorporate the new information into your thinking.
The Truth: When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.”
That is to say, not only are you not as open-minded as you and everyone else claim to be, but further – your dumb ass doubles down on your ridiculous, erroneous argument when confronted with new facts or information. So, instead of inching your way closer to the truth, your tendency is to actually bolt in the other direction like some kind of demented imp. When I confront people with this scientifically proven phenomenon, they ironically respond by displaying the very FUCKING BIAS I am trying to make them aware of. I guess it’s hard for me to not come across as a raging asshole when all I can do is laugh in the face of such bold insanity. I usually end up feeling like an MIT graduate listening to George W. Bush try to pronounce “Nuclear” at a commencement speech. I actually don’t see myself as all that smart, but at the very least, I’m capable of reading and understanding a book about our proven psychological blind spots.
I also would like people to agree to a basic understanding of how memory works (again from Mr. McRaney’s book “You Are Not So Smart”) :
“A memory is least accurate when most reflected upon, and most accurate when least pondered. Together, those two facts make eyewitness testimony basically worthless. This isn’t what most people believe. Psychologists Dan Simons and Christopher Chabris published a study in 2011 revealing that 63 percent of those surveyed in the United States believe memory works like a video camera, and another 48 percent believe memories are permanent. An additional 37 percent said that eyewitness testimony was reliable enough to be the only evidence necessary to convict someone accused of a crime. Those are seriously shocking facts to a psychologist or a neuroscientist, because none of those things is true. You don’t record everything you see, nor do you notice everything that comes into your mind. The only things that make it past the ears and eyes are those things to which you attend. Memories are not recordings. The moment your first kiss was over, the memory of it began to decay. Each time you recall it, the event is reformed in your mind anew and differently, influenced by your current condition and by all the wisdom you’ve acquired since and all the erroneous details you’ve added.”
And it’s not just our memory that’s our only leak – here’s a sample of scientific truths that most people are fully unaware of (again, credit to David McRaney):
Priming MISCONCEPTION: You know when you are being influenced and how it is affecting your behavior.TRUTH: You are unaware of the constant nudging you receive from ideas formed in your unconscious mind.
Confabulation MISCONCEPTION: You know when you are lying to yourself. TRUTH: You are often ignorant of your motivations and create fictional narratives to explain your decisions, emotions, and history without realizing it.
Confirmation Bias MISCONCEPTION: Your opinions are the result of years of rational, objective analysis. TRUTH: Your opinions are the result of years of paying attention to information that confirmed what you believed, while ignoring information that challenged your preconceived notions.
Hindsight Bias MISCONCEPTION: After you learn something new, you remember how you were once ignorant or wrong. TRUTH: You often look back on the things you’ve just learned and assume you knew them or believed them all along.
The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy MISCONCEPTION: You take randomness into account when determining cause and effect. TRUTH: You tend to ignore random chance when the results seem meaningful or when you want a random event to have a meaningful cause.
Introspection MISCONCEPTION: You know why you like the things you like and feel the way you feel. TRUTH: The origin of certain emotional states is unavailable to you, and when pressed to explain them, you will just make something up.
The Availability Heuristic MISCONCEPTION: With the advent of mass media, you understand how the world works based on statistics and facts culled from many examples. TRUTH: You are far more likely to believe something is commonplace if you can find just one example of it, and you are far less likely to believe in something you’ve never seen or heard of before.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect MISCONCEPTION: You can predict how well you would perform in any situation. TRUTH: You are generally pretty bad at estimating your competence and the difficulty of complex tasks.
Apophenia MISCONCEPTION: Some coincidences are so miraculous, they must have meaning. TRUTH: Coincidences are a routine part of life, even the seemingly miraculous ones. Any meaning applied to them comes from your mind.
The Argument from Authority MISCONCEPTION: You are more concerned with the validity of information than the person delivering it. TRUTH: The status and credentials of an individual greatly influence your perception of that individual’s message.
The Argument from Ignorance MISCONCEPTION: When you can’t explain something, you focus on what you can prove. TRUTH: When you are unsure of something, you are more likely to accept strange explanations.
The Straw Man Fallacy MISCONCEPTION: When you argue, you try to stick to the facts. TRUTH: In any argument, anger will tempt you to reframe your opponent’s position.
The Just-World Fallacy MISCONCEPTION: People who are losing at the game of life must have done something to deserve it. TRUTH: The beneficiaries of good fortune often do nothing to earn it, and bad people often get away with their actions without consequences.
Self-Serving Bias MISCONCEPTION: You evaluate yourself based on past successes and defeats. TRUTH: You excuse your failures and see yourself as more successful, more intelligent, and more skilled than you are.
The Third Person Effect MISCONCEPTION: You believe your opinions and decisions are based on experience and facts, while those who disagree with you are falling for the lies and propaganda of sources you don’t trust. TRUTH: Everyone believes the people they disagree with are gullible, and everyone thinks they are far less susceptible to persuasion than they truly are.
Conformity MISCONCEPTION: You are a strong individual who doesn’t conform unless forced to. TRUTH: It takes little more than an authority figure or social pressure to get you to obey, because conformity is a survival instinct.
Embodied Cognition MISCONCEPTION: Your opinions of people and events are based on objective evaluation. TRUTH: You translate your physical world into words, and then believe those words.
Self-Fulfilling Prophecies MISCONCEPTION: Predictions about your future are subject to forces beyond your control. TRUTH: Just believing a future event will happen can cause it to happen if the event depends on human behavior.
The Illusion of Control MISCONCEPTION: You know how much control you have over your surroundings. TRUTH: You often believe you have control over outcomes that are either random or are too complex to predict.
This list is just the tip of the iceberg. Really, knowing the full list would be the ideal knowledge base to have prior to discussion. Going beyond that, the psychological lead veil would truly get lifted by drilling deep into Dr. Gad Saad’s book – “The Consuming Instinct”. He explores the innermost primal reaches of our truest evolutionarily derived biological pre-programming.
Don’t think this stuff is all that relevant or important? Well, you’re clearly just falling victim to yet another self-delusional bias – yearning to defend your precious ego at all costs, so you can stay mired in your stagnant piss pool of blissful ignorance.
Trying to have a debate without being hyper-vigilant about the bias list, would be like trying to drive a Ferrari on the Autobahn blindfolded, while hopped up on bath salts. If everyone tried to have productive conversations without acknowledgement and compensation for these lists, we’d end up with biased, hypocritical supreme court justices, 24-hour news channels ignoring facts in lieu of fear-mongering, allowing eye-witness testimony as valid evidence in our courts, and letting a bunch of murderers run free without getting indicted – while innocent men are falsely tortured and executed. I mean shit, there would be massive protests and rioting in the streets. Oh, wait.
Agreement #3 : Anger and insults mean the conversation is losing its efficiency
This one is pretty self-explanatory, and can probably be avoided if we can check off all the other agreements.
Agreement #4 : Truly listen to the other person and then respond to what they are saying.
Everyone says they are open-minded and good listeners. They are full of shit. Don’t just sit there rehearsing the next thing you are going to interject into the conversation. Try to actually hear the other person out, absorb what they were saying, and then respond specifically to whatever they just brought up. That is, unless you don’t respect their opinion in the first place – in which case, what’s the point of the discussion?
Agreement #5 : For the love of Christ’s nutsack, do NOT bring up a lone exception to prove your point about the broader issue at hand.
There are many classic debate detractors and pitfalls. But this one, in particular, sends me straight into conniption fits. If I say : “It’s been proven that eating nuclear waste is incredibly toxic and bad for your health”. Don’t follow that up with : “Yeah, but I know this one dude who ate some yellow cake uranium when he pledged his frat, and he’s like totally fine and stuff”. You have got to stop this infuriating, bullshit retort. Exceptions are called exceptions for a reason : they are EXCEPTIONS to a general group of results. The overall rule is what we are discussing – and all that is useful to discuss. Who gives a flying fuck about the one data point sitting 1000 light-years outside the curve of the standard deviation. If fixation on exceptions is how you’d like to guide your life decisions, might I reccommend betting your life’s savings on the next Keno drawing, you cunttard maroon. Now, I do realize I broke my own agreement with the whole name calling/anger thing. I further realize this is quite the ranting, emotional blog post. However, in my defense, we should probably just give up on the conversation and degenerate into insults and chair throwing if you had the audacity to break Agreement #5. Hence, you are fair game to get shit on.
If we could keep these 5 simple Agreements in mind for every discussion, then perhaps we could take great strides toward a better understanding of our universe, and possess deeper empathy for one another as a global society. Or at the very least, have more laughs and less crying during our next discourse. Keeping all this in mind, I’d like to finish on the topic of onus.
Let’s take the debate on whether we have free will or not as an example. One party in the debate is pissing in the face of scientific consensus, while emotionally trying to prove their point. The other party is relying on empirical evidence and reason.
Same goes for the debate about organized religion. You need to address how you are defying everything we know about human nature, and our proclivity to seek meaning, narratives, importance and patterns in sheer nothingness – specifically to suit our own self-preservation and satiate our biologically pre-programmed needs, before we can even discuss whether your emotionally charged, environmentally influenced ghost story is real or not.
In other words, I have a scientifically proven, rational explanation for why you think you saw a ghost. All you have is your own inherently flawed “Commodore 64” for a brain that constantly perceives an alternate reality that tirelessly gravitates toward your own self-serving preservation, and constructing narratives to satisfy your ego needs at all costs. The onus is on YOU my friend, to explain away how you are the lone exception to our proven proclivity to believe in God as a biologically evolved, adopted natural selection default for survival. The onus is on YOU to first explain why you are impervious to your overwhelming desire to attach unjustified importance and significance to your thoughts and life.
We have falsely believed in an egocentric, then city-centric, then country-centric, then geocentric universe. See a pattern there? Understand why evolution might desire this particular trait for delusion as optimal for the survival of a given species? What if our DNA gave us a tendency to think we were dumb pieces of shit, with unfathomably insignificant lives? How long do you think we’d survive out there? You first must acknowledge this bias, and then explain how you are somehow immune to it, to truly have the debate. This does not mean definitively there is no God and no Free Will – it simply means based on the evidence we can see, our best guess is clearly : no God and no Free Will. The onus is on you to prove otherwise – good luck with that.
It’s like having a person run into a room covered in blood, holding a butcher knife and dramatically swearing to you they didn’t stab anyone. That very well may be the truth, but the burden is on THEM to first explain away the overwhelming real, empirical evidence sitting right in front of us before we can hear anything else they have to say. Instead, we live in a world where we ignore the blood and the knife, and the onus is somehow on US to prove they definitely stabbed someone. Fuck that – let’s turn the tables.
If you concede that you go to the hospital when the shit really hits the fan, then you obviously defer to science when there’s a proverbial gun to your head, and your life is on the line. How can you, in the same breath, then turn your nose up at the same science when it comes to climate change, or cigarettes, or fossil fuels, or nutrition? I’ll tell you how – you are a corrupt, self-serving, delusional, confirmation bias seeking, hypocritical motherfucker. You must acknowledge and explain away the things we already know. Only then, can we proceed to have a real discussion about why you are covered in blood and holding a butcher knife.