Debating the best outcome

I wrote this a few months ago and felt it too unfinished to publish, but here we go.

As someone who enjoys human thought to wit’s end, I aspire to hear as many ideas as possible and be able to interact to them without having to hide my personal thoughts. Through this journey, I’ve learned a decent methodology to how to handle the fear of new ideas by managing the inevitable cognitive dissonance that occurs from time to time.

I call it rational argument.

In aspiration to these goals, I have a couple key principles:

Fundamentally, nobody is wrong

The universe itself dictates existence and any idea anyone shares exists. Reaching a conclusion is an art and who can truly disprove art? I describe the ability to see how someone reached their conclusion as empathy and the inability to reach the same conclusion as ignorance.

This leads to another question: why debate at all?

In order to make the best possible decision.

The structure of decision making

Every decision that is made comes with a degree of risk. In order to maximize the return of a decision or achieve the best possible outcome, the risk involved with decision making ought to be mitigated. Some might describe a less than ideal outcome as wrong, but it’s really not due to the limitations of the human mind. It’s not really possible to know everything there is to know in the universe at the very moment you need it; accounting for that, one can still make a smart choice based on the information available.

To achieve the best possible outcome, there are a couple tricks of the trade:

  1. Wait until the very last moment possible to make your decision. You can try to schedule this, but sometimes it makes sense to delay or speed up the decision. Making a decision too early exposes you to additional and unnecessary risk.
  2. You want to be sufficiently hedged against negative results before you pull the trigger. If your bet completely fails to materialize, every thing should still be ok.
  3. The first axiom: ‘How could I possibly know that?’
  4. Nobody deserves a blank chest for trust. Each situation should be observed by itself in isolation at the same time you observe it within the course of history. A spy could work his or her way into an organization and wait dormant for years before backstabbing.
  5. The concept of a lie relates to time and place: an event. Did an event occur? Did it occur the way described? Was it imagined or reality? A lie is a waste of time in my opinion as it distracts from solving core objectives. However, one may want to lie if incentivized to do so, for instance justice often demands retribution from criminals and as they do not want the consequences they may be entitled to, will lie.

The arenas of thought

  1. In isolation — an argument ought to be observed by itself with little to no outside influence or history. I like to think of this as starting at year zero and building from there. This introduces a form of empathy that logic seems to lack. This also helps protect from a backstab. The isolation test.
  2. With history — an argument ought to be judged relative to history of humanity. Thought existed before the argument was made, it’s smart to take advantage of its wisdom. The universe test.

I think the central tenant to a best outcome argument is the corollary: the gap between the why and a belief. ‘How did you decide why your belief is true?’ If someone is rational, providing the why with the belief in a debate, then the opponent has an opportunity to dispute it, with the same standard: why and belief.

I think this pattern can lead to far better outcomes than most other systems. If there’s no clear cut ‘winner,’ most of the time a decision does not need to be made. There is no reason to force a decision that reasonably cannot be made.

I would argue that if your reason is arbitrary, dependent on personal whim, then your argument is in an inferior position. This does not mean that you’ve lost: there’s still time to think! Perhaps you’ve forgotten why you think the way you do. The subconscious can be a surprisingly powerful part of the brain. Even if you make something up and somehow correlate it to something else later on, I don’t think the order matters at all. The goal is the best outcome, not who was right first.

Logical fallacy

Logical fallacy is a common constraint in argument that can help give a position its shape and provide clarity. Generally, fallacies are backed by mathematics and very compelling rhetoric. Calling an argument a logical fallacy does not make it forever impossible and invalid, but it does point out that the argument has no stable ground at this time. Humans do make mistakes and it’s possible new mind-blowing information could be discovered some time in the future, but it’s safe to assume that when you encounter a logical fallacy, it’s not going to move the conversation forward.

Simply, a logical fallacy is neither proof nor disproof.

I want to go ahead and share a few common ones I encounter on a regular basis:

Ad hominem

Ad hominem involves attacking a person’s character or motive in retaliation to an assertion. These attacks are incredibly common but they fail in an isolation test and thus do not disprove or prove an argument, delaying, perhaps forever, a best outcome. The inversion is true as well: a claim of expertise does not prove an argument; people make mistakes.

Arguing definition

Whether or not someone uses the “correct” vocabulary in an argument is irrelevant to the debate at hand. Would you declare all french speakers’ opinions invalid simply because they don’t speak english? Is there a more popular word choice? Quite possibly. This delays the best outcome and fails the universe test.

Confirmation bias

Your opinion is not instantly superior to another’s by any virtue. It is inherently irrational and arbitrary. With that said, your opinion always matters in the universe test.

More fallacies can be found here (I do not necessarily endorse any of them:)