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Sometimes you see people arguing, explicitly or implicitly, as if the truth can be found between two extremes of argument. Technically, this is a heuristic or Bayesian prior: "I am unwilling or unable to find out where the actual truth is, but I assume it's over here." And there's nothing wrong with heuristics if they work; however, I think this one is fatally flawed.

It would make sense if people tended to argue honestly and in good faith, *and* if their reasons for disagreement were random biases. Alternately, if arguments were usually of equals arguing about the division of a virtual pie, then expecting truth, or rather fairness, to be in the middle would be a good start.

But in reality, people are often predatory, deceitful or adaptive, and conflicts often take place between highly unequal parties. The truth does not lie halfway between a rapist and his victim, a slaveowner and his slaves, a concentration camp guard and his inmates, a lord and his serfs. People lie, people study and teach each other how to lie better; people figure out your assumptions heuristics and cognitive biases, and use them against you. Reality includes propaganda, aka "appeals to people's emotion rather than intellect", and Hitler's "Big Lie"[1]: tell a giant whopper, counting on people refusing to believe you would be brazen enough to tell a blatant lie and thus assuming there must be some merit to what you say.

And, skipping from politics to science, math and engineering, in those fields truth is often quite demonstrable or provable, and likely someone is right and someone is simply wrong, whether due to ignorance, stupidity, or delusion.

There's probably no real substitute for actually finding out the truth, and applying one's intellect, but if there are useful heuristics, this isn't one of them.

[1] And it went meta from the start: Hitler's big lie being that Jews told a big lie framing some army officer for Germany's loss of WWI

Edit: a friend links to the fallacy of the middle ground, or of moderation. Perhaps we can see this as a category error, taking a heuristic that does work in some domains and applying to one, that of human disagreement, where it really doesn't.

See the comment count unavailable DW comments at http://mindstalk.dreamwidth.org/336525.html#comments


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Oct. 8th, 2012 08:55 am (UTC)

I think the real truth is people don't want to get involved, don't want to disrupt their carefully balanced lives and social circles.

It's easier to say, "I'm sure the truth is somewhere in between la la la la I can't hear you my friend isn't a partner-abuser la la la," than to make a decision.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


Damien Sullivan

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