Wednesday, June 22, 2011

No I wont agree to disagree

In a recent NYT article, I learned about the "argumentative theory of reasoning," suggested by Dan Sperber, a French social and cognitive scientist, who is director of the International Cognition and Culture Institute. The essence of his theory seems to be that the evolutionary purpose of argumentation is to win an argument. That, apparently, is a groundbreaking hypothesis as his colleagues mostly argue that the purpose of reasoning is to find the truth, leaving them puzzled why the human brain works so inefficiently to that end. Sperber's postdoc Hugo Mercier has a website that lists the predictions of this theory, most of which are actually postdictions.

I think they've forgotten to disentangle argumentation by subject. There's arguably arguments that for the sake of natural selection you're better off finding out the truth. You can convince me all you want that drinking distilled water will cleanse your soul, you're not going to reproduce 6 feet under. But if the argument is about getting your way (what's for dinner?) then you might indeed be better off packing on arguments in your favor and leaving out those that contradict you. The problem is of course that it's difficult to switch from one mode of argumentation to the other. That's why it's beneficial if scientists have some formal training in which they learn, if not actually the names of well-known cognitive biases, so at least procedures that have proven efficient in avoiding pitfalls of human cognition, cognition that has evolved for other purposes than, say, finding evidence for dark matter.

In any case, this reminded me of a little book I once saw on a bargain bin, "50 ways to stall a discussion." ("50 Arten, sich quer zu stellen" by Frans Krips, you can download it here.) If you ever sat in the 5th installment of yet another seemingly endless committee meeting, consider that everybody else read the book and took the advice very seriously. Here's a sample from the 50 ways:

  1. This was not sufficiently discussed
  2. We don't have enough information
  3. We should first find out how the matter has been dealt with elsewhere
  4. This is much too fast
  5. Deficient use of language
  6. Inadequate standard
  7. We first have to discuss some other problem
  8. There are other problems of higher societal relevance
  9. One just can't do it this way
  10. You can't expect that from the people
  11. We've discarded so many plans, who cares if we discard yet another
  12. We tried this already in 1976
  13. We haven't yet assessed the impact of our last decision
  14. Who exactly is responsible?
  15. We should contact an expert
  16. We have to set priorities straight
  17. We need a committee on this aspect

And then there is of course the Web2.0 deadlock: we have to agree to disagree. It too fails to differentiate between seeking for truth and seeking for compromise. We can agree to disagree on all matters of taste: Pizza or Sushi? Pink or blue? NIN or RHCP? but when it comes to science, disagreement means one of us is wrong. Finding the right answer is what science is all about. So it's Pizza tonight, dammit.

[Img Src: Very Demotivational]

27 comments:

Steven Colyer said...

"If you ever sat in the 5th installment of yet another seemingly endless committee meeting..."

LMAO !! :-)

Here's my definition of "meetings":

Meetings <=== The only way vice-presidents and other overpaid head honchos can justify keeping their jobs.

Christine said...

And there are pragmatists, like Rorty, of course. From Wikipedia:

Pragmatists generally hold that the meaning of a proposition is determined by its use in linguistic practice. Rorty combined pragmatism about truth and other matters with a later Wittgensteinian philosophy of language which declares that meaning is a social-linguistic product, and sentences do not 'link up' with the world in a correspondence relation. Rorty wrote in his Contingency, irony, and solidarity (1989):

"Truth cannot be out there—cannot exist independently of the human mind—because sentences cannot so exist, or be out there. The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not. Only descriptions of the world can be true or false. The world on its own—unaided by the describing activities of humans—cannot.”

Views like this led Rorty to question many of philosophy's most basic assumptions — and have also led to him being apprehended as a postmodern/deconstructionist philosopher.


I do not agree with that view, but it is a line of thought which has been raised and criticized in contemporary philosophy.

Best,
Christine

Peter said...

Na! I suppose more mathematicians would say that tan(pi/2) is undefined than would say that it is invalid. Discuss. Or Argue. Whatever.

Perhaps we can agree that True in Physics is somewhat different from True in Mathematics. Or perhaps we can agree that Truth in Mathematics has a different relationship with the notion of empirical data than does Truth in Physics. Or perhaps we can agree that in Mathematics, True is more a matter of definition.

Bee said...

Hi Peter,

I agree, the pun doesn't really work, but one kinda knows what it means, so not completely bad. I don't like to talk about truth when it comes to physics, I prefer talking about exactness or success in predicting data. Truth is so... platonian ;-) Best,

B.

K said...

"...but when it comes to science, disagreement means one of us is wrong." What of the many interpretations of quantum mechanics? Which one is wrong?

Bee said...

Hi K,

It means if you can't tell which is wrong, it's not science, it's like arguing whether you prefer sushi or pizza. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Christine,

I like to think of myself as a pragmatist, but that Wikipedia quote has me confused now. I don't see what pragmatism necessarily has to do with linguistic use. I'd understand it generally as a "let's see what we can do about it" approach, and if there's nothing to be done, then, well, let somebody else waste time on it. But I guess I'm too pragmatic to argue about the use of the word pragmatism... Best,

B.

Hum Bug said...

"but when it comes to science, disagreement means one of us is wrong".
Don't forget the far more likely case that both of you are wrong. And of course the least likely case: where both of you are right but you can't see it yet (e.g. Heisenberg's matrix mechanics v.s. Schroedinger's wave equation).

Bee said...

Hi Hum Bug,

Right, I should more correctly have written at least one of us is wrong. And yes, there's also the possibility that we don't disagree after all, though one could argue in that case we're also both wrong ;-) Best,

B.

Plato said...

Bee:Truth is so... platonian

Platonian is a new word?

Well, spell checker thinks so. So what are you being implicit about is, that sentence? It is so obvious and personal:)

Anyway, I thought you were going to say Aristotelian?:)

Platonism is right....if looked at from "another perspective" had one viewing as if from "out there" but still within this universe:) The light is "always behind you" as if we look at what is being created. Being "fully aware" while still locked in a virtual world visually, this self awareness recognize things within one's space....seeeeeeeeeeee:)

You can"t measure that cognitive realization but you know it's true?:) Finger pointing up. That's heaven:)

Best,

Bee said...

Hi Plato,

Well, what I meant is that I only know how to make sense of 'true statements' when it comes to math. Of course there's truth in a colloquial sense, but it always relies on interpreation of words or isn't really true but just to our best knowledge... Take a simple statement like 'the sky is blue.' What actually do you mean with sky? What means 'blue'? If you define it some way it eventually comes down to an equation which you can then say is actually 'true.' But then you have taken out the connection to the real world and left it to interpretation. Best,

B.

Christine said...

Hi Bee,

I was referring to the philosophical school, not the every-day use of pragmatism.

Best,

Christine

Plato said...

Bee,

I left a comment in your "Stronger than the universe" blog entry and is waiting for moderation.

It applies here as well....it's all about gravity?

Socratic realism and how have we incorporated them into our everyday society?

Teaching(liberal art constructivism), and law? Law more so, as in "logical deduction?" An Inductive /deductive approach as to one's goal in life, questions and lessons? Teacher and student.

In the end, what is your Truth, what have you surmised, "is your measure" (however you got there) is your worth about what has been done according to what you have accepted before hand.

A "little sentence" can be loaded?:)

There may be judges sitting in "the wings" but that is not what matters? How do you "measure truth?"

You ever "felt like" you were floating on air? Impossible right?

Best

Uncle Al said...

IQs in a meeting add like ohms in parallel resistors. ...the evolutionary purpose of argumentation is to win an argument hence the bankruptcy of diplomacy versus a well-waged war. Three human endeavors play close to the big, hot fire that is Truth: humor, war, and science. Bureaucracy, the science of argument qua argument, has ruined two of three.

Given a pile of road apples 10^500 universes in hypervolume, string theory demands there is a pony in there somewhere. It is a better strategy than tactic, a better process than product. Contemporary theory exists to write more theory. That is inarguable.

Arun said...

...but when it comes to science, disagreement means one of us is wrong

I think it should be "one or both of us are wrong (or right) or partly right&wrong".

Examples:
1. Light is a transverse wave in the aether. (Young, Fresnel)

2. Light is particles only (Newton)
Light is waves only (Huygens)

3. Aether is a fluid like pine pitch (Stokes)
Aether is a solid with negative compressibility (Cauchy).

Arun said...

BTW, in my opinion, seeking to explain everything by evolution ("the evolutionary purpose of argumentation is to win an argument") is very much mistaken. Evolution acts as a constraint on any explanation.

Zephir said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zephir said...

...the argumentative theory of reasoning.. appears trivially pleonastic for me at the first look (what else the argumentation is, than the reasoning in Latin (arguo)?)

..disagreement means one of us is wrong.. Not quite in hyperdimensional reality, where every truth has at least two dual sides: the low-dimensional slices actually can disagree or even contradict mutually. One of reasons, why the hyperdimensional approach is introduced quite slowly into physics (the quantum gravity in particular) is just the fact, it clearly demonstrates the limits of classical low-dimensional theories.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

Thanks Bee as per usual a very thought provoking and relevant piece. As for my take as far as I can tell this is just another attempt to diminish the power of reason as to have it that there is no ultimate truth. However I would agree that scientists, rather than science itself is as vulnerable to what Dan Sperber warns about human nature when it comes to any other profession or collective of the species having consensus or compromise confused for the truth.

Of course for a scientist to avoid this objective based logic isn’t enough. That is as Pirsig pointed out to incorporate such reason alone is insufficient, as what’s also required is to have a deep conviction that nature has quality that can be only be differentiated with the recognition of its presence or absence.

This view has not just been purported by general philosophers such as Pisig, yet philosophers of science like Paul Feyerabend, who argued that the scientific method itself must always be held suspect to having conformity confused with true reasoning. Moreover, some scientists themselves such as Einstein and later David Bohm were aware of this vulnerability and often warned about it equally.

The bottom line for me is since science has brought us rapid progress and that as it being a human invention it also is a true aspect of our nature, although admittedly as of yet an underdeveloped one.

“The withdrawal of philosophy into a "professional" shell of its own has had disastrous consequences. The younger generation of physicists, the Feynmans, the Schwingers, etc., may be very bright; they may be more intelligent than their predecessors, than Bohr, Einstein, Schrödinger, Boltzmann, Mach and so on. But they are uncivilized savages, they lack in philosophical depth – and this is the fault of the very same idea of professionalism which you are now defending”

-Paul Feyerbend “For and Against Method”

"A key difference between a dialogue and an ordinary discussion is that, within the latter people usually hold relatively fixed positions and argue in favor of their views as they try to convince others to change. At best this may produce agreement or compromise, but it does not give rise to anything creative."

-David Bohm & David Peat, _Science Order, and Creativity_, p. 241


Best,

Phil

Plato said...

In three short papers published in the early sixties,[8][9][10] Feyerabend sought to defend materialism against the supposition that the mind cannot be a physical thing. Feyerabend suggested that our commonsense understanding of the mind was incommensurable with the (materialistic) scientific view, but that nevertheless we ought to prefer the materialistic one on general methodological grounds.Philosophy of mind

Interesting....but from previous comments I made we will always tend toward a phenomenological and materialistic solutions which to proceed, and his commentary from literature supports that?

Yet, he recognizes and seems to be particular about an alternate view?

This view of the mind/body problem is widely considered one of Feyerabend's most important legacies. Even though Feyerabend himself seems to have given it up in the late 1970s, it was taken up by Richard Rorty and, more recently, by Patricia Churchland and Paul Churchland. In fact, as Keeley observes,[11] "PMC [Paul Churchland] has spent much of his career carrying the Feyerabend mantle forward" (p. 13).

It is important to recognize of course positions people may argue, dependent upon "the recognition" of what they are arguing? :)

Best,

Plato said...

So we look for a statement that may be appropriate like,"No I wont agree to disagree" as to declare not only substance in a "loaded sentence" but also a indifference that could be compelling....hence, nothing new to add?:) A current state of the affair.

That, is compelling.:)As if one is reacting too,hmmmmm....

Best,

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Plato,

Actually what I’m proposing is to see the end of argument, as to be replaced with dialogue. It is therefore interesting and should be noted that it was Imre Lakatos who first proposed to Paul Feyerabend that they should have an open dialogue and made available to all with the publishing of it. Feyerabend agreed and set to work on it and yet Lakatos died before it could be fully realized.

The book I mentioned previously is an attempted construction of what perhaps this would have turned out to be. What I find as ultimately interesting is that is for each having and maintaining a true dialogue is the most critical requirement of science and philosophy more generally. So although they had opposing views about the relevancy of the foundations in seeking the truth, each agreed about one key aspect of its methodology, which is not an axiom, yet required as a prerequisite before any can be postulated or denied there being necessity to do so.

I then find it intriguing as somewhat curious , that empathy rather than sympathy being what’s required and that in some ways in respect to phenomena such as invariance co-variance, nonlocalness and entanglement this appears to be the same for nature. So I would ask is the universe and with it reality to be framed as to be captured in being the simple revelation of discourse or an empathetic dialogue of necessity?

“A dialogue is a discourse consisting of question and answer on some philosophical or political subject, with due regard to the characters of the persons introduced and the choice of diction. The dialectic is the art of discourse by which we either refute or establish some proposition by means of a question and answer on the part of the interlocutors.”

-Diogenes Laertius (as quoted in) “For and Against Method”, page 1

Regards,

Phil

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Plato,

Just one point I forgot to raise, is to ask if a dialogue of necessity is analogue or digital in nature; or perhaps neither, yet what’s required if both are to coexist as to have a reality;-)

Best,

Phil

Plato said...

Phil:The book I mentioned previously is an attempted construction of what perhaps this would have turned out to be. What I find as ultimately interesting is that is for each having and maintaining a true dialogue is the most critical requirement of science and philosophy more generally.

Yes I see there is difficulty here....of what "perhaps it could have turned out to be" and a "true dialogue."

Point taken:)

How could something indeed exist that has not had the potential to be otherwise if there is not the other perspective, yet, in death the other perspective seemed to live. Non! QUI? And then, a book written?:)

Phil:So although they had opposing views about the relevancy of the foundations in seeking the truth, each agreed about one key aspect of its methodology, which is not an axiom, yet required as a prerequisite before any can be postulated or denied there being necessity to do so.

The point is ,the written word lived on, and constructively used in opposition toward directing our attention to this very moment as to recognize some place for which any argument can ever begin?

So yes, I get your point here.

Best,

Plato said...

Phil,

We shall not quibble over who developed the "Socratic method" according too, as if told by Diogenes Laertius, to denote, that this be Protagoras shall we?:)

Phil:I then find it intriguing as somewhat curious , that empathy rather than sympathy being what’s required and that in some ways in respect to phenomena such as invariance co-variance, nonlocalness and entanglement this appears to be the same for nature.

As you know seeing means looking ever deeper into the reality at hand. How could observers ever have gone to such places in mind, past "the sensible in our measure" not to have been able to actually look a nature in it's own manifestation with theory, as to see oneself amongst it's constituents? A leap of faith?:)

Phil:So I would ask is the universe and with it reality to be framed as to be captured in being the simple revelation of discourse or an empathetic dialogue of necessity?

Remember Sea Carroll's and David Z. Albert's discussion?

They philosophically paved the way too "asking the right questions" didn't they?:)

Best,

Plato said...

Phil:Just one point I forgot to raise, is to ask if a dialogue of necessity is analogue or digital in nature; or perhaps neither, yet what’s required if both are to coexist as to have a reality;-)

As you know it's good to keep abreast of things? Our understanding of what is happening in our immediate environs while we passively go through the day as citizens unaware?:)

The shift in perspective is subtle, knowing a block of spectrum can be used to promote education rather then keeping society asleep by digital TV.

LOL.

Best,

Plato said...

Phil:So although they had opposing views about the relevancy of the foundations in seeking the truth, each agreed about one key aspect of its methodology, which is not an axiom

I had to speak too, in bold here

Clifford of Asymptotia...has a nice referral in comment toward thinking about, and how one may apply it today?

I give historical context in blog posting, but today it is understood such analogy has to be "equatorial based too" to make any sense of, yet without this understanding it relates too, it would have been offhanded comments about something "the educated did not understand."

You just had to speak their language:)

The "particulate expressionism of LHC" is a case in point. The conceptual wording in relation to equations used, are simple.

Wayne Hu spoke in context of the universe with sounds of a "B mode manifestation?"

Best,