Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

Understanding opposing frameworks

I was reading about the ideological Turing test and Krugman's remark about not being able to explain what a Keynesian economic argument is struck me as interesting. Personally I don't have too much respect for Krugman -- he has made what I think are really stupid statements (especially on bitcoin) in the past.

I admit I don't really get what a "Keynesian economic argument" should look like; my econ knowledge and opinions are acquired in my spare time. I admit I don't know the underlying framework of the theory that generates various statements. All I know is that when I encounter certain statements, the framework I'm reasoning from disagrees with them. For some cases (like some things Objectivists say) I do understand the underlying framework, because I used to be there, but I reexamined the foundations and found them lacking, so I moved on. For unfamiliar cases, the fact of disagreement may give me pause to consider reevaluating my foundations again, or if I'm particularly interested to evaluate the other person's foundations (if they even have any).

Should I spend more time understanding an opponent's framework? I'm not so sure I should. Imagine someone comes to me and proclaims 2+2=5. Well, reasoning under PA (and ZFC et al.) I know that's false. I'm very confident in PA answering this sort of question correctly, so I'm not very inclined to double-check the axioms and arithmetic functions. I'm also not too inclined to understand what sort of madness led the other person to proclaim such a wrong fact, even if their madness is a coherent logical system (e.g. PA with one additional axiom that special-cases 2+2 to be 5, but 1+3 is still 4 and so on).

If I aim to refute it and not just dismiss it out of hand, then it's good to explain why my framework disagrees (with a proof or probabilistic argument or something of that nature), which is more than they gave me by just walking up and saying "2+2=5", so in that sense they can understand me and if they want to disagree with a particular aspect of the underlying framework they can point it out, and I can thereby learn to understand them, and there's a slim chance we might resolve our disagreement with one or both of us updating to a new belief. Having such an argument seems rare though, and the more ridiculous one party finds the other's theorem, the less likely a productive discussion is... I think more commonly people just list their talking points, continue disagreeing, and eventually give up and move on. I don't think there's much more to it than that. I think the idea that, because in some given disagreement you can't articulate the opposite view well then that suggests your own view is less likely, isn't a very good idea. However if you can't articulate the opposite view even after a lengthy good-faith discussion where fundamental components of the underlying frameworks are discussed, that suggests you're not listening or comprehending what the opponent is saying. That could be a failure on your part as much as a failure on the other person's part.

Posted on 2014-07-02 by Jach

Tags: pithy, thought


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