A while ago, I was walking with my partner, a mate and his partner along the street of a little town we had visited for a day trip.
I had insisted on something and was later proven to be wrong.
I can no longer remember how I had been proven wrong or what the discussion had been about at all – I don’t dwell on such things. However, what will remain with me as long as I live, is the reaction I received when I admitted my mistake. The three people whom all apparently knew me very well were shocked at my openness in accepting my mistake.
I consider myself a very reflective person and indeed can go to great lengths to put forth my case on a subject. I would be lying if I didn’t also admit to becoming a little bombastic if a debate is seeming to go nowhere, in effect simply stating my case louder and with more assertion, largely because I feel it’s being ignored.
That said, I know I’m not always right. I have no desire to insist I’m right.
To believe that oneself holds all the answers is an intellectual deadend. No one person knows everything, even if they know a lot about some things. After all, one human mind can only do so much work within its short life and every mind must unfortunately start from scratch. It’s through collective debate and accumulation of reasoning that we increase our understanding as a group. It is thus so much more useful to the individual to accept that they only borrow knowledge over their life span and that the knowledge they are exposed to is, in many ways, foggy still.
I mention this now because of recent discussions I have had on the blogosphere. It’s true that the same responses to my efforts have been made since my initial efforts online (ie. that I think I’m better than others / bombastic etc), but I’m getting a little tired of it (largely because the people involved tend to use it rather than approach the case I put forth) so maybe I should take a moment out to clarify myself a little.
What I like most about science
…is the eventual need to separate the individual from an idea. If one thinks of something and demonstrates it to be so, they then need to send it off into the wilderness of critical debate. It’s the same with proof-reading in that many minds together do a better job at scanning for error than one person biased by the initial conception of the thought itself.
If the fledgling idea weathers the wilderness to return home, you can have greater confidence in its validity. Of course, it may head out to battle at some later time only to encounter improved knowledge it cannot stand up against and that will be the end of it, however the longer it is able to endure, the stronger it is and the more benefit it will be to demystifying of our knowledge base.
I express myself in this same way both as a blogger (in posts and comments) and in my real life. It’s not so much my personal opinion, but rather an accumulation of ideas that seem to stand as a conclusion in my head. I have no personal interest in their existence, but I do put a lot of effort into constructing a sound thought. I do this not because I fear being wrong or that I have a strong underlying ideology that I wish to preserve, but because I only want to know if it’s right or not.
I don’t see any good in holding an idea because I like the idea – that’s the spirit of the dark ages – I seek to be a little less ignorant before time snuffs me out and to hopefully save others the effort of having to test the same conclusions yet again (which would be such a waste of time).
Anyone out there who has debated with me previously would know that I tend of write very wordy replies. For instance, so far this is the fifth post I’ve written after a frustrating encounter I recently had in another thread. I invest a lot of time and energy in producing not only a conclusion, but to provide as much prior evidence and the A-to-B processes which have led me to my conclusions.
If it’s proven to be wrong, it can be more helpful to me than if it isn’t. Again returning to the mentioned debate recently undertaken, none of my ideas were even addressed. I started with two points, one of which another person inflated into numerous other ideas – all of which needed to be address (demonstrating ignorance in social ecology on the part of the other) – which were then ignored through a side step in attacking me personally.
In effect, I sent my initial two ideas out into the wilderness for them to walk back, kicking a can to each other along the way, followed by a few new friends who were poorly built. I tried to make sense of these friends and sent the lot back out there and like sharks in a school of fish, they were all completely avoided.
The exchange did nothing to help clarify my initial points, leaving me effectively where I began, and so proved to be, not only a waste of my time, but insulting and disheartening in the accusations made at me personally.
Ultimately, what I encountered there (and in other, similar exchanges) is a situation where the other does have reasons to preserve a line of thought beyond simply decreasing their ignorance; they want X to be right so that it validates conclusion Y. It’s common in each of the interests groups that I have devoted much of my online writing against, such as creationists, anti-vax groups and, of course, AGW deniers.
It’s not a position I entirely understand (perhaps spending my adolescences being mocked, most notably by teachers, as stupid in what was discovered to be dyslexia in my early 20’s, discouraged me from ever approaching the ‘high horse’), however it is not one that should be completely discouraged either.
Ideology is passion. Beyond reason, people choose to believe in things and devote energies they would not otherwise. It’s a hallmark feature of our species and while it is the line of thought that has led us to the dark ages before, it also inspires altruism towards other peoples and towards species, volunteer efforts such as Greening Australia (ie. they don’t need to understand the ecology to be motivated to assist) and is even the heart of art creation.
The problem isn’t so much these ways of thinking, the people involved or even with reason and ideologies debating! The problem is that we cloud the purpose of the exchange.
Both are important in how society functions, in the health and happiness of the people within it and in the management of the natural environment around such places (and I’d argue, should be able to move through). However, you can no more reason scientifically the merit in left or right ideologies as you can wish away environmental degradation and a changing climate. They are not the same types of debate.
This is the frustration that I have encountered on the blogosphere which of course is a place far more heavily devoted to personal opinions than impartial reasoning. I treat it as the latter, but it’s not really a forum designed for that. I guess I haven’t yet found my niche.
Such impartial reasoning must make up our foundation
…because you can’t built a house on the clouds. When we are talking about the natural universe, we need to avoid personal opinion as much as possible. This is a difficult task and because it is so unnatural for us to do so, it’s not one many people feel comfortable with. Here, one needs to give up on ideas of being right or wrong and enjoy the journey for its own sake.
With whatever our increasing understanding of the natural universe uncovers, we can then debate on what it means to us and how we could (or should) apply it to our lives. Here is where the complexity of the human mind can truly flourish, creatively expressing our understanding to our societies and the surrounding environments. There really isn’t right or wrong here, but rather differing point of view.
Both are obviously not completely exclusive, there is indeed some overlap, however it makes more sense for us to be honest whether it’s an emotional or impartial line of debate in which we wish to undertake. In either case, you cannot change a mind any more than you can change the laws of the universe – and this is the lesson I have had to learn, especially in how my comments are seen by others and what I should expect in response.
That people very close to me were unaware of my separation from the points I tend to labour on about is an eye open, as has been the online exchange discussed above. I crave clarity and wish my ideas to be tested. Maybe I chose the wrong forum. However, I enjoy the blogosphere so it’s the gremlin I’m willing to bear.
Most importantly, until we clearly define the debates we’re having, we will no doubt continue to meander among problems and potential answers because we mix up what is with what ought. It’s largely a waste of time and energy that limits our capacity for true stewardship.