In a perfect world, when faced with a contentious issue, we would assimilate the facts, weigh them against each other and come to a reasonable consensus (pending further information, of course). We don’t live in a perfect world however and I’ve observed in myself and in others that we often tend to treat our existing beliefs about the way the world works as if it were our favourite football team; we’ll stand behind them through good times and bad, through confirmatory and contradictory evidence.
This is a fairly natural thing to do and if we are aware of our own confirmation bias we can do a lot to gradually eliminate those ideas we previously held to be true but which were, in fact, false.
However, I’ve noticed that when two people attempt to discuss a contentious issue from two very different starting assumptions, instead of fostering a willingness to seek the truth regardless of the impact to our existing beliefs, we are driven further toward defending them against this new ‘enemy’.
I think that if our goal is truth then we ought to spend most of our time challenging our existing beliefs in dialogue with people with whom we have much in common. That way we’ll be less inclined to go into defensive mode and more likely to gracefully discard what was previously an incorrect belief.
This would mean that in many cases there would have to be a certain level of exclusivity to discussions but I think it would go a long way toward self-improvement even though it may take a very long time to unravel long-held presuppositions.
I want to be able to thrash out what I see as difficulties to do with consciousness or first causes without having to deal with the distraction of religious dogma or new age pseudo-science and, more importantly, I’d imagine that there are many conversations that other people would like to have without me jumping in and blurting out what I know must be true.
So, for those of you who have found me an irritation in the past, I hope to be less in your face with what I perceive to be the absolute truth. If you think I’ve got something wrong and you hold very similar starting assumptions to me then please feel free to rigorously discuss your ideas with me. If you hold very different starting assumptions please try to allow for the fact that you may be wrong and I will try my best to do likewise. We may, after all, both be wrong.
In a perfect world we should be happier to learn that we have been wrong than that we have ‘won’ an argument.