Recently I came across two people discussing the definition of the legal term ‘preponderance of evidence‘. After a bit of back and forth, someone visited the final arbitrator of all disputes these days, Google, to come up with a definitive answer. A further discussion ensued about the interpretation of this definition as well. Much of life’s grey areas are disputed this way between people, in the effort to consign items to their black or white categories, a state of affairs we tend to be more comfortable with.
We tend to put in the most work on items of discussion that won’t fit into our world view easily; if someone questions what we have decided is how things are, we will strive to get them to see why. It seems (from my point of view, anyway) that not as much intellectual effort goes into questioning what we already ‘know’ to be true. Psychology has come up with primacy/recency theories to examine how we add to our knowledge, to arrive at a unified outlook or point of view about reality.
It’s all relative, as someone once said. The landscape may appear to be whizzing by if you are a passenger on a train admiring the fast-changing landcape of city and country fields flying past, or it may move only as much as your head turns as you stand on the platform awaiting the 4:15 to Chester.
If you were someone in a space station admiring the beauty of the blue planet from your orbit you would have different ideas about what items were moving at what speed than someone on the ground looking up at the sky at night as you hurtled past, describing a slow arc across the night sky from the observer on the ground’s point of view, and perhaps a sedate pace from the point of view of the astronaut, based on what his senses were telling him, while the display panels in the captain’s cockpit might have some figures on which indicated a speed which might have the cops pulling you over if you considered trying them on your nearest motorway.
Another consideration when one is forming opinions is where you are starting out from. To take a Google example again (and why not, since it seems like Google is the giant spider controlling a huge part of our entangled lives on the web), ask its map app for info on how to get to somewhere, and you will be told ‘well, depends where your starting from’. Ask how long it takes and our googly-eyed friend will need to know what mode of transport we plan to use.
The point I’m making is that theories are all very well, but if you are to get anywhere in a discussion where broadening your mind is at least a possibility, if not a main objective (which is often to broaden the mind of someone else, which, from your viewpoint, may be rather too narrow, since it doesn’t concur with yours), you need to be able to see that different views of the world and opinions about reality are not so much as the crude saying has it, that ‘opinions are like a*sholes, everyone has one’, but more of a case of ‘where are you now, and where are you trying to get to?’ Many people are not actually trying to get anywhere new, they just want to be able to stay where they are without anyone bothering them by trying to change their mind, or persuade them into something that they don’t currently believe. The cognitive dissonance involved in this building of a bridge between the information which they already possess, and adding new information which might change some aspect of, or all of the beliefs about a topic which they hold dear to their hearts, might break them altogether, in a psychological sense. There are certainly a series of stages that one must pass through on an emotional level before arriving at a drastically new position if a centrally-held belief is being altered. That’s why discussions, or arguments, as they might be called in philosophical terms, can turn so nasty; our emotions and self-identity are so caught up in many items which make up our belief system that we go into ballistic mode if we feel these are being attacked. I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree, sometimes.
Resources: Free course on critical thinking skills (for analysis of written subject matter)
Perceptual Experience and Philosophical Justifications. (an essay on theories of experience)
2017 Ben Shapiro Berkeley lecture
2017 Florian Cramer lecture on the internet and Alt-right
Project Veritas Clinton campaign inciting violence covert interview footage
What caused the flurry of fury unleashed by Cramer? What on earth did the commenter do before things descended to the nazi name-calling place? Posted a video, it seems, pretty innocuous stuff, unless you get enraged at people having the gall to drop expensive phones that their parents spent so much money on when they bought them for their precious offspring. Or maybe it was something to do with being an Antifa that triggered him, although I would have thought that the dancing cossacks footage in the first few seconds would be considered a real treat in their eyes. So hard to get right, when there are different outlooks meeting up. The only other Cramer (spelled with a K) that I knew predisposed me to smiling when I think of any or all Cramers (primacy theory), but maybe this one will modify my views (recency theory). But that might be just my perspective on it, and I may well be completely wrong. Anyway, happy May 1st, Florian, whoever you are.