Saturday, October 10, 2009

False dichotomy

There are many humans in this world who view things in a polar way. In America this is expressed through the words liberal and conservative. I have observed people who consider everyone to be either a conservative or a liberal. Usually they will demonize one and praise the other. It makes no difference which camp the person considers theirself to be in, there's always a tacit assumption that they're bad and we're good. If their ideas get challenged then the challenger is considered to be in the other camp and therefore bad. The discussion is over.

The intellectual depth of this way of thinking is lacking. By taking any issue and considering only two ways to approach the issue, a person has already limited their options. If someone presents a third or fourth way to approach an issue then this new approach does not receive an honest treatment. In any many body system there are an infinite amount of initial conditions that will result in an infinite number of different outcomes. When those bodies are humans, then the system becomes even more complex and unpredictable. Just for the fun, if the system is a quantum system then there are many possible outcomes given just one set of initial conditions.

The only intellectually honest way to approach a problem is to approach the problem with a blank slate, no assumptions. In fact this is the only approach that has yielded meaningful examples. In order to be great, Copernicus had to remove the assumption that the earth was at the center of the universe. Einstein had to throw out basic assumptions about time and space to make his breakthrough. When approaching problems it makes no difference if the problem is physical, social, or mathematical. The best approach is without any assumptions.

The next time you find yourself debating an issue with a friend try to observe yourself. Do you catch yourself putting a person in any one of a few groups. Are you really debating the issue? If you purposely observe yourself debating issues with many different people, you should notice that some people think in the polar way I describe. When you get past the polarity you should be in a very nice position to build some very meaningful friendships with the people who have done the same.

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