Two Kinds of Argument

science-vs

Scientific -vs- the other kind. The scientific kind relies on what the facts say. The science can be proven wrong by better science. The other kind relies on what emotions say or pride.

If you need to convince someone who refuses to act like a scientist (listening to facts), making better science isn’t going to help you very much. The person you’re arguing with (who might be a scientist during the day, even, but is merely being a person right now) is not going to be swayed from a firmly held opinion by your work to make better science. It’s more likely that it will take cultural pressure, shame, passion, humor, connection and a host of unreliable levers to make your point.

The easy way to tell the two varieties of argument apart is to ask, “what evidence would you need to see to change your mind about this?”

Don’t argue about belief, argue about arguments. The essence of a belief is that we own it, regardless of what’s happening around us. The key to making a rational argument is that your assertions must be falsifiable.

“I believe A because of B and C.” If someone can show you that “C” isn’t actually true, then it’s not okay to persist in arguing “A”. The statement, “All swans are white” is falsifiable, because if I can find even one black swan, we’re done.

On the other hand, “Aliens are about to take over the world with flying saucers,” is not, because there’s nothing I can do or demonstrate that would satisfy the person who might respond, “well, they’re just very well hidden, and they’re waiting us out.”

If belief in “A” is important to someone’s story, people usually pile up a large number of arguments that are either not testable, or matters of opinion and taste. There’s nothing wrong with believing “A”, but it’s counterproductive to engage with someone in a discussion about whether you’re right or not. It’s a belief, or an opinion, both of which are fine things to have, but it’s not a logical conclusion or a coherent argument, because those require asserting something we can actually test.

You can’t argue with feelings. The key question is, “is there something I can prove or demonstrate that would make you stop believing in ‘A’?” If the honest answer is ‘no’, then we’re not having an argument, are we?

Before we waste a lot of time arguing about something that appears to be a rational, logical conclusion, let’s be sure we are both having the same sort of discussion.

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