Basics in rational discussion

Lately I’ve been having deep discussions that get so abstract we reach deep into the nature of reality. One might think that in the 21st century we would at least have gotten that right, we could agree on some fundamentals, and move on to more important stuff–after all, philosophy is taught in high school (last I checked)–sadly, that’s not the case.

Nature of reality

The first thing we have to agree is the nature of reality. For example, it’s possible that there are multiple realities, maybe your reality is different than mine. Maybe I see an apple as red, and you see the apple as yellow, both our perceptions are correct, but the realities are different; you take a picture, and it’s yellow, I take a picture, and it’s red.

If this was the case, it would be useless to discuss reality; what does it matter if I see the apple as red and you as yellow? In fact, it’s pointless to discuss about anything; does she loves you? Or is she using you? Maybe there’s two versions of her, and if that’s the case, the discussion is over. It gets even more hypothetical than that: maybe I’m alive in my reality, but dead in everybody else’s.

This is where philosophy enters the picture, and more specifically; epistemology–the study of knowledge. We, rational people, have decided that we need to assume there’s only one reality, which is objective. It makes sense if we want to discuss about anything. What makes the apple look red to me, and yellow to you, is our subjective experience of the objective reality. Experience can be subjective, but reality is not.

So if somebody tells you there’s many realities, or that reality is subjective; end the discussion. Just say: fine, your reality is different, whatever it is, we would never know. Look for other rational people willing to discuss about the real reality we all live in.

Discerning reality

We have agreed that there’s one objective reality, but, can we really know it? If I’m thirsty can I really know that drinking water will help me? We can’t know for sure, but we have to assume reality is discernable. If I don’t drink water and I die, well, we know that drinking water would probably have helped me.

There really is no alternative; if there’s no way to know if water will help, then there’s no point in discussing anything.

But what if the first time a human being drinks water it helps, but the second one it doesn’t? What if reality is constantly changing, including the laws of physics? If that was the case it would be quite tricky to discern reality, and again; there would be no point in discussing.

Here enters science–the method to build and organize knowledge. Science assumes uniformitarianism; the basic laws of nature are the same everywhere, have always been, and would continue to be. It’s only with this assumption that we can even begin to attempt to recognize reality.

Now we have to decide the method. We can go with dogma, tradition, or even feelings, however, the only method that has reliably produced results through history is science. Science has taken us to the Moon, and improved dramatically our way of living–precisely by recognizing reality correctly. Science has proven dogma and tradition wrong, many times, and never has any of these methods proved science wrong. To put it simply; science works.

So, again, if somebody tells you reality can’t be known, just move on, and if he tells you he doesn’t believe in science, well, he isn’t interested the real reality.

Basic tips

After we have aligned all our necessary assumptions, and agreed on a method to find out reality, we can start the real discussion. In the process of doing this for centuries, we have identified a bunch of common mistakes in reasoning, and we call them fallacies.

Our minds are faulty, but what’s even worst; bad at recognizing our own faults. Fortunately we have given names to many of our faults in reasoning, in the hopes that it will make it easier to recognize them.

However, not many people are interested in their faults in reasoning. Again, if somebody tells you he isn’t interested in fallacies, move on; it will be quite unlikely that you will be able to show him when his reasoning is faulty.

fallaciesposterhigherres

Summary

So to engage in a rational discussion we need to agree on:

  • Objective reality
  • Reality is knowable
  • Uniformitarianism
  • Science is the best method
  • Fallacies should be avoided

If anybody disagrees, you should be free to end the discussion immediately. Perhaps you can point that person to this post, so you don’t have to explain why yourself🙂

2 thoughts on “Basics in rational discussion

  1. “‘ If I don’t drink water and I die, well, we know that drinking water would probably have helped me”
    Black or white fallacy!
    Did I did it correctly?
    Meaning, we could assume we could get a different result but we wouldn’t know for sure until proven. As per scientific method, we can only prove one hypothesis at the time.

  2. No, these things can’t be proven. All we can do is gather knowledge with certain degree of certitude.

    Is radiation dangerous? Well, you administer a certain dose of radiation to a person, and that person dies; does that means radiation is dangerous? No, it only increases the likelihood that it is, maybe the person died of another reason. You administer the same dose of radiation to 100 persons, and they all die; does that mean radiation is dangerous? No, maybe they all died of entirely separate reasons, but that’s unlikely, it’s more likely that radiation killed them. We will never be sure, but we can be pretty certain.

    Same with water. I said *probably*. Does a baby need water to survive? Maybe that baby has a genetic mutation that allows him to survive without water, but that’s unlikely.

    If you don’t do X, and you die, does that mean you should have done X? *Probably*, we can’t know.

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