Reductio ad absurdum might sound like a spell from the Chamber of Secrets, but it actually refers to the practice of testing an argument by pushing it to its logical extremes.
Perhaps the most well known example is that favourite if parents everywhere: “if your friends all decided to jump off a cliff, would you do it too?”
But reductio ad absurdum does have more intellectual applications. in fact, as Daniel Dennett explains in this video, Galileo used reductio ad absurdum to demonstrate that light objects and heavy objects must fall at the same speed (accounting for air resistance) all the way back in the 15th Century:
Let’s suppose that heavier things do fall faster than light things. Now take a stone, (A), which is heavier than another stone, (B).
That means, if we tied B to A with a string, B should act as a drag on A when we drop it, because A will fall faster, B will fall slower, and so A tied to B (A+B) should fall slower than A by itself. But A tied to B is heavier than A by itself, so A+B should fall faster.
If lighter objects fall more slowly, A+B should fall both faster and slower than A by itself.
One of the things we need most right now, as a society, is the willingness to say “I don’t know.” The ability to admit that we aren’t experts on every issue, to recognise that our feelings are often wrong, and to be willing to hear new evidence instead of sticking our fingers in our ears.
Why is this so hard? Because we always think we’re right. In the face of our obvious correctness, under the weight of al of the evidence we feel that we have, how can any other argument possibly hope to stand? And everybody else thinks the same, and nobody ever agrees on anything.
Mark Manson brings us a deep dive on some of the most common biases which lead to this problem. He sums up the entire problem so perfectly in his introduction that I was hooked:
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “How are there so many idiots in the world who can’t seem to see what is right in front of them?” You’re thinking, “Why do *I* seem to be blessed (or cursed) with the ability to see truth through a torrential downpour of bullshit?” You’re thinking “What can I do to make people understand? How can I make them see what I see?”
I know you think this because everyone thinks this. The perception that we understand life in a way that nobody else does is an inherent facet of our psychology. That disconnect we feel is universal.
Discourse is truly a “be the change you want to see in the world” issue. If we want other people to think more deeply, we have to think more deeply. If we want others to listen more, we have to be willing to listen. If we want our perspective to be understood, we have to recognise that there are perspectives out there other than our own.
"What the caterpillar calls the end, the rest of the world calls a butterfly."
Seth Godin on the importance of digging down to the root of a disagreement or dispute.
If someone keeps coming back to an irrelevant, urgent or provocative point instead, they’re signaling that they’d rather not talk about the important thing.
Whether in the business world, a personal relationship, or a moment of self reflection, the tendencies to avoid the elephant in the room. There are always a thousand other things we can quibble about. But we should always be trying to figure out what the most important thing is.
If it’s difficult to talk about, that’s a good sign that we’re getting close.
September 3, 2020 10:39 am - Steve Peters
One of my dearest friends in the world is an idiot. She’s kind and loyal and sincere and patient, but she also has one of those minds where as soon as she’s made up her mind about something it’s impossible to change it. A vague intuition will become a belief, and a belief will harden…continue reading on Medium…
One thing I wish I’d learned a lot earlier in life, is that it’s not enough to be right. Winning an argument is not the same thing as changing somebody’s mind, especially if you still want to be able to
In the video above Charisma on Command breaks down how Trevor Noah uses de-escalation, humour and intelligent, sincere questioning to make his point, all while keeping the person he’s talking to engaged and the tone of the conversation light. It really is a masterclass. Now I just need to find a way to show it to my 16 year old self…
August 24, 2020 10:11 pm - Steve Peters
We seem to have settled on the idea that life is a test. Like we’re wired up in a way that makes us want to do one thing, and we’re being tested to see if we’re able to do something else. So if you’re religious you’re tempted to sin, and you’re tested to see if…continue reading on Medium…
What is the purpose of forgiveness? When you’re the party that has been wronged, it can feel like forgiveness only stands the person who has wronged you. That all it will do is make them feel better when they don’t deserve to.
Nobody could have blamed Thordis Elva for feeling that way about Tom Stranger, who raped her at their school dance when she was just 16 years old. Yet the video above tells a remarkable story of strength, courage and yes, forgiveness, that shows how powerful it can be.
The power of forgiveness reaches far beyond the person being forgiven, and even the person doing the forgiving, to our ability as people to recognise and relate to our shared humanity. Even when one of us does something that feels inhuman.
When we’re able to do this, we take a vital first step towards understanding the reasons why people who are capable of good do things which are so evil, and that, as Thordis and Tom show us, is the first step towards freeing ourselves from the suffering they cause.
There’s a growing sentiment that you can’t trust the news. It’s the reason why, for starters, people are protesting in the streets because they’re being asked to were a piece of cloth over their faces during a global pandemic. People seem to believe that the media is only interested in lying to us.
I don’t believe that. I believe that, just as in most professions, the majority of people who work in them are good, honest, hard-working people who want to do their jobs well. The problem is that these hard-working people don’t make the final decisions about what does and doesn’t get published. And the people who do, more than being interested in keeping us well informed, are interested in selling our eyeballs to advertisers.
You may not watch MSNBC but just know that this problem still affects you, too. All the commercial networks function the same – and no doubt that content seeps into your social media feed, one way or the other.
It’s possible that I’m more sensitive to the editorial process due to my background in public radio, where no decision I ever witnessed was predicated on how a topic or guest would “rate.” The longer I was at MSNBC, the more I saw such choices — it’s practically baked in to the editorial process – and those decisions affect news content every day. Likewise, it’s taboo to discuss how the ratings scheme distorts content, or it’s simply taken for granted, because everyone in the commercial broadcast news industry is doing the exact same thing.
But behind closed doors, industry leaders will admit the damage that’s being done.
“We are a cancer and there is no cure,” a successful and insightful TV veteran said to me. “But if you could find a cure, it would change the world.”
Whatever end of the political spectrum you’re on, this problem affects you. And while it may not be possible to force the news media to start acting responsibly, it is possible to be responsible about the sources of our information and how we allow it to form our views of the world. Simply opting-out of the news isn’t the answer. There are things happening in the world that we genuinely need to be informed about. But staying informed now also requires that we stay alert.
August 6, 2020 12:39 pm - Steve Peters
Allow me to begin by thanking you for the invaluable work that you’re doing. For years I’ve struggled with my utter social tone-deafness and an almost pathological inability to judge interpersonal interactions, so your insights have been invaluable. In particular, I can’t thank you enough for your assurances that it’s fine to “Just Say Fat”…continue reading on Medium…
Have you ever found yourself wondering how it’s possible that people believe the things that they do? The truth is, they’re probably wondering the same about you.
The reason for this disconnect is the algorithms we all rely on to filter and curate the news we consume. Because these algorithms are trained to give us more of the content we’re already drawn to, the way that the world is presented to each of us can look vastly different. Exposing these differences is why their.tube was created:
Theirtube is a Youtube filter bubble simulator that provides a look into how videos are recommended on other people’s YouTube. Users can experience how the YouTube home page would look for six different personas. Each persona simulates the viewing environment of real Youtube users who experienced being inside a recommendation bubble through recreating a Youtube account with a similar viewing history.
The personas currently available are: liberal, conservative, prepper, climate denier, fruitarian and conspiracist. Take a look. It’s genuinely alarming to see the stark contrast in how the world is presented.