Re: Debate Failure (was: SOC: Opposition to Transhumanism)

From: Menno Rubingh (
Date: Fri Jan 07 2000 - 08:42:55 MST

On Thu, 6 Jan 2000, Robert Bradbury wrote:

> What is involved are some very subtle details
> of how the human mind works.
> [...]
> However, movement from "discussion" into
> "action" may require a very "parallel" process.
> [...]
> You have to have "editors" willing to do
> the presentation re-work and collection of commentary that would
> be required to turn debate into conclusions and potentially action.

Interesting !! I think your picture of the information flow from (at the
input side) discussion to (at the output side) actions in which it finally
results is correct.

But if this picture is indeed correct, then that would I think imply that the
discussion organizations possible in/with a mailing list are NOT suited to
this *complete* road of information processing including the parts of it near
the 'execution' stage. I.e., attempts to nevertheless try to organize a
mailing-list based structure into something that covers this whole road would
fail -- because of incompatibility between the inherently 'linear' mailing
list debate structure and the 'parallel' things that have to occur in the mind
just before that mind decides to execute an action.

If we want to artificially strengthen the mind's parallel processes linking
linear debate and action (e.g. in such a way that, instead of one individual
only, a *group* of people might have a 'say' in this parallel-processing
stage), then I think we need a structure/organization that is fundamentally
different and maybe incompatible with what is possible on a mailing list. I
also think that we would need a more 'distributed' organization -- something
looking like a collection of brains between which ''thoughts'' belonging to
this parallel-processing phase can jump in a non-centralized way directly from
brain to brain. I mean, I think that in any workable version of this
artificial prop-up of the mind's parallel processes we are looking for, it
might be inherently *impossible* to have any kind of central 'chairman'
managing a central 'white-board'.


On Thu, 6 Jan 2000, Hal wrote:

> I was trying to focus on the specific mode where we "debate", although > perhaps a better term would be "argue" or even "fight". The classic bad > example would be the gun control topic which took up so much time and > energy a few months ago. Both sides in that debate were convinced that > they were good and the other side was evil, and no amount of energy was > spared in an offer-no-quarter battle.

I've not directly seen this debate, but I certainly have heard a lot of talking about this notorious gun debate ! :-) In other topics on other mailng lists, however, I have taken part in similar apparently fruitless debates.

While such debates seem not to change the minds of the majority of either of the contesting parties, I think that nevertheless there *is* something gained from these debates, namely: *some* people listening to the debate *do* learn more effective debating strategies from it. Such as: when a debate keeps raging on for a long time without anything new emerging, then (1) it is a waste of your own time to contribute to it in a way that keeps the debate where it is and only prolongs it; and (2) therefore, the only way to contribute to the debate that is not a waste of your own time is to try to move the debate to a ''higher level'' in some way, i.e., to seek out generalities and to review all entrenched theories from that other, new, point of view. I mean, these prolonged debates apparently leading nowhere IMO do force people to think more ''deeply'' than they would have done otherwise; and IMO do really enforce the conclusion that the (only) way forward in these cases is to come out of the trenches and to look at things in a broader sense.

As a further consequence, I think it follows that the people who come away from a battle having in some way moved on to ''higher planes of understanding'' are fully justified when they look on people holding fast to they entrenched theories (unchanged since the beginning of the debate) as a bit stupid and sorry; and I think that the first are fully justified in calling the latter to order or in making fun of them and in calling them childish fools. The simple fact that the latter see that they are looked upon as sorry cases holding obsolete poins-of-view might help bend the latter's loud obstinate fruitless passion a bit into more open-minded silent contemplation. Nothing that indices you more into thinking, opening up your mind, and listening first instead of continuing shouting around your entrenced preconceptions than someone convincing you of the fact that your ideas are obsolete, isn't it ? The effect of this to the group or group-discussion as a whole (viewed from a long-term perspective) is that the group as a whole moves on to a higher level; and this effect is simply enforced by the 'fight' -- there is no central organization deciding on the outcome of the fight or on what's ''right'' or ''wrong''. Survival of the points-of-view that are the least entrenced and the most willing to look at (and compare themselves to) alternatives.

> Debate tends to be zero-sum or even negative-sum. I feel that we can > best increase extropy by being supportive of each other rather than by > looking for battles to fight.

We could also maybe increase extropy by **looking at** battles and fights in lights in which they appear as positive sum games. E.g., arms races do force each contesting party into learning more effective strategies, not only by inventing new strategies themselves, but also (!) by learing from (spying on) *each other*. When two parties fight (when two parties have a tough debate), this very fight might simply be the process by which they learn from each other ?

Best greetings, Menno (;

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