Point of View was Re: >H Sort of test

Mon, 1 Mar 1999 15:09:49 EST

In a message dated 99-03-01 12:22:33 EST, Anders writes:

Unfortunately, yes. But it is also a good thing, having rational people of different views makes it possible to look at questions from more angles. >>

Thanks Anders, great as usual. Here are some thoughts I have on this matter:

                             Let's look at this from another angle.

There is wisdom in the almost trite phrase above. This simple sentence beautifully leads to the geometric nature of human understanding that is implicit in our language. Another angle, point of view, narrow minded, broad minded, left, right, center, narrow perspective and broad perspective all refer to the geometric truth that what you see depends on what you're looking at. In fact, "the point of view" from which you look at something absolutely determines how it appears to you. There is no element of right or wrong, there is only perspective.

Once you tease out the different points of view of the sides in a debate, you still have plenty of room to argue about what it means and what to do about it. But, you can at least hope to resolve the matter to the satisfaction of both sides. This results in people talking to each other instead of talking at each other and reduces the likelihood of furthering a cycle of revenge in an accelerating feed back loop.

Can you imagine people proudly saying, "I'm a man of the top", or 'I'm a woman of the bottom"? Yet how absurd is it when you hear a politician braying "I'm

a man of the left", or "I'm a woman of the right," or referring to opponents
as "Left Wing Pinkos" or 'Right Wing Extremists."  Recently I even heard a
congresswoman say, "I don't agree with your point of view."  Obviously some
serious remedial education is needed in the halls of government.

It is geometrically irrefutable that commitment to the rightness or wrongness of a point of view precludes understanding. Understanding a problem requires at least two points of view and usually more, depending on the complexity of the problem. Hence the need of "a broad perspective" or to "look at this from another angle" if you really want to come up with a useful resolution of a problem.

I call this technique of teasing out immutable points of view from a debate and then testing interpretations "Hollian Enquiry" after my daughter-in-law Holly, with whom I seem to have many differing opinions; and David Hume, who's
"Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding" was seminal in developing my
structures of interpretation. The goal of Hollian Enquiry is to get at whatever truth is accessible to the parties, compared to the goal of a debate, which is for one side to win and make the other side lose.

For example, Holly, a grad student in molecular biology, firmly believes in a woman's right "to choose." I am an old fart who is worried about killing unborn babies. While she was visiting us over the holidays, we discussed the abortion issue. Here's about how it went:

Holly - There is great controversy about when life begins. (Therefore fetuses aren't necessarily "alive")

Me - How about saying that life begins at conception, but what that means is open to interpretation?

Holly - There is a concept in biology known as "significance."

Me - OK, how about saying an eight-month-old fetus has more significance than a two-day-old, say from 100 to 10 on a scale of 100? Then say a mother's significance can also vary from 100 (her life will be lost if she carries the baby to term) to 10 (she is a habitual aborter). Then you can compare the significance of the sides, with the relative significance scales being set by the law, and then take action proportionate to this comparison.

Can this method perhaps resolve the problem without leaving vengeful losers in its wake?

Holly - Maybe.

The point is that we were able to talk civilly about a highly charged controversy and almost agree on a resolution. Wouldn't it be more appropriate for legislators to talk civilly about broadening perspectives and resolving issues rather than bragging about defeating right or left wing extremists and other such subhuman ignoramuses?