Re: Are Beliefs Like Clothes?

Steve Witham (
Mon, 18 Aug 1997 21:17:55 -0400

Robin Hanson wrote:
> > The theory needs to be coupled with a theory that explains why it
> > is easier to find flaws in ideas if individual people tie themselves
> > to specific ideas, rather than critiquing ideas one doesn't feel
> > especially tied to.

>we don't understand why this would require people to
>strongly identify with particular views.

I think what's going on is practice at argument with others, not just
practice at thinking. The more convinced you are, the more convincing
you can be. Committment--cutting one's retreat--makes one
harder to intimidate with threats. In fact seeming crazy helps, too.

I guess that arguing without commitment is a more complicated skill than
committing to harmless beliefs. If it's less complicated, committing to
trivia would leave more of your brain for actual arguing--giving you better
practice--and would also be an easier skill to discover by unconscious
learning or evolution.

A slight variation: maybe being consciously in doubt puts you at a
disadvantage in an argument, so it's better not to consciously
doubt your "beliefs," at least not while you're arguing them. Plus,
they have to be consistent from argument to argument.

Gregory Bateson says that dogs know the difference between play fighting
and real fighting. But they have to get into a fight to know which they're
doing. I don't think dogs have an *idea* of play, or pretend. They have
something like a sense of fun, a sense that they're stretching their
abilities without getting hurt. Argument could have evolved from
unthinking play-fighting.


--           Steve Witham          web page under deconstruction
"...when activated, it pops a message off the bag
    and recurs with the tail of the bag."
             --Vijay Saraswat and Patrick Lincoln