Online Discussions

From an online discussion on

saysni wrote:

There seems to be a core of folks on this board (that, if you read here much, you will very quickly recognize) who enjoy ‘debate’, and will publicly pick apart almost anything anyone has to say if they can find an ‘in’, or any perceived ‘chink in the armor’. This is not to rap those whom i reference, it is merely to point out the pitfalls of any indirect communication-via-internet.

I think perhaps this is something of an over-simplification. It seems to me that there are several different kinds of posters involved in these debates, and shades between. One could say that there is a fundamental split on what is often called Western or reductionist science. At one end of the scale are those (and I should hasten to say that the furthest extremes of these points of view are not necessarily often expressed in this particular forum; most opinions fall somewhere along the scale between the extremities) who believe completely in science and consider anything that has not been or cannot be proven by the scientific method to be beneath their consideration. Then at the other extreme are those who, while often (even proudly) ignorant of the scientific viewpoint on any given subject, automatically and categorically reject anything that any scientist or scientific body has to say, and rely entirely on their own intuition (call ir what you will) for their truths.

Then there is the scale that one might call “debating styles”. At one end of this scale are those who know and have studied logic and critical thinking, and rigidly apply the rules of those bodies of thought, and reject any statement that can be shown to contravene them (while sometimes neglecting to address the actual content.) At the other end of this scale we find those who simply regard a debate as an opportunity to score points, and also fail to address the content while picking on any opportunity to contradict what someone has said.

Fortunately we have a substantial number of participants who fall somewhere in the middle of both of these scales, who believe that science can and does serve us in many vital ways that we would certainly not want to give up (dentistry without anesthetic, anyone?), but is nonetheless run by people with their own agendas, and it is wise to both listen to what science has to say, and examine the motives and assumptions behind its statements. 

Similarly intuition has enormous value in alerting us to possibilities worth investigating (and most great scientific discoveries started off as brilliant intuitions) but unless it is verified by actual study and experimentation (where such a thing is possible) we cannot rely on the veracity of our intuitions. We may believe them completely ourselves, but to try to convince others or base public policy upon them is very unwise.

Then finally there is the scale between those who believe that every debate should be vigorously pursued down every (often blind) alley and hunted down and done to death, and those who find such pursuits a complete waste of time (and can often be quite verbose in saying so!).

Maybe if we all try to find a balance somewhere around the middle of each of these scales, it would improve the quality of our discourse.