Ok, I have a fun game for you guys to play. You’ll need a bit of imagination, though. So, imagine Spongebob, waving his hands in an arc-like fashion with a rainbow trailing behind and him saying “Imagination”. I could link to the actual image, but I need you nice and primed. Did you imagine Spongebob? Perfect. Then let’s start.
Imagine that your argument is a piece of paper. That, when its whole and solid, its a solid, whole argument.
Now, tear apart your argument. Really attack it. Make sure you truly get down into the details, the facts, and the logical assertions. Great. Now, try to put it all back together. Prove your argument can withstand being picked at by gluing it back together and getting its original form back.
And I’m watching you do it, so no cheating!
Great, finished? Let me have a look.
But wait, I noticed something odd when you were tearing it apart. See, you probably imagined you were viciously ripping it apart with your hands, as if you truly understood your opponents arguments and how your argument could best be broken down.
Except, I watched, and you didn’t do that. You put it through a paper shredder, the one that just cuts vertical lines in it. You were so confident that the paper shredder would be sufficient for breaking down your argument, that you saw nothing wrong.
And worse, when you went to reassemble it, I could tell how easy it was for you. How the vertical cuts made it dead simple to reconstruct the original argument. How you didn’t have to worry about the order of the strips cause they were all cut the same.
The paper shredder is part of your bias. You are biased in viewing, in attacking, and in reconstructing your argument. Even in this little thought game above, how many of you imagined tearing up your argument in any other way than using your hands? You were biased in your understanding of this very problem! Or, just as likely, my audience is so uniformly biased that I can easily guess the method by which many of you imagined tearing apart that paper.
See, too many people are confident in their understanding of opposing views and the constituent parts that make up the opposing arguments (tearing the paper into small pieces).
They are also too confident in understanding how their own views are limiting, and blind them to their biases (methods of destroying the paper).
They are also not as good at rebuilding their own argument as they thought, perhaps from a misunderstanding of evidence or logical formalisms (vertical slices cut into the paper, and not needing to worry about how it was put back together, just that it “looks the same”).
You should never, ever be comfortable with opinions and arguments you hold. One day you will get a different paper shredder, and the world will be totally different. One day you will see how others are shredding their papers, and understand why your argument is wrong. One day you will realize you were piecing your argument back together in a way that was guaranteed to give you the answer you wanted.
In all my blog posts, I finish writing them unsatisfied, knowing that I couldn’t perfectly capture the idea, perfectly capture what was wrong or what should be right. Even this very post, I am unsatisfied that I couldn’t imagine how to make it shorter, how to make the idea more obvious, how to really convince my readers of this incredibly powerful concept. Of the critical need to truly understand this concept and how it applies to everything in our lives.
You are human, and even worse, you are biased. But, at least we can make some pretty neat paper shredders.