Your narrative has become tiresome

First, a million points to anyone who gets that reference without having to Google it. Anyway... I promise I'll be back on the topic of the mind soon, when I have more time to write. In the meantime, here's another quickie.

Part of the reason I wanted to do a series on the mind is because just as this blog originally started as a way for me to think through a variety of issues by writing them out, I've been doing lots of reading on cognition and it helps me to think it through by writing. I'm not necessarily interested in constructing some sort of logically deductive argument that will be promptly nitpicked by all manner of interlocutors; instead, I'm interested in exploring and articulating the evidence for an empirically-responsible philosophy of mind, and sharing my thoughts with others.

In the past, this blog has hosted many a debate. More often than not, they quickly become tiresome point-counterpoint exchanges, filled with lots of blockquote tags, that leave everyone slightly more entrenched in their original position than they were to begin with. This is actually an idiosyncrasy of human psychology — rebutting an argument point by point actually serves to reinforce an interlocutor's position, even if they're wrong. That's why all the anti-misinformation campaigns by vaccine advocates have backfired.

To that end, I'm coming to the conclusion that rather than the umpteenth post dissecting the Kalam Cosmological Argument or Aristotlean metaphysics, it's better to focus on building the case for an alternative point of view.

There's a deeper reason for this as well, which is that in most cases the reason it seems like everyone in debates is just talking past one another is because they are. They are not debating conclusions, or even premises; rather, the real point of contention is the very semantic structure of the premises themselves.

Take the Kalam, for example. It's notable that its most famous champion, William Lane Craig, has mentioned on many occasions that it cannot be true unless the A-Theory of time is true (if you don't know what the A-Theory of time is, don't sweat it). Well, according to the PhilPapers surveys, somewhere around 85% of academic philosophers think the A-Theory of time is wrong. Now, maybe that 85% are all wrong. But does Craig ever give any indication of just how controversial the assumptions underlying his premises really are? How can any debate be remotely productive when the premises of the arguments are predicated on such hidden assumptions?

This extends to a myriad of philosophical concepts. What conclusions your arguments entail depends greatly on your conceptualization of the terms. What is time? Existence? Being? Causation? Laws? Nature? Properties?

These aren't the kinds of things to gloss over lightly — they are absolutely central to any discussion. Debates frequently go nowhere precisely because the interlocutors are operating from completely different conceptual frameworks; it's also why, on all side of debates, you hear people incredulously declaring that their position is just so obviously true, and the other side so ridiculous, and of course the other side would realize that if they would just think. When you're operating from a conceptual framework which entails a particular conclusion, you will likely hastily assume that others are operating from the same framework when, in reality, they are probably operating from another conceptual framework entirely — one in which your conclusions are most certainly not entailed! The failure of the other side to "get it" isn't a problem of them not thinking through the issue, but thinking through a fundamentally different set of conceptual propositions.

So, maybe it's time to let these debates die a slow death and, instead, talk more about the assumptions in which our reasoning is rooted. Even if we disagree, we'll do a better job of understanding one another.


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