Speculating opponent’s personal motivations?… Chances are you’ve lost the argument

If you’re anything like me you’ve wasted your time in the past at least once trying to convince someone else of your view on the internet. I say waste because chances are they have dug their heels in and completely refused to budge an inch even when the evidence is staring them in the face. Strangely enough, when I discuss similar topics with people face to face this rarely happens, they are usually polite and rethink things when new evidence is brought to light.

If this is seeming all too familiar with you don’t worry you’re not in the twilight zone. A study in 2015 found that users of social media construct echo chambers by commenting on articles that confirm their belief, scrolling past ones that don’t whilst blocking/unfollowing people that have different points of view from them. However, not exposing yourself to the possibility of being proved wrong will stunt growth. The development of science and the scientific method relies on being proved wrong. For example, Astrology provides vague predictions and cannot be proved wrong. The other extreme is Astrophysics which offers very precise predictions and these scientists are being proved wrong all the time. The result, Astrophysics advances increasing the understanding. Astrology hasn’t developed at all. Whilst I worry if a week goes by and I haven’t engaged with someone with a different point of view If you want to live your life in comfort that is your right.

Whilst people have the right to stunt themselves one thing I do find hard to justify is to achieve this by personally speculating opponents’ personal motives, emotions, and thoughts. A classic example is the inferiority complex speculation. Karl Popper, a major contributor to scientific philosophy and the scientific method points out that vague theories like the inferiority complex are as useful as Astrology [link]. He gives two situations, one where a man pushes a child in a river in the hope to drown the child. The other is where the man jumps into the river risking his life to save the child. Even though both actions are the complete opposite with complete opposite intended outcomes we can chalk down both actions to inferiority complex. We could say that the man feels inferior to the person he is trying to drown, hence why he’s trying to drown them. We could also say that his inferiority complex compelled the man to prove himself by attempting a daring rescue. We could go one further, if the man just stood there and didn’t intervene in the downing we could say that his inferiority complex ensured that he was paralysed by self doubt which is why he didn’t act.

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Considering that the theory is vague, we can apply it to any position or action with a bit of mental gymnastics. We also do not have a test that can falsify the theory. We can trick ourselves into thinking that we know the opponent’s history so our speculations aren’t out of nothing, however, this is just a trick. There are layers of past experiences, emotions, and facts that form someone’s opinion and can slightly change on a daily basis due to mood. Thinking we know someone’s complete past experiences and thoughts is……… confident. Paradoxically it’s the people who barely know me on a personal level who employ these personal speculations. Other classics are racist and sexist speculations. If we have solid logic or facts that can refute someone’s point, there is no need to rely on Astrology like theories.

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