Sunday, October 9, 2011

Hardening positions?

In the Fall 2011 issue of The Key Reporter,  Phi Beta Kappa secretary John Churchill wrote about how we perceive opposing views. Evidence suggests that when people are confronted with oppsing views, confirmation bias sets in--we harden our positions.  Churchill then notes that Plato knew all about this and when he wrote (in Book VII of The Republic) that those trained to argue will always become entrenched in their positions and " puppy dogs, they rejoice in pulling and tearing at all who come near them."  Churchill then goes on to note that there is a difference between simple arguing and true discussion where the aim is the pursuit of truth. 

What I learned from this (and I've not had time to read those sections of The Republic), is that we should always be concerned with conformation bias.  We should always question what we think we know (as a scientist I'm supposed to be trained to do this) and we should have the noble aims of seeking the truth.  The challenge is getting the rest of our highly polarized society to think this way.

Discussion Question
How would you frame a conversation to try to avoid confirmation bias?  How, especially at a dinner party, can you create a space where you can honestly discuss things openly and seek the truth?  If this isn't possible, how can we improve our education so as to train the current generation of school children (who will, after all, have to deal with the messes we've created) to seek the truth, rather than becoming more entrenched in an argument?

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