Discussing with people who think differently is not effective in acquiring new knowledge.

Kant He claimed that one of the great achievements of civilization was a meal with friends talking about philosophy. And he even had a mental scheme of what the ideal of this meeting should be like: a brief comment on the political situation, another brief comment on the goodness of the food and, finally, the philosophical debate itself.

But let's be frank: the ideal debate does not exist. What we most like is to show a epic fail, kneel before Excalibur, loser. We are seduced by Thug Life type replicas. We are excited by the adversarial format type debate in which not only is established who is right, but who is more intelligent, has greater rhetorical skills and, in short, is better than the other in all aspects. Why not, debating is useless for anything you have always believed, but for other things.

If there is no use

However, even in the case of achieving an ideal debate, this will be an effective way to acquire knowledge. What we define as debate is only a cognitive illusion in which two people release the first thing that comes to mind. Simply because orality does not get along with complex arguments marked by data (for this there are sustained speeches perfectly articulated in 200 or 300 pages full of references to studies that support or reinforce each statement).

In addition, the debates promote another cognitive bias that we can all be victims of: when we turn to other people as a source of information and support for our opinions, beliefs or notions, we will tend to believe them or value more benignly if they say it with more conviction or better words. This is something that, for example, was evidenced by studies of Steven Penrod Y Brian Cutler carried out in the courtrooms during the trials in the 1990s, as it abounds in it Dean burnett in The idiot brain:

they are much more likely to exhibit favoritism for the testimonies of those declarants who are confident and calm, than for those of those others who find them nervous and hesitant (...) the content of a statement influenced less when determining a verdict that the way that testimony would have been presented.

And they are just some of the biases of which we are victims. If the majority of people in a group hired to say that one rod is longer than the other despite being shorter, those who are participating in the experiment end up assuming that the rod may be longer, as he put manifested the famous experiment of Solomon Asch.

In short, quoting the physicist Alan Sokal in Beyond intellectual frauds, a book on epistemology that should be a must read: “the human mind is only imperfectly designed for the rational evaluation of data; and the further we move away from the tasks of everyday life, the more these inadequacies are noted. ”

Abstract discussions

The problem is that we underestimate the ability of our brain to invent theories on the go, a process that executes with precision of watchmaking in order to give coherence to our actions and our thoughts. The double problem is that, on abstract issues where there is no conclusive evidence on one side or the other, or where it all comes down to a merely subjective issue, We do not become fabulous experts.

The abstract issues, in fact, there is not even a correct recipe to analyze what we think. In matters in which there is solid evidence we can always immerse ourselves in essays and articles (although in that case we must walk with lead feet because we can tend to read only the texts that reinforce our prejudices), but in abstract matters then books and essays are only extensive opinions.

In addition, even if there are texts capable of clarifying confusing issues, living in this way is somewhat unproductive: for almost any subject we should invest days, weeks or months of conscientious study. Finally, a normal life in which we barely have free time to delve into such a wide variety of issues condemn us to lift our shoulders and assume “I don't know” every time a spontaneous debate opens in front of us. Be that as it may, fortunately debating serves a lot of things that are not intuitive at first.

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