The impossibility of True Conversation

( This will be a little disjointed and very  imprecise, but I wanted to get it down before I forgot...)
noun: conversation; plural noun: conversations
the informal exchange of ideas by spoken words.

I once had an online discussion with a tea party conservative, and found that I could never get him to admit something he wrote was incorrect. Not the big stuff like how world economics works or what was the best way to provide health care.

For example he said “Nobody can afford to have a business in America today” and “Everybody wants to government to pay for everything”. All I tried to do was point out the both he and I had jobs so obviously business could exist in America (and he had started his own home rental business on the side). And I said that I never wanted or asked the “government” to buy my meals, my car, my…whatever and that I was sure he didn’t expect it either.

I was objecting to his rhetoric not his views, but when I pointed out I had, again in my mind, conclusively countered every point (there were others that I have since forgotten) all he replied was that I only proved myself wrong and went off on some conservative tangent. Keep in mind I never challenged any political or philosophical belief, but I just pointed out what I thought was imprecise reasoning

More recently I read a blog where this very intelligent blogger seemed very angry that a Peta ad used animal rights compared to slavery and mentioned respecting MLK as some sort of springboard for animal rights by saying animal “feelings” should be considered. And all this really bothered her.

I commented, and simply pointed out that acknowledging animals have feelings doesn’t mean you have to go full-Peta.

Then she said since she grew up where people were hungry she could not fathom the idea that animals have feelings, and the whole notion was "kookie". Apparently animal feeling was a sore subject with her, so I left it at that.

It is just one of my many quirks but the logic here bugs me; there are people who are hungry, therefor animals don't have feelings...well, it just doesn't make sense. The two are unrelated.

You can then say it doesn’t matter or that is just the way the world is, but to deny something not because science or observation and instead because of something totally different...I can't help but notice. But for her it is so clear it isn't worth thinking about. (Then again maybe I am the obstinate one, but I felt any further discussion would not be productive)

I’m not trying to promote animal rights here, I’m just saying if you have ever seen a dog wag its tail, a cat scream or hiss, it seems pretty obvious animals have feelings and emotions of some sort. It doesn’t mean they are the equal of humans, rather it is not all just human anthropomorphizing.

I am really not brooding over fleeting Internet exchanges....I guess what I am trying in the above anecdotes is show that in each case the other view makes no attempt to understand my points. And even denies the possibility I might have even a weak “argument”. And any gently offered criticism is totally ignored, as if nothing had been said.

So....true conversation rarely happens because people take in the world and order it in ways that reinforce their existing understanding of things. Alternate views are either not recognized at all or labeled kookie and dismissed with no possibility of consideration at any level. Plus we tend to only talk to people like ourselves so the odds of having a friendly argument are actually pretty rare. And of course extreme political opinion on TV or the Internet would harden any opinion.

This is a little messy but I think it is somewhat explained by “associative coherence” and “the mechanism of substitution.”

All the below is from the Brain Pickings article...


 This leads to something Kahneman has termed “associative coherence” — the notion that “everything reinforces everything else.” Much like our attention, which sees only what it wants and expects to see, our associative memory looks to reinforce our existing patterns of association and deliberately discounts evidence that contradicts them.

 “That will very often create a flaw. It will create overconfidence. The confidence people have in their beliefs is not a measure of the quality of evidence [but] of the coherence of the story that the mind has managed to construct. Quite often you can construct very good stories out of very little evidence. . . . People tend to have great belief, great faith in the stories that are based on very little evidence.”

Most treacherous of all is our tendency to use our very confidence — and overconfidence — as evidence itself:

“What’s interesting is that many a time people have intuitions that they’re equally confident about except they’re wrong. That happens through the mechanism I call “the mechanism of substitution.” You have been asked a question, and instead you answer another question, but that answer comes by itself with complete confidence, and you’re not aware that you’re doing something that you’re not an expert on because you have one answer. Subjectively, whether it’s right or wrong, it feels exactly the same. Whether it’s based on a lot of information, or a little information, this is something that you may step back and have a look at. But the subjective sense of confidence can be the same for intuition that arrives from expertise, and for intuitions that arise from heuristics. . . .”

ref #4: “associative coherence” and “the mechanism of substitution.”

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