Find yourself a Worthy Opponent: a Chavruta

by Raw_Power 8y6th Jul 201174 comments


You've been on Less Wrong for a while. You've become very good at a lot of stuff. Specifically, arguing. You win arguments. All the time. Effortlessly. And the worst part is, you often win for the wrong reasons. Perhaps there were counters to your propositions. Perhaps you failed to mention a very important, non trivial premise, and your public accepted your shaky proposition with as much enthusiasm as if it had been rock-solid, if not more.

They have failed you. You now know that, if you want to remain objective, to keep your grip on reality, to keep your mind sharp and your guard high, you need a Worthy Opponent, someone who's on the same level as you, who's as different in ideology and character from you as possible, who will not hesitate to point out any and every flaw your propositions would have, and would in fact go out of their way to contradict you, just for fun. This intellectual sparring will strengthen you both, and make you more careful in actual debate, on the public arena, whether you choose to use the Dark Arts or not.

Quoth JoshuaZ: In many forms of Judaisms one often studies with a chavruta, with whom one will debate and engage the same texts. Such individuals are generally chosen to be about the same background level and intelligence, often for precisely the sort of reason you touch upon [I paraphrased that in the two first paragraphs] (as well as it helping encourage them to each try their hardest).

A couple of interesting excerpts from the wikipedia artilce:

Unlike conventional classroom learning, in which a teacher lectures to the student and the student memorizes and repeats the information back in tests, and unlike an academic academy, where students do individual research,[5] chavruta learning challenges the student to analyze and explain the material, point out the errors in his partner's reasoning, and question and sharpen each other's ideas, often arriving at entirely new insights into the meaning of the text.[1][6]

A chavruta helps a student stay awake, keep his mind focused on the learning, sharpen his reasoning powers, develop his thoughts into words, and organize his thoughts into logical arguments.[7] This type of learning also imparts precision and clarity into ideas that would otherwise remain vague.[8] Having to listen to, analyze and respond to another's opinion also inculcates respect for others. It is considered poor manners to interrupt one's chavruta.[9]

In the yeshiva setting, students prepare for and review the shiur (lecture) with their chavrutas during morning, afternoon, and evening study sessions known as sedarim.[2] On average, a yeshiva student spends ten hours per day learning in chavruta.[11] Since having the right chavruta makes all the difference between having a good year and a bad year, class rebbis may switch chavrutas eight or nine times in a class of 20 boys until the partnerships work for both sides.[12] If a chavruta gets stuck on a difficult point or needs further clarification, they can turn to the rabbis, lecturers, or a sho'el u'mashiv (literally, "ask and answer", a rabbi who is intimately familiar with the Talmudic text being studied) who are available to them in the study hall during sedarim. In women's yeshiva programs, teachers are on hand to guide the chavrutas.[13]

Chavruta learning tends to be loud and animated, as the study partners read the Talmudic text and the commentaries aloud to each other and then analyze, question, debate, and defend their points of view to arrive at a mutual understanding of the text. In the heat of discussion, they may wave their hands or even shout at each another.[14] Depending on the size of the yeshiva, dozens or even hundreds of chavrutas can be heard discussing and debating each other's opinions.[15][16] One of the skills of chavruta learning is the ability to block out all other discussions in the study hall and focus on one's study partner alone.[2]

In the yeshiva world, the brightest students are highly desirable as chavrutas.[17] However, there are pros and cons to learning with chavrutas who are stronger, weaker, or equal in knowledge and ability to the student. A stronger chavruta will correct and fill in the student's knowledge and help him improve his learning techniques, acting more like a teacher. With a chavruta who is equal in knowledge and ability, the student is forced to prove his point with logic rather than by right of seniority, which improves his ability to think logically, analyze other people's opinions objectively, and accept criticism. With a weaker chavruta, who often worries over and questions each step, the student is forced to understand the material thoroughly, refine and organize his thoughts in a logical structure, present his viewpoint clearly, and be ready to justify each and every point. The stronger chavruta helps the student acquire a great deal of information, but the weaker chavruta helps the student learn how to learn. Yeshiva students are usually advised to have one of each of these three types of chavrutas in order to develop on all three levels.[7]

Given the pattern their interactions have followed online in the past, one could easily think of classifying Yudkowsky and Hanson's relationship as an informal chavruta. And perhaps we should follow their example: Endoself expressed the desire for such a companion, and suggested that we at Less Wrong establish some similar institution.

Honestly, I don't just think this institution should be introduced into Less Wrong. I think it need to be introduced into every educational system. The way the article is written (though I suspect bias since there isn't even the slightest criticism), it sounds like the most freaking awesome way of studying ever.

Now, here in Lesswrong, we can usually count on each other to read the arguments properly and point out any fauts there may be. It's kind of a collective effort. Therefore, I'm not quite sure we need such an institution on the site proper, since we seem to function like a huge hydra of a chavruta right now. Which we shall demonstrate right now, as usual, in the comments section, where I'll be impatiently waiting for feedback from both Jews and Gentiles.