Changing habits for open threads

by Hazard1 min read26th Nov 20174 comments

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Related to: Unjustified ideas comment thread

Epistemic effort: Started off as a comment to the above thread, but then I spent too much time rewording and decided for it to be it's own post. 30m total thought.

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I'm generally for most things that will create more discourse, or fullfil an idea-generation function. A speculative-ideas open thread could serve that role, though while thinking about the idea, I noticed a behaviour in myself that would detract from the usefulness of such a thread. I'm going to outline this behaviour, suggest a correction, and hopefully if this feels like something you do then hopefully you can update.

My first instinct when seeing something I disagree with, in most settings, is to try and create a solid, well flushed out formalization of my disagreement. In person, a problem arises when the time it takes to formalize this disagreement is longer than the acceptable time to be silent in a conversation. Online, a problem occurs when the time to formalize is longer than the amount of time I'm allowing myself to focus on surfing the web. So in many cases, my need to have a super flushed out disagreement gets in between me and actually communicating with someone.

Most of the time, I think this is acceptable. I don't really want to lower my standards of what counts as a legitmate rebuttal. However, there is a particular class of situations that I think my standard response is not the right action.

Think the cases of correcting possible typos or "obvious" mistakes. If my physics professor rights on the board tha a=fm, it's probably a better use of my time to ask, "Is that what you meant to say, because it seems wrong," rather than spend the rest of lecture building up the formal case for why it just has to be f=ma.

The basic takeaway being; do some initial probes before putting in the labor to make a nice flushed out aargument, because you'll probably be able to avoid going down some dead ends. In a speculative comments thread, there are probably going to be lots of comments like, "What about X?", where the response "Well have you looked into Y?" could be more than enough to produce an, "Ohhhh, yeah. Can't believe I missed that."

If I adopted such a habit, I think it would lower the energy barrier to entry for commenting, but not necessarily the quality. Because if it turns out there's more to the disagreement than the obvious errors, then we can always get more specific.

So here are my suggestions for lower energy but not necessarily lower quality comments:

  • If there seems to be a glaring error, point it out and see if they agree it's a glaring error.
  • If they seem to be saying something completely off-base, do a quick check to make sure they are saying what you think they are saying before mounting an offensive.

Discussion: Do you agree or disagree? What are some other different habits of commenting that you think would make an speculative open thread more useful?

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Asking a question isn't about rebuttling someone's point. Both in person and online, I don't think you need to formalize a disagreement to be able to ask useful questions.

I agree with you. I was trying to describe a bad habit I've had where I used to act on an implicit belief that I need to have formalized disagreements.

Quick thought: I think you are relying too much on your own experience which I don't expect to generalize well. Different people will have different habits on how much thought they put to their comments, and I expect some put too much thought and some too. We should put more effort at identifying the aggregate tendencies of people at this forum before we make reccomendations.

Then again, perhaps you are just offering the idea casually, so it's okay. Still I worry that the most likely future pathways for posts like this are "get ignored" and "get cited uncritically", and there's no clear place for this more thorough investigation.

What I wanted my post to come across as was, "Here's a very particular was that I realize I do things incorrectly, and here's how I think I'm going to change my behaviour. If you were making the same mistake, this could help you." Though as I reread, I do get a sense that the post is making borader and more generalized claims than what I wanted. It seems like I'm saying "This is a way people would be bad at an open thread." but really I wanted to say, "This is how I would be bad at an open thread."

I'll try to make that distinciton more clear in future posts.