Discussion article for the meetup : Rational Debate: Will Rationality Make You Rich? ... and other topics

WHEN: 12 February 2013 08:00:00PM (-0500)

WHERE: 54 Dundas St E, Toronto, ON

Place: Upstairs at The Imperial Public Library 54 Dundas St. E, near Dundas Station. Enter at the door on the right marked "library", go upstairs and look for the paperclip sign.

We'll kick the meeting off with ASK LESS WRONG. Think of something in your everyday life that's bothering you and we'll help you smooth it out. Purpose: increase the fun in each others' lives through the magic of friendship. Secondary purpose: train ourselves to notice things that are suboptimal and view them as problems that can be solved.

The main part of the meeting will be a RATIONAL DEBATE. We'll start with "will rationality make you rich", then move on to "is there intelligent life elsewhere in the universe" and "should you vote". That's probably all we'll have time for before the beer kicks in, but we do have backup topics.

If you want to read up on any of these topics, that's great - but not strictly necessary.

Rational debating is far from a solved problem, so we'll be learning how to do it as we go along. I'll be chairing, so don't worry about keeping track of this vast list of meta stuff - that's my job. It'll go something like this:

  • In a conventional debate, you win by sounding more plausible than the other person. In a rational debate, you win if and only if you end up believing the truth. This makes it a cooperative game - it's possible for everyone to win or for everyone to lose. (Incidentally it also means you don't actually know whether you've won or not).

  • Initially, each person answers the question separately, choosing how they wish to frame their answer. If people come up with very different ways of framing the question, we will take each one in turn and try to approach the question from that direction. (The point of this is to avoid fighting over the framing of the discussion and instead address the issues directly).

  • I'll keep track of structural stuff - different ways of framing the question, agreed subtopics of discussion, and binary chopping to find points of disagreement (which involves lists of statements and verbally how plausible we each think they are).

  • When arguing against something, construct a steel man first - rephrase the opposing argument in your own words, making it as strong and plausible as you can, before you try and defeat it.

  • Be bold and specific - make sure you're saying something substantial, even if you're not completely sure it's true.

  • The social aspect: make sure we're providing status and rewards for the right things.

  • Leave a line of retreat. What would I do if I was wrong about this?

  • Try to notice when you're replying to somebody's cached thought with a cached thought of your own. I'll try and do the same.

  • Try to find something to change your mind about, even if it's something small.

  • Separate out disagreement about facts from disagreement about values (and disagreement about strategy, which combines both). Separate out semantic confusion. I think we're already reasonably good at these.

  • If possible, identify which of these techniques you're trying to put into practice. I'll do the same. (By drawing attention to this we'll help keep things purposeful, and also hopefully learn which techniques seem particularly useful).

Resources on rational debate:




Hope to see you all at the Imperial Pub on Tuesday! Let me know if you can come.

Discussion article for the meetup : Rational Debate: Will Rationality Make You Rich? ... and other topics

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