what do you care for argument?

Posted in Uncategorized by sarkology on November 14, 2013

Why do we care about arguments? Supposedly it’s because they work. They reliably produce truth or good decisions. Mathematical proof, for example, reliably produces correct mathematical knowledge. And even if a 12-year old might not understand the proof, he can tell you that barring his own mistakes he has not come across a counterexample to the proven statement.

But outside of mathematics, and when the participants do not have a real stake in the literal quality of the output of the argument process, this is not why we actually care about arguments. Nobody cares to plug the abstraction leaks for example, which is what you need to do to make anything work in the real world. Rationalists only care about clever reasons, and the plugging of leaks is a tedious chore and does not evince much intelligence. Your common internet user arguing politics only cares about wireheading norms. A libertarian only cares about arguments of a libertarian style for example, and so he gets a kick out of thinking holy thoughts.

Ultimately, all these heretical criteria for good arguments can be subsumed under “making sense”. It is easy to see our favourite patterns in the clouds.

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Extracting a conclusion from the froth of a sea of arguments.

Posted in Uncategorized by sarkology on November 4, 2010

If we could pick a random sample of arguments, then we don’t have to evaluate their entire population to reach a reliable conclusion.

But instead we are biased, so we don’t trust anyone to pick a random sample. We just give in and let each side pick only arguments in its favor. So we search for arguments incrementally on both sides, and only when one side hits diminishing marginal returns sooner and more drastically, that it becomes apparent that the arguments overall support the other side.

Furthermore, this process is made to be as drawn out as possible, since each side does not want to mine their arguments so efficiently that they would hit diminishing marginal returns sooner than is necessary. All they want is to find arguments strong enough to immediately counter those on the other side.

This is analogous to signaling, where the bulk of the total amount of resources spent on signaling does not contribute to discriminating between the signalers. To make yet another analogy, imagine a 100m race. What determines who finishes the race in which positions is their relative positions when they cross the finishing line. The finishing line could have been placed at the 50m point instead, and it will still be as discriminatory. Now of course, we don’t place the finishing line at 10m, because the longer the distance the runners run, the more random deviations from their average speed evens out, and we are really interested in the runners’ ability, not their luck. Arguably though, signaling contests go far beyond what is necessary to float the signal up from the noise. That’s the contention of this post. Too small a random sample of arguments leads to vulnerability to noise, but we take too large a sample, because we cannot trust it to be random.

Let me end with a favorite metaphor of my own.

Signaling is a spitting contest in an arena of froth on the surface of a sea of saliva.

Having read this post, you should be able to get what it means. Otherwise let me know, and I’ll do a post on it. Or maybe I’ll do a post on it anyway.

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