Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Defend or Attack

At the heart of most systems I have seen working is the understanding that we don't know. We use a combination guesswork, imagination, storytelling, emotions, rigour, effort and humour to do the best we can do. Sometimes excessive effort is wasted on the defence or attack of ideasMaria Popova reviews the book 'This Idea Must Die' which asks many of the world's leading thinkers which ideas are holding us back. John Brockman paints the idea that science progresses through a series of funerals of an older generation tied to old ideas and opposing progress. If it is true that most people stubbornly stick to their views, arguing becomes fairly pointless. Better to focus energy on people who listen and want to learn. 

A friend of mine said that when he realises that a discussion is not in fact a discussion, but a lecture, he just switches to Anthropological mode. There is a useful signal that this is happening because we tend to slip into a lecture or drama voice. Like a child repeating what a parent has said. Often in an embarrassing setting. So rather than getting frustrated, it becomes useful to see the experience as an opportunity to try and really understand how someone thinks and give up completely on whether or not what they are saying is true. Maria Popova says 'The stories we tell ourselves, whether they be false or true, are always real'.

If you allow someone their Bull Quota you can start to treat what you are hearing as art. Like watching a movie. You can suspend disbelief. You can simply appreciate a set of ideas for what they are initially. Since we already know that there are bundles of assumptions that we have that are wrong, we may find something that is useful in someone else's wrongness. They may be so spectacularly wrong that they come up with something brilliant that no reasonable person would have stumbled across. As writer Ian McEwan puts it 'Truth is not the only measure. There are ways of being wrong that help others to be right. Some are wrong, but brilliantly so. Some are wrong but contribute to method. Some are wrong but help found a discipline. Aristotle ranged over the whole of human knowledge and was wrong about much. But his invention of zoology alone was priceless. Would you cast him aside?'

I have been told that a good Anthropologist dives deeply into the world of those they are studying. They silence their own perspective so much that they feel like they become one of their subjects. The trick is to be able to extract yourself afterwards. To be able to attack the ideas vigorously, but only after you have given them their chance.
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