How to have a debate: Part 2

Published in Thoughts on Jan 20, 2021

How to stay organized during an argument.

It's very easy to get lost in an argument and get to the point where it's just personal attacks and nothing else.

It's important to know what the other person is saying before you start contradicting it. And it's important to stay on point.

Conversations can get "recursive", but they should always return to the previous points.

To visualize this:

A: There is no free will ❌
   B: I feel like I have free will ❌
      A: In a simulation you could also feel that way because the feelings would be part of the simulation. ✅
   B: Randomness proves free will ❌
      A: Randomness does not exist, the universe is deterministic ❌
         B: Wrong, here's a link to an article that proves that true randomness is possible ✅
      A: Randomness contradicts free will existing ❌
         B: It does not, you can have both your own thoughts and random thoughts ✅
            A: Randomness existing in the universe doesn't mean anything ❌
               B: It does, your thoughts can provably be affected with material things (drugs, ...) ✅
   B: We have complete free will ❌
      A: A lot of your thoughts appear in your mind on their own, like when I say "don't imagine a pink elephant" you will imagine it even if that weren't your intention. ✅
   B: It wouldn't make sense to live if there were no free will. ❌
      A: That's irrelevant and a separate debate. ✅
   B: We have at least some free will ✅
      A: We just proved that you don't control your thoughts ❌
         B: No, we just proved that you don't control ALL of your thoughts, but you may still control some. ✅
            A: If you don't have full free will, you have no free will ❌
               B: It's completely possible for a system to produce its own resources while accepting external inputs. Just like that, you can think your own thoughts and have random ones too. ✅

Very often people just completely sidetrack the discussion in the middle of some subargument. Never getting to the argued points.

Each point should be proven, disproven, or considered irrelevant. It shouldn't be skipped and sidetracked.

This sounds like a very mechanical way of arguing but it's 🔑 to having a discussion that reaches a result — the argument being proven or disproven. You can't argue about anything by skipping between remotely related topics and arguments.

The visualization above follows how a debate platform Kialo works, see an example (again) with free will. (I never used the platform but I saw it in an ad and I really like this organized way of having debates.)

So, always know what point you're trying to prove or disprove and focus on that until it's done. Then move on to the next point and keep doing that until the main argument is resolved.

I'll finish this article with a quote:

It’s bad to have an opinion you’re proud of if you can’t state the arguments for the other side better than your opponents.
— Charlie Munger


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