Should You Be Offended When I Tell You That You're Wrong?

Are people generally rational or irrational and has that changed over the course of history?


Rationality is the operation of reason; the weighing of options and assessing benefits over costs in the process of attaining goals or solving a problems.


Should we work towards replacing other functions of thought with rationality and seek to maximize rationality in our decision making?


If so, what are some ways we can maximize our rationality and more importantly, how can we facilitate the rationalization of others without them being offended? So often when I am having a discussion of beliefs with someone, they are offended to hear when I disagree and this leads to not only a lack of understanding, but a conversation that benefits neither party. Sometimes this leaves a stain on the relationship. It seems primitive that someone would be offended at the notion that they might be wrong. Personally I value the chance to be told I am wrong, because only two things can happen out of that: 1. I will learn something, or 2. I will teach something. Either way society is better off; overall knowledge will have increased; and thus overall welfare will have increased.


So riddle me this people of The Atheist Nexus: How can we align the people around us more closely to logic and effective thought processes without burning bridges and coming off narcissistic?

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I think it all comes down to having a thorough, polite, and respectful conversation. Explain your position, and be clear, and don't be a dick. I think people tend to lean toward the position that makes the most sense.

It is rarely that simple in my experience. Maybe I haven't mastered the "not being a dick" part. But joking aside, I think many people want to be right more than they want to find truth and so refuse to disagree constructively. Is there a way to help those people overcome their fear of being wrong?

If the discussion you are having is about "faith", you have a bigger challenge than your associate taking offense.  Underlying the conversation between you two people, is a third, imaginary presence.  This invisible absence is mentally menacing your opponent with the threat of everlasting hell, while you are calmly proposing the concept of 'no god'.  In the mind of your opponent, just contemplating certain ideas is a sin - a thought crime - the sentence for which is eternal fire and brimstone.  You have freed yourself to think any thought you want.  Your opponent is hampered by the celestial thought police.  

I was talking generally, but of course faith was in the back of my mind when I was constructing the question. Excellent point though. Thought crime is menacing indeed; a fallacy of intention based ethics. So what do you propose is the best course of action? Are you saying we should first question the illegitimacy of their ethics before we can challenge their metaphysical beliefs?

No Andrew, I'm just aware that some of the folks that I have thought were attentively debating these metaphysical topics, were really internally reciting the "Lord's Prayer" to prevent my evil thoughts from besmirching their holy souls.  You can lead a fool to knowledge, but you can't make him think. 

I refuse to accept that! I was a Catholic for most of my life and a few key people changed my mind. No doubt I was willing to listen. But what is the essence of an effective approach like the one that was used on me?


"You can lead a fool to knowledge, but you can't make him think." As clever as this little quip was, I cannot merely dismiss someone as a "fool". As a lover of truth and a lover of society I cannot give up by giving credit to such oversimplifications. We must convert all theists to free thought! We need to brainstorm this, there is a way. Call me an optimist, but we have a duty to help these people if it is in our power, do we not?

I'm sorry, Andrew.  I do not want to discourage you.  I'm a cynic.  Of course many people are open to reason.  I don't really think all believers are fools either, just fooled!  Some times I have a little success when I sincerely ask some of those unanswerable questions that led me to reject belief in god.  Sometimes questions about the apparent lack of justice and compassion in the church's teachings, and in the bible narrative will get a person thinking.   

I do not think that people should be offended when they are shown to be wrong, but there is certainly a visceral response in many cases. I think that many people have a need to be right, and that they react emotionally to defend their beliefs.

I once had a conversation with a friend in which he had asserted that it made perfect sense for the full moon to affect human mood and behavior, appealing to the analogy of human bodies to the Earth by percentage of water (biological tides argument). I argued by applying Newton's Law of Gravitation to show that the moon's effect on a human body was negligible compared to other, nearby masses (disregarding the fact that water in human bodies is bounded in much smaller regions, the fact that perigee and apogee of the moon do not necessarily correlate with moon phase, etc.). He responded "Well, if you believe THAT...." in reference to Newtonian physics. He was telling me that his beliefs were immune to change. Such people will disregard even the most basic and demonstrable evidence if it contradicts a cherished belief. And religious beliefs are much more important to most people than the "Full Moon Effect." 

I agree that the "don't be a dick" rule should be paramount. However, I have become convinced that true believers in any false idea will be offended no matter how the news is broken to them. The goal, I think, should be to invest energy in constructive dialogue with people who are open to new evidence and who have a willingness to admit to being wrong. All skeptics are bound by this rule, as we are incapable of holding beliefs that have been demonstrated to us to be false. If a person is able to accommodate a sufficient degree of cognitive dissonance to forbid changing a belief, conversation is fruitless.

You bring up a pretty big challenge here. What I've seen as the fundamental issue in changing opinions, and one that's not entirely obvious in most cases, is that physically wrong and mentally wrong are distinctly different concepts which can be perceived in dramatically different ways.


Rationality is usually seen as a tool for discovering physical truths; that is, making mental representations of the world more accurate, and therefore more reliable for planning purposes. However, while people will easily adopt ideas which fill an empty space, they will often violently resist replacements to their current ideas. Why?


Because mental truth is the measure of psychological stability an idea or set of beliefs provides, not the accuracy with which it represents the external world. As all our ideas tie together into a single personality, excising an old (and physically wrong) idea is like remodeling a building; you have to shut it down, tear pieces out, and do quite a bit of work to get it back in shape, without knowing that the effort will be worth it until the project is complete.


So people will often react in a hostile fashion if what you argue is physically true but mentally wrong, such that if they evaluated it honestly they would know they needed to modify their beliefs, but doing so would reduce their mental coherency by disrupting dependent ideas and connections. Recognition but inaction does its own damage (mental stress), so the most effective response is to reject the validity of your argument outright, despite its physical truth.


This makes the solution pretty clear: if you want people to listen, ideas must be conveyed with mental truth for the given audience. This holds regardless of whether your message has physical truth to it, so your intellectual responsibility (given your goals) is to combine both types of truth.


You cannot, however, expect physical truth to stand alone unless you're willing to wait the decades or centuries for it to 'drift' to a receptive audience (of which none may currently exist). 

Wow. Thank you this helps a lot. I don't think I've ever heard a metaphor to describe this so perfectly as the building remodeling. Did you invent the idea of physical vs mental truths?

Please elaborate on how to convey ideas with mental truth





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