Tell me something I don’t know

When it comes to complicated problems - the ones that don’t bend themselves to unequivocal answers - the first solution coming to our mind is often a poor one.

Another sign that we are on the wrong path is when a lot of other people, of similar tastes and inclinations, agree with us. We can go as far as extrapolating a rule: any widely shared view on a complicated matter is likely to be wrong. There is a simple explanation for this: none of us has time to think deeply about all possible topics. We are wired to take shortcuts and settle on a position that appears coherent with pre-defined world views. Coherent, simple, and wrong.

A bit of trickery can do magic when we fall prey to this form of “common talk”. For example, we can take up the opposite position in a debate and let our (dialectical) opponent do the work for us. If we are lucky, we might learn something we don’t know and walk away with renewed conviction.

More often, we will only hear back the same argument we set off to challenge. The advantage is that we have now made it “their” position. We have externalised it. We have gained perspective. This allows us to spot logical fallacies, incongruences and false assumptions.

It’s a painfully refreshing experience. Armed with a better understanding of our biases we can now embark in our quest for clarity.