Arnold Kling  

Arguments in the Economics Blogosphere

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Ryan Avent writes,


The discussion is not always polite. It is interesting and enlightening, however. And it disciplines participating thinkers in a way that few other mediums manage.

I have just started reading David Weinberger's new book, Too Big to Know. He argues that the Internet is changing our notion of knowledge. In particular, it reduces the power of authorities to designate what gets written down as truth. Instead, all ideas remain in play. In arguments, Weinberger suggests that there is a Newtonian property of facts: "For each fact, there is an equal and opposite fact."

I think that what we observe in political economy is that people tend to align facts to fit their beliefs, rather than the other way around. The stronger a person's beliefs, the more limited will be the range of facts and theories that the person will consider.

I am not saying that we have to treat all beliefs as equally true. But when I disagree with someone, I think it is best to assume a non-zero probability that I am wrong and to use an appropriately moderate tone in order to be consistent with such an assumption.


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CATEGORIES: Economic Methods



COMMENTS (5 to date)
Becky Hargrove writes:

I hope the book is as good as it sounds. The fact that "all ideas remain in play" could ultimately make a difference. It seems that the Internet could eventually foster greater trust among individuals in that they would know how their dialogues in the course of learning actually evolve. The recording mechanism itself provides specific examples of how internal validation and accrediting processes could work. Plus, it gives people such as myself who were born with too little self confidence a way to still be heard. Even now it is sometimes as scary to comment as it once was to sing on a stage.

NZ writes:
The stronger a person's beliefs, the more limited will be the range of facts and theories that the person will consider.
I think this is basically true, but it's imprecise: you don't account for an individual's inherent intellectual curiosity. A person can have very strong beliefs but if they continually seek out new stimulating arguments to debate against--simply because they have a yearning for it--this will introduce a wide variety of facts to consider.
Becky Hargrove writes:

NZ,
Good point, it made me think of an uncle with strong opinions who nonetheless loved to hear the counter opinion. Plus, the individual with the strong opinion (and of course more confidence!) is often the reason the debate gets going in the first place.

NZ writes:

Right, and there are also a lot of people without strong political opinions who consider anything outside the very mainstream to be scary and weird. They immediately turn away from these ideas, usually without even trying to see them clearly--maybe precisely because these ideas have a polarizing effect.

Tomasz Kłosiński writes:

This is in fact the special case of the law discovered by Polish (Oxford-based) philosopher Leszek Kolakowski: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_the_infinite_cornucopia

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