Passionately Wrong

Reading through the comments lately a correlation stands out:  those who are dead wrong are on average more passionate than those who are more nearly right.  This correlation seems an obvious explanation for the usual boring academic demeanor; those of us who want to be thought right must try not to seem too passionate.  But though I accept this sad fate for now, my curiosity (passionately?) cries out: why?! Why are the wrong more passionate? 

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  • Jono

    Is it possible that the people who are wrong know on some level (even if not conciously) that that is the case and so bring in passion in a misguided attempt to bolster their argument, while the people who are right know they are (again, perhaps unconsciously) so feel more willing to let the argument stand on its own?

  • Mercher

    I supposed people who post comments that are in keeping with this blog’s worldview are more likely to be: a) calmer in tone, because they are addressing the like-minded; and b) perceived by you as “more nearly right.”

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Jono and Mercher, I agree that those I consider wrong are probably on average aware that they are taking a contrarian stance, at least relative to folks here. The question is: why would it make sense for such people to be more passionate here, writing more longer posts with a more emotional tone? How does this approach better achieve their goals?

  • Mercher

    The passionate aren’t necessarily thinking of achieving goals – that’s what people do when they’re being rational.

    Alternatively, it could be that getting passionate actually is a good way of persuading people – in most contexts. It’s just the wrong rhetorical ploy around here (So why try it here? I’d bet that the more passionate the poster, the less likely they are to be a regular reader).

    Most depressing possibility: it’s just self-expression, not even meant to convince anyone else.

  • http://tonih.iki.fi/ Toni

    Most likely those who aren’t right aren’t trying to be right or find the truth. Their declarative statements are for other purposes, e.g. signalling. The motive explains the form: if you’re trying to be right, you better be a bit humble, but if you’re just signalling, the more passionate you are, the stronger the signal.

    Naturally you can criticize this hypothesis on the point that there isn’t much point to signal to your kooky friends on Overcomingbias.com, but people aren’t that context-specific – they learn they’re liked when they spout out certain things, and hence they do it everywhere, even in contexts it’s no use in.

  • http://philosophyetc.net Richard

    Might passion impede belief revision? Those who are less attached to their current beliefs were presumably also less attached to their old, wrong ones.

  • BillK

    Heh! 🙂 🙂

    This claim seems to rely on the proposition that those who disagree with Robin are necessarily in the wrong.

    But if they think they are more likely to be right and Robin refuses to see the light and follow the one true path, then naturally they get more assertive.

    I think more investigation is needed on the original claim, that it those who are wrong who are the more passionate.

    I sense a budget application and a two year project coming on.

  • ehj2

    “Passion” in general, and certainly in the context you describe, is overdetermined. Narcissistic injury is often in play, typically close-coupled to threatened worldview. The harder question (given the similarity of our senses and neurology), is “why is there such a diverse multiplicity of worldviews?”

    We’re fortunate to have the cue of “passion” when people’s worldviews are the subject of conversation. We note that the absence of passion in the presence of distorted worldview is often terrifying — and sometimes close to the definition of evil.

    Authority typically couches its distorted worldview in the most dispassionate language, hoping the mere garment of intellectual plausibility will carry its argument. The current discourse around the obliteration of habeas corpus aptly makes my point. If America goes to war with Iran, the documents asserting its need to do so will be both dispassionate and interleaved with the additional false garments of moral responsibility and obligation.

    /ehj2

  • http://meteuphoric.blogspot.com/ Katja

    There is a common underlying cause: people who are motivated to beliefs by emotion more than reason are:
    a)less likely to be correct and
    b)more likely to use emotion in their arguments

    Are people who disagree with Robin necessarily wrong? Robin observes that people who disagree with him are generally passionate. If we do some research on who’s more likely to be passionate, perhaps we can deduce whether Robin is generally wrong =D

  • Caledonian

    We could also examine whether people who are rhetorically outnumbered are more likely to be passionate, and how the supposedly cool and rational individuals here behave when they communicate in fora where people think they’re the crazy ones.

    But that would require overcoming our personal biases. And who’s in favor of that?

  • http://www.math.temple.edu/paulos J.A. Paulos

    William Butler Yeats said it best:

    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

  • Shakespeare’s Fool

    I suspect that there are enough exceptions to this
    rule that it would be difficult to use as a guide
    to who is right or wrong.

    I remember discussions and debates on abortion from
    a few years before Roe v. Wade and for several
    years after. In more than a few everyone was
    shouting at everyone else.

    Recently I have heard arguments where people who
    opposed Al Gore’s position on global warming were
    vehemently passionate and those who favored Al
    Gore’s position were calm. But I have also heard
    such arguments where the sides that were calm
    and passionate were reversed.

    John

  • Cassio

    There is also the association of words “wrong” and “passionate” brought by the author of this post which is itself a good bias.

    I do not think that there is a relation between being passionate and being wrong. There is a quite good amount of subjectivity in what one evaluates as passionate. For example, I thought the two last posts on Evolution rather enthusiastic, which is just another way of saying the word “passionate”. Yet, they were written in a very pondered way. The author made a good logical construction on a thesis and introduced some points that can be discussed, where there is not a consensus. Many of its conclusions – a good average – are right. It is impossible, however, not to see the enthusiasm and passion that the subject arises on the author.

    Passionate people can be right, and they will be called ardent, or can be wrong, and so we can just say that they are angry. The character itself will show trhough their commentaries, but will not determine per se the correctness of them.

  • Cassio

    Plus, it is a good example of ad hominem phallacy.

  • http://www.alexisgallagher.com Alexis Gallagher

    But surely this observation is a commonplace, no?

    People have thought of emotion as opposed to reason for thousands of years. If emotion clouds reason, then a speaker dominated by emotion is more likely to present an unreasonable — that is, an invalid — argument. A badly regulated manner betrays badly regulated thinking.

    As regards how passionate arguments are perceived, classical rhetorical thinking divided the appeal of argument into logos, pathos, and — interestingly — ethos. Logos referred to the logical validity of the argument, an appeal to the listener’s reason. Pathos referred to the appeal to the emotions of the listener. And ethos referred to the appeal of the argument that is due simply to the personal bearing and reputation of the interlocutor. And ethos was held easily to be the strongest of the three. (This attitude is reflected, for instance, in Lord Chesterfield’s constant advice to his son to worry more about his tone of voice than his knowledge.)

    What does this say about bias? The ethos appeal rests partly on a dispassionate and moderate manner, and this expresses the listener’s intuitive knowledge of the fact that overexcited people reason badly. So this is a bias in the evaluation of arguments based on an implicit commonsense theory of the psychology of people who make arguments.

    But the ethos appeal is also supported merely by the influence or social respectability of the interlocutor, which expresses a natural conservative bias in people in to follow the beliefs of the powerful, of those who are in good with their community.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Mercher, if passion helped to persuade, why wouldn’t other people use it as well?

    Toni, what exactly does passion signal, and why don’t others want to signal that also?

    Richard, Katja, and Alexis, perhaps the passionate reason worse, but then why don’t the passionate pretend otherwise to better persuade others?

    ehj2, if authority hopes dispassionate language will help, why don’t others reason similarly?

    Calendonian, I’m in favor of overcoming personal biases. Why would it make sense to be more passionate when outnumbered?

    Paulos, nice quote, but did Yeats offer an explanation?

    Shakespeare, yes of course it is only a noisy correlation, not an absolute rule.

    Cassio, it wouldn’t be hard to have neutral people code the emotional tone of comments.

  • Caledonian

    Why would it make sense to be more passionate when outnumbered?

    Wrong question. A better one: why would less-passionate people bother expressing their views when they’re rhetorically outnumbered?

  • http://profile.typekey.com/sentience/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    How are the wrong selecting their views, if not according to the facts? Perhaps according to whatever inspires the most passion in them.

  • Carl Shulman

    The selection effect is probably the biggest component: people who are dead wrong about an issue but not passionate about it will be persuaded to other views relatively easily, so that the remaining population of dead wrong thinkers will be quite passionate. If suppressing emotions as imperfectly deceptive social organisms is costly, then a group that is more passionate on average will also display more passion.

    “Richard, Katja, and Alexis, perhaps the passionate reason worse, but then why don’t the passionate pretend otherwise to better persuade others?”
    For some, the explanation would be that their weak reasoning abilities also interfere with reasoning out what will persuade an academic or OB audience. Perhaps more significantly, many are not aiming at persuasion at all rather than emotional catharsis. Emotionally satisfying retaliatory condemnation against those who propose Tetlock-type taboo tradeoffs depends on signaling virtue (i.e. unwillingness to make utilitarian tradeoffs), not making an argument persuasive to the taboo violator. Science cranks, religious believers, and the like have learned that calm rational argument won’t persuade people of their more implausible views any better than passionate outbursts, so they might as well take the satisfaction of expressing their views passionately without the effort to suppress their enthusiasm.

    “what exactly does passion signal, and why don’t others want to signal that also?”
    Some displays at Overcoming Bias would seem to signal trustworthiness as a social ally, e.g. condemnation of taboo tradeoffs and utilitarianism. OB posters may prefer to signal clear-headed rationality and competence rather than trustworthiness, in part because their social circles are more tolerant of such thinking and in part because they are temperamentally less sensitive to their social environment, reducing the costs of approving tradeoffs.

    Signaling devotion to religious/spiritual beliefs (to demonstrate group loyalty and to help assuage one’s own doubts) and differing religiosity explain a chunk of dead wrong comments through well understood mechanisms.

    Cranks may display passion to support their self-image as brave iconoclasts defying the establishment.

  • Rob Spear

    Who needs prediction markets when you can simply measure the levels of emotion of rival claimants?

    I also suppose that this means that any political movement that manages to get people demonstrating on the streets is more likely to be wrong than one which doesn’t.

  • http://www.alexisgallagher.com Alexis Gallagher

    Robin:

    > Richard, Katja, and Alexis, perhaps the passionate reason worse, but then why don’t the passionate pretend otherwise to better persuade others?

    They do try to pretend otherwise, and to some degree they succeed. But they don’t succeed totally because pretending requires a cooler head than is compatible with passion.

    In other words, it is in the nature of passion that it affects your manner in a way that is hard to conceal.

    I can see how this all might seem puzzling if you think of a passion as like a coat, or a quirky pronunciation, which you could put on or take off at will. That may be a pleasantly minimal assumption for keeping your reasoning clear and explicit, but it also strikes me as tantamount to ignoring the normal commonsense definition of the word. (For instance, the first definition of “passion” in the Mac OS X dictionary app, which I think uses the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, is “strong and barely controllable emotion”.)

  • http://profile.typekey.com/sentience/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    Who needs prediction markets when you can simply measure the levels of emotion of rival claimants?

    Wrong people are passionate, passionate people are not always wrong. The world’s stupidest person may say the Sun is shining but that doesn’t make it dark out. If someone was reliably wrong 99% of the time, you could be 99% right by reversing their predictions, which means they would need very powerful intelligence and reliable evidence simply to be wrong that often. Reversing the output of high entropy cognition gets you more high entropy cognition.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/sentience/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    (Wrong 99% of the time on questions with a binary answer space, that is.)

  • Caledonian

    If someone was reliably wrong 99% of the time, you could be 99% right by reversing their predictions, which means they would need very powerful intelligence and reliable evidence simply to be wrong that often.

    Wrong. And sloppily wrong, too, which is worse.

    Predictions that don’t conform to the necessary constraints on the answers will be wrong 100% of the time. Very specific and narrow predictions can also be wrong quite frequently without any particular intelligence and/or evidence being involved. If you’re asked to guess which number between 1 and 100 I’ve randomly chosen, you’ll be wrong 99% of the time even if you respond intelligently.

    Sure, you can reverse that prediction and be right 99% of the time – but the nature of the reversed prediction – that it will be any number *but* the one you guess – doesn’t fit the requirements for a guess and isn’t particularly useful anyway.

    Reliable wrongness requires work only when one is more wrong than chance alone would permit. In the very broad answerspaces most of our important questions reside in, random guesses are *very* likely to be wrong, and so are systematic ones.

  • Recovering irrationalist

    He did say questions with a binary answer space. 🙂

  • Caledonian

    AFTER I had begun composing my response, yes.

    Even his qualification is incomplete – being reliably wrong is noteworthy only when one is more reliably wrong than chance would account for.

  • Rob Spear

    I made my claim assuming the validity of Mr Hanson’s statement: “those who are dead wrong are on average more passionate than those who are more nearly right”. If this were true, even if only for comments on this blog, then we have a reliable method of determining the truth of a proposition.

  • Kat

    Well, if you’re on the right side, you don’t have to rush to the defense of your idea so passionately; you can simply state it. The right who seem dispassionate when everyone agrees — or at least when everyone important agrees — may become passionate if challenged.

    Are you passionate about a conclusion you’ve come to rationally and honestly, if the other possibilities are not entirely excluded? Or have you avoided becoming emotionally committed to your position? And if you did come to a conclusion rationally, and someone continues to disagree with you, it’s quite frustrating — perhaps passionately so! — to watch someone else make what you think to be wrongheaded arguments and then proclaim them to be correct.

    If you’ve come to your decision irrationally, you may feel committed to a certain answer whether or not other factors suggest something different, that your answer is the correct one regardless of what else turns up — so instead of new information potentially changing your position, it inspires you to defend your answer more strongly. (Particularly if your answer is compelled by something you feel to be part of your identity, and have spent a lot of effort on — I’m thinking of things like religious positions.)

    Perhaps you’re also convincing yourself that you can’t be swayed from your position, that you can withstand the attacks from the other side and keep your faith, whatever it happens to be. Plenty of religious people swap stories about how strongly they defend their faith when challenged, their part in a holy battle. (I did go to a college that hadn’t very long ago dropped its religious affiliations…) Not so much about convincing the other side anymore, as being convinced that if they aren’t brought to your side after you put out your most impassioned efforts they are simply hopeless.

    In some cases perhaps a lack of perspective, also: not thinking effectively about what would convince the other as much as expressing your view, even when the intent is to convince.

    There’s also a lawyers’ saying: “If the facts are on your side, bang on the facts. If the law is on your side, bang on the law. If neither the facts nor the law is on your side, bang on the table.”

  • anonymous

    There’s the old idea that reason and passion are mutually exclusive. Maybe Plato was on to something with that whole “tripartite soul” idea.

  • Douglas Knight

    J.A. Paulos,
    Yeats was saying the opposite of Hanson. Given the context of the end of the world, Yeats’s comment indicates that this is not normal.
    Did passion have a different role in the past?

  • http://zbooks.blogspot.com Zubon

    I haven’t seen anyone mention the method of argumentation in this blog’s comments as a cause of passion. There are many dispassionate, dismissive responses. Telling someone, “You are so wrong and ignorant that it is not worth talking to you” upsets them. No detail needed, just allude to some large field of study that you believe they have no familiarity with, and brush them off. People hate being brushed off.

    How many comments, legitimate and trolling, can you count with “Now there’s an example of bias” in a week’s posts? No other content, just dismissing an argument. Over at Reason Magazine’s blog, there is a drinking game: “Every time someone says, ‘For a site/magazine called “Reason…”‘ take a drink.”

    Eliezer Yudkowsky has demonstrated the obvious solution to this problem: dismissing people is too subtle. My search-fu is failing me, but I recall at least two occasions he asked someone never to comment on his posts again, at least until they learned a lot more. The passionate response to that is to stomp away scowling, which does not show up in a comments thread.

  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    It would have been nice if Robin Hanson offered some examples of what he meant. Without those, we are stuck in the position of accepting his word that the passionate people are wrong. Obviously they would disagree, so without a pointer to the data we third parties have no way of independently judging the validity of Robin’s proposed correlation.

    I’ll offer this earlier discussion as a counterexample — a case where a near-pathological lack of passion on an issue which any normal person should be passionate about leads to disastrously wrong conclusions.

  • http://www.satisfice.com James Bach

    Perhaps it’s the opposite. Perhaps passion is correlated with being dead right. What evidence do you have to reject this hypothesis in favor of your own?

    I get passionate in a discussion, sometimes, when I feel that someone is being a bully, because I hate bullies. Other times, I get passionate when I feel I’ve discovered an extremely useful idea and I’m eager to get it across to my friends, because I like my friends. Still other times, I get passionate when I feel that the person I’m talking to is not living up to the standard I’ve come to expect from them, because it seems that not to fulfill a worthy and achievable goal is a shame. I don’t detect, in any of those examples, any necessary bias toward right or wrong.

    I do think there’s a grain of truth to your impression, and that is simply a restatement of skepticism: since we can’t know what is ultimately true or false about any natural fact, anyone passionate enough to take a position may be automatically wrong, no matter what position they take. Notice that like a good skeptic should I used the phrase “may be”.

  • josh

    “if passion helped to persuade, why wouldn’t other people use it as well?”
    Passion has costs, passion has benefit. Being right or wrong (or at least in that majority or minority) produces wealth effects. Just a thought.

  • Kat

    James, do you think your passion helps or hurts your goals, in the cases where you use it?

  • Stan

    Surely the answer involves a good deal of selection bias. People who agree with you, passionate or dispassionate, are likely to read what you said and nod, maybe commenting with a dispassionate tone to discuss a premise. People who disagree and are dispassionate are less likely to respond. People who disagree and are passionate are likely to respond.

    However, this does not cut to the core of the question. People who are respectful, that is they speak when disagreeing in less passionate tones, have likely examined their premises comprehensively. They are likely more thoughtful and rational. A gentleman will not judge a person based on their beliefs. Conversely, a person who is less respectful, couching their disagreement in passionate terms likely doesn’t fundamentally understand the premises of the other. If only they use a more forceful tone, they will be able to persuade you.

  • doug

    I think it’s plausible to assume that people express their views more passionately the more fundamentally they disagree with the very framework within which an issue is being considered. In other words, the greater the threat someone else’s belief would, if correct, pose to your entire worldview, the less likely you are to argue against them using a cool, calm, rational voice. What you have with people who are both “wrong” and passionate about their belief is the eruption of a theoretical stance where a specific, rational argument is expected.

    If this is at all close to the truth, we should probably expect to find that 1) people argue most passionately when the issue at hand could be seen to strike at some fundamental component of an overall belief structure (evolution vs. creationism, for example), when the debate is about something basic, and 2) people who seem to disagree with us about some such fundamental feature of the world are perceived by us to be both wrong and unusually passionate about their position, with passion serving as an indicator of wrongness (props to mercher for pointing this out early on).

    Passionately expressing a belief that you know a certain audience will find unacceptable is probably tantamount to saying, “You’re all so wrong, and I know better than to think I can convince you of how wrong you are, so dearly do you hold your so very wrong beliefs. I won’t try to argue this with you, but you’re so wrong that I couldn’t possibly not say anything at all, so I’m just going to make sure you know how very wrong I believe you to be. Which is, like, really wrong.” At the same time, pointing out that those who are wrong are also more passionate says as much about how sure you are that you’re right as it does about how sure they are that they’re right.

    Passionately expressing a belief that conflicts with what a certain audience generally believes, but which is nonetheless intended to be seriously considered by the audience, is an indication that there is some crux to the disagreement, something the person thinks you don’t get about his or her position and to which your attention is meant to be drawn.

    forthcoming: “Towards a Phenomenology of Passionately Expressed Beliefs”

  • michael vassar

    Funny, Aruna and I had this exact conversation on the train today, complete with Yeats quote. I think I have a partial answer but it’s complicated and this is far into a comments post. I’ll talk about it with Robin if he calls me. Also, I bet Robin will think of it himself if I just say I think it’s related to Majoritarianism.

  • Michael Stack

    My sense isn’t that somebody’s certainty level is inversely related to their level of information in all situations; I think it’s important to look at different knowledge domains to see where that rule holds, and where it doesn’t.

    In my experience, if you ask somebody something about physics, if they know the answer, they’re more certain about it than somebody who doesn’t know anything about physics, which is just what you’d expect.

    But, when it comes to questions about human behavior, that’s where you see the rule that less informed people are more sure of themselves than those who actually do know more. I think there are a few things here that are important:

    1. Self-deception. Once somebody learns how easy it is to deceive oneself, that tends to make one more skeptical of information coming from his or her brain.

    2. I read a paper once on meta-cognition that showed that more poorly one performs in different cognitive areas (recognition of humor, IQ, etc), the less likely you are to *recognize* that you perform poorly. Poor performs tended to wildly over-assess their own abilities.

    I wish I could remember where I found that paper….

    –Michael

  • http://metaandmeta.typepad.com Drake

    The passionate holding of false belief might be explained by a wish-fulfillment bias: Those subject to wish-fulfillment bias have beliefs that are driven by personal desires; these desires quite naturally translate into greater passion in these agents regarding the asserted factual status of their beliefs.

  • http://zbooks.blogspot.com Zubon

    Michael Stack, is this it?
    Unskilled and Unaware of It” by Justin Kruger and David Dunning, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1999, Vol. 77, No. 6. ] 121-1134

  • http://www.aleph.se/andart/ Anders Sandberg

    Passionate states are high arousal states, and that means that people tend to think and react more in a stimulus-response mode rather than do any “deep” thinking. So I would expect passionate people to be more *dogmatic* about their beliefs rather than more wrong. But in thorny discussions (like the ones here) maybe dogmatism makes it more likely to commit errors.

    Another explanation: passion is salient, so we notice passionate outbursts. Errors (or at least disagreement with my own *obviously right* opinions) are also salient. Together they create a strong memory bias for remembering those passionate idiots.

    To really check we should run sentiment analyser software (decently workable these days) and correlate with correctness. But I’m not sure how to reliably check for correctness. Except that I would trust an explanation of it presented calmly much more than a passionate explanation.

  • Michael Stack

    Zubon,

    Yes! That’s the one. Thanks for tracking that down. I found that paper to be fascinating, depressing, and even hilarious. But, that’s probably because I have an average sense of humor. 🙂

  • poke

    I’d imagine it’s a simple filter effect. If something is obviously wrong, then the only advocates left are going to be those with personality traits that make them less amenable to reasoned argument. Those personality traits probably correlate highly with being loud, belligerent, dogmatic, contrarian, etc. For this reason they’re rarely worth arguing with.

  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    Hm, this topic seems to have died down without a single example being offered to support the thesis. Not what I’d expect from this evidence-based community.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com/ TGGP

    Okay, here’s an example, mtraven: you in the torture thread.

  • Caledonian

    That may be a correct example, TGGP, but it’s clearly not useful.

  • outeast

    Au contraire, Caledonian: having been back and read mtraven’s comments on that thread (assuming I’ve got the right torture thread) i’d say it’s a very useful example.

    For one thing, it highlights that at least one person here is labelling as ‘dead wrong’ someone who was basically arguing for a moral commitment (rejection of torture) over an ideological commitment (utilitarianism); this in turn suggests that the criterion for rightness really is ‘disagrees with me’ rather than any kind of demonstrable failure of rationality.

  • Caledonian

    But it’s not useful for mtraven, who is unlikely to see himself as someone passionate but wrong.

  • outeast

    I was being sardonic; unfortunately, there’s no smiley for that.

  • Michael Stack

    Mtraven,

    Read the article I mentioned (and to which Zubon linked) several comments back:

    http://www.apa.org/journals/features/psp7761121.pdf

  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    So the only example of Robin’s original claim that Reading through the comments lately a correlation stands out: those who are dead wrong are on average more passionate than those who are more nearly right is my own writings? Not much of a sample, and by offering it you are implying that my opposition to torture is not just passionate (which is true), but “dead wrong”, ie, that it is quite obviously the case that we should punish crime with torture?

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com/ TGGP

    I was actually joking, mtraven, because you offered the exact same thing as a counter-example. As I explained in the thread, I am not in favor of torture replacing imprisonment because it does not incapacitate. It was funny to see someone argue against it with “NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!” though.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/robinhanson Robin Hanson

    M, it should obvious why I didn’t list specific examples of commenters who are “dead wrong”; such people would then feel obligated to defend themselves at length, and this would turn into a post about them.

    Readers, please feel free to substitute people you think are dead wrong and ask if the pattern still seems to hold. Or let the claimed pattern be about those who see themselves as making a locally contrarian claim.

    I think I should make another post someday about what we economists are looking for in an explanation of a social pattern.

  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    People are passionate about many things, but few things in areas where you can objectively label them “dead wrong”. People may believe passionately that abortion is murder, or that you shouldn’t torture people, or that the US should erect physical and economic barriers to protect its native industries and citizens. You may feel these beliefs are deeply mistaken, but none of them are “dead wrong” — they are statements of value, among other things. If someone believed passionately that the world was 6000 years old, they would be dead wrong, but I don’t think you get too many commenters like that. So how about just ONE example of what you are talking about? Make up something if you have to. Otherwise this is just a evidence-free smear on passion as such.

  • Caledonian

    Actually, dispense with the whole ‘passionate’ thing. I’d be impressed if he could demonstrate that as many as three commenters have lately been ‘dead wrong’.

  • http://www.satisfice.com James Bach

    I’m nervous, Robin, when I see you write the words “dead wrong.” Those are inherently passionate words, as I read them. Unless you’re talking about formal statements made in formal system, then you must be making a judgment of some kind, and such a judgment is going to be based on a lot of philosophical and personal predicates that surely are open for debate. But the words “dead wrong” strike me (and you must realize they might) as a sign that you don’t feel that reasonable people could have different predicates.

    To Kat: I wouldn’t say that I “use” passion, in a debate (though I do use it in other contexts)– in debate, it’s more like passion uses me. Sometimes it seems to help and sometimes it seems to hurt. Sometimes it hurts me with some onlookers and wins yet other onlookers to my cause. Debate is not necessarily an intellectual process, but it is always a semiotic and rhetorical process. Passion can be part of the semiosis (witness a dog baring its teeth) and passionate rhetoric can be extremely persuasive (that’s how Pietro Angelerio came to be drafted as Pope Celestine V on the basis of a single letter written to the College of Cardinals). My point was simply that passion can get into a debate in ways not necessarily correlated with rightness or wrongness.

  • http://geniusnz.blogspot.com GNZ

    A people’s position is a spiderweb of beliefs – you need to break each of the strands before it moves very far even if it is built in a terrible location. if that belief is held in place by many strands it will be slow to move. So when the wind of logic blows past it will blow the weakest ones downwind but the strongest will remain. Over time all the little spiders who make weak webs all accumulate down wind and rebuild their webs there (with the local spiders). Up-wind there are only spiders with strong webs with many connections.

    hope I didn’t overplay the metaphore. Anyway basicaly i think some people are jsut prone to building certain (if not all subjects) deep into the heart of their belief structure, while others are prone to be ‘open minded’ or ‘flip floppers’ if you like.

  • http://www.bizop.ca/blog2/mind-brain-and-decisions/are_you_passionate_when_you_ar.html THE BIZOP NEWS

    Are You Passionate When You Are Wrong?

    Robin Hanson, at Overcoming Bias, made this observation several days ago. “Reading through the comments lately a correlation stands out: those who are dead wrong…