On Wed, Jul 19, 2000 at 05:40:45PM -0400, Robin Hanson wrote:
> That explains a correlation between thinking and inflexibility, but
> not between extremism and inflexibility.
Those whose thinking do not lead to an inflexibility against errors
they found and recognized as such will not progress.
Those who are weak-minded and will not dare reject the arguments of others
will not progress; they might change opinions from time to time,
with the weather, depending on who shouts loudest, on where they
feel their basic interest resides, or whatever whim of the day;
but such changes will be mostly brownian motion, not progress,
and they are bound not to go very far, not to progress.
They stay in a vague state of non-thought, whereby they do not oppose anyone,
and never seem "extremist" to anyone,
which "moderation" on all subjects they sometimes show with pride.
Actually their position is at the real extreme:
the initial extremity of thought, the beginning,
in which one is utterly and completely ignorant.
By purposefully remaining in this position,
they show not just ignorance, but stupidity, anti-intelligence, anti-life.
Their "moderation" is lack of thought; their pride of it is hate of thought.

The free people, those who dare think and hold their opinions with
a strength of will in accordance with the depth of their understanding,
are not extremists, for their positions at any moment are but stepstones
along as many roads of continuing progress, in various directions.
They are inflexible against old errors; they are open to new truths.
They will stick to their postjudices unless they are confronted to
compelling evidence that they ought to change their minds. They will
revise their prejudices at the first evidence that they are incorrect.
They are inflexible in things they know, and moderate in things they ignore.
They are not proud of their moderation in any particular matter, in as much
as they are not proud of their ignorance in that matter; they are proud
of their inflexibility in as much as they are proud of their knowledge.
But in as much as their knowledge includes the reflective knowledge of
their own limitation, they are proud of knowing when to be moderate,
which is always the case in topics they do not know yet. Their moderation
is reflective meta-thought. Their pride of it is love and respect for
thought to come.

Of course, there is also the dogmatic kind of "extremist",
who are but the ignoramuses of the first kind above, whose education
and personal history led to initial position different from the majority,
hence disqualified as "extreme" by the public opinion.
But as extremity and failure to progress go, they are no different
from the masses that wooes them, in the lack of thinking that
prevents their intellectual progress.

All in all, the debate of about flexibility or inflexibility is completely
irrelevant unless you confront it to the criteria of the position held
being prejudice and postjudice, with degrees of flexibility and degrees
of prejudice evolving together.

As for why rational people with strong opinions might disagree,
the answer is simply that the body of information upon which they
found their postjudices differ. As they work to merge these bodies
of information, by rational discussion, their opinions will tend to converge.
However, a large part of the information used might be too difficult or
too long to express in words, and might not be communicated in a
reliable timely way through rational discussion, in which case
rational people will have to agree to disagree.

Below my .sig, a bunch of relevant quotations.

Yours freely,

[ François-René ÐVB Rideau | Reflection&Cybernethics | http://fare.tunes.org ]
[  TUNES project for a Free Reflective Computing System  | http://tunes.org  ]

The sunlights differ, but there is only one darkness.
        -- Ursula K. LeGuin, "The Dispossessed"

Those who will not reason, are bigots, those who cannot, are fools, and
those who dare not, are slaves.
        -- George Gordon Noel Byron (1788-1824), [Lord Byron]

... Another writer again agreed with all my generalities, but said that as an
inveterate skeptic I have closed my mind to the truth.  Most notably I have
ignored the evidence for an Earth that is six thousand years old.  Well, I
haven't ignored it; I considered the purported evidence and *then* rejected
it.  There is a difference, and this is a difference, we might say, between
prejudice and postjudice.  Prejudice is making a judgment before you have
looked at the facts.  Postjudice is making a judgment afterwards.  Prejudice
is terrible, in the sense that you commit injustices and you make serious
mistakes.  Postjudice is not terrible.  You can't be perfect of course; you
may make mistakes also.  But it is permissible to make a judgment after you
have examined the evidence.  In some circles it is even encouraged.
        -- Carl Sagan, "The Burden of Skepticism"

In a reasonable discussion, you can't communicate opinions, and you don't try
to, for each person's opinions depend on a body of unshared assumptions rooted
beyond reason. What you communicate is arguments, whose value is independent
from the assumptions. When the arguments are exchanged, the parties can better
understand each other's and their own assumption, take the former into
account, and evolve the latter for the better.
        -- Faré

[Insert a relevant quote by Ayn Rand here]

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