Can we have constructive disagreements? Maybe!

 We discuss on-line many hours in blogs, forums and twitter.

To what degree do we discover something professionally useful and valuable
and to what degree
are we losing our precious time?


Information sharing proved to be extremely useful and valuable. Instead disagreement and diversity of opinions, that have a great potential for learning new things, very seldom lead to profitable discussions. At least in my personal experience.




Do we know what we are disagreeing about?

Paul Graham writeMore often than not, two people arguing passionately about something are actually arguing about 2 different things. Sometimes they even agree with one another, but are so caught up in their squabble they don't realize it..

Given how easy is to misunderstand each other especially when talking about computer programming related topics, initial misunderstanding is the norm when people disagree and argue. Steve Freeman says:

I have no problem with disagreement as long as I feel confident that we have enough common understanding to know what we're disagreeing about

Looks for example at Socratic questioning. But when there is no reciprocal interest into understanding the point of view of the other person and to create that common understanding, the conversation is a dialog of the deaf.  This is the case where it is better to quit the discussion.

The true colors in your opinions

Time ago I was surprised and disappointed when someone supported their points of view or attacked someone else idea simply stating their own opinions, beliefs and conjectures. Only later I understood that many people simply take their own opinions, beliefs and conjectures as proven facts.

Unfortunately when two are in disagreement about something opinions, beliefs and conjectures are not valid arguments. They do not help common understanding, they don't help the discussion to move forward, don't help to investigate the differences in opinions, don't help to deepen our understanding or to make the discussion progress in a profitable way. They don't help to learn or discover something professionally useful and valuable.

Indeed a Software Engineers should support his claims with facts, evidences or good arguments.
And as Christopher Hitchens says: Exceptional claims demand exceptional evidences.
In this way Software Engineers can investigate different contexts, pros/cons and investigating the unknowns.
When this is not the case, the discussion turn to be pretty useless:

When strong opinions and emotions lead to ignore facts, what you get is superstition

It is the same when the goal of a discussion is not to learn, get insights, expand our point of view, spot mistakes, deepen our understanding but it is for someone to prove who is right and who is wrong. Here we are exiting the field of engineering and at best entering the field of politic or religion. People here looks for tools as rhetoric ( ) and persuasion ( ).

After all natural language has been invented for people that do want to understand each other. Not for politicians, EULAs and on-line flaming

Paul Graham described different ways to express disagreement, from the the useful ones at top to the useless ones at the bottom:

A final thought. What we know is often a little part compared to what we don't know (i.e. unknown, uncertainties, unexpected events). And often what it interest us more is what we want to discover next (read for example The dimensions of Agile, Requirement's principles, It is not possible to estimate what?). Indeed Alan Turing said

Conjectures are of great importance since they suggest useful lines of research

and added

Provided it is made clear which are proved facts and which are conjectures, no harm can result.

It means, don't use conjectures while discussing to prove someone else idea is wrong or that your idea is right. And accept that anyone can easily argue against a conjecture because is not sustained by proven facts, by definition. Don't try to defend or advocate a conjecture, simply use it for your for your own sake: its value lies in inspiring your own future explorations and lines of research.

Print | posted @ venerdì 4 maggio 2012 14:26

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