Conflict, bias, and the observer effect or why I don’t like to argue

For years I’ve tried to avoid conflict but I’ve also grown weary of playing the dashboard dog, smiling and nodding because I just don’t like to argue. When what I really think is somewhat outside of the box, vocalizing my ideas to others forces me to defend those ideas. Sometimes I just don’t want to.  Not because I can’t but because I don’t like arguing with people who don’t listen, won’t admit bias, and argue without introspection. This brings me to the observer effect.

In science the observer effect proposes that the act of observing something causes change in the phenomenon being observed.  So I am willing to admit that my arguments are based on bias but I have to defend my arguments against people who insist that theirs aren’t. I almost think that being able to prove that all humans spin evidence might be more useful in having a conversation with someone who disagrees with me than simply arguing our differing viewpoints.

I don’t like defending my position because I believe that the minute I start looking for evidence to defend a position I already hold, I interpret what I read with my own biases.  Even when I am determined to be objective and open-minded. And I probably ignore or dismiss evidence that supports the viewpoint that opposes mine,  Sometimes the process of choosing and prioritizing relevant information, focusing and tuning out, is unconscious. At some point in the process of research I realize I am doing this to some extent and I wonder if people who disagree with me also know they are doing it or whether it’s entirely unconscious.

Deductive reasoning starting with the evidence and draws conclusions from there. But nobody can truly engage in deductive reasoning because by interacting with information we bring ourselves into the equation. We change the evidence before we apply logic and draw conclusions.

Even people who think they are being objective start with some sort of impression about the information or premises they use as a starting part for deduction. Something tweaks interest or people would probably not pursue a particular stream of knowledge. We respond to information with more than our intellect. Our emotions, needs, previous experiences, learning style, personality, tastes, and interests also affect how we process information. How information is delivered can be almost as important as content to how we perceive that information. Our impressions of the messengers color how we receive messages. Perception plays a huge part in which information we embrace and which we reject.

I’m not saying that truth is not out there or that nothing is certain. I’m not saying that the process of logic and reasoning should be abandoned. Not at all, I think they need to be applied rigorously along with clarifying operational definitions at the start so that at least we can agree on what we are arguing about before we start arguing. While we ought to present well-researched evidence to support our ideas, we come at those ideas using evidence with generations of bias behind it.  

I think that we are willing to go to the trouble to defend particular ideas because those beliefs speak to our perceptions about our needs and hopes and reflect our responses to how those needs and hopes have been satisfied or not satisfied in our lives. I think we have to approach our disagreements with this awareness. Faith belongs in the conversation because we all base our arguments on faith and perception. These are the filters through which we run our evidence.

I think insightful, generous, respectful conversations can happen between people who disagree. We let ourselves be known when we listen to each other explain why we think what we think and like the ideas we like. We protect our true selves when all we do present evidence and try to hide bias. I am more interested in relationships than in winning an argument.