Why Must You Read the Other Side’s Arguments?

by Bill Pratt

Recently I had some dialogue with a person on the blog, and it became obvious quickly that this person had almost exclusively read material written by one side of a debate. Not only was he not aware of arguments and evidence on the other side, but he was way overconfident in the conclusions he had drawn from his reading.

While I was attending seminary, the idea that we must read the other side in an argument was drummed into us constantly. One of my seminary professors even told us that he would read atheist writers as devotional material in order to constantly remind himself what atheists think.

It turns out that there is a good psychological reason to do this as well. Our minds have a strong tendency to jump to conclusions with little evidence. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman describes this tendency in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow Why Must You Read the Other Sides Arguments?. The first problem is that our minds tend to only offer up ideas that are fresh in our memory.

An essential design feature of the associative machine is that it represents only activated ideas. Information that is not retrieved (even unconsciously) from memory might as well not exist. System 1 excels at constructing the best possible story that incorporates ideas currently activated, but it does not (cannot) allow for information it does not have.

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Recall from earlier blog posts that System 1 is the part of the human mind that is automatic and unconscious. It is constantly working behind the scenes to support System 2, which is the part of our mind that actually does intense thinking and analysis. Kahneman continues:

The measure of success for System 1 is the coherence of the story it manages to create. The amount and quality of the data on which the story is based are largely irrelevant. When information is scarce, which is a common occurrence, System 1 operates as a machine for jumping to conclusions.

Without reading the other side in a debate, System 1 will simply serve up coherent stories from the data it has from one side and jump to conclusions…

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Why Must You Read the Other Side’s Arguments? | Tough Questions Answered