Thursday, April 21, 2011

Me, Wrong? Oh, Yes!

Thanks to DoctorMo's great blogpost, I just watched another great Ted Talk, by Kathryn Schulz: On being wrong. I've had a similar experience to her opening story, where my brain was stuck in a wrong ... frame, I guess you could call it. A mistaken conceptual frame. And of course, I've made some huge mistakes in my life, and in all of them, I felt totally justified in my actions, as in the Fool of the first Tarot card.

But the reason I decided to discuss this issue here, on my tech blog, has to do with the social costs she mentions in the talk (please watch it!). When we present our case to others, and they disagree, we often feel that they are 1. ignorant, 2. idiots, or 3. malevolent. This series of unfortunate assumptions is played out in our culture over and over again, whether "our culture" means the politics of the United States (I'm American, excuse my cultural scope), or the behavior sometimes observed on FOSS mail lists, forums, and IRC channels -- or even face-to-face meetings.

We lose so much when we allow this to happen. The folks we encounter in these venues are full of experience and knowledge, and if we meet them with the attitude of learning, rather than proving ourselves right, we all gain! Consider the marketplace of ideas as a bazaar, where bargaining (the exchange of ideas, experience, knowledge) leaves both participants richer and happier. Often what I see instead is gladiators battling in the Coliseum. One walks away the "victor" -- and the other one lies bleeding. What a waste! The cost of such behavior is very high, but is hidden, because all of the wonderful collaborations which could take place, instead do not.

Please take the time to watch this short talk. It is well worth 20 minutes of your time.


  1. Thanks for posting that link, Valorie! I just watched the talk, and it was well-worth my time :-)

  2. The term "marketplace of ideas" always seemed a bit daft to me. A market is a place where buying and selling occurs. At the very least, one participant in a market exchange must give up something. If this is not so, then we use the terms "giving" or "sharing" rather than "trading" or "buying". A market, like a coliseum, is where fundamentally adversarial behavior occurs. The only thing to be lost by giving an idea in exchange for something else is a monopoly on that idea. That is, it has no legitimate value for exchange purposes.

  3. One of the first open source documents I read was The Cathedral and The Bazaar by ESR. Perhaps simplistic, and maybe I'm remembering the details wrong, but I'm using "marketplace of ideas" to refer to people discussing their ideas, and letting those ideas have sex, if you will. If you split off on your own, and only talk to people with whom you agree, your ideas aren't able to have offspring with other ideas.

    And I don't see a market as adversarial at all. In a literal market, you walk in with a need, and hope to find a seller who can satisfy that need for a price mutually agreed-upon. When you walk out, you are both satisfied - you have your goods, and the seller has money. That is win-win, not win-lose.

  4. There was another KDE blog post today that also relates to the term 'market': Here's what I wrote there:

    FOSS is about sharing technical information. There is no exchange where one or more parties “give up” something – it has nothing to do with markets. All the definitions of market I’ve looked at refer to economic activity. You might say that this blog and the comments here are an “exchange of ideas”, but that does not make it a market. The ideas are freely shared so the word exchange is not appropriate.

  5. In a good conversation, you've never exchanged ideas? For another take on this, look at Matt Ridley's Ted Talk, which I found here: . His book is very interesting as well, although he seems to think that human = male.

    Personally, I think we are exchanging ideas right now, even if we're not directly contributing to any new technology. Building community is necessary for new tech, and that's what we are doing here, right?

    I was using the word "market" as a metaphor, but Ridley goes further.

  6. I learned a lesson about myself about 10 years ago which changed my attitude when it comes to discussing things with people. I found out that when I encounter an opinion strongly opposed to my own but objectively better, I ignore it. It usually takes me at least 1 night of sleep before the arguments the other party gave are sunk in and I can change my mind. Since that realization, I'm always on the alert in a discussion: as soon as I find out the other party knows more about the subject than I do, I try to shut up and learn instead of continuing to argue my point. It takes some practice but it's worth it, you surely learn more :D

    I haven't watched the video yet but I s'ppose it talks about something similar...

    In any case, don't trust someone who never changes his/her mind: it just means he/she has never learned anything!

  7. PS: by the way, "you are wrong", the Fool is not the first card of Tarot.