Cultivating Openness to Truth During Fights [Radio Readings]

Cultivating Openness to Truth During Fights [Radio Readings] February 7, 2015

You can listen to “Fights in Good Faith,” my weekly radio program, streaming today at 5pm ET and tomorrow (Sun) at 1pm.  And the episode is now available to stream (and download!)

This week’s program is adapted from a talk I gave at St. Dominic’s in San Francisco on “Cultivating Openness to Truth.”  Thanks so much to the parish for hosting me and to the parishioners and guests for asking such good questions — those questions are what informed the last segment of the show today.

fights in good faith

Every week, I put up a “Radio Readings” post, so you can track down the books, articles, and, this week: strange thought experiments that I cite on the show. So, without further ado, here’s what I’m talking about this week.


Symmetrical Strategies for Losing Fights


  • Archimedes Chronophone is a thought experiment by Eliezer Yudkowshy (with a follow up post here)

    Unfortunately, Archimedes’s chronophone comes with certain restrictions upon its use: It cannot transmit information that is, in a certain sense, “too anachronistic”.

    You cannot suggest, for example, that women should have the vote. Maybe you could persuade Archimedes of Syracuse of the issue, and maybe not; but it is a moot point, the chronophone will not transmit the advice. Or rather, it will transmit the advice, but it will come out as: “Install a tyrant of great personal virtue, such as Hiero II, under whose rule Syracuse experienced fifty years of peace and prosperity.” That’s how the chronophone avoids transmitting overly anachronistic information – it transmits cognitive strategies rather than words. If you follow the policy of “Check my brain’s memory to see what my contemporary culture recommends as a wise form of political organization”, what comes out of the chronophone is the result of Archimedes following the same policy of looking up in his brain what his era lauds as a wise form of political organization.

  • The Gish Gallop is the strategy of burying your opponent in arguments, and declaring victory if any are unanswered (this is actually how some competitive debate events are scored)
  • There’s a study I meant to include here that I read about in high school and can’t track down.  Is anyone familiar with the study where subjects were paired and asked to take turns pressing each others’ hands exactly as hard as their partner had done… and wound up spiraling up to harder and harder pushes?



“What is my opponent in love with?” / “How the heck can you be so wrong?”


  • Although Don Quixote is best known for his love of Aldonza/Dulcinea, she’s not the only thing he loves beyond what anyone else finds reasonable.  See “Golden Helmet of Mambrino” below from Man of La Mancha where he sings a panegyric to a barber’s basin.
  • Genre-savvy is the virtue of noticing what kind of story you’re in and, say, not splitting up in the haunted house.  Or just not being Eustace Scrubb.
  • I outlined the strategies I use to stay genre-savvy about my opponent’s worldview in “Cultivating Curiosity/LARPing Your Way to Truth.”



Keeping interest high and stakes low




I can’t beat Bl. Ramon Llull


  • Ok, I thought of making this connection after the talk and after taping the show, but it was too good a connection and section header to pass up.  People asked a fair number of questions that seemed to be looking for generally applicable arguments rather than strategies for generating arguments specific to your interlocutor, and I feel like it’s relevant to point out that when Bl. Ramon Llull tried to write a fully general argument for Catholicism, what he actually wrote was a mash-up of a Choose Your Own Adventure Book and a Socratic dialogue (i.e. “If you think the good is good because the gods love it, turn to page 23; if your think the gods love the good because it is good, turn to page 56”).  The idea was that you would enter the book at the section that matched your current beliefs and be led on through dialogue into standard Catholic orthodoxy.
  • Your suggestions for what I should do at the party I’ll throw on his feast day are welcome.

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