Motivated skepticism: it's harder to avoid than I'd think

post by Klao · 2011-10-09T18:35:20.833Z · score: 19 (19 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 9 comments
(I am relatively new here. Allow me to introduce myself with this anecdote, which could not have happened to me before I started reading LW.)

 

Yesterday I caught myself on rationalizing. It's the first time I caught myself on rationalizing before I finished (verbalizing) the thought. But, I finished the thought, and even though I knew it was rationalizing from the very start, I ended up believing it.

The original question is not very interesting, but here it is to illustrate the issue: I was talking with a friend about US TV series. And he mentioned that his wife insist on watching movies/shows in English without subtitles; to improve their English skills. (I also started watching American shows many-many years ago with the purpose of improving language skills. In English with English subtitles. And it did help immensely, but I never got rid of the subtitles even though originally I was planning to.)

So, my though answer was the following: "How does she know that this helps more than watching with subtitles? Did she measure it somehow?  Watching without subtitles mainly helps with listening comprehension. And I'm already good enough with that. Using subtitles on the other hand is always an opportunity to improve on the more obscure part of English vocabulary. In almost every episode there is one or two very rarely used words, English vocabulary is just so enormous, and without subtitles you'd just skip over it..."  Fully verbalized it was something like this.

Now, the first part of that argument is a "fully general counterargument". And the rest of it, though might be plausible, should be treated with great suspicion since I know that the roots for it are in motivated skepticism. At least, my realization that this is rationalization stopped me from using this argument. But, it is still quite hard to "unbelieve" it. Maybe I should have tried to stop myself from finishing the thought once I realized its nature? Or you just have to pay even more attention, and it will come with practice?  Of course, this is a trivial issue, completely unimportant. But why would I think that it will be easier if the issue is important?

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comment by fortyeridania · 2011-10-10T00:08:04.357Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe I should have tried to stop myself from finishing the thought once I realized its nature? Or you just have to pay even more attention, and it will come with practice?

I don't think you should simply try to stop yourself. I think you should apply the insights of cognitive behavioral therapy. Talk to yourself about it, and you might find that you were reacting defensively because you believed on some level that losing the argument would be a terrible event. (Or perhaps you were otherwise motivated; but the important thing is that you were motivated, as the title of the post indicates, and you should try to find the motivation.)

CBT would then recommend that you build a habit of reminding yourself that losing arguments might be unpleasant, but it isn't the end of the world. CBT theory predicts that eventually you'll change your thought pattern and become less averse to losing arguments. That should result in being less defensive and more objective.

Then post the results!--either as a warning or a celebration.

comment by Klao · 2011-10-10T08:58:16.444Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Good advice, I will look into it!

comment by shminux · 2011-10-09T20:58:14.143Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Did you follow the thought up with "How could I test this hypothesis of mine?. What are other alternatives and how do I calculate their probabilities? What biases may I have fallen prey to? Could we both be right?" For example, it might well be that subtitles help you, but do not help her, so the whole argument is moot.

comment by Klao · 2011-10-09T22:08:52.352Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, of course, I realize that there are all kind of subtleties why one way might be better for some people and something else for others etc.

But, the frightening realization for me was, that in the heat of the debate my brain can come up with all kind of elaborate arguments. But because the reason I came up with them was to win the debate (and not to figure out how the things really are), I am screwed, no matter how clever are my arguments. (http://lesswrong.com/lw/js/the_bottom_line/)

And yeah, it would be cool to come up with ways to figure out how the things really are and how can we test our hypotheses. But, now I think that this is really-really hard: to switch in that mode of thinking in the middle of an argument. The best I could do, was to let it go and walk away. (And write this post; maybe someone else comes up with a better idea. :))

comment by shminux · 2011-10-09T22:12:35.044Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This could be one way, if applied to oneself.

comment by Klao · 2011-10-09T22:22:06.010Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the link, looks very relevant!

comment by Dmytry · 2012-03-02T18:33:42.848Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, the first is universal counter-argument and is a case of faulty logic. The second is correct, and it doesn't really matter how you arrived at it, it really is the case that without subtitles you will be less likely to learn new words, that doesn't become false if you arrived at this just to avoid entirely losing debate.

What matters is that you did not arrive at "you must watch some of the movies without subtitles", as it would let you learn obscure words while not entirely neglecting to train your English speech recognition.

comment by Nominull · 2011-10-09T23:43:10.782Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Probably the most effective way would be to watch without subtitles, but when you hit a word you don't know, pause the show, break out the your-native-language/English dictionary, and look it up. That might negatively impact your enjoyment, but it seems like so would not knowing what the actors are talking about.

comment by prase · 2011-10-10T11:25:42.608Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Klao was using English subtitles, so (s)he needs a dictionary anyway to find out the meaning. Without subtitles it's actually hard for a learner to recognise the unknown word and derive its spelling.