Monday, December 31, 2012

A year of living dangerously...

I've never much liked the social phenomenon of making a resolution for the new year. It seems to me that resolutions are the kind of thing that can be made any day, so why does January 1st get such a big share of the action? I've put this question to people before, and have received in response stares of caution, as though they feel themselves in the presence of a mad man. Maybe my delivery could use some work.


I guess this year I bow to social convention. While pondering the New Year, I suddenly remembered the closing chapter of Jason Brennan's excellent book The Ethics of Voting. He offers a list of suggestions on how to deal with cognitive biases, including the following.
Most of us read smart defenses of our own views. We look at only the dumbest defenses of opposing views, if we bother to look at all.

To counteract this bias: Seek out the smartest and best defenses of opposing views. Don't just read popular press authors. Read philosophers, political scientists, and economists from the other side. Try to learn as much as possible. Try to improve upon their arguments if you can.

Construct the best arguments against your own views that you can. Try to prove that you are wrong. Try to find puzzles and problems with your views that you don't know how to solve. Imagine what it would be like to believe the other side.

For a period of one year, don't read anything defending your current views. When you see criticism of your views, don't run to your intellectual heroes for help. Immerse yourself in doubt and uncertainty. You need it.  
Very well, Jason Brennan. Challenge accepted.

As an extension of this, I will spend the next year using this blog to keep track of my progress. I'll try to keep posting what I'm reading and what I think of it. At the end of the year, I'll try to summarize how and in what ways my views have changed or been refined.

I can already tell 2013 is going to be a fun year...