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ETpro's avatar

If you are debating with someone, and you come to realize that they are far more intelligent than you and far better informed on the topic, does that impact your belief that you are right?

Asked by ETpro (34202 points ) January 27th, 2013

Watching heated discussions here has been informative, highlighting interesting differences in people’s behavior. It’s a study in human nature. Some seem to yield and consider the other side when confronted with an argument that’s solid and persuasively presented. Others tend to just dig in their heels and shift from debating issues to ad hominem attacks against the person they are debating, obfuscation, and the whole host of logical fallacies that let them stay happily misinformed. It’s the old “Your [sic] stupid.” rejoinder that effectively ends any meaningful debate. How do you make sure you avoid the “dig in your heels” behavior and ensure you remain open to new ideas that someone else has clearly devoted serious thought to? How do you balance learning when you are misinformed with maintaining a comfortable worldview you’ve come to embrace over time?

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22 Answers

Pachy's avatar

For me, intelligence isn’t usually a factor, but I do find myself in conversations all the time with people who at, or at least seem, better informed on certain topics than I am. (I think there are always people out there better informed and more knowledgable on virtually everything.) When my belief differs from the other person’s belief, I’m often motivated to do more research and to examine my own position more closely. This is never a bad thing to do.

burntbonez's avatar

Intelligence isn’t relevant. Knowledge is. If they know more and their information is credible and leads to a different conclusion than I formerly held, I change my mind.

Shippy's avatar

Their intelligence level is not important to me. If they are more informed and can back it up into a logical argument, I will read it, or hear it and consider it. So a well presented argument, written in a none emotive way, gets my attention.

KNOWITALL's avatar

The entire purpose of life is to learn and evolve, so if you dig in your heels about things, you aren’t truly living in my opinion. Of course there are usually a few things that each person feels strongly about that you may never change regardless of the facts or logic.

Additionally, I’d be careful trying to judge intelligene via this forum, a lot of us are mulit-tasking while here, so it’s getting about 1% of our attention part of the time- lol

Lightlyseared's avatar

Nope. My general world view is that I’m always right no matter how inteligent the people around me are.

Coloma's avatar

I WANT to be informed and illuminated whenever possible and think the bigger problem are those that have such fragile egos and such an intense investment in being “right”, that any rational and productive discussion is rendered an impossibility the second one challenges them to look at new information or a different perspective.
If anything I am very adept at playing devils advocate to introduce new perceptions a lot of the time.

I am always open to changing my beliefs as new information comes into my awareness.

Judi's avatar

I think I’m here to learn even more than I am here to inform. I hate confrontation so when someone starts to debate just for debates sake I just back off. I have no desire to win anyone over to my opinion.

wundayatta's avatar

I do get invested in my arguments sometimes. The argument takes on a personal meaning, and stops being about the issues. That’s a problem. Then I want to find any way to win, rather than have truth be the ultimate arbiter.

That’s why I don’t like arguing. I prefer that we tell stories about our own experiences. In that wa, we can all be right, because no one can tell you your experience is wrong. This is what worked about a recent discussion about people’s experiences with God. It was about their lives. It was not an argument about God. People can hear those things without telling others they are wrong (although, truth be told, I was sorely tempted to try to tell people their conclusions were unwarranted). But I remembered my goal is to hear stories and not fight. I don’t always remember that, and when I don’t, I do hurt other people’s feelings.

I’m sort of sorry about that and sort of not. I can’t explain that, other than there are times I take things personally, and when someone else is mean to me, I take that personally. That’s usually when I take off the gloves—or at least a few fingers of glove—and start going after a person, instead of the argument. There really is no argument at that point.

There are one or two people here on fluther who I lose it when I talk to. I try not to get into discussions with them any more, and I think they try to stay away from me, for the most part. We have a kind of unspoken agreement about that. Especially about the topics that really bother us—God, guns, and spanking. Hmm. Theme there.

For us, we seem to be equally passionate on opposite sides of the issue, and it has gotten personalized. It doesn’t matter how smart we might be, I think we all think the others are stupid for being unable to agree with our point of view. We take it personally, because it is about our lifestyle and our personal choices.

Perhaps most importantly, we may honestly believe the opposite point of view is deliberately destructive to society. And it hurts when someone thinks that of you. I don’t know what to do about this. Can I respect someone I think is deliberately being destructive? I know they won’t feel respected. I want to respect them because I don’t like hurting people, but this is an honestly formed analysis of mine. I think people are wrong. Badly wrong. I don’t know how to hold that feeling without making people feel bad.

So I don’t think it’s intelligence or knowledge that is the issue here, but motives and honestly and respect. Are we talking to people of good will? Or are they, in their hearts, malicious? If you decide they are malicious, what do you do with that? These may be people who you agree with on other issues, or whose company you have enjoyed in other situations, but on this particular issue, they seem to be out to get you. What do you do with that? I have no idea.

Coloma's avatar

@Judi Same here, I LOVE a rousing exchange, but once egos start sparring just for the sake of making another “wrong” so they can be “right”...I disengage.
Anyone can have a moment but some people are so invested in being right because their very sense of identity and self worth comes from being “right.”
To admit they could be wrong is too much for their false self to handle.

Too many people gloat and revel in making others “wrong” so they can be “right” to puff up their own sagging egos.

Linda_Owl's avatar

I agree with @Pachyderm_In_The_Room . There will always be people who are better informed than me. When I find this situation, I will do more research to either confirm their information, or to confirm mine. I am always aware that there are several sides to many questions…. even to the many issues that have ‘congested’ & ‘stagnated’ our Congress.

Sunny2's avatar

I admit I don’t know as much as the other person. I may do some research to see if his “facts” are correct. They may not be or their origins may be suspect. I may or may not initiate further confrontation. Mostly it just makes me think less of the person if I find his argument is specious.

muppetish's avatar

Facts are very slimy, slippery things. One person’s “fact” (look, the polls say this!) is another person’s dubious statistic. So when I am engaged in conversation to someone who carries themselves as though they are highly knowledgeable about the subject, I might back out of the conversation and possibly admit that I would like to research the topic further. That doesn’t mean that I think I’m wrong, but that I want to search to see if the other person is right. I am skeptic by nature and I am not going to change my opinion just because someone sounds like they know what they are talking about. I have to actively look to see whether anything they said holds water.

I have met many an extrovert, brash and bold, who spoke nothing but air.

flutherother's avatar

Whatever you believe there will always be someone wiser and better informed than you who believes something different. Who the person is and whether I respect them has more influence on me.

Rarebear's avatar

It hasn’t stopped people from debating with me. :-)

Unbroken's avatar

I have a lot to learn and hopefully can gracefully concede point, at least that they knew enough to best me, not that it automatically makes them right.

So maybe I will reconsider my position on the subject, do some research, learn something.

However I am far from perfect, there are some opinions that are subjective and somethings I am less open about. Or pride interferes and I do dig in my heels.

I accept that of me, because it is within the realm of a normal human response. And to a degree a healthy one. It means you are willing to stand up for what you believe. Have a commitment to self that when your pride is hurt you defend yourself. But I am definitely glad I don’t do it all the time.

ETpro's avatar

@Pachyderm_In_The_Room I’m so relieved to hear my amazing intelligence doesn’t intimidate you. Thanks for the soul-searching answer. Well said—well except for the need for some copy editing. :-)

@burntbonez I think intelligence is relevant in knowing how to organize collected facts, figuring out what they do support, and what assertions do not logically flow from them. Wikipedia has a vast collection of Knowledge but no idea what to make of the collection. I’ve met my share of walking Wikipedias among the human race. They may try to baffle you with bull shit, but their ability to logically organize their vast warehouse of knowledge and avoid using it to support entirely circular arguments, begging questions, etc.; leaves them incapable of advancing a cogent, logically consistent position based on their collection of knowledge. In fact such people often end up collecting “knowledge” that is, itself, suspect or blatantly wrong simply because they lack the critical thinking skills to cull the BS from the brilliant.

@Shippy You have a point. Even a dullard may know facts vital to your continued survival while the brightest of living geniuses might, at the same point, be oblivious to those facts.

@KNOWITALL Great answer. If you managed that with 1% of your attention, it’s frightening to think what you might do with full focus. :-)

@Lightlyseared No Socratic method for you, hey?

@Coloma If I’m debating someone whom I find to be routinely relying on logical fallacies to support their position, that just reinforces my feeling they are misinformed, and determined to stay misinformed if that’s what it takes to sustain a fondly held ideology.

@Judi I rarely am able to disengage, and suffer the frustrations of not being able to. Plonk has a nice ring to it, sometimes. But some debates are important, enough so that it’s worthwhile enduring the onslaught of insults to hold forth against the dark side. This because there are others aside from the two debaters reading the discussion, forming their own opinion about what’s actually true.

@wundayatta You’ve obviously given this some thought too. Sounds like you are still arriving at a final answer. If and when you get to it, maybe it will suggest a follow on question to this one. I struggle with the same issues, and would love to see this thought explored in more depth.

@Linda_Owl It’s certainly true that people of good conscience can, due to the master they serve, arrive at very different answers to what seems a simple question. That said, I am unconvinced allowing that to completely paralyze our legislature serves anyone’s interest that deserve to have their interests served.

@Sunny2 That’s usually my approach too. I’ll just say I don’t know enough about that yet, but will get back to the discussion after some study.

@muppetish Well pollsters can tweak poll results based on what group they select to sample, and how they word the question/s they ask. Then again, even the most legitimate poll only indicates current public opinion, not truth. There was a time when a poll would have revealed that the Earth is flat and if you sailed far enough out to sea, you’d fall off the edge. Somehow, the water didn’t fall off—just hapless ships.

@flutherother Sorry, but that’s illogical. If you believe something that is true, say the second law of thermodynamics, there is no better informed but opposite position on that issue.

@Rarebear Ha! Indeed it hasn’t.

@rosehips I think any of us that can honestly say that are pretty high on the scale of seeking truth.

Ron_C's avatar

I am not dogmatic. If I am discussing a subject with another person and they are better informed and knowledgeable then I can be persuaded to their side of the argument. Part of getting older and wiser is having the ability to acknowledge your mistakes and learn from them.

mattbrowne's avatar

Depends on the topic. Yes, it does impact my view for subjects like science, math or history. Not necessarily, when it comes to politics, philosophy, art etc. A good example would be Joseph Goebbels. What he said does not impact my belief that Nazism is evil and wrong.

burntbonez's avatar

@ETpro, sounds like you would define intelligence as ability to organize, manipulate, and analyze information. Fair enough. Intelligence tests couldn’t measure that, as far as I can tell. That is something that can only be determined by other output—like papers or businesses or other concrete outputs. The proof is in the pudding. Or the argument. And of course, if someone makes a case that convinces me, I change my mind.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@ETpro Unfortunately I just noticed a few misspellings in my post, so obviously it was 1% or even less at that time…lol

flutherother's avatar

@ETpro I meant in matters of opinion such as ‘were we right to invade Iraq?’ The second law of thermodynamics is a scientific fact not an opinion. Once you understand it you can’t deny it.

ETpro's avatar

@burntbonez Yes, to me that is true intelligence. IQ tests are only able to afford a very gross approximation of that. Witness that Albert Einstein’s teachers thought he was a dull student that would never be able to do anything more than menial work.

@KNOWITALL Not to worry. We’ve all been there.

@flutherother In that context I agree. I personally think the Iraq War was a lame-brained idea executed in an even more lame-brained fashion. But that said, I recognize the argument that I do not know what lay down the road not traveled.

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