I have a dark side!

Originally posted 2011-06-21

Well, sort of.

When I am in a discussion with a person/group of people, I think in a cooperative mode, where I try to find the greatest benefit for all. Occasionally, they will make some sort of logical slip or use some invalid argument. Whenever they do, I experience a sense of unease, but I can’t quite place it. Hours, days, and sometimes even months later, I figure out what exactly the logical fallacy is. Of course, by that time, the opportunity to address that fallacy has long passed.

(Example: at an ACS meeting regarding the USNCO national examination, I suggested that they drop the 2-students-per-school limit. Someone responded with, “We already tried that a few years ago, and there was no benefit”. This is fine, a statement of fact. He then followed up with a very unnecessary, “This being a group of chemists, we believe in the scientific method. The scientific method says that we should stick with the 2-person limit”. I didn’t reply to this last statement, and the conversation ended there. The highly unfair implication was that if you disagreed with him, you weren’t a scientist. I realize now that I could have continued the conversation by asking specifics about their trial and seeing if there were reasons it might not have been a fair evaluation.)

On the other hand, when I am in an argument with a person, I am in a more adversarial mode. My brain is constantly scanning for weak points, and I can figure out these logical fallacies within seconds or a minute at most. This is a bad habit of mine - I usually end up following up with a rather sarcastic reply hinting that what they just said was stupid. (i.e., this is why I don’t put on my argumentative mode all the time).

Nowadays, I try to keep myself from getting into situations where I might get into an argument, so I’m always in a cooperative mode. I think this has dulled my instincts, so I fall prey to logical fallacies, especially when slipped to me by someone I consider a friend or ally. I’ll try using my adversarial mode more often, and attempt to tame it.