September 15, 2008

Conflict of Reasoning

It's always the little things that get you. Something I read in one of my anthropology texts tonight suddenly illuminated a lot of my experiences in Australia. In a book called "American Cultural Patterns: A Cross-Cultural Perspective," the author writes that Americans tend to be inductive thinkers (whaddya know, I'm in "Inductive Bible Study" this semester), while Europeans (and by implication, Australians) tend to think deductively. For those of you who have no idea, here's how it is:

Inductive thinking is when you start with a bunch of information and then figure out how that information is related. You take "bare facts" that are (supposedly) free of bias, and then create a theory as to why they are related and how they fit together. It's all about the "why". You start out assuming you're wrong, and then look for the information that might disprove otherwise, often called the "null hypothesis."

Deductive thinking, on the other hand, is when you start with a theory, and then you go looking to figure out why you're right. You start with "this is how I think it is" (which is, I think, to a certain extent, based on subjective experience) and then find the information that proves it right. A theory is only ever wrong if you can prove it wrong - you have to be given the information contrary to your supporting evidence. You assume you're right, then someone else has to prove you wrong.

I wish I had known this when I was at
Urban Seed. Every moderately deep conversation (read "argument") I had there seems to have this running through its core - I'm an inductive thinker, asking for the facts to support the case that I obviously don't agree with, but they're sitting there assuming they're right and asking me to disprove it beyond a shadow of a doubt. Now, to be clear, neither of us could have actually proven right or wrong, because all the information we were all working with was subjective in nature. Nobody can prove anything - you can only make leaps of faith with limited support. But that's another post altogether.

This came to a most potent example when my good friend Sally came to visit us here in the States when my daughter was born. Sally is Australian, and I have a hunch tends to think more deductively (it would tend to fit her character). But Sally and I would often have long conversations about praxis, the "working out" of faith. We'd talk for days about one thing or another, but the one that really hooked our interest and passions was pacifism. I am not a pacifist, though I tend toward pacifist tendencies in my behavior. Sally, on the other hand, is a strong pacifist, and so this naturally led itself towards an argument. I spent a lot of time giving her information that proved my way of thinking, and saying that I could possibly be wrong, but here's why I think I'm right. But instead of agreeing with me, she kept going back to her theories on pacifism, and insisting that she was right, and that I hadn't yet proven her theory wrong. More than just a matter of facts, this was a disagreement in the way we were both approaching the problem. I wanted her to prove herself right, assuming she was wrong until convinced otherwise, but she wanted me to prove her wrong, assuming she was right until proven otherwise. It was a cross-cultural conflict that I think neither of us were prepared for after spending a year in close proximity.

I don't have much of a point other than that. When you get into an argument with somebody, try (though I know it's hard) to step back and look at not only what they're saying, but HOW they're saying it. Are they starting with facts or with questions? Then ask how you're talking, and compare the two. I tried to tell this to my wife tonight, and she told me I was crazy, and so naturally I proved my point at her telling me this - she was thinking like a classic American. But then I realized that so was I. I think we'll find that a lot of arguments fall back on the way we're approaching the problem, and not the information being debated. We all have different assumptions about reality, and a lot of those are substantiated by the way we go about acquiring and processing the reality presented to us through our senses.

Think about the next time somebody pisses you off.

1 comment:

Jeff Rudy said...

This is quite insightful, Chris! It gives a lot of illumination to some of the ways in which the research committee wants me to phrase things. They expect that the proposal identifies the argument I'll research to "prove." Of course, as research is done the argument may adapt, but only if there is sufficient evidence to say otherwise. I am not sure if I am inductive or deductive.