Consummate dilettantism!

Friday, May 15, 2009

One-Way-Hash Arguments

Very smart post here:
Come to think of it, there’s a certain class of rhetoric I’m going to call the “one way hash” argument. Most modern cryptographic systems in wide use are based on a certain mathematical asymmetry: You can multiply a couple of large prime numbers much (much, much, much, much) more quickly than you can factor the product back into primes. A one-way hash is a kind of “fingerprint” for messages based on the same mathematical idea: It’s really easy to run the algorithm in one direction, but much harder and more time consuming to undo. Certain bad arguments work the same way—skim online debates between biologists and earnest ID afficionados armed with talking points if you want a few examples: The talking point on one side is just complex enough that it’s both intelligible—even somewhat intuitive—to the layman and sounds as though it might qualify as some kind of insight. (If it seems too obvious, perhaps paradoxically, we’ll tend to assume everyone on the other side thought of it themselves and had some good reason to reject it.) The rebuttal, by contrast, may require explaining a whole series of preliminary concepts before it’s really possible to explain why the talking point is wrong. So the setup is “snappy, intuitively appealing argument without obvious problems” vs. “rebuttal I probably don’t have time to read, let alone analyze closely.”
Most fallacies aren’t really fallacies when you reinterpret them as Bayesian reasons to give an idea more credence rather than iron-clad syllogisms. Without the “argument from authority” and the “ad hominem fallacy”, you would either never get lunch or you’d give all your money to Nigerian spammers.
That's exactly right. Logically such arguments may be fallacious, but they're so common because they work (produce the right answer) maybe 70% of the time. See, most of the time and in most fields, simple heuristics beat strict logic on a correctness-to-time ratio. Battleship-caliber armor is not necessary (and in fact counterproductive) on the vast majority of ships.

It's what keeps me in business!

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