Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Blogging vs. Talking

There are several occasions when I've started writing a blog post about a story, realised halfway through that the point that I was trying to make was nonsense, and stopped. Note that if I was intending to write a blog post, this means that I had already thought about the issue for some fairly significant period of time. Somehow, writing it down allows me to see where I was going wrong.

I'm not sure if its writing things down, or just the process of articulating them that enables me to change my mind, however, I am fairly sure I change my mind about things less often in conversation than I do when writing blog posts about them. This can't be because I spend more time thinking about something before I say in than I do before I decide to blog about them: I write maybe 3 blog posts a week, I have several hundred conversations. I have a few explanations below the fold.

  • other people aren't as interested in what I'm talking about as I am, so they're less likely to spot the flaws in my arguments;
  • talking is faster than typing, there's less time to spot the flaw in my reasoning before I move onto the next topic IRL; 
  • if I'm telling someone something, and I've already done a plausible superficial analysis, it's likely to be pretty convincing - once they agree with me, neither of us is likely to bother to change our minds (conformity and consistency biases at work);
  • it's much easier to check sources when writing a blog post than when having real-life conversations;
  • I actually do change my mind just as much IRL as I do when writing blog posts, but I don't keep a permanent record of those occasions, so they're less salient
 The other two reasons are more interesting, because they're almost contradictory.
  • there's less stigma associated with being wrong in real life than there is with being wrong in a blog post. IRL people are wrong all the time, and forget about the next day. Blog posts last forever. (so I'm more likely to put effort into noticing that I'm wrong if I'm writing a blog post)
  • it's harder to admit that you're wrong in real life than it is when writing a draft of a blog post - no-one ever gets to see your drafts folder, so I'm less likely to find reasons to change my mind IRL than I am when writing a draft of a blog post - no-one likes to look stupid.
Note that the general principle "writing stuff down helps you to clarify your thoughts about it" is one that every mathematician is fully aware of - you never really know if you've understood a proof before you've written it down (or, at the very least, explained it to someone else) apparently it applies more generally.

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