Shared Reality maps are all about argumentation. What is that? Above all else, argumentation is about the sharing of reasons for what we believe, and about the giving and
receiving of fair criticisms of the positions, reasons, and evidence of those with whom we argue.
Of course, we all want to be right and to make the strongest presentation we can for our own point of view. On the other hand, we won't really know that our point of view is truly strong unless we subject it to the rational scrutiny of others who do not already agree with us. That's what makes a point of view worth believing: the arguments and evidence in favor of it are regarded by those in a position to know as the strongest on offer. Partisanship, tradition, wishful thinking, or irrational attachment might explain, from a psychological point of view, why an individual holds a position, but no explanation of this sort can make the point of view worth believing for others. Similarly, we can explain why groups organize around adherence to certain core beliefs or identity markers, but none of them counts as rational evidence for the group belief's being worthy of adherence by anyone outside the group. Contemporary society is made up of many groups with differing opinions about a great number of things. How do we manage that disagreement in a way that helps us all move forward?
The answer is that we have to argue with one another to arrive at decisions we can all agree to live with, if not beliefs we can all endorse wholeheartedly. We have to share our reasons and evidence with each other. That means we have to leave our own, comfortable, individual mentality or group mindset, and present our case to others who are different from us. Of course we hope to win them to our own point of view, but that might not happen. Worse yet, we may find that there are significant logical shortcomings in our view, or that there is evidence we haven't considered that counts strongly against what we hope is true. These are real risks. If these things happen we will feel uncomfortable. We might even come to see the groups we belong to in a different light that makes us wonder if we really belong. Life might become difficult for us on many levels.
And yet, we cannot get along with others who are different from us—or attempt to solve the problems that plague us all--if we do not take these risks.
For this reason, genuine argumentation takes real courage. It is easy just to fight others who are different. It is much, much harder to engage them as rational equals. This is what genuine argumentation requires, and this is why arguing with others is one of the ultimate gestures of respect one can make. This respect, in turn, requires a commitment to treat those with whom one argues in accord with basic norms of rationality and airness in argumentation. Argumentation theory is an interdisciplinary and international body of scholarship that studies these norms, and there is much to learn from the work that has been done in the field. For our purposes, however, it will be enough just to have some basic “rules of the road”--some very simple guidelines that can give Shared Reality users who may be new to argumentation an idea about how to argue wisely, fairly, and well. Here they are.
Shared Reality Guidelines for Good Argumentation
1. No Tribes
Part of what makes big problems hard to solve is that they tap into our most deeply held moral, political, philosophical and sometimes religious commitments. The reflex to become tribalistic about what we believe is deeply ingrained in us, so it's understandable that sometimes we default to ridiculing, dismissing or demonizing those outside our personal sphere of like-minds. If our species is going to survive the next two centuries, however, we are going to need to learn to work with those who hold beliefs and values we do not share. This is why it is important to keep an open mind and to be respectful of others who disagree with you. You might learn something, after all, and so might your audience. Shouting matches and name calling can be entertaining, but more often than not they teach us very little. Shared Reality isn't about cheerleading for our own “tribes”--there's plenty of other places for that on the internet. It's about getting the big picture as right as possible.
2. Own It
One of the most basic rules of argumentation is that once you've made a claim, you have an obligation to support it, to answer questions about it, and if you can no longer sustain it, to be honest in acknowledging that fact. Another way to think of this rule is “No one rides for free”. Any reason, claim or objection that gets entered into a map is open to legitimate challenge on logical or evidentiary grounds. Simply asserting one's opinion and leaving it at that is not sufficient currency to pay for the ride. Think about it. Which person would you rather work with: a person who backs up what they say with clear, cogent arguments and good evidence, or a person who simply asserts their own opinion over and over again without regard to the facts?
3. Evidence is Golden
Evidence comes in many forms: scientific evidence, statistical data, accurate historical accounts, expert testimony, and so on. A really good argument is one where evidence provides the main motivations for (or against) the claims at issue. If you cannot say what evidence makes you think a reason or an objection belongs on the map, then you might want to consider whether or not it really belongs. Support your claims, reasons, and objections with the highest quality evidence you can find for them, and whatever your evidence, always, always, always link to it in your node whenever you can.
4. Logic Rules
In the simplest terms, this just means claims should clearly follow from good reasons and should not be taken to have more certainty than the evidence warrants. Objections and reasons should be immediately relevant to the reasons and claims to which they are directed, and fallacies should be avoided. If the quality of the evidence on offer for a reason, objection or claim needs to be as high as possible, then so does the quality of the reasoning that connects those items of evidence into clear and cogent arguments. You don't have to master formal logic to do a good map, but you do have to be able to think critically and argue clearly.
5. Check Your Biases
If we've learning anything from the last fifty years or so of research into human cognition, it's that if you have a human brain, then much of what you do with it involves processes that operate without your awareness of them. Sometimes these are helpful, labor-saving shortcuts, and sometimes they're evolutionary holdovers that tend to lead us astray. Shared Reality is designed to be resistant to certain well-known cognitive biases like confirmation bias but not even the best system could provide immunity. For this reason it is important for Shared Reality users to be alert to the ways that well-known cognitive biases might be affecting their thinking. Need a quick resource? Have a look at this graphic of 20 common biases put together by Business Insider. Want to learn even more? The research is ongoing but Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow (2011) remains a highly readable and informative introduction. You don't have to become an expert on human cognition to reason clearly or to make a great Shared Reality map. That said, the more aware you are of how cognitive biases work and the kinds of situations that might trigger them for you, the more confidence you'll be able to have that you're letting reasons and evidence be the drivers of your arguments.
6. Make It Clear
In English the same word can sometimes mean two or more different things. It's important to be clear, so define your terms. Also, be concise. If there is only one idea per node, it makes it easier for others to challenge, or accept those ideas independently of other, related ideas. In speech over 70 percent of what we mean is communicated non-verbally. In writing you have only the words, so be as clear as you can.
Keep in mind that in a Shared Reality map you are arguing with everyone, not just your own side, so it's important to bear in mind that others probably will not be aware of the key assumptions behind your position unless you tell them what they are. Articulate everything as clearly and concisely as you can. Show the whole case.
7. Play for the Big Win
Of course we all want to be right, but consider that, more than being right, what we all need in order to solve the big problems is the best, most accurate version of the truth we can discover. We only get that if everyone produces the best evidence and the strongest reasons for their point of view, and allows others to do the same. We don't get it when people put victory ahead of the goal of discovery. When all we care about is winning, then it is easy to fall into distortions of others' points of view, dismissal of legitimate critique of our own points of view, and demonization of those who disagree with us. These are the kinds of practices that create divisions in society and that keep us from working together to solve problems. So yes, do the best you can to represent what you believe, but remember that the overall goal is bigger than any one of us. The truth can only emerge if we work together in good faith to make it possible.
Even if we don't quite succeed in totally resolving our disagreements, there's still hope that open and honest argumentation with each other will have the benefit of teaching us more about each other than we would otherwise be capable of learning. If argumentation can help us see others as they see themselves, thereby lessening our perceptions of difference and making us more fully human in each other's eyes, then that counts as a big win too.