A PATENT ON PEDANTRY (save this for bedtime reading, its guaranteed to get you an early night's rest)
Outside of verifiable, repeatable scientific tests, an opinion is all we have. It is the median of our human experience; what we have seen, what we have heard, what we have been told or have chosen for ourselves to believe to be of value. It cannot be separated from personal bias, or the prejudice for or against the source of the information. It is the nature of our wetware to blend things together, just as we do not see our blind spots in the eye, even when we know there are no optical receptors there. Objectivity is alien to the human experience, possibly as a survival trait: primitive people instinctively reacted to an event because they did not have time or inclination to test hypotheses, to wonder if the tiger was hungry, or more interested in mating. They ran, they survived. Tiger equals run in primitive man's universe.
An opinion does not become a fact even if we experienced something. Perception to comprehension to memory to recollection are all biological processes passing thru those filters and blenders several times, and at each step the raw data gets hammered into words we have been taught on a best fit basis. Instead of IMO we should say ”In my experience”, or “I recall
The Scientific Revolution is not over; it is still fighting an uphill battle. Few of us can resolve what we 'know from rigorous objective double blind testing' with what we call our intuition*. So we select our science to support our intuition. Why else would there be so many different anchor
tests? And how we interpret the results of scientific testing is still a product of filtering that data through the biological blender of our language and human experience.
How can we rely on someone to tell us the better of two or three choices, when we have no way of knowing they derived their opinion from testing those choices in rigorous conditions and calculated their results from objective, verifiable data? We cannot. Ultimately, we value someone's opinion by how well we like him!
How do you know when a salesman is lying? His lips are moving. We laugh at that because we sense an underlying truth. The salesman's motives are obvious. We have based our judgment of the value of his opinion on something he did NOT say. He is no friend of ours, no matter how personable or amusing he might be. We don't like him. We do like someone who is well spoken, seems to approve of our values, and doesn't prickle any hairs with suspicious motives or other wierdnesses. We also like good looking people, and friendly wealthy, wise, or powerful people. That's why Danny DeVito doesn't do deodorant ads.
Egotism rules absolutely. We value power expressed in wealth or position, beauty, or wisdom. We value other things as well, but power is closer to the survival end of the spectrum of human motivation. Only when we are secure in our power over the world around us can we value more esoteric things. This is why we scramble for wealth and position, assume the mantle of wisdom, or enhance our attractiveness; to defend our egos. There are antitheses to these pursuits, such as piety, solitude, or victimhood, but even they may rise to defend their opinions. It is equally important to defend our past decisions, our choice of boats, and our wives' choice of husbands. We certainly did not try every option in every condition or circumstance. There are probably laws against doing just that. [Time, circumstance, and wealth set limits on that depth
Our opinion is as important as our perception of our wisdom, and we may need to defend it energetically. We collect references
and reports just as an ancient warrior collected rocks and arrows, to defend by attack! We can allow other a different opinion if it’s not too different, so that we may call on them to support an attack on a more opposite view. What is most important to understand is that when the debate seems all out of proportion to the bare issue, we are assured that egos are at war, and cold hard facts are totally irrelevant.
SO: if we are trying to use other people's opinions to help us make a decision (and not just provoke a debate for entertainment purposes) we have a few tools. The most secure responder is the least likely to pad an observation to defend his opinion. His reply is non-confrontational, unemotional, and stated like a contribution rather than thrust like a weapon. He is able to laugh at himself, and will readily admit to error. If, on the other hand, he is always confrontational, he may be throwing down the gauntlet, to fight for a better opinion of his opinion! Even his own experiences to the contrary will not turn him from the battle. The issue may be of little personal interest, but he has gathered a few facts like stones and arrows, just for a fight. There is an obvious chip on his shoulder. He will beat a dead horse until the last of his audience wanders away.
A recent buzz word has relevance; someone who has 'issues' is easy to spot. Beware someone who constantly cites his authority. He clearly needs to believe his opinion is important. Don't let someone's personality get in the way. Since absolutely no one has access to absolute truth, our humanity colors our experience. Recognize the direction of someone's bias and correct accordingly. Their personality is a clue about how to adjust.
If someone assumes authority because they have been making single
successful choices over a long period of time without killing themselves, it does not mean they are wise enough to pronounce judgment on something outside their direct experience. It does mean that their decision process is successful, just less valid than someone who makes a recommendation after actual experience. Likewise assuming expertise based on reading someone else's expertise is as real as feeling beautiful because you've read a beauty magazine. And the internet
is clear evidence that the printed word is less intrinsically valuable than an unprinted word. It may be good, it may be sacred, and it may be an unjustifiable imposition upon a number of electrons. Give less credibility to someone who cannot cite their source, but remember that this is a casual forum and not a collegiate debate. There are no judges, clocks, or prizes. No one but the self-evident poseurs go home in disgrace.
*By intuition and instinct I mean more than a racial memory or a genetically encoded response to a stimulus. I mean it to include how we are shaped by evolution, and the lessons we learned observing the verbal and nonverbal actions of our family
and neighbors. We can learn to avoid fire by actual experience, or by being taught to do so. Language itself shapes our perceptions.