What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close

How to Win an Argument with a Sophist

June 21, 2013, 5:52 PM
Shutterstock_107816036

I think that some philosophers are what Socrates said they were, sophists.  They’re in it to win, not to get at the truth.  And there are lots of sneaky, tricky things that people can do.  I don’t recommend any of that.  I think we want to get at the truth. 

So many of the tools I describe in my book are ways of avoiding fooling yourself or being fooled by somebody else. I don’t offer any advice on how to fool others.  I do think, however, and perhaps this is a fine line, that in philosophy what you have to do is tweak people’s imagination.  And people have hang-ups and blind spots and phobias and just sometimes they have a principled refusal to take something seriously.  They think it’s beneath their dignity and they refuse to take something seriously.

For those attitudes a careful formal argument is not going to cut any ice at all.  You have to find more artful ways of dislodging those convictions, those sort of emotional blockades which can be quite strong.  I think that, for instance, a very, very smart friend of mine once said, “I just can’t imagine the conscious robot.”  I said, “No, that’s not true.  You can imaging the conscious robot just fine.  You’ve seen Star Wars.  You’ve seen C3PO and R2D2.  Certainly you imagined they were conscious.  You can imagine the conscious robot just fine.  You think you shouldn’t imagine the conscious. You don’t want to take it seriously but it’s not hard to do.  For that matter, you can imagine a conscious choo choo train or a conscious tea kettle.  You can.  So don't tell me that I can’t imagine that.  Just admit that what you really are saying is you don’t want to imagine it.  You think that you’re committing some sort of confused act if you do it.  But it’s easy enough to do."

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

More from the Big Idea for Sunday, August 04 2013

Down From The Ivory Tower

It has long been thought that thinking rationally and disinterestedly is a goal that only makes sense in academic fields like philosophy and science. Don't accept this. Whether it is everyday d... Read More…

 

How to Win an Argument with...

Newsletter: Share: