September 11, 2020
Internet Argument is a website for having useful arguments.
What's cool and different about Internet Argument, is that it's a way to make a decision about anything. It's the step you take after you've tried listing a bunch of pros and cons and still aren't sure what the answer is.
Anyone who has tried to work together with a group to make a decision has this experience. You take a piece of paper, whiteboard, Word/Google Doc, and start writing all the reasons one thing is or isn't a good idea, or whether a statement is or isn't true. What you end up with is a list of "Pros" and "Cons". Sometimes looking at that list is enough, and the group comes to a consensus.
But sometimes, there is disagreement, and you may find that one or more of the following things happen.
Desperate to pursuade each other, people start adding to lists. One list becomes much longer, and the people on that side are asking, "Why don't you agree? Our list of cons is now much longer than your list of pros."
They say this, but most of us have the common sense to know that this is one scenario where length is definitely not the overriding concern. Especially when people are desperate to make a point, and creative enough to keep coming up with more items to add.
If you're lucky, people have enough restraint to stop adding pointless things to the list. But you still have to find a way to make a decision.
At this point you may find that the colorful markers next to the whiteboard are beckoning to you. Maybe you can work out which items in the list are more important.
Red checkmarks, blue asterisks, green underlines, and other adornments begin to, at the very least, make the list look more pretty. They also serve the purpose of drawing attention to which items are more important, which are more certain, and which need more clarification, among other things.
This isn't the worst idea, and things might finally click. The group might finally arrive at an agreement, or the overlords in the room might agree enough to make an "executive decision".
Or it's not enough. The standoff continues, the decision is too important to decide arbitrarily, and you must go back to the drawing board, which now features two festive lists with colorful symbols and markings.
Maybe the issue is that some of the items in the lists are themselves under debate. Several of the pros and cons start sprouting other pros and cons.
Things have gotten complicated, and pretty hard to keep track of, but if the group is really determined, your sub-pros and sub-cons will succumb to your efforts, and begin collapsing to the point where you now can agree that most or all of the items in the "Pros" column are real things that actually qualify as a reason in favor of whatever decision you're arguing about, and that most or all of the items in the "Cons" column are also real things and actually qualify as a reason against the thing you're arguing about.
But things are pretty disorganized, and even if picking apart the arguments within arguments theoretically leads to the right answer, it's a path that might be lost in the clutter.
Making a laundry list of why to choose one thing over another often works. But if it doesn't work early on, your next step shouldn't be one of the choices above.
Your next step should be to take one or more of the most important pros or cons and use them to make an Argument.
What I call an "Argument", with a capital "A" is actually a shortcut for avoiding the task of considering all available information. Making a long list of reasons for something suffers from the same problem as comparing two products that have a long list of features. It is usually the case that just a few of the features of a product are so important that you don't even have to consider the others.
But it's tempting to waste time trying to weigh all of the features of one product against all of the features of the other product. You may end up making the wrong decision just because in the end you forgot that the most crucial part of the tent was that it was water proof, or that what you really needed most when shoes shopping was to find something that fit within your budget.
An "Argument" on Internet Argument is a way of coming at the task from the other direction. Instead of looking at every available reason for deciding one way or the other, you ask yourself, "Can I make a list of everything that I need?" In the case of a pair of shoes, it's a list of requirements. In the case of an argument, it's a list of hypothetical statements which, if they are all true, would make the decision obvious. You might not know at first whether the statements in the argument are true, but if you choose them carefully, you now have rational way to consider the decision. Even if some statements in the Argument remain uncertain, at least you know just what assumptions you've made and have a better idea of how likely you are to be wrong.
Let's consider the following statement:
"Alice is taller than Carol."
The obvious answer here is to have the two stand next to each other. But imagine they aren't both in the same place, and that you have no way of asking them to measure their heights. But for some reason two people are having an argument about this, and they're so sure that the other person is wrong, that the debate gains some sort of symbolic importance. Well, we might as well watch and see what happens.
You may have noticed something in the pros and cons lists that would potentially end this discussion. It is embodied by the following "Argument" with a capital "A".
We already know that the person who wrote the "Pros" list thinks that Alice is taller than Bob -- it's in the list. And we also know that the person who wrote the "Cons" list thinks that Bob is taller than Carol, because that's in the cons list, but it looks more like a con, because the exact wording is: "Carol is almost as tall as Bob." All that's left is to consider whether both of the people can agree on both of the statements. If both of the statements are true, then the topic statement must be true.
This method isn't fool proof. If if these two came to an agreement, they might have been wrong about one of those statements. Alice might not actually be taller than Bob, for example. But they are definitely better off than before, because now they know what must be true if they have the facts straight.
If the person who made the cons list disagrees with the statement, "Alice is taller than Bob." then the Support Argument is unproven, but now you know one thing that might settle the debate. If Bob is standing right over there, and you both trust his judgment on whether someone is taller or shorter than he is, then you can ask him whether Alice is taller than him. If he says yes, the argument is settled: Alice is taller than Carol. If he says no, then you know the Support Argument isn't useful, and you must continue on to another possible Argument (for or against), or just stop bickering already, because it isn't that important.
Decide for yourself: internetargument.com. The site is very "beta", because I lack the funds to spend a lot of time on it right now, but the basic functionality is in place.
May 27, 2020
Every time you refresh the random webpage you get a new page with a random number of random elements which randomly may or may not have other randomly chosen elements nested to a random depth, which sometimes have random lengths of random text.
I'm particularly fond of the enormous buttons that have text areas on them, and menus with nonsense options in them. And the progress bars. I didn't know (or had forgetten ?) that there was an html tag for progress bars before I made this.
I attempted to follow rules as to which elements are allowed inside which other elements, but some of the rules vary depending on what else is in them or what they are in, and that required more time than I wanted to spend on it.
The next obvious improvement would be to make elements have random attributes, which should lead to links to websites that don't exist. But what would be really awesome is random css. The text would be different colors, inside boxes that are sometimes tilted at random angles, with random background colors. Some of them would be positioned randomly on the page.
April 24, 2019
This is a potential simulation of reality, in which I have assumed that everything in the universe is basically a photon, and that their behavior is just so counterintuitive that it is not obvious how they could behave as, for example, an electron. One way to do this, which also might work even if everything is not made of photons, is to imagine that the probabilistic nature of different attributes (such as location and momentum) are really a manifestation of the fact that the photon is made of one or more point-like particles that travel at many times the speed of light, but do so with so many random steps that the odds of them traveling any significant distance at more than the speed of light becomes negligable, and they effectively behave more like a "cloud" than a single particle, which is effectively the wave-function that is already well established. I could go on like this for a long time, but this simulation tests what would happen if a particle moved around in random steps as outlined above. Note that I'm not a physicist, so all of this is based on my very incomplete understanding of quantum behavior, and so it could all be nonsense. However, it is an interesting exercise in and of itself.Reality
January 29, 2019
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