When the absolutist and relativist mindsets are wrong

When can we apply absolutist and relativist thinking?

We could only ever hope to make correct absolute judgements in simple, well-defined situations. Only if we know everything that can be known about a given situation with an absolute certainty can we allow ourselves to form a black-and-white, fixed answer. Some math- or chess problems are good areas to make absolute judgements in — and only because the rules governing numbers/chess figures and the possibilities of their manipulations are known, clear, well-defined, all-encompassing and stable. I wouldn’t question the authority of a chess grandmaster if he says the white wins in two moves. For the visual types, that would be like being able to see the problem from any angle and distance. It may not be a fully rational process — gut feel may still be necessary to arrive at a solution, but then that solution can be rationally verified.

Which limited viewpoint describes the complex shape in the middle?

When absolutist thinking is wrongly applied to not fully defined situation

Our brains are efficient pattern-finding machines. We don’t mind to put in the challenging mental work to find neat enough answers (answers sized and shaped to fit our headspaces) to our realities, and armed with those, we can be amazingly effective in our familiar surroundings and over short time-horizon. Unfortunately, this laziness, I mean efficiency of the brain means that once it arrives at a position, it doesn’t want to let all that hard work to go to waste, so it imagines the insights as absolute truths and engage in the super-damaging activity called confirmation bias. As these simple absolutes come under attack from the complex environment, the brain will also have to develop close mindedness and arrogance to defend these positions.

“It is easy to obtain confirmations or verifications for nearly every theory” — Karl Popper

When relativist thinking is applied to absolute situation

Absolute situations tend to be easy to settle. Trying to avoid check-mate when the chess master says it is unavoidable is a foolish thing to do that tends to be quickly over and not attempted again. This is much rarer also because there are so few absolutes of importance we have to deal with. However, every now and again, if it suits the demagogues, it can be forced onto our conscience. Consider the following, very consequential example:

We seem to accept that poverty means different things to different populations



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10AM Jam

10AM Jam

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Lifelong learning in technology, economics, sociology, music and travel