Conversations, Arguments, and Intelligence

I have had this tab open on Chrome for a few days now and finally had an opportunity to read it. I didn’t want to peruse it because I knew that it will be of great value. Not something that would cause a dopamine rush in the immediate but something that I will have to read, let marinate, and then apply. This article/essay is written by Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI and the first president of YCombinator. His work has come across my newsfeed quite a few times. I don’t know how I feel about Paul Graham (who is the founder of YCombinator) but I really enjoy Sam’s opinions and work.

Good and bad arguments. Arguments are critical to growth but there can be good and bad arguments. I have tried to summarize a few thoughts about conversations in general.

The Impact of Good arguments:

  • Good conclusions
  • Learning new things for everyone involved (new ways of thinking)
  • Building new relationships with people that can challenge ideas
  • Philosophies rather than about particular scenarios

The Impact of Bad arguments:

  • No conclusions, illogical dialogue flow
  • About things that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things (this might be the most important point)
  • No set rules for dialogue
  • Conversation in bad faith sometimes under the pretext of playing the “devil’s advocate”

Communication in General​

Knowing what to say and when i.e. the importance of communicating clearly stems from intelligence to absorb the situation quickly and generate insights. This is somewhat related to wit and coming up with humorous responses. However, keeping in mind a caution not to be generous to myself, and at the risk of indulging my narcissism I will say that this form is not the only form of intelligence. I say that because while I might not be the quickest to respond in a given situation, I do usually take a more holistic and complete view than do other people around me. I think both ways of thinking and/ or intelligence are important and one is not more important than the other. Also, in all candidness, it might also be important to say that awareness and slow thinking is sometimes more important to evaluate a given situation, especially if long-term thinking is of any value.

Most challenges arise out of a lack of understanding the situation clearly. The problem arises because challenges do not get defined at an early stage in the solution process. If there is one thing from my role in consulting it is to take 80% of the allocated time in understanding the problem at hand and 20% of the time in coming up with an answer. One could almost say that part of understanding the problem actually makes it easier to come up with an answer and that is why it only needs 20% of the time. A majority of which (the 20% time noted above) is basically a framing our understanding of the problem and its solution per the audience.

A Podcast and its Host

As an individual concerned about freedom of speech I have always appreciated what the US evolved into following its independence from the British colonies. As a consumer of balanced viewpoints, I appreciate what Joe Rogan contributes to the social consciousness. As a student of the scientific method data analysis, deep study of processes and implications is something that I appreciate as well. I have had many arguments with friends in which I have tried to convince them about the need for a platform like JRE.

I am not completely sure about where the responsibility of a podcast host lies in the spread of information. There are instances where I am convinced that the conversation he is having is just conversations. Not everything I talk about is backed by data. It is barely even structured conversation at times. However with a platform also comes a responsibility about the message you are spreading. Is it the host’s responsibility to ensure what is being conveyed is legitimate? What if it is just friendly banter? Don’t we have conversations where friendly banter becomes toxic? What do we do when that happens? We acknowledge our ignorance about the topic and resolve to visit the conversation again with more information. We back of and acknowledge the unintelligibility of that exchange of words.

As a frequent listener of the JRE show I am aware that exaggerations and hyperbole are part and parcel of the conversation. Sometimes just as times as when we have non-structured, non-factual conversations with friends. However, the only difference, in this case, is that the conversation is being conducted by 1.1M people and sometimes more, even if it is only one-sided. Many times I am left with a cursory understanding of the topic but a deeper understanding of the guests on the show. Who are those individuals, what makes them nervous, what are they excited about, and sometimes the reasons behind what drives them. If someone is a brilliant performer that show will not give you anything but a presentation. I am aware of this.

The reason I chose to write this short post is that for a long time now the example of Uttar Pradesh has been coming up on the show time and again. I am completely aware that the state is run by a corrupt politician who has the hopes to become a leader within the national political scene of the country. This is a fact which is far removed from the current state of the world, which classifies areas around the world by their response to COVID. Policies, how the people reacted, the numbers, the hospitals, the facilities, and all that comes along with the COVID conversations.

For me, the canvas is viewed from a different lens. I am aware that U.P. (Uttar Pradesh) is a state that is deeply divided based on a caste system, religions, and other political parties that are trying to grab and/ or consolidate power over the people in that state. Corruption is a word that should have been used in the first sentence when U.P. was mentioned but I am bringing it up now. Corruption is rife within the state. Nothing positive in my recent memory has ever come up about that state. U.P. has the largest number of crimes per capita in all India. One could say that’s probably because the state has a very developed population and they’re a law-abiding people. However, the sentence before that would directly contradict this hypothesis. Further, U.P. also has one of the lowest literacy rates in the country. I hope this provides some context about the state.

The use of alternative medicines like Ivermectin and Hydroxychloroquine to combat COVID. While I am writing this I hate the fact that this has become my corner to rant about COVID but I am torn by conflicting emotions about an individual who has shaped many of my ideologies. I grew up watching and listening to Joe Rogan. At first, it was Fear Factor, and then of course it was JRE. U.P. is one of those hell holes in India where I wouldn’t send any of my friends and families. I would do everything for them to avoid that state in the country. India is an amazing country where ingenuity and getting things done in the spirit in most but U.P. has never in the recent times been an example of anything positive.

I collected some very basic data here to contradict the claims of people like Bret Weinstein, Dr. Peter Corey, and Dr. Robert Malone. I have enjoyed listening to the conversations of all these people and I understand that most of these people feel like they have a ‘responsibility’ to shine the light on things that the ‘common man’ doesn’t understand. However, if they are good actors in the theater of JRE and other places the information they convey could be damaging. In certain instances, it has proven damaging and no one has paid the costs. So here’s the data about U.P. in comparison to two other states in the country.

Incomplete data in 12 rows that tells more of a story than a 3:06:17 hours long podcast

That 0.84% number which shows what part of the population had covid?! That’s the nail in the coffin for me. U.P. solved COVID before COVID even started. Like the rest of India that was banging utensils in March of 2020 and singing “go car-on-a go go” to stomp the epidemic U.P. had already started to stomp the pandemic by denying that there ever was a pandemic in the first place. In such a situation whether the state “covertly” used alternative treatments to rid the people of their ailments or connected with aliens to get a cure from the future it does not matter because COVID did not exist in the first place for them. They never actually tested the population at a rate that could determine the progress of vaccinations or medications. All their claims of cures and flattening the curve are based on slogans, marches, hand waving, and affinity towards whatever the public wants to hear on Instagram and other social media. To trust that something worked or did not work for that matter in that state is a disaster. If you don’t trust Fox or CNN you cannot even use the letter “t” for any conversation based on data from the U.P. government. In this case unfortunately there isn’t even any data available.