Arguments don’t create decisions

Arguments don’t work like we would want them to. It is essentially impossible to change someone’s mind with factual claims. Why is that?

Here’s an example. I happened to read a book by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow yesterday. It is called The Grand Design and it tells about recent advances of modern physics and their philosophical implications. Let’s say we have an argument whether reading this book is good for my career as a software developer. I come up with these arguments:

  • Reading something out of my field is good exercise for my brain.
  • If I ever write software for related to modern physics, I understand a bit of the background already.
  • There must be non-obvious parallels from physics to the software world. Reading this book gives an opportunity to see software development from a new point of view.
  • Understanding the deep questions about our existence gives truer purpose to the work we do.
  • If quantum computing becomes available during my career, I already understand a bit more of its background.
  • If it turns out some client or partner is interested in this kind of stuff, understanding a bit about this provides an opportunity to strike an interesting conversation with them, improving trust etc.

The arguments I present here are probably all true to some extent. The problem is that I could come up with a similar list of arguments about any book, or pretty much any activity I do.

It is not enough that arguments are true, you must weigh the arguments too. Each person gives weights according to their own priorities and values. Presented with the same arguments, two people will come to different conclusions.

There is value in arguments, but in the end, decisions are made with intuition.

2 thoughts on “Arguments don’t create decisions

  1. Simo says:

    In Martin Fowler’s Refactoring, the changes from refactorings are not visible to the outside. I see that you didn’t just refactor this blog, as changes are visible in better appearance :)

  2. Antti Tarvainen says:

    (Simo’s comment is a reply to my tweet http://twitter.com/#!/tarvaina/status/137542891294826496 .)

    Ha, I realized the same thing, and formed a response in my mind. I’ve been waiting to make this comment. :-)

    I argue that this in fact /was/ refactoring. I define refactoring as something that doesn’t change the functionality of the product, but communicates its meaning better in the source code. Well, the functionality of my blog remains the same, I just made changes so that it communicates itself better. All you need to do to agree is to accept that the outlook of my blog is equivalent to the soure code of a software. :-)

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