A very good letter from reader Gavin Miller, reposted with his permission -
Based on your recommendation I recently started reading Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, and I wanted to share a situation where I was able to apply the book back to my work.
There was a passage that caught my attention; when Harry is hearing his parents argue over something that could be resolved via an experiment (emphasis mine):
Hoping against hope that this time, just this once, they would listen to him. "If it's true, we can just get a Hogwarts professor here and see the magic for ourselves, and Dad will admit that it's true. And if not, then Mum will admit that it's false. That's what the experimental method is for, so that we don't have to resolve things just by arguing."
A similar situation came up during a meeting where we were talking about hardware requirements for a project. The debate went back and forth over whether the latest gen iPod hardware was equivalent to the iPhone 4. Back and forth, back and forth. Everyone had an opinion on the matter. We were bike shedding to the nth degree (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkinson%27s_Law_of_Triviality this is one of my favorite laws, and occurs so often in programming.)
And of course I was gunned up, and ready to jump into the debate when I recalled the above passage from the Methods of Rationality. And it dawned on me that the entire debate was pointless; that the entire conversation could be resolved with someone checking for the answer online. I sat back and I thought about this, and realized there was nothing that I could add to the conversation. So I shut up. This is something I wouldn't have normally done, and I'm glad I did because I felt like I was applying some new learning - That's a good feeling.
We get to the end of the debate and no one had the answer, and so someone got assigned to look it up online. 5 - 10 minutes wasted. It makes me wonder how many other "problems" could be resolved with a simple data check, instead of engaging in posturing like this to demonstrate our wealth of knowledge?
My favorite line is the last one - "It makes me wonder how many other "problems" could be resolved with a simple data check, instead of engaging in posturing like this to demonstrate our wealth of knowledge?"
Great stuff. Gavin's website is http://www.thepursuitofquality.com/