Controversy - There is no learned man but will confess he hath much profited by reading controversies; his senses awakened, his judgment sharpened, and the truth which he holds more firmly established. In logic they teach that contraries laid together more evidently appear; and controversy being permitted, falsehood will appear more false, and truth more true. MILTON
The Power of the Contrarian
By Mr WoW March 20, 2019
I was at a meet up recently, and I got into a discussion with someone sitting across the table in the brewery. He made the claim that,
“I need to buy a house because that is the best way to get rich.”
Now, if you’ve been around here for a while, you know my thoughts on real estate, at least local residential real estate. Mind you he was talking about a primary residence, not investment properties.
I have a little bit of trouble trying to bite my tongue, so a rather heated discussion ensued.
I brought up all the usual points.
A house isn’t a cash flowing asset.
A house isn’t diversified.
A house isn’t liquid.
The real estate market fluctuates just like the stock market.
We went back and forth about how people that own houses in LA are rich, while people that rent are… well, not.
Our discussion ended rather abruptly, when he got up to go to the bathroom and never came back. Now, Mrs. Wow just chalks this up to my abrasive personality. I tend to come off “attacky” in heated discussions, despite my best efforts to be diplomatic as possible.
But, I don’t want to discuss the merits of owning property as a primary residence. The purpose of this discussion is to understand the value of opinions contrary to your own.
There’s a modern philosopher named Karl Popper. His main theory is what is known as “Falsification“.
Now there’s a lot of theory and logic behind this, but the basics are this:
Science and fact is based on proving a hypothesis false.
That sounds weird. And there’s more to it, Watch this short video if you’re curious.
But, let’s give an example.
Say I give you a series of three numbers
And now I ask you to find the rule that governs this series of numbers by guessing 2 more series of numbers.
Some of you are thinking:
Yes, this fits my rule.
Hmm… Ok then, how about 8-10-12?
Yes, this fits the rule as well. So you jump up and down quite giddy.
I know the rule! It’s even numbers increasing by 2!
WRONG!! You have simply continued the initial line of thinking and confirmed your original hypothesis.
According to falsification, we need to look for sequences that break the rule, in order to find the actual governing rule.
How about 3-4-5?
Yes, that fits the rule. What did we learn? It’s not only even numbers. The increment doesn’t have to be 2.
How about 3-2-1?
No, that does not fit the rule. AHA!!!! Now we found something interesting!! The numbers can not decrease through the series.
I’ll guess the rule is simply increasing numbers.
Two Types of Learning
Some of you know that I was a mechanical engineer in my former life, before I went to business school, and got into this whole data analysis/engineering/science thing.
I loved engineering, there’s something undeniably beautiful about building something with your hands and watching it function the way that you originally imagined in your head.
But, engineering is a valuable degree beyond just learning to build stuff and understand how things work.
It teaches you a way to think about the world and problems that is unique, and this was never more apparent then when I went to business school.
With engineering, the idea of falsification is built into every aspect of learning.
Want to know the steel in this bridge is strong enough to hold the cars you expect to go over it?
Load up the steel until is breaks, then don’t put more than that amount of load on it when there are actual people involved.
With business school, a lot of the learning was based on case studies.
Company XYZ did this thing that was really successful. Replicate that and your company will be successful as well.
Now, imagine if engineers looked at the world through case studies?
This plane crashed, why?
I don’t know! But that one over there is flying just fine. Build more like that one, less like the crashed one.
Engineers need to push a system to find its limits, then play within those limits.
There’s a subtle, but distinct difference:
One says, try to replicate and confirm the good.
The other says, find the bad and avoid doing that.
Finding A Contrarian
All of this goes to say:
When you are thinking about something, find someone that disagrees. Someone to poke holes in your argument.
When ever you ask someone about their experiences and what they’ve learned, you’ll never hear anyone say they learned a lesson from how easy everything was.
That’s simple! Why even prepare for it?
You should listen to the lessons from what people did wrong. And try your damnedest to avoid following in their footsteps. After all, they made the mistake for you! Learn from it!
Not only is this a good thing for financial plans, or life plans. It’s just good practice for life in general.
If you look at the “News” folder on my phone. It’s pretty funny:
Right next to CNN, the AP and next to that is… Fox News.
Often, I’ll open CNN to see what is trending, and if there’s something political or something I find interesting, I’ll read it. Then close down CNN and open up Fox News, and read a story about the same issue. Just to get both sides, to understand both points of view.
I guess you could make the argument that it’s all drivel, but I digress.
The point is that it’s important to understand and appreciate differing opinions. While you don’t necessarily have to agree, it’s also important not to take a differing opinion personally.
You just might learn a different way of looking at your original thoughts.
That being said, while I believe my local real estate argument is valid, I’m fairly certain I could work on my delivery.
CLARENCE @ ORACLE OF FI : Exposing yourself to contrarian beliefs is a good first step. But actually questioning your own beliefs? That takes a certain strength of character.
But even if takes effort, sweat and tears, I think we should all try to break out of our comfort zone. It’s only by doing so that we can improve. Thanks for the thought-provoking post!
MR WOW : I think exposing your self to these opposing views is the first step in sharpening your thinking. Questioning your beliefs is tough, even tougher is changing them and adopting something that is against the way you’ve always thought. That’s extremely difficult.
Thanks for the thought provoking comment!!
5AM JOEL : Great post dude. I definitely need to be more open minded about the way others think. I like the sequence example!
MR WOW : Thanks. I like to make people think. It hurts sometimes, but we all need to do it.
Glad you enjoyed that. Falsification is a super interesting theory.
FREDDY SMIDLAP : I love dissent and i’m a scientist. it all depends on the tone of the delivery as to how much i’ll tolerate in listening. sanctimonious or talking in absolutes? i’m out. civil discussion? i’m in. it’s quite possible you’re both right about real estate but that doesn’t mean one thing caused the other. people might own houses in the city of angels because they’re rich already. there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
MR WOW : Scientists are interested in finding things, and Popper’s theory on truth is rather interesting. I agree, I’m certain my delivery needs some work. It’s been something that I constantly need to work on. But man do I love a good back and forth discussion.
LIFE OUTSIDE THE MAZE : I disagree that contrarians are good…wait does that make me a contrarian…then I love contrarians… wait now I agree so I am not part of the club, ahhhh. As a trained engineer as well, this post resonates with me. It also pains me when I hear news stories about how scientists prove this or scientists think that because it makes “scientists” some sort of other and it also totally misunderstands the scientific method. Thanks for the post mr WoW.
MR WOW : No you aren’t… Wait! Yes you are… wait… Huh? HA
Yeah, I really think this theory about scientific fact is interesting. Glad you think that way and glad you’re open to hearing conflicting views.
J.D. ROTH : Preach! I’m a big advocate of seeking contrarian opinions. It helps me understand how other people think AND forces me to test my assumptions.
MR WOW : This… the world needs more of this. Understand how other people think and how they view the world. Yet also challenge your own views and your own assumptions. Make sure that they are defensible and sound.
That doesn’t mean that everything needs to become an argument, and it also doesn’t mean that every view needs a pulpit. But, hearing something that is dissenting to your own view is an important part of learning and growing.
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