Damon Horowitz

In-House Philosopher, Google


This conversation is closed.

LIVE CHAT With Damon Horowitz: When have you realized that you were wrong about what you once thought was right? June 8, 2011, 5-6PM EDT

Join us for a LIVE conversation with serial entrepreneur, philosophy professor, and Google Director of Engineering, Damon Horowitz.

This conversation will open at 5:00PM EDT, June 8th, 2011.

"I am curious to hear what prompts people to moral reflection and reconsideration: When have you realized that you were wrong about what you once thought was right?"

Closing Statement from Damon Horowitz

I’d like to thank everyone for sharing their thoughts and experiences here. My TEDxSV talk was intended as a provocation for the technology industry in particular to reflect further upon our ethical decision making – but I am delighted to see that it has encouraged much broader discussion.

The prominent themes I hear in this conversation reinforce the value of education, experience, and humility in our moral development. So long as we continually challenge ourselves to question our beliefs, there is some small possibility that we will not always be wrong about what is right.

  • Jun 8 2011: Reflecting over ones moral beliefs or any belief requires strength. It requires strength to entertain the idea of letting go of a belief or readjusting it. I think at times we identify ourselves too much with our beliefs. We use them as the source of who ME is. But, are my beliefs the essence of me really? If so then I would say we are then a direct product of our environment whether we like it or not. I began to let go of my stringent hold on my belief system when I moved abroad and everything was challenged. I soon decided to not believe in any one cause just because or with blind faith, rather to discern and reflect. Does this really suit me? Does this feel right to me? It is possible to believe without buying the whole package? Yes, I think so. It's not lacking faith it's being reflective and honest to yourself. Why do we insist on you either have to join this or join that. I can join neither completely and still have conviction. Personal reflective conviction. What I want to know however is, why people can't admit they are wrong or have done wrong. Especially when it is plain as day for everyone. I guess you would call it denial. But, how does their head work, do they see it? Do they not see it? Do they see it and then repress it? Is it a protective mechanism? And why do I, when obviously being lied to for no apparent reason, not point it out. Hey you are lying to me. What is it we are afraid of in these situations that we allow being lied to? And why do people lie about the most inane things? This reflection came at an import store. You don't sell flour because you don't want to. Don't give me a ten minute lecture about customs poking holes etc. I know you are lying you know you are lying, but to what purpose and why are you even compelled?
  • Jun 8 2011: I changed my mind about a multitude of what I had considered basic beliefs when I left the USA and lived in another country for a few years. This included religious beliefs, beliefs about women's "place" in the world, war, government, and much more. (This was 40+ years ago.) I left a moderate-faking-conservative-to-please-my-father and an episcopalian... I came back to America a progressive and an agnostic. Meeting people with different backgrounds after an incredibly sheltered life was mind boggling. Everyone should get out of their place of birth-- and their comfort zone-- at least once. The sooner the better.
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    Jun 8 2011: Over the last five years, I have learned that I was wrong about being wrong. In my younger days, my aim was to go undefeated--to have every answer, to tackle every problem, to not make any mistakes.

    Of course, this is an impossible, stressful life--because you can't not make mistakes. When I did made a mistake, I attributed it to factors out of my control, or blamed someone else, or took issue with whether there had even been a mistake at all. This activity was challenging and time-consuming... and impeded my performance.

    I probably wouldn't have realized this but for an involuntary career change that led to months of reflection and a realization that my running from mistakes was the single biggest thing impeding my personal and professional development.

    I've been studying mistakes in business for several years now... & have a site called The Mistake Bank ( http://mistakebank.com ) where I collect first-person business mistake stories, mine included. This effort has been one of the most rewarding chapters of my professional career.

    I still get nervous when I make a mistake, but at least now I know I have a lot of company--the entire human race.

    Thanks, John
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      Jun 8 2011: Your project gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "you can take that to the bank!" :)

      I think you would enjoy Kathryn Schulz's talk on this subject of being wrong...
  • Jake C

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    Jun 8 2011: Some of the biggest challenges to my paradigms were the first few semesters at the liberal arts college I just graduated from. I encountered viewpoints that were dramatically different than anything I had been taught prior, and those challenges sparked a healthy curiosity for discovering more comprehensive paradigms than my own.

    I would attribute this college's practice of forcing students into classes that they wouldn't take otherwise (mainly humanities) to the challenges that changed my viewpoints. It discourages me that many educational facilities only train students in vocational pursuits rather than challenge their worldviews.
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      Jun 8 2011: Agreed!
      The Chronicle of Higher Education just had a great article (about a week ago) capturing the voices of a half-dozen undergraduates, explaining in their own words the value of a liberal arts education...
      • Jun 8 2011: so true--after studying engineering myself, I'm so impressed with the liberal arts education my kids are getting. It isn't clear to me how they'll earn a living after college, but then again, I'm re-thinking engineering as a career.
      • Jake C

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        Jun 8 2011: I've been coming to this concept lately: the liberal arts (and paradigm challenges they entail) allow young thinkers to arrive at wisdom without the encumbrance of living for 75 years. Lib. arts allows us to learn from the wisdom of others and move society forward, perhaps more quickly.
        • Jun 8 2011: hmm--help me out here. I typically associate wisdom with experience, not necessarily from learning third hand. Maybe there's something "higher" than knowledge but not quite up to the level of wisdom that you mention.
        • Jun 8 2011: Lynne, unbiased thought could be wisdom, but that's hard to find.
  • Jun 8 2011: I find myself questioning myself and challenging my beliefs more and more since I learned of the power of cognitive dissonance. It is frightening how easy it is to filter the information you receive to only support what you want to be true. It is a constant effort to remind myself to read articles to the contrary and keep an open mind.
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      Jun 8 2011: Good point -- one of the best ways to remain nimble in our thinking is to force ourselves to confront different worldviews. Eli Pariser has been doing a great job of encouraging the technology industry to build tools to support this... but it is something that we can of course all do on our own as well.
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    Jun 8 2011: Not sure if it's exactly a moral situation, but In high school I would always make fun of scientists. I thought they were totally rigid in their thinking, and committed to a world-view that was incomplete, and in some way immoral (at least, unethical) in that it ignored what it meant to be human. I particularly liked to make jokes about the Hubble Space Telescope. (This was just after it was launched, and the mirror was distorted.) Then they sent the mission up to fix it, and the images started coming back.

    I was floored. These were more beautiful than anything me or my artist friends were producing. Over about a year, I switched opinion so completely that I ended up becoming a physicist.
  • Jun 8 2011: I use to think that I could only learn from people smarter than me, but I've learned that one can learn something from the most unthinkable people and places.
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    Jun 8 2011: Also, writing changes me. It makes me walk through the steps of thought to see where they really take me.
    • Jun 8 2011: Putting one's thoughts down on (virtual) paper has a sense of finality to it that pushes us to refine our thoughts, lest we be incorrectly labeled. If others can read it and we can expect their critique, we want to show that we have well thought out our stance and put some effort into making sure it labels us correctly. Few people like being told what they 'really' think by their opponent in a debate, especially when it's based on a poorly expressed written statement.
  • Jun 8 2011: - When I dared to question my belief system and look for an answer, I realized that I was wrong about what I once thought was right. My beliefs changed entirely. But once I questioned my new beliefs, I thought I was wrong about them too. I learned new stuff and starting to think differently once again. Finally, I understood that as long as I question myself, I will keep changing my answers, and that's the beautify of self-searching and curiosity.
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      Jun 8 2011: Wonderfully told, that tale of the cycle of questioning.
      If there is a virtue that persists across time, it is the virtue of humility.
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      Jun 8 2011: There are a number of threads of philosophical discussion on the subject of ethical decision making in conditions of incomplete information, or other kinds of uncertainty. Many of these take as their starting point Mill's version of utilitarianism, and the proposition that perhaps we can only be held morally responsible -- praise- or blame- worthy -- for those consequences of our actions that we were able to predict... or should have been able to predict. Of course, that particular line presupposes already a consequentialist framework, but it also does dovetail in an interesting way with the question of how we might reevaluate our positions.
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      Jun 8 2011: As I think on this, I realize that many of the decision that I later decided were ethical mistakes were made after too MUCH contemplation. In contrast, those decisions that were made wholly by gut, and which seemed to have no other possible outcome are rarely the ones I regret or feel were wrong.

      This seems paradoxical, but it somehow calls to mind the concept of kin selection in genes. Is my ability to see something as "wrong" affected by how viscerally I felt (or feel) about its value or importance to me?
  • Jun 8 2011: Education, awareness and perspective have made me realize I was wrong about many things I believed were right in the past. Here is one specific example: I was raised a hunter and a fisherman. Now I'm a vegetarian. I have had a house full of pets ranging from saltwater fish, through parrots to dogs and cats and I think empathy has overridden the craving for a hamburger. As a consumer I am trying to be as low-impact environmentally as I can. So empathy for animals has lead to quite a few lifestyle changes for me.
  • Jun 8 2011: I know I am probably wrong about a lot of things. I just don't know what those things are, because I don't know enough to realize it.
  • Jun 8 2011: I've changed my mind about a large number of things in my life, however, most of those things were ideas that I came to from the basis of study, from a position of ignorance moving into my understanding through analysis, questioning, science and study. I have a feeling that these aren't the sorts of change of heart you are interested in.

    Well, there is a great saying that you can't argue someone out of an idea they didn't argue themselves into.

    We establish a relationship with our ideas that becomes increasingly emotional and attached to our identity. It is these types of ideas, the foundation, that are so hard to change because we don't view them as inherently changeable. We meet contrary data with hostility because we treat them as challenges to the validity of our identity.

    I've found that my ability to change my mind about the big things is directly correlated to my conception of myself. When I identify myself with an idea, a moral stance, a political party, or a fundamental principle instead of enabling me to have a more nuance perspective that process of identification actually hinders real thought on the subject.

    It has been those moments when my sense of self detaches from outside labels and identifications that I found myself most able to change my mind about the things that really mattered: to realize that I might be fundamentally wrong was no longer a crisis of identity but a chance to explore and grow.
    • Jun 8 2011: I can 'identify' with this, Bill. I wonder why you think that your mind-changing process is not the kind this conversation is supposed to be about, though. In my own experience, moving "from a position of ignorance... into my understanding" has been a wonderfully successful guide for making decisions and supporting one side of an issue over another. Analysis, questioning and study are all things I am in school specifically training myself to do better, with the goal of becoming a teacher in another year. There is a particular method of study in traditional Jewish education called 'hevruta' study that hones these skills -- 2 students together reading and translating a text, who support and challenge each other to probe the text deeper in an effort to both understand the 'voice' of the text and the voice of their partner. The similarities between the scientific method and this form of partnered text study continue to assure me that something more substantial than opinions are being discussed.

      I find I am least hostile to new ideas about issues that are not related to how I fundamentally understand and identify myself -- those issues that I am most ignorant of the details. I am a very opinionated person, but I try my best to not verbalize that opinion until I have listened to many other opinions on the subject. While there is no way to learn about something bias-free and without emotion, I do my best to filter myself out before I jump in to make conclusions. It has been helpful to me to listen first, ask clarifying questions if I can, listen some more, summarize both the supporting and challenging points of what I have heard, and THEN make some judgment about the issue using the compass of my own values, experience and hope. This process helps me detach my self, as you mentioned, and gives me the opportunity to develop a more nuanced understanding of the situation that won't put me into an existential crisis.

      Thank you for your thoughts!
      • Jun 8 2011: well, I think there are many different ways people can change their minds, however I think the most interesting changes are the ones that are about the fundamental ideas of what is right or wrong, not something like photosynthesis. Say i were to come into contact with information that shows me that my understanding of photosynthesis was completely incorrect. I would approach that information from a completely different perspective than if I were to come across data that showed me that human beings were inherently evil (I don't believe this, and I haven't come across any such info, this is just for arguments sake). One is some piece of knowledge that I learned (in essence, I argued my way into my beliefs about how photosynthesis works) The other is a challenge to my beliefs about humanity, myself included.

        I think the more interesting type of change of perspective is the more fundamental change, and I think it is made possible when our sense of self isn't at stake. It's sort of paradoxical: the more you consider yourself a Democrat or a Republican then less able you are to think critically about political questions.
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      Jun 8 2011: Thank you for that comment Bill.
      If we are doing ethics, yet we are not considering anything to be deeply at stake for ourselves -- and thus for our identities -- we are perhaps not having the richest conversation. We define ourselves by the ideas we form and the actions we take, and it is our inescapable responsibility to do so.

      Of course, that doesn't mean that we should only consider our own self-interest when deliberating over an issue; quite the opposite. Rawls' "original position" is perhaps the best-known contemporary articulation of a methodology for avoiding that mistake.
  • Jun 8 2011: One of my watershed moments was abortion. It seemed so black and white, life or death. I was very pro-life. And it isn't that I am not pro life now, but I realize that abortion is the wrong end of the issue. Long before it comes down to whether or not this fetus lives, are much more complicated issues like class, race, poverty, access to resources, and most of all, power and choice. Without addressing the beginning, there is no way to get to the end of it. Who am I to judge how a woman gets to the point of where she makes that decision? Why is she there to begin with?
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      Jun 8 2011: I love your phrase "abortion is the wrong end of the issue..." -- that's exactly right. We often just have gut reactions to issues like this, which aren't necessarily based in any considered notion of, say, what personhood consists in, the role of the individual vs. the state, how current power relations in society are framing the discussion, and so forth.
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    Jun 8 2011: I used to think that you have to spend an awfully long time in school to really understand and learn about your passions and the things you want to pursue in life. However, I've found that the "real world" has taught me way more about my passions, not to mention myself. This may be more of a miseducation versus right or wrong, but I certainly would've told someone they were wrong about finding their passion in the real world versus getting a good college education.

    As a kid, I also used to think I was right when it came to my parents versus me. Eventually, I realized just how right THEY were. I think parents tend to have that effect over time.
  • Jun 8 2011: I find it funny how the life-changing individuals were the once thought the "insane" ones (Einstein, Edison, etc.) because they thought very differently from the rest of society. I think this says something about our current general society more than it does about our possible future potential.
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    Jun 8 2011: I recently learned I was wrong about my own thoughts. I learned that I don't control thoughts from coming into my head. They just come. The beauty of this realization is that I can choose which thoughts I want to give attention to, and the others I can let go to be replaced with new thoughts. This gives me freedom for unlimited potential and access to my own creativity. I no longer feel burdened by negative thoughts that I think should be wrong, rather, I just make room for them to pass me by.
  • Jun 8 2011: Intuition usually prevails. No matter if I staunchly believe something to be right. Try to keep it genuine and authentic at all times. Intuition forces one to face a reality. That reality is usually one we have very little control of as well.
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    Jun 8 2011: There was this moment when I wanted to react negatively towards a friend who was not very nice towards me at the time. I felt that the only thing there was to do was to actually be nice to her. Nicer than I ever was towards her before. Sounds generic but at that moment I realized that, falling back to my comfortable response to people who have problematic behavior and letting them be until they "feel better" or put a wall up etc. this time I made a conscious choice to give something more than I ever did back to her. I learned that taking that extra step to go beyond protecting my boundaries and into taking action was very dynamic and beneficial.
  • Jun 8 2011: As I read through all the comments it strikes me that what changes a mind (or a heart or a soul) is vastly different for each person. It can be a life change (having a child) an educational experience or simply a personal encounter with someone who defied your expectations. In all my moral reflections or those I've watched occur in another person, I think the common ground might be humility. Very rarely have I seen special interest groups or cleverly written signs change someone's heart, more often it's the experiences listed below (in the comments, maybe above when I post this) combined with a willingness to truly listen and be taught.
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    Jun 8 2011: A few years ago I read a book called Freakenomics. There was a chapter that described a problem that my class had worked on in grad school. We wondered why there was a dramatic decline in violent crime rates at a point when it was expected to increase and the best we could come up with was that the boomers were too old to commit as much crime leading to the drastic decline. Freakenomics however, came up with the real reason: 20 years before the drastic decline in crime abortion was legalized. This utterly shocked me. Having worked so hard to discover the reason left me without the normal rationalizations. So I went from being a quiet but commited person with anti-abortion sentiments to a person who understood it from a different angle. It became clear to me that it was not enough to insist upon respecting fetal life but that we have to consider respecting the whole life of that child. Any child who is brought into a world where it will be unwanted, uncared for and unloved will likely repay what it receives in some heinous revenge on society. This was a profound change in my thinking and understanding and it was brought about by a book.

    I was also profoundly changed by the birth of my children when I learned a new way of loving that was so much deeper and more profound than the love I had known before.

    Other profound changes in my beliefs have come in times of crises when I have lost loved ones and had to ask myself questions about what life and love meant and what was truly important or permanent.

    When I had cancer and discovered that the bargains that I had made with God were truly one sided i learned to stand more firmly on my own two feet and in the face of death I learned how to live. The strange thing is that when I stopped grasping life- I was given a whole new life...
  • Jun 8 2011: Humans are too stubborn to admit they are wrong, so they continue to latch to the beliefs they have held onto for so many years so they don't look or feel foolish.

    I don't mean to sound conceited but I'm a pretty heavy philosopher too, and I feel I totally understand what you mean by this and have always thought the same myself. It's called confirmation bias.. Well, a lot of it anyway.


    This is one of the chief banes of human existence. Without it, we would understand and progress as a society into the right direction.
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      Jun 8 2011: We must always thank psychology for giving us handy labels for such phenomena :)

      I suppose my curiosity, though, is about what it takes to overcome this bias. To the extent that we understand that, we can engineer situations which bring this about more frequently. If we decide that we want to do so...
      • Jun 8 2011: One of my favorite blogs about confirmation bias, among many other cognitive pitfalls we as humans are prone to is called, appropriately enough, http://youarenotsosmart.com

        Try to ignore the most recent posts all about the book being published, if you can and get to the meaty posts, listed on the right hand side.
      • Jun 8 2011: a saying I learned was "all models are wrong, but some models are useful." psychological labels are a great example!
  • Jun 8 2011: I used to believe in the power of the state to solve complex social problems. I wasn't completely wrong, as state programs can have a measurable effect in helping out some people. My error was not based on pragmatism, but on ethics, and a misunderstanding of what the state actually is - a geographical monopoly on certain services with the implicit moral right to initiate force and coercion against peaceful people.

    I've found that, when you begin using clear language to describe things rather than the common language of euphemism and bias, a lot of mistakes that we habitually make are easily discovered. We just have to have the courage to describe things accurately, even if they conflict with our comforting delusions, and the insistence of others that we don't point out uncomfortable truths.
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      Jun 8 2011: There is an entire branch of ethical scholarship that concerns itself specifically with the question of language -- in particular, how we are to interpret claims about right and wrong, whether they are like other kinds of truth claims, or are more akin to expressive statements and the like. There is also a great tradition of linguistic self-consciousness in social criticism which seeks to identify hidden power relations in the very language used to frame and express ethical issues. And if we were to broaden our scope of concerns even further, we find Wittgenstein with his classic characterization of our philosophizing on these matters, and the tangles we get into in our attempts to untangle: "Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language..."
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    Jun 8 2011: I personally believe that there is no way to change the habits of society today, we are all just too caught up in this mindset that everything people of authority do is just and right. We need to try and teach the next generation about what we are doing wrong so we can have a chance of setting this worlds moral compass in the right direction, because in my opinion the adults of today are mostly just a lost cause. This is coming from a 15 year old of course, so judge my opinion as much as you want
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      Jun 8 2011: Don't give up on the adults! But also, don't wait for them. The access to information, and tools for dissemination of information, that we have today makes it possible for us to all learn more about diverse approaches to issues at any age. Perhaps take it on as a personal project to try to interest your peer group in philosophy :)
    • Jun 8 2011: All of us over 18-ers aren't totally lame. Although I'll grant you, the ones running the show for the past 30 years have let us all down. Don't ever give up. I thought we'd "fixed" the world back in the 70s, but it's a chronic condition, requiring intense watchfulness and maintenance. We relaxed too soon.
    • Jun 8 2011: You're right. Time fixes everything.

      You might be interested in Zeitgeist: Moving Forward. It's about our society/economy today and the one fundamental aspect of our daily life which contributes to the most pain and suffering: money.

      This might just be the way of our future: a society without profit motivated corruption, where 'volunteer' and, believe it or not, "robots" will misplace the "work", or "slavery" of today.
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      Jun 8 2011: Good points. I have reflected on this problem myself. It is a two fold problem though. Adults feel they are in the right because they have a lifetime of experiences to back them up. This also causes many of them to look down on the younger generation because they feel they don't know enough yet. In turn the young generation ignores the adults because they feel they are not aware of the current trends.

      What we need though is balance. Adults must respect the young generation, their opinions and thoughts are important because they are the future. And the young generation must respect and learn from the old because in doing so, they can shortcut many of the hardships they might face in life.

      I speak from great experience. I was always smart and headstrong. I thought I knew more than anyone else. lol boy did I learn things the hard way. It may have made me a stronger and better person but it wasted so much time and caused too much pain. When we are open to the lessons we can learn from everyone, we leap-frog our progress. And that is what is is all about right, making progress.
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      Jun 8 2011: Responsibility and awareness are missing these days.
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    Jun 8 2011: I think through experience we benefit what works for us at the moment.
  • Jun 8 2011: I changed my mind about global warming. I'm not sure what made me become an environmentalist. I turned from being industrial-minded to being convinced we're doing great damage to nature. This came about through getting myself better educated, in part, but I'm not sure what made me swing the other way. There wasn't a sudden conversion.
  • Jun 8 2011: In order to operate and reach lasting success individuals must capture TRUTH and discover blindsides of manipulation and deceit. As one experiences life's challenges head on it becomes clear lies and false ideologies have no real substance. Individuals seek a higher power for comfort, enlightenment, strength, wisdom and courage. At different times and for a myriad of reasons beyond what I have noted people search for meaning and purpose. The proud have no need for spiritual influence for they alone are their god, knowingly or unknowingly.

    One has to be humble and eager to learn TRUTH. Lies are all around. It takes faith in the TRUTH to believe in the impossible and beyond all circumstances that doing the right thing in the end will cause one to prevail.
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    Jun 8 2011: Thank you so much for this. It was very powerful!
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    Jun 8 2011: I'm wondering, what has the Boomer generation inaugurated morally and how has it helped or destroyed our moral compass?
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    Jun 8 2011: I tend to change my opinion on something, someone only after I put myself in front of the reality. It surely is comfortable to believe in something that makes one feel good but in long term does not deliver serenity. Perhaps facing reality can be brutal sometimes but definitely not damaging in long term, as long as one knows how to deal with it.
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    Jun 8 2011: I realize im wrong only when i think that every body has a right to have their own views and beliefs. Only then is that i evaluate their ideas as equal and thus am able to let go of my own to be replaced by something new.
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    Jun 8 2011: Thinking in the shower or while waiting in line or while driving changes me. It is the rehersal for what I will write later. It covers a lot of territory. It is the desire to write it right when I get to it that keeps me covering more and more territory while taking a shower.
    • Jun 8 2011: do you find that you're doing it too much--to the exclusion of enjoying the current experience?
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        Jun 8 2011: Not really. I do enjoy the experience.
        • Jun 8 2011: I'm an obsessive thinker myself, but I find that my thoughts often pertain to preparing for some future that never occurs--there are so many possibilities that a person can't imagine all of them. I'm working on not doing so much thinking, but rather counting on my ability to improvise when required.
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    Jun 8 2011: On a comment I saw earlier you noted Eli Pariser who posted a great video on the filtration of information. On your comment below you mentioned 'we can of course do this on our own' which is obviously the ideal scenario. I find that my views on certain subject matters are often changing based on my conversations with very convincing fact-barfing types because it appeals to the scientist part of my brain.

    Often as I challenge the view and position I had taken, I find that the facts were often skewed and misrepresented without context. Generally these were provided by mainstream newspapers and media who do not provide the underlying 'evidence' alongside their quotes. I may often be wrong, but I feel like even an opposing view is just as wrong due to the injustice they give to show evidence of their fact. How does one determine whether if they are even changing to the 'right' position?
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    Jun 8 2011: Realizing the impact of my choices prompts me to do the most reflection. Not just how they effect people I know and love, but also the total stranger. Making it a practice to observe my actions without bias towards the outcome has made it an automatic step in my day-to-day operations. It has influenced the way I shop, the way I eat, and they way I communicate. It has effected my dreams and my life's mission. It has also made a difference in the type of people I associate with now, by proxy and by choice.

    In making "the quest for Absolute Truth" one of the guiding principles of my life, it has transformed me in ways I never thought possible. It has dissolved some bonds yet strengthened others. This realization of what is was right but now is wrong occurs everyday. Especially in terms of being more conscious of the supply chain. Too many of our goods are plagued by slave labor and this has to stop. The "stopping" starts with us by making better choices in what we buy and what companies we support.
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    Jun 8 2011: Another humility-generating moment that linked up with some previous thoughts and experiences came when a new relationship generated a conversation in which my new sweetheart said to me, "Oooohh.. I see.. YOU think that you're one of the Good Guys!"
    I have to say that led to a shift in my thinking, if not my underlying beliefs; it was another step toward realizing that, while we are valuable parts of the whole of humanity/life, I am sometimes being a "good guy", sometimes choosing to be a "bad guy", but really am neither one, intrinsically. It's my conscious choices that have the consequences and have social or moral "value", and then, only as a result.
    That really took the wind out of the sails of my ego self, and helped me be more aware of when I'm living out a kind of self-righteousness.
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    Jun 8 2011: Books change me. They let me see something in a systematic light. More often than cause a reversal, they give me more depth where there was less. I encounter new systematic perspectives and see how those perspectives interweave with my own.
  • Jun 8 2011: I was told long time ago that I have a very strong personality, that to achieve something I deem worth fighting for, I put so much passion in my doings, that others around me can easily mistake for domination.
    Since this is surely not my intent, since I don't want the power of my passion to push people away or worse, be seen as an infringement of their free will, I made it a habit that right after I get what I want to step back for a second and look again at the big picture. Re-evaluate everything through the light of the moral system that governs me. Sometimes I find that I was wrong, I apologize and restart with new hopes.
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    Jun 8 2011: First off, I just wanted to say your talk was very moving Dr.Horowitz!

    Now for my question...
    I'm currently reading Sam Harris' book, "The Moral Landscape." I was wondering if you were familiar with his arguments and if so, what is your take on the matter? I personally find Dr.Harris' moral landscape very compelling.

    Even if I don't get a response, it was still a pleasure watching your talk!
  • Jun 8 2011: I have worked in different employment sectors and each time I move into working within the private sector, I have a Dabrowskian-style moral breakdown. Having your optimism about the fundimental goodness of people being knocked out of you by reality, is not a wrong that society should feel proud about.
  • Jun 8 2011: Mr. Horowitz, I would like to ask what do you see as main ideology in current IT development. Is it really only profit? Do you think, if there's potential of change in future?
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      Jun 8 2011: In the present venue, I'm mainly interested in facilitating other peoples' reflection upon the moral dimension of their circumstances. But if asked to offer my own opinion...
      ...I would say that the challenge for the technology industry today is that we have found ourselves to be so extraordinarily successful at building devices which capture peoples' attention (and therefore, their dollars), and we have done so in an environment which allows us to rapidly observe the short-term effects of our design choices (say, which of two possible landing pages on a site has higher conversions)... and thus, as a consequence, most decisions tend to get made on the basis of what might optimize the usage/purchase numbers for our products. We are very good at optimizing for this, we know how to do it, it is easy -- and so we do it.
      In other words, what is missing is consideration of longer-term consequences of the things that we build, and reflection upon whether the choices we are making even now may be questionable on intrinsic grounds, regardless of their short-term benefits.
      • Jun 8 2011: Damon, would you agree that the time frames of our perspectives are shrinking in general? Don't we tend to go for immediate gratification/entertainment rather than investing now for longer-term happiness?
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    Jun 8 2011: Whenever I have experienced a clear intuition, what I had believed, up to then, was instantly known to be mere belief, whether that belief held true, or not. I have heard it said that we are entering an age of intuition; that, I Do believe.
  • Jun 8 2011: For me it is, and has been for a long time, a conscious decision. The realization and acceptance that my behavior and actions always have an impact on others pretty much mandates that I reflect on what and how I operate in the world.
  • Jun 8 2011: This recently happened to me. It was in relation to how I viewed my relationship with my younger fraternity brothers and the rules that governed us. What caused me to reflect was being in a different seat at a situation that I'd been in before and reflecting on it from a newer perspective. Furthermore, I suddenly had grown into a sense of responsibility surrounding these young men. This made my decisions much more powerful to me.
  • Jun 8 2011: Most people would rather be wrong that go through the effort of exchanging their opinion for BETTER one.

    In our intentionally adversarial societal systems people debate with the aim of winning, rather than getting to the TRUTH.

    Human nature is horrible to behold and morality is dying.

    I say, "Lux et Veritas" to though who walk a different path; most of us who truly seek TRUTH are AUTISTIC ... :) :) :)
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      Jun 8 2011: A good friend of mine enjoys proclaiming -- somewhat hyperbolically -- that his hope whenever he is in a conversation is that he will be proven wrong about his prior view... for if that is the case, then he knows he is leaving the conversation better off than when he started it!

      Few may wholeheartedly subscribe to that characterization today -- but it's worth noting that it is not so far from the motivating impulse of our favorite interlocutor, Socrates...
      • Jun 8 2011: Odd that you mention Socrates ... he was on my mind when I wrote my quick note, however, I never mentioned him by name or illuded to the concept of Philosopher Kings ... I am a huge fan of the man and perhaps he has infected me with his thinking ...

    • Jun 8 2011: I believe that most people just assume their right and I believe it is those that believe they are wrong would rather not go through the effort to try and show another why it is in all our best interest to move towards the truth.
    • Jun 8 2011: While there are experiences that are unfortunate I do think that there are many, many progresses in the world today. Here we are debating a very important subject. We need to see the ills of our society in order to fix them. So seeing them isn't necessarily a bad thing even if it hurts and is disappointing. Just be sure to look for the hope as well. It's out there.
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        Jun 8 2011: But before that have faith in yourself. You are a responsible for all consequences, not the crowd. :-)
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      Jun 8 2011: Does education play a big factor in people's general moral attitudes? I realize that once you begin to really contemplate ideas you begin to see that you easily can be wrong. Mainstream media, outside of academia doesn't encourage that kind of contemplation, so many uneducated people can foster ignorant attitudes about right and wrong.
  • Jun 8 2011: I tend to believe that I am never 100% right, so even if I am 75% right I will look for that 25% I am wrong in order to learn from it. The % I am right has little learning/ improvement value attached. So the larger percentage of error I can find the steeper my learning curve.
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    Jun 8 2011: If I happen to get a "stop and think about this from the other person's perspective" moment. These moments can come because someone has told me I need to stop and think, or because it has struck me that I need to do so. It is when I see something from a perspective where I see that I am hurting someone or causing harm to them or not being the kind of help they need, that I am pushed deeper into the analysis of what I should be doing.

    Those are the quick changes. Some of the slower changes have occurred imperceptibly.. I go back later to something I had written 30 years ago and discover I have shifted consideraby.
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    Jun 8 2011: Would you consider ego a hindrance or beneficial to moral reflection and reconsideration?
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      Jun 8 2011: Hindrance. Big ego means overconfidence and insecurity - a deadly combination that is toxic to reflection.
  • Jun 8 2011: By far the first and most profound thing that caused me to question what I believed was my first philosophy class at college as a freshman. Changed my religious beliefs because of it, my outlook on life, my career goals, and eventually my friends. That was over 20 yeras ago. Now watching my teenage kids grow up and wondering what the world be like for them is cause for moral reflection.
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      Jun 8 2011: Delighted to hear that the philosophy class had the intended effect!

      One of the largest crises we are facing now as a society is the faltering status of the traditional liberal arts education, in favor of more immediate vocational training. The undergraduate years are a perfect time to engage tomorrow's leaders in the challenging questions of humanity... with the hope that this will help develop a sensibility that can better address the issues we are facing.

      It is also important that we continue to train scholars at the next level as well, and find ways to support graduate Humanities work -- as that is the level at which new insights are first developed. One of the challenges there is that the academic job market for young Humanities PhDs is, in a word, terrible. Yet increasingly there are opportunities for people with this background to have an impact in industry, to apply their skills and humanistic sensibility to evolving business practices and the like. Check out the recent BiblioTech conference at Stanford for a few great examples...
      • Jake C

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        Jun 8 2011: Just when I thought that I was the only person who believed in the traditional liberal arts education...Very encouraging words sir, thank you.
  • Jun 8 2011: I sometimes realise that I am wrong about something when there is a lot of emotion, positive or negative around a topic for me. Positive feelings make me less objective and critical, negative emotions make me less objective and tolerant. When I apply values to my thinking such a honesty, truth, respect and fairness I can discern what is really going on more easily.
  • Jun 8 2011: I think we usually realise we were wrong about something when we stop getting what we need out of whatever the situation we thought was right. Many factors come into play that removes us from subjectivity to a more reflective state of being. Age, time whatever you choose to call it allows us to take a different perspective (especially once the rose tinted spectacles have been removed) thus allowing us to see that maybe the situation, action, job or whatever was not right at all, but instead suited us at the time.
  • Jun 8 2011: It is communication with other people and exposure to diverse viewpoints and lifestyles that usually makes me reconsider my position on different issues. I also noticed that this kind of "wisdom" comes over time as you grow older. With the passage of time you have more experience to build a more holistic picture of the world around you which is not confined to black and white scenarios you learn from the books when you are young. So reflection and reconsideration for me come in an empirical way mostly.
  • Jun 8 2011: When I've ended up in a predicament that I never considered myself prone to experiencing it has resulted in me seeing a situation from that new side and changing my mind. Repeated exposure to different ideas has also helped - especially ideas based on facts that I may have, for whatever reason, not run across before. The first few (or twenty) times don't seem to make a difference, but it is cumulative.
  • Raj B

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    Jun 8 2011: I think that also the re-evaluation in seeking to greater knowledge of Self presents a really fertile ground for coming to terms with mistakes and figuring out what really is right and wrong in our personal perception. It's deeply attached to our emotional well-being and I think is in competition with how honest we are with our Self.
  • Raj B

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    Jun 8 2011: Sometimes the knowledge is latent or dormant until I'm presented with the same or similar situation.