Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Online conversations

Charukesi and Dina have two nice posts about blogs being a form of online conversation.

I just want to point out that an overt conversation -- irrespective of whether it is face-to-face or online -- could also have, underneath it, one or more hidden conversations; perhaps one could call them subtexts. Let me use an example to illustrate what I mean.

In a recent post, I said I was unconvinced by Ravikiran Rao's criticism of Dilip D'Souza's logic (in this Rediff article). Yesterday, Ravikiran wrote this:

Then Abinandanan responds to my post, saying… I am not sure exactly what. The points he raises would have been answered if he had actually completed reading my post. But let me try again.

Now, it is clear that we are talking past each other. It is time, therefore, to take a closer look at a possible hidden conversation that could have taken place, but didn't (thankfully ;-). If it did, it probably went like this:

"Yo, look at this. I have shown here that Dilip is a bad boy, because his logic is sloppy."

"Let me see your argument. Hmmm... I am sorry, I don't think the allegation sticks."

"Which part? That Dilip is a bad boy, or that his logic is sloppy."

"Your argument about his logic."

"How so?"

"Let us step back a bit, shall we? Does this look like a Logic 101 kind of book to you?"

"I don't know about Logic 101, but this book's cover says Introduction to Logic."

"Okay, let us open the first chapter."

"Ah, the first chapter. I love first chapters. They are truly wonderful. You know what, I write them too, except that I call them Beginners' guides."

"How about the other chapters? Do you love them too?"

"Are you kidding? I have no use for them. You see, I don't do nuance. I am the sort of guy who believes in being direct. You know what, I don't even call a spade a spade. I simply say, 'A spade is a spade'. Sometimes, for variety, I say, 'a hammer and a sickle are not spades'."


"On other things too, I believe in being direct. For example, Wodehouse is unfunny. And, Dilip is a bad boy ..."

"Okay, okay, you believe in being direct. Let us get back to where we were. So, where were we?"

"Dilip is a bad boy."

"No, not that. In the book."

"Yeah, the book. The first chapter."

"Of course. It says here on page 3, 'reasoning is a special kind of thought ... in which conclusions are drawn from premisses'. Do you agree?"

"Oh, absolutely. I love premisses. I have actually used three of them in my argument. And, I have three conclusions, too!"

"Oh, good! Would you agree with me that different premisses may lead to different conclusions?"

"Yeah, it sounds logical."

"If Dilip started with a premiss that is different from yours, is it possible for him to arrive at a conclusion that is also different from yours?"

"Yeah, it is possible."

"Go back and read what Dilip wrote."

"I have done it several times. There is no premiss there. And the conclusion is all wrong!"

"[The premiss is there.] Okay, see this sentence. Does this look like a premiss?"


"Does his conclusion follow from his premiss".

"Yeah, but .... , like, okay, ..., whatever! But, you had not 'completed reading my post. But, let me try again'. Dilip is a bad boy ..."

Yeah. Like, ..., whatever.

PS: This is the book that I am referring to: Irving M. Copi and Carl Cohen (Introduction to Logic, Ninth edition, Prentice Hall India, 1995); I am told by reliable sources that Logic has not seen much new development in the ten years since its publication.

Update: I just added links to show more clearly the hidden conversation's connections with the (real) online one.


  1. Anonymous said...

    I can't stop laughing!! Thank you for the early morning sunshine. And with it very strange memories of Logic in first year, with Copi, Cohen and all their brethren staring at me.

    Still laughing.

  2. Anonymous said...

    this is deeeeevine ! am laughing too...


  3. Anonymous said...

    have you read the short story 'Love is a fallcy' by Max Schulman - do. Its logic like noone else can teach you!

  4. Anonymous said...

    I normally dont do this, as I prefer to comment on the contents rather than leave a generic commendatory message, but still here goes: Great post! :)

    And I agree with with your excellent reasoning too.

  5. Anonymous said...

    LOL! Logical reasoning is still considered 'uncommon' sense :)

  6. Anonymous said...

    That was simply outstanding!!!

    It's a pity I have to have you flogged for saying Wodehouse is unfunny. But just for this post, your life will be spared.

  7. Anonymous said...

    Neha, Dina, Charu, Kiran, Patrix and Sunil,

    Thanks a lot for those appreciative words.

    Kiran, thank you for checking the correctness of the logic ;-)

    Sunil, I didn't say anything about Wodehouse; the other guy did! Check the post again, it is a link.

    Cheers, folks!

  8. Anonymous said...

    Excellent going Abi. Only if you could've written this sometime earlier, the signal:noise ratio on yazad's post would have been higher. I also find, the most uncomfortable thing is not when someone disagrees, but when they immediately want you to place in one or the other buckets which they have created for a simpler understanding of their lives. I admit I must've learnt much more practical economics from both sides by reading blogs, but foulmouthing and snide remarks nevertheless leaves a bad taste. I am left wondering, would it be a good idea that MAYBE the blogowner must step in. If a comment contains, no real stuff, only fluff and invective especially if it's directed at others, then it must be censored. Some of the comments on Yazad's post were downright personal attacks on Dilip having nothing to do with the origincal topic. And then that sudhakar nair episode didn't help either. And Dilip, as I know him, is not given to retaliate. I can only admire his patience and calm attitude.
    ps: a chota-moonh-badhi-baat types suggestion. I learnt it the hard way, long back, that never..ever ridicule anyone's taste in music and books. NEVER. period :) Infact on this one, I think for a moment you lost it in your thread when you brought that into picture. And to be fair to Ravi, he didn't say "Wodehouse is unfunny". He said he doesn't find Wodehouse funny & then lists down his fav. humour brands. A matter of personal taste. Don't you feel that's alright ? Disclosure: I too commented on that post. And I still nurse a secret wish, to have a go at Wodehouse again after some years, maybe when my tastes would've changed.
    pps: You are a good reader, and ofcourse a good writer. Your students are lucky.

  9. Anonymous said...

    Hi Suhail,

    Thanks for your detailed comments.

    I am a newbie [less than 6 months] in the world of blogging, and this is the post with the largest number of comments: nine, so far, and two of them are mine! So, I am not really an expert on how comments ought to be treated.

    Having said that, let me also be upfront about what I intend to do: I have no interest in exercising any control over non-spam comments. In this, I am firmly with Yazad, Dina, Patrix, Charu, et al. A comment, even if it is a flame, should not be deleted. Period. I think Yazad said it best: "[abuse] says a lot about the abuser".

    I agree with you that Dilip is a great guy; I have no idea how he manages to be calm when people around him are sort of yelling at him. It is a virtue that I can only envy from afar, ...

    As for the reference to Wodehouse, I didn't put it in the post to offend anyone. Heck, I want people to see my viewpoint and support me, so why would I do such a thing? I used it for a simple rhetorical purpose: to show that Ravikiran is (at least, he appears to me to be) a man of clear ideas and strong convictions. I am not making any value judgement about people's likes and dislikes. So, please don't read too much into it.

    Thanks again for your kind words. I really appreciate them.


  10. Anonymous said...

    Abi, I am a newer-bee than you(<3 months) and I too was just wondering aloud (that 'MAYBE').

    ..A comment, even if it is a flame, should not be deleted. Period. I think Yazad said it best: "[abuse] says a lot about the abuser"...

    Right. But only if the abuser can be identified -in which case he will be automatically boycotted by likeminded people. Not when the abuser is dontask@wontlie.com (#114 on Yazad). It is like inviting friends for a party at your place (broadcasted on a TV channel), and then allowing a drunkard - who calls himself Joe - to throw invectives on one of your guests even as others are talking to him. I think its the same situation here. Now some other comments too took jabs at Dilip, but atleast they fouled a rule or two while still playing by the rules. Keep those comments. We are all fallible. But the one above and some others like this were outright flares.

    As of now that is how I see it. I hate profanities. I have myself deleted one or two such at my place.

    As for Wodehouse, I misread you. Sorry for that. Cheers !

  11. Anonymous said...

    What is a "premiss"?

    Did you mean premise?

  12. Anonymous said...

    I know Amit fairly well, and like most of us, he is opposed to ad hominem in debating. I would like you to point to a specific comment where he has attacked Dilip personally instead of attacking his arguments.

  13. Anonymous said...


    Your point about nasties invading the comment section is well taken. I appreciate now why one might want to take a nuanced position on this issue ;-)

    Having said that, the nasties are not here yet! I will remember your words when they do arrive.


    Thanks for your comments.

    Premiss/premise: I just used the spelling I found in the book by Copi and Cohen. Could it be American spelling?

    As for your question about Amit, I haven't said anything about him here, have I? There seems to be some misunderstanding here.

  14. Anonymous said...

    two things.
    First: you confuse nuance and subtlety. Nuances of meaning, feeling etc. can be conveyed quite directly and bluntly, without subtlety.

    And, I might add, I don't see any use for subtlety in blogging dialogue; other than to pass off imprecise writing and hand-waving arguments.

    At least you, as an IISc scientist, should respect and even demand such rigor. You don't see that many scientific papers which eschew directness for "subtlety" do you?

    Second: What Ravikiran said about Dilip was that Dilip was unclear about his premises in his article. That Dilip was imprecise. The question of logical fallacies doesn't even appear in his assertion.

    This post and the earlier one, skims this basic point and instead talks in length about pies and logic 101s.
    Do read RR's new post for a further clarification.

    The basic problem with you and other Sith (Sith, Socialist; what's the difference) apprentices of Darth Dilip, if I'm allowed some psychoanalysis, is ethical conceit. I have a post on that, do read it.

  15. Anonymous said...

    Abi, you're my apprentice now? Wow! Sit! Stay! (Or should that that be "Sith!" "Sthay!"? -- forgive me, I have no idea what a "Sith" is).

    If you haven't done so already, I urge you to read that post pronto, then read it again and again. It is a model of rigor and directness.

  16. Anonymous said...

    Wow! Sit! Stay... I urge you to read that post pronto, then read it again and again.

    Much disturbance in the mind of this one I see. Too much time in the dark side spent he has.

    Abi, hope for you there still is. Escape from the dark side you still can.

  17. Anonymous said...

    Premises is the standard spelling for the words relating to buildings and to a reasoned idea: The office premises are vacant; I am basing my premise on what you told me. However, premiss is an alternative spelling for the second sense, especially in its use as a term in logic: The two first parts of an argument in logic are known as the major premiss and the minor premiss.


  18. Anonymous said...

    7times6, thanks for dropping by! Do you, by any chance, think this post is about Dilip? If you do, please think again. Perhaps I can give you a not-so-subtle hint: the answer has no nuance at all!

    On other things, such as the Importance of Precise Thinking and Writing, I am in total agreement with you. Thank you for your inputs.

    Anand, thanks for the clarification about premise/premiss.

    Cheers, folks!

  19. Anonymous said...
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  20. Anonymous said...
    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
  21. Anonymous said...

    Funny post.

    Fair? Of that I'm not so sure. It's rather easy to caricature someone. Much tougher to coherently debate.

    It seems you like to take the easy way out. No problems! I know of one more humourous blog to visit.

  22. Anonymous said...

    Vulturo, many thanks for Wiki pointer. In return, Sit and Stay.

    Now what about "Sthay"?

  23. Anonymous said...

    Abi, this is an entertaining post, and if that is your purpose, then it is served. But I agree with Yazad. I can conjure up an imaginary conversation with anyone and make him look silly. It is far tougher to actually have a substantive argument.