Opinions vs. Ideas - Scott Adams' Blog

Opinions vs. Ideas

If you hear an idea without knowing who came up with it, you can evaluate the idea on its merits. But if you know the originator of the idea, the idea gets slimed with everything you know about the originator and his motives. When an idea is associated with a personality it transforms into an opinion. And we fucking hate other people’s opinions. Ideas are kind of cool, but we don’t like opinions.

There’s probably some sort of evolutionary reason why we automatically hate the opinions of others. Maybe it’s a competition thing. Maybe it’s an ego thing. I’m just saying that we reject the opinions of others almost reflexively. We reject first and then we try to cook up some reasons later.

The exception is when an opinion matches our own. That is seen as confirmation of our brilliance. But in any case, the underlying idea become subordinate to the personalities involved.

For existing ideas, it’s too late to separate them from their authors. But maybe there’s a way to save future ideas from death-by-association. How much better off would the world be if new ideas could be freed from the slimy and infected shackles of their originators? What if all new ideas went through some sort of filter that stripped off the identity of the originator and allowed us to evaluate the ideas on their merits?

The first problem with anonymity is economics. If you’re a journalist or pundit, your income depends on being associated with ideas, even if doing so kills the ideas. So even if an idea were to have some sort of virgin birth, the first group or person to embrace it would become the adopting parent and slime the idea by association.

This is a big problem. I fear that the best ideas for the economy, the environment, and social contracts are destroyed by association with, ugh, humans. So I wonder if the Internet can offer some sort of solution.

Let’s imagine a website that requires all participants to be anonymous. Users are invited to submit original ideas on any topic. Popular ideas are voted up until the best ideas bubble to the top. And let’s say the participants on this site agree as a matter of principle to not discuss the new ideas outside the forum. And let’s say that the only people who can see the ideas are those who are members. The only ideas that are released to the general public are the ones that bubble to the top and are then published in press releases.

Partisans would obviously sign up to game the system and fill it with the ideas of their political parties and advocacy groups. That’s where moderators would need to be involved. Any ideas that seem nearly the same as existing ideas in the outside world would be deleted. Only new ideas, including novel twists on existing ideas, would be allowed.

That still leaves the problem of one advocacy group or another signing up in large numbers to pump up votes for ideas that are at least compatible with their philosophies. Maybe one of you has an idea for how to prevent that problem.

The main point is this: Humanity would become far more efficient at solving its biggest problems if ideas could be separated from personalities.