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I was just thinking, if we as humans want to sort out our differences of opinion on, say, politics or religion, what would be a good means to debate such a concept while at the same time make everyone feel they're on board?

Most sites on such things are either:

  • Biased or unbiased (but usually persuasive) writings or studies that are written by a single individual or group (one way communication)

  • Organised Q&A, forums, expert's opinion, etc. (two way communication, but often between those who have a good understanding and those who do not)

  • Unorganised and random chatting between fellow users (one to one communication, or group chatting within a small group/anonymous users)

Has there been any research or thought given to the idea of a collective idea generating mechanism, where everybody provides their inputs, and is more likely to accept the results of such a debate (if results do come up)?


Maybe a huge online wiki organised as a nodal network, where claims are supported or questioned. Evidence is put up on both sides, and further threads can be opened to debate the validity of given evidence. Bigger claims are made based on the validity of smaller claims, etc. etc. (But that's just my thoughts)

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure how on-topic this question is. If it isn't, please let me know where it would be more valid. $\endgroup$ – ghosts_in_the_code Apr 1 '17 at 11:25
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think there is a particular StackExchange that's super on-topic for this, so I think it's fine here. $\endgroup$ – Seanny123 Apr 1 '17 at 14:08
  • $\begingroup$ I should also mention that I don't consider this as "too broad" given that I have no idea how to cut the question into smaller manageable pieces. Suggestions how to split this question would be greatly appreciated. $\endgroup$ – Seanny123 Apr 3 '17 at 2:12
  • $\begingroup$ I am currently working on exactly such a site (Socratrees) and am mainly basing myself on Stack Exchange's community model and some reading into informal logic and existing tools out there supporting it. Also related is argumentation theory. $\endgroup$ – Steven Jeuris Aug 10 '17 at 16:19
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I've been fascinated by this question for years, but unfortunately don't have a conclusive answer. So instead, I'll make an ad-hoc list of the things I've found/explored about this topic and hopefully this will give you a starting point until someone else can create a better answer with better references.


My current approach to this is MindMaps, which is similar to nodal network you propose. I've used Mindmaps in various scenarios, including trying to determine an appropriate scope for this site. However, I know of no formal study of this format of discussion and if it's better than linear forms of discussion as supported by forums.

Other models include Federated Wikis, which seems closer to your idea of an interconnected Wiki for discussion. However, these seems more targeted to spontaneous cross-fertilization of ideas, rather than debate. This is a new platform, so it's not surprising that there has been no formal study of the ideas that culminate from this form of digital interaction.

In terms of the content of documents, Bret Viktor has been investigating this and is trying to create a paradigm of Explorable Explorations. Explorable Explanations rely on manipulable data-driven proofs rather than rhetoric based argumentation to prove their point. See the link for further examples. There is a collection of Explorable Explanations available online, which address a variety of topics, including CBT. However, I know of no evidence that these forms of explanations are more effective than traditional narrative-driven explanations.

Finally, to unify all of these approaches philosophically, Joe Edelman is putting forth a philosophy which dictates that shared values are the root of empathy and understanding. I know of no system that implements this philosophy of finding common values between participants, but it does seem like a useful framework to guide design.


That's all I've found so far. I know lots of people doing research in Human Computer Interaction, but I've seen very little work in the domain of consensus building. I really hope further posters can provide superior references.

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    $\begingroup$ FWIW, mind maps seem ambiguous to me. When a line joins two bubbles, what does that mean? Causality? Subsumption? Containment? That one is a component of the other? A temporal (but not causal) relationship? I've seen cases used where ALL of these different relationships are conflated within the same mind map! I wonder if mind maps may lead to "assumed consensus" ("false consensus effect" per Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_consensus_effect) where mind maps make you THINK they have enhanced communication, when in fact different people walk away with different impressions. $\endgroup$ – Randall Stewart Apr 3 '17 at 17:32
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As a scientist and teacher turned political scientist/activist, I find your question very interesting.

I may not adequately understand your question and/or proposal, but it sounds problematic to me. A huge online wiki organized as a nodal network, where claims and evidence can be published and debated...

The Internet is already flooded with countless forums and discussion groups organized along different lines, and it's very difficult to find sites that are really credible.

I have enormous respect for science and the scientific community. Yet even some scientists are corporate shills, and science is commonly misrepresented in the corporate media. (The ridiculous claim that there's a "scientific consensus" that there's nothing wrong with genetically modified food comes to mind.)

Whether your interest is science, philosophy or political activism, in the end, I think you have to link up with other individuals who are dedicated to searching for truth. But how do you track down such people and verify that they're genuine?

I don't know if I'm going to far astray from your question, but one thing that I think is very helpful is openness. When people are able to post anonymously or pseudonymously, without citing their credentials, it's very hard to trust them.

People who are looking for jobs are expected to have resumes, and scientists are expected to have degrees (and, preferably, some experience).

In that spirit, I prefer communicating with real people (not pseudonyms) who have some sort of track record. And racking up points on a forum can be very deceptive; I prefer to know something about their specific beliefs and values.

To put it in perspective, imagine if Plato, Aristotle and other great philosophers had discussed their theories pseudonymously on some sort of node-based wiki.

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