Archive of email #20 to participants

Differing Perspectives: Could They Prove Fatal?

August 12, 2009

My last two messages related to contrarian perspectives on Iran and North Korea. One reason I place so much emphasis on understanding differing perspectives can be summarized as, "The greatest value is in the opposing point of view." While that statement threw me for a loop when I first heard it, some thought convinced me of its validity. If two people totally agree on a subject, they can learn nothing new from one another, while if their perspectives differ, there is a chance they will gain new understanding.

When opinions differ, often each person has a piece of the truth. Taken by itself as if it were the whole truth, each piece can become a falsehood. But when combined, the two perspectives can provide a more accurate picture of reality. When the reality in question could cause a major Russian-American crisis (e.g., Georgia or missile defense), stubbornly maintaining a narrow frame of reference could prove fatal. The web site "Russia: Other Points of View" recently ran a short article I wrote concerning that risk which I hope you'll find interesting. As its name implies, that site is devoted to giving other viewpoints on Russia more exposure in the West.

It's important to remember that understanding another viewpoint is not the same as adopting it. Rather, as noted above, EITHER of two differing viewpoints taken by itself can become a falsehood, so the goal is to sift through differing perspectives to find ones which have elements of truth, and then combine them with what you already know to get closer to reality.

Martin Hellman
Member, National Academy of Engineering
Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering
   Stanford University


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