Stories of Intellectual Growth From Using /r/ChangeMyView

At the end of 2017, a question was posted to /r/ideasforcmv (our subreddit for ‘meta’ discussion), which asked: “How has CMV impacted your intellectual growth?”

It received a few replies, but the author of the post (OP) suggested that we use it as a ‘Meta Monday’ question in /r/changemyview (more on which you can read about here).

I recently decided to use this suggestion, and reached out to commenters to ask if they would expand on their stories for this blog. I’ve quoted six users below (and included a short note of my own at the end), beginning with the OP that inspired this. Their usernames link to the comments which they expanded on privately.

1. u/ShiningConcepts

I recall first discovering CMV back in early 2016, when I googled “reddit debate” or something to that effect. I have been viewing it regularly ever since. In terms of academic and intellectual growth, there is no sub that outdoes CMV for me.

A large problem on Reddit, on both the far left and far right, is the prevalence of “echo chambers”; communities that either censor contrarian opinions, or, by virtue of their userbase’s leanings, have an overwhelming lack of them (and downvote the few that appear to a point of low visibility). This problem is largely nonexistent in CMV.

CMV has established itself as an open ground for discussion where posters, and passers-by who agree with the posts they see, can open their mind up to brand new ideas that challenge their way of thinking. Indeed, several of my naive opinions acquired from echo chambers have transformed into more nuanced and factual opinions.

Beyond this, I have also learned the art of debate through CMV. In seeing common errors in citations people make (such as insufficient sample size or a citation not quite claiming what it was used to cite), I have learned how to make coherent arguments. Another useful feature of CMV is that it exposes how others interpret your opinions; if you want to be a convincing speaker, it helps to have some clue of how people who disagree with you will respond. After spending almost two years on this subreddit, I have become convinced that you should not hold an opinion if it hasn’t yet been “tested” (exposed to others), and if you truly do hold an opinion, it can be great to see how others react to it on CMV.

CMV is a great subreddit that is not only hugely enjoyable and engaging, but has changed me as a person. It has aided in my education as a young adult and the skills and knowledge I have gained in it will stick with me. I wish this sub and it’s moderators all the best and look forward to the views posted in the future!

2. u/Ansuz07

CMV has certainly had a very positive impact on my intellectual growth.

Thanks to this forum, I’ve really come to believe that most people in this world – even those I disagree with – have made up their mind based on their own experiences and have arrived at a conclusion that they see as logical. The big problem I see in the world today is that while we accept that premise for ourselves, we simply refuse to accept that the other side of an issue has arrived at their stance using the exact same logic and process, just with differing “inputs”; we view them as evil or stupid or ignorant but rarely as valid, while different.

There have been a number of times that my own view has been changed by reading the responses that others have put forward in these threads. By forcing myself outside of my own echo chamber and putting myself in the mindset of really challenging the underlying assumptions of what I believe, I have been able to see that my side of an issue isn’t the only one and there are arguments that I had never thought of against things that I believe. Even when my view wasn’t changed, the discussion helped me clarify exactly what I believed and why I believed it. It is always a good thing to test your assumptions, even if you end up remaining with your assumptions at the end.

3. u/Glory2Hypnotoad

As someone who’s been on CMV for around 3 years now, participating has taught me a lot about the psychology of persuasion and even exposed how some of my own bad habits were working against me, not just in online conversation but in everyday life.

The first lesson was the importance of trust. People generally don’t concede points to people they don’t trust. That’s obvious enough in the abstract, but it’s easy to overlook how the same habits that might make you look and feel like the winner of a regular debate can backfire when trying to convince a specific person. Even with the stated purpose of a place like CMV, there’s a certain amount of social baggage that people inevitably carry with them, which includes the idea of argument as combat. Even open-minded people have a certain amount of instinct to regard their beliefs as something precious in need of defending. If you want someone to lower their defenses, you have to act outside the paradigm of attack and defense. Show that you’re listening to the person and making an effort to understand their position. Let them concede a few small points without any feeling of defeat and they’re far more likely to concede the big ones.

In moral conversations, I’ve learned to stop preaching and instead either show the benefit and purpose of my principles or appeal to values the other person already holds.

The lesson that took me the longest to learn, and longer to stop being cynical about, is the distinction between a valid argument and a convincing one. The interesting thing about CMV is that it creates an incentive to argue differently from most people’s normal instincts. I came into CMV with the belief that certain conversations just have winning and losing moves, but experience showed me that the quickest way to shoot myself in the foot is to assume I know how a conversation will go. The moment I stopped treating human nature as some kind of logical cop-out and embraced that any conversation could surprise me, the quality of conversations I started having increased.

4. u/Jaysank

As far as intellectual growth, I guess the one I notice the most is recognizing my own biases and assumptions. Sometimes, when I try to convince someone of one of my own views, I realize that there are certain assumptions that I have made that would be hard to distill towards someone else.

For example, yesterday and today, I was in a discussion here about free will. While I noticed we had very different definitions of free will, it took me a while to understand the underlying assumptions behind our definitions that made them so different. It actually sparked me to research the ideas behind compatibilism. I came to realize that a lot of the ideas I had, like free will requiring determinism as opposed to being incompatible with it, were much more difficult to reason into than I thought. Which sort of explained why I was having difficulties explaining it to someone else.

And I wouldn’t know where to look to find decently well balanced discussions like the types you find on r/changemyview. It really is awesome here.

5. u/PepperoniFire

Change My View got me into good habits. Living an “examined life” has become increasingly more important as I’ve gotten older and as discourse has become visibly agitated. I don’t want to romanticize the past; I know people have always argued and argued bitterly, but I’m not sure at the same velocity and breadth that the Internet allows.

CMV bolstered what had effectively been an Internet education. I grew up on Internet forums. It’s interesting because I’m young enough to have grown up on the Internet but old enough that I wasn’t raised on it, and certainly not raised in its current ecosystem. Few things were live chats and people had time to consolidate their thoughts.

Thus when I got to CMV I was at a point where I had honed an ability to debate well enough, but I hadn’t gotten in the good habit of really thinking hard about why I believed a certain thing or how I arrived at that conclusion. Rather, I was putting points on a scoreboard. Having to articulate my view as an OP, and having to challenge people who frequently held a view like my own, forced me to reconsider certain logical steps (or, in some cases, outright leaps) that got me to that view. You do this enough, and you begin to see the value of introspection, and you become habituated to doing so. You don’t feel like you’re losing if you change your mind. I have come to see this as a net gain. Now, I don’t always change my view and, frankly, often feel justifiably set in drawing certain lines. However, where there’s room for flexibility or reconsideration, I allow for it, and I have built this into a personal analytical framework.

It’s not that I’m particularly good at thinking about my views every waking second – I’m subject to the Backfire Effect just like everyone else – but I am more often than not incorporating that step without having to write out a mental reminder, and I consider that a huge gain.

6. u/das_american

It’s certainly accelerated my rate of intellectual growth. Almost every post I make is something I don’t understand, and I’ve been shocked at times at the level of expertise in the comments. My favorite comment from any of my CMV posts was from a professional. I was arguing that the law code should be far less complex. I was surprised to find an actual lawyer took the time to write this detailed response. The level of thought and time and experience that went into his two comments here just blew me away. I felt like an intellectual giant had stooped to bestow his gifts of knowledge to me.

And not only expertise, but sometimes people take an entirely different logical path using the same facts to reach an entirely different conclusion. So I think it also gives you a great insight into the way people think. Here’s one example where I was saying we should pay people to undergo sterilization (I might be a bad person…). This person basically agreed with what I said, but concluded from those facts that it would be more effective to pay for temporary female birth control.

Very rarely do people flip their view a full 180 degrees within the span of time it takes a thread to die. But there have been a lot of times when my view is so fundamentally flawed that I have to go back and think about the whole thing again. So it’s very possible that long after the thread is dead I eventually do flip my view a full 180.

I will end this piece with some thoughts of my own.

Having created /r/changemyview five years ago on my 17th birthday, a large part of my growing up has occurred with the subreddit as a continuous thread in my life. The general maturity and experiences that come with such an important development period – like going to University – will have naturally contributed to my intellectual growth, but I’m certain that CMV has also had a profound effect on me.

I didn’t launch CMV as someone who was gifted in the art of persuasion – I just recognised a severe lack of good quality conversation and exposure to different viewpoints – but I’ve learned a lot through reading great discussions between some incredibly thoughtful and intellectual people, and through moderating those that weren’t so great. While I tend not to contribute to such discussions in order to maintain a confidence in neutrality from the top (a personal preference not required of the wider mod team), I have still benefited significantly from this position. There’s also the hugely valuable experience from working on the CMV project behind the scenes.

One example would be observing the success that often comes from using the Socratic method. Asking questions and properly listening to answers is an all-round great approach to discussion. It allows you to fully understand the other side – potentially opening your eyes – but also gives you the necessary information to dismantle another’s argument effectively. In some cases, questions alone can change someone’s view if they become aware of their contradictory answers. There’s something quite empowering about this, if received well, as it allows the other person to feel involved in the changing of their own view, as opposed to just being told they’re wrong. That’s a lesson I hope to always keep in mind.

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