Service denial in discussion

There’s this thing, which I ran into recently on the forge and I’ve seen it quite a few times before, where you get assertion overload.

It’s kind of like the equivalent of a service denial attack – a bunch of assertions are given at once and apparently it’s entirely up to the other guy to probe, question and disprove them (if needed).

The thing is with that idea, it’s incredibly easy to keep piling on more and more assertions, usually in responce to those questions (like the old ‘if the earth rests on an elephants back, what does that elephant rest on’ ‘another elephant’…there’s always another fookin elephant). And alot of people who seem to believe stuff have many, many, many assertions to give. It amounts to a service denial attack, where the other guy is swamped in work.

I’m writing this in advance to say, no, your not making a point, your just swamping the other guy. Writing this in advance to show it’s not just some dodge tactic made up in the moment. Well before the arguement ever came to exist, this was written.

Provide supporting evidence for your assertions and even more importantly/more directly to the point, attempt to disprove your own assertions before giving them!!! Yes, attempt to disprove your own assertions – don’t give in to confirmation bias.

Or alternatively, tell me one assertion you had, but you disproved yourself because you found it faulty. Perhaps can’t think of any? Nothing you do is ever faulty? Is that god like perfection on your part, or have you been failing to actually weed out and disprove assertions on your part which are faulty? Is it someone elses job to do that? Even if it was, can they when you pile on a bunch of other assertions which you haven’t vetted for errors? And then pile on even more unchecked assertions when those get questioned, and so on?

Your a force on this earth, despite what you might think. Do you want to be applying that force onto other people in the name of those assertions, if you can’t name any you’ve weeded out as faulty in the past? Because unless you have god like perfection, if you can’t name any assertions you’ve weeded out, then they’re still in there and your acting upon other people in their name.



  1. Guy said,

    10 October, 2009 at 7:25 am

    “Assertion swamping” is actually something that hurts those that use this technique, not strengthen them.

    If you have a string of assertions, or a bunch, and you need them all to prove your point, then I only need to tear one down to shoot down your argument. And the more there are, the more options I have to choose from.

  2. Callan said,

    12 October, 2009 at 9:44 am

    Not really as I’ve experienced it – if you attack one assertion, how do they prove it’s true? By bringing up a dozen other assertions!!! And so on!

    I think that if tearing down one works, that person probably isn’t in a pattern/habit of assertion swamping, anyway. We all make assertions without thought sometimes (see, I’m doing it now!), but it’s only when we fall into assertion swamping that no one can get through to us. Because it’s just denial through a storm of further assertions.

  3. Josh W said,

    15 October, 2009 at 12:53 am

    I recognise this problem from the giving end (as well as the receiving end); if you see something that contradicts not merely one thing you think is obvious, but a number, it is easy to chuck a lot of “but what about this” at the other person, faster than the two of you are actually able to deal with it!

    Now one thing to bear in mind is that it can be both a denial of service attack and showing your argument! Denial of service attacks knock down computers by giving things they “must” process within a time limit in which they can’t!

    Interestingly, the requirement to reply doesn’t come in the message itself, it is simply a consequence of the standard way of replying to that kind of message. So even in the computer world people can accidentally swamp someone by not realising how much pressure they are putting on them:

    I have overloaded people before by chucking philosophical observations that I have considered over years of reading Scifi, and they have come across for the first time, and following them with further observations. For me it’s two seconds recall, for them it’s a week of reading!

    In the spirit of not-overloading, I’ll leave it there for today!

  4. Callan said,

    15 October, 2009 at 11:02 am

    Hi Josh,

    Well, that leads me to the other half of this, which probably deserves a thread of its own – actual results.

    For example, I’m often talking about RPG design, which means text on a real life page at some point (I wont even stick in any qualifiers about the text for the moment).

    Assuming both parties want to get to that result pretty much ASAP, the other half of this is that people will start chucking in more things in without thinking whether that is just going to make that documents creation even further away rather than closer. People can get competitive rather easily, wanting to challenge a point simply to challenge it, and in trying to win the battle, start losing the overall war/make that documents creation further and further away.

    Assuming one wants that goal, one has to to consider ones own assertion before they are given and think ‘Is this really going to help me get to my goal?’

  5. Josh W said,

    15 October, 2009 at 10:55 pm

    At the risk of introducing you to thinking you will likely absolutely hate, I’ll give a bit of context to what we’re talking about here (as in people who have talked about this before in philosophy):

    There’s a guy named Jacques Derrida who basically observed the same thing as you, that conversation without a point to it can go on forever, and that the thing that narrows that point into something is when you actually try to put a picture together; to understand an author, or make something etc. But he really liked his tangents, and felt that actually trying to understand someone else was spoiling his play time. So he spent most of the last part of his life misinterpreting people’s writings on purpose!

    Now in a way this is probably helpful, because his enthusiasm for misunderstanding and saying that people contradict themselves can used as an anti-pattern, what he misses out can be focused on, and what he focuses on treated carefully:

    Hmm, it occurs to me I don’t have time to do this now, because he was an overcomplicating headcase!

    In short, I think you’re right that a certain discipline is required when trying to actually resolve a conversation; to go back to what was said before and see if your understanding of it has been changed by what you have talked about now, and how that relates to the common purpose you share, before you just go on with something else you notice. It also means cutting down your tangents to not fill the imaginary workbench with so much stuff you can’t move!

    But as Derrida appreciated, too much discipline is boring! So a little bit of tangenting should probably be in there, just to lighten the mood. I wish I knew how to balance that out, so that you could let some things lighten the mood even while you resolve the problem. Maybe you just have to remember to laugh?

  6. Callan said,

    16 October, 2009 at 9:08 am

    Spending some amount of time making the process enjoyable makes sense. However, it can be hijacked by someone taking that amount of time and foreably increasing it, all the while (probably quite genuinely) acting out of socialising or friendship.

    If the other person can’t see themselves doing that, as they genuinely think they are just being friendly and having a laugh – then one made the mistake of getting into a project with someone who, yes, has no discipline when it comes to how much socialising and laughs they have.

    It’s a matter of how much you want to finish this project, or basically abandon it and just socialise.

  7. Josh W said,

    16 October, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    I’ve recognised that process before; I have some lovely friends with poor discipline, and I know that there is a certain amount of socialising “to be done” before any project can be attempted. When I first twigged that was what was happening, I just said, “lets stop this and chat for a bit” and then I could enjoy it for what it was. When talking on the internet though, my general trick is to split the majority of my crazy tangents out to real life or facebook/blog conversations, holding back the full force of my enthusiasm in case this medium can’t handle it.

    It occurred to me after writing the last post that when adding tangents for your own enjoyment, you should probably let the other person in on your joke. If you try to lighten the mood for both of you, then in some senses your tangents are more “efficient”! What is more, being able to recognise your humour should allow them to filter the “main argument” from the amused asides.

    I think there’s a lot more linked to that about taking a positive attitude towards the person you are talking to, seeking to do them good even if you disagree with them. ‘Cause only the most gracious are going to listen to you if they are accepting an attack! 🙂

  8. Callan said,

    17 October, 2009 at 10:37 am

    Well, that’s another thread as well. In the book the god delusion, there’s this lovely story where a scientist had passionately, for decades, taught a certain theory about cell formations. One day someone turned up and made a presentation that gave considerable evidence against that theory. Afterwards, the scientist came up and shook his hand. Shook his hand at having his beloved theory overturned.

    Some people, sadly a rare demographic, can love a theory, yet at the very same time embrace efforts to overturn and disprove it.

    And some people love their theories and yes, just see attacks on their loved ones. They cannot both love and yet leave open to destruction their love. No, these people don’t need some jokes to humour them along into it – they are stubborn lovers of their theory.

    To put it in practical terms, they didn’t really need to leave their loves open, perhaps, but as our numbers increase to plague proportions and our weapons increase in destructive capacity, this may simply be, in darwinistic terms, not be good enough for survival. Or maybe we’ll survive regardless – but what we’ll survive AS… Also, given the horrendous holy wars of past and the mincemeat made of millions of people, perhaps for quite some time this just hasn’t been enough.

    On tangents, I think if you feel your post/contribution has advanced things, by a certain degree as much as you’ve advanced things you can add in some jokes and laughs (to a certain ration – like 90% contribution, 10% laughs). But if your contribution is soley a diversion – well, maybe you think it’ll get onto work latter. For myself I think it’ll just lead to more pure diversion contributions. I’m not interested in gambling there will eventually be a real contribution at some point in future. The house always wins.

  9. Josh W said,

    20 October, 2009 at 9:43 am

    In a very specific sense I’d say that tangents never advance things! That sense is that if “advancement” is agreement or agreement to disagree, you know, actually getting to some stable view of each others ideas, you’ve got to have that backward and forward, that reflection on the other guy’s ideas.

    Like you said at the start reflecting on what someone said takes quite a bit of effort! You can’t just leap off a single word or phrase like it’s a webpage link, you have to read the page you’re on. When reading wikipedia for example I will sometimes drill down 3 or four links while reading a page, just to get an idea of the definitions, but then I hit the back button and carry on with the narrative of the original article, trying to use that stuff to inform my reading of the current stuff rather than overwhelm it.

    And I suppose that’s it, maybe you have to help your opposite read the right bit of the page you link to; help them get your joke, and link it in so they can flick between them without it feeling like a total subject change.

    So maybe in real life tangents _can_ advance stuff, but not just cause they’re tangents, but because they helped add shape to the main thing you were saying about, or maybe even _they_ were saying about. What d’you think?

  10. Callan said,

    22 October, 2009 at 6:56 am

    I don’t know – a key element from my post #4 is that both parties want to produce the same result as soon as possible. If it takes backwards and forwards, it may very well be that both parties do not want the same result.

    Backward and forward fits in brainstorming – but once it gets to actually making something, it’s just in the way.

  11. Josh W said,

    25 October, 2009 at 12:30 am

    Ok I’ll come at it another way; what would a conversation look like if there wasn’t any back and forth (in the way I mean): People would just be stating stuff, not referencing anything the other person said. They might as well be two radios playing at the same time!

    And from there, I’d say there are layers of listening to someone. Someone might be talking about how cheesy a film was, and someone else says “My favourite cheese is stilton”. They are listening, but they just picked one word and went off that, not the whole sentence!

    Now that can still produce some mutual understanding, if the first person says “no not cheese that you eat, I meant cheesy as in stereotypical and daft”. There’s still some reflection going on there, and you can get some mutual understanding, providing the second person doesn’t just go “oh I don’t eat stilton, I just smell it” etc.

    Now that reflection, I think that’s where the real effort is, and what draws people together to producing the same thing. I think that’s why it gets tiring talking to someone who just chucks ideas at you; you’re trying to send their ideas back to them in a new form, get to some point of agreement or move forwards, and they are doing the minimum looking into your own statements, and just chucking new stuff at you!

  12. Callan said,

    27 October, 2009 at 6:24 am

    I think the projects outlined details are what brings them in, if at all. I think your talking about attracting them through conversation – the way I’ve been talking about is simply present the project as best one can and they are attracted or not to working on it as well.

    Perhaps that’s something to do to avoid service denial is to simply state at the start that’s how one is posting(if you do happen to be posting that way, of course – I guess you might not), rather than trying to woo anyone?

  13. Josh W said,

    29 October, 2009 at 1:40 am

    In my experience project outlines form a way not to talk; you don’t need to understand each other to get on with the project, you just follow the patterns of the project. So say two people are making an rpg, and one person is making the art and another the rest of the text.

    They can just send back and forth computer-like “picture 207 completed” messages or “picture 653 acceptable” (maybe it’s a big book!).

    It’s only when you get something like “picture 536 doesn’t fit” that you get issues, and have to talk them through. But also, right at the start, you need a bit of chatting to get that starting project framework understood by the participants, so the picture guy knows exactly what is expected of him.

    A bit of “wooing” might be quite helpful in a situation like that! It kills the ambiguities and allows you to talk like computers, superfast and rigorous, but with a way to step out back into woolly language when the computer-talk doesn’t cut it.

  14. Callan said,

    30 October, 2009 at 7:16 am

    Well, I don’t see any reason it’d become computer like. And the project outline will inform him.

    The fact is, if I wanted things done exactly as I intended them myself, I’d do them myself. I only work with other people precisely because they do things in ways I wouldn’t. Having a big old chat at the start would not only delay getting things done(or get nothing done at all), it may just harmoginise the group and defeat the point of working with other people.

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