Why do people 'fight the hypothetical'?

Just wondering what the basis behind this behaviour is, you see it in almost all threads where someone posits a hypothetical scenario or question, no matter how specific and closed the conditions are someone or more usually some people attempt to send the conversation down a sidetrack that obviously wasn’t intended by the OP.

For example:

“What would happen if the skin-colour of everyone in the world suddenly turned an identical shade of blue? It can’t be changed by any means and everyone is permenantly stuck like that”

You can guarentee that within a few replies someone will reply with one of/a combination of the below/some other hypothetical fighting insanity I haven’t thought of:

(a) Well obviously they couldn’t be exactly the same colour so everyone will take sides with people who look like them and start fighting just like always.

(b) Well not everyone would be blue, some people would be red, so the majority blue people will pick on and persecute the red people

© Someone would invent a technology to change peoples skin colour back to normal and everything would be the same way it alway was

(d) it depends on what you mean by ‘skin-colour’, ‘everyone’, ‘suddenly’, ‘identical’, ‘by’ etc, in my own world inside my head the word ‘exactly’ means ‘not-exactly’ so see the reply by person (a)

Why do people do this?!?

Because they’re thinking outside the box (of the post).

Sometimes the hypotheticals are completely insane.

I find fighting the hypothetical to be annoying, too.

However, your option “c” is a legitimate response to the question.

Not really. Generally thinking outside the box implies that you’re at least thinking towards some purpose. If you’re thinking completely outside the box, your mind has just wandered off to another subject.

“Okay, people, I’ve called you here because we need to solve this problem. Our testing shows that seven percent of the products coming off the line are defective. We need to get this down below one percent. Ideas?”
“We could retool our machines.”
“We could break down the assembly into subroutines and test incrementally.”
“We could automate the welding stations.”
“No, we’ve considered all these ideas and they won’t do it. We need to think outside the box.”
“We could start a petting zoo.”
“We could paint the men’s room green.”
“We could buy erect a statue of George Washington in our parking lot.”
“Okay, everyone get back inside the box.”

Poor impulse control.

Also the tendency of many to believe that rules are fine so long as they do not apply to them.

It is sort of like playing a game with a three to four year old. The fact tht the three year old changes the rules as needed to do what (s)he wants is not “thinking outside the box”; it is just not understanding what rules of a game mean and the inability to stop themselves even when they do. We don’t mind with three year olds because they are cute, because they can’t be expected to know better, and we love them. Posters here are not as cute, should know better, and most of us have no love for them.

So what exactly do you mean by “people” ,“fight”, and “hypothetical”? And when you say “the” are you pronouncing it “thu” or “thee”?

How can that be a legitimate response? The hypothetical question was:

(highlighting mine)

My new hypothesis is that people sometimes fight the hypothetical because they fail to read and/or absorb the entirety of the hypothetical. cough

In addition to the answers given above, I’ve often seen (and experienced) situations where people fight the hypothetical because the hypothetical is a set up to try to force a concession on some point or other via analogy.

When the hypothetical situation is in good faith, and the analogy a fair and robust one, it is quite annoying when the other party fights it and continues on in their bullheaded ways.

When the hypothetical is presented in bad faith, or the analogy a poor one that ignores salient points, then I support when the other party fights the hypothetical, and what annoys me is when the first party is bullheaded about their unfair or poor example.

This is probably oversimplified, as analogies can be used, and resisted, in an argument for numerous reasons and in numerous ways.

In my case when the hypothetical seems so ludicrous that the discussion can’t, in my opinion, shed any light on the issue supposedly debated (Or if there’s no issue to debate to begin with)

It’s a perfectly legitimate response. In a hypothetical world where everyone suddenly turns blue with no explanation, it’s equally as hypothetically possible to build a machine that turns everyone back.

Because people ask stupid questions. Looking at my own posting history…

  1. Someone who didn’t understand the difference between creating serum that forces people to tell the truth and proving that the things it forces people to say are the truth.
  2. Someone who believed that unless you’d fight to the death against a rapist, you wanted it.
  3. Someone who defines good as “whatever God tells you”.
  4. Someone who places so many arbitrary restrictions on your choices that the only meaningful answer is “whatever she mind controls me to do”.

Rejecting the hypothetical outright is okay. Just say, “I don’t think that could happen, so I won’t address the question.”

But quibbling with it, redefining it, insisting that the original question-asker redefine it, pretending that an answer is tautologous, or playing sophist games (“Well, I question your use of the term ‘term’”) is violating the spirit of the game.

Example: What would have happened if Hitler had the A-Bomb?

Valid response: Well, he didn’t, and I have no way of knowing, so I can’t answer.

Invalid response: First, he would have had to have had far more atomic scientists, including Jews, and that means that Nazi anti-Jewish rules would have had to have been removed long before, and that means that they wouldn’t really be “Nazis” any more, and, besides, by that time they would have removed Hitler from power, so the question is meaningless.

That’s the kind of crap we see – now and then – in response to an hypothetical question. Like the OP, I find it tiresome.

You’re missing the point. Go back and read what you quoted. The hypothetical in question was: “What would happen if the skin-colour of everyone in the world suddenly turned an identical shade of blue? It can’t be changed by any means and everyone is permenantly stuck like that”

By definition, a legitimate response is only legitimate if it functions within the parameters of the hypothetical. This hypothetical is only two sentences long, and that response violates one of those sentences, ergo it isn’t legitimate.

No, a more typical (and perfectly valid) response would be: “The hypothetical is ill-defined. In the real world, we know Hitler was nowhere near having an A-bomb. In this hypothetical world where Hitler had the A-bomb, what other things are different from the real world? That he stole an A-bomb from the US, but doesn’t actually have the industrial/technological base to build one? Or do we assume he had the industrial capabilities to develop and build an A-bomb? Without these being defined, there’s no way to come up with a meaningful answer.”

Yes, this happens much more than what the OP describes.

If fact, I think a large percentage of the OPs on this message board aren’t really interested in what other people have to say. They’re just vanity posts.

I don’t know. The second response just seems like a wordier version of the first response. If you can’t or don’t accept the hypothetical you might as well not post at all. Nobody’s required to post in every thread.

+1 on the vanity posts. Those really get annoying too.

Hypotheticals are useful for refining and narrowing the issues. Say for example you have case law saying that if arrest someone you can search the area in their immediate control. Well, what does that mean if you arrest them at a vehicle stop? You could pose a hypothetical and ask if the trunk could be searched. Then pose another involving a hatchback. With each hypo you get a clearer picture of the issue and how to approach it.

Analogies I think are less helpful in debating since it’s too easy to weasel out of them for one thing and for another, it’s virtually certain you’ll end up arguing about the applicability of the analogy to the situation at hand. They’re much more useful I’d say for expositive purposes when someone has an open mind rather than for trying to prove a point. Although in a forum context where you’re talking to more than just the person you might be debating, I suppose you have to keep both audiences in mind.

Wow, I spend far too much time on the SDMB. I knew exactly what that link was going to be before I clicked it.

Still reread it though. That thread’s a real Beethoven symphony, it just keeps on giving.