A conversational pattern I observe

[This is super rough]

[I’m pretty sure that there is prior work on this question that I don’t know about yet.]

Here’s a conversational pattern that I’ve noticed recently. I observed this specifically in conversations with my parents, but on further reflection, I do this too, and postulate that pretty much everyone does.

Basically, one person will say something, either sharing an opinion, or (maybe this is an atypical rationalist version?) sharing a fact, or something in between.

Then the other person will share an opinion or a fact that is at least somewhat related.

Basically the people go back and forth, sharing what they know about / what they think / what they’re interested in.

For instance, a few weeks ago, someone was telling me about how it wasn’t accidental that Hitler lost the war, which I agreed with, and I shared some anecdotes from my recent reading of the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, particularly junctures where the NAZIs could have won the war if things had gone slightly differently (like if the Luftwaffe had continued bombing the areas in which the RAF command bunkers, from which they were using RADAR and radio to coordinate their planes, during the battle of Britain).

This may not be a great example, since I might have been making a point about historical contingency, and hindsight bias. I’m very confident that this pattern expressed itself in my most recent conversation with a friend to “catch up” though.

She would say something about something, and I would say something vaguely related.

(Ok. In both these cases, I had phenomenology of “desire to impress” and “pressure to show sophistication.” This is less evident in my conversations with my parents, but it isn’t implausible that there was a less vivid current of the same. That maybe the driving force of this weird thing.)

In any case, this conversational pattern is common, but it is particularly evident when talking with my parents, I’ll often share something, and (misunderstanding what I’m saying) will say something else that is only barely or vaguely related. (I think this might be offered as if it what is being said is in agreement with me.) This particular situation seems to highlight how much conversation is just an opportunity to share things that we want to talk about with someone else, who is likewise taking the opportunity to talk about things that they want to talk about.

What’s going on here? Why do we like doing this?

Some thoughts:

  • Maybe we just like the feeling of being listened to, because it validates our opinions and perspectives. This is pretty interesting, given that it’s fake: the other person isn’t actually engaging with our opinions except to riff on them. It’s as if we’re masturbating each-other.
  • Maybe this is about intelligence or sophistication signalling? We get to show off our thoughts?
  • Maybe it’s a kind of bonding / tribe affirming thing: we pseudo agree with each-other’s propositions (without engaging with them critically)
  • We just like talking about what we’re interested in for some reason, and the real question is why we like that.

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