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Why is Persuasion Like the 5th Dimension?

Posted by Jonathan Klane on Apr 13, 2021 11:48:43 AM

I know this sounds a bit weird, but bear with me; I'll explain why I chose it for the title of this micro-blog series (and thus my first post in it). It might still be weird, but at least you'll know why and my various reasons.  

First, it's pragmatic – I needed a 5th numeric reference – something alluding to the number 5. If you've been following (or at least perusing) my micro-blogs series, you likely noticed that they count up from 1 to 5.  

What started as just my "Won (1) minute warning" quickly became a series of series once I added "2 minutes on learning", "3-minute micro-stories", and "Risk is a 4-letter word". 1-2-3-4. Easy and fun with a bit of wordplay.  

And each number represented the amount of time it'd take an average person in my intended readership to read it. Typically, folks like you are well–versed in some areas (perhaps a science but not necessarily so) and are exposed to college courses (or perhaps non-academic reading at that level). Again, you or me.  

Since these were all topics within my wheelhouse – safety culture, learning, narrative, and risk – they were worthy, relatively easy, and fun areas for me to blog. And they all apply to my work as well as my studies and research. And then, I got around to studying persuasion theory as part of my Ph.D. fields. It is a fascinating field! So, naturally, I wanted to blog about it, too. Doesn't everyone want to learn more about persuasion? Don't we all try to persuade others? "Let's get pizza for lunch!" "How about we go see the latest superhero movie?" "Why won't you wear your face covering?" Right?! 

Let's face it – if persuasion were as easy as merely asking, we'd all be leading happier (and healthier!) lives. Sadly, it's not easy – but there is a science to it. And I'm so glad to share some of those insights with you all. But why compare it to the 5th dimension (besides the numeric convenience)?  

Persuasion is something we talk about and don't seem to understand the science of very well - like the 5th dimension. Also, the 5th dimension is a combination of two things – gravity and electromagnetism into something we can't see.  

In my Ph.D. research, I'm working on an approach using narratives and risk perceptions to facilitate persuasion – something we can't really see. And as I thought about gravity, the song "Up, Up and Away" came to mind – by none other than the 5th Dimension! This should come as no surprise if you know me and my love of all music from the '60s and '70s.  

So, there we are – connecting to and comparing persuasion with the 5th dimension (in physics and in the song). But wait, there's more! A lot more. 

Like over 70 readings from journals and textbooks at a start. You see, in my Ph.D., I have two fields – the first one (I passed my exam!) was in risk, its perceptions, cognitive biases, and decision-making. The second one (as I write this, my exam is in 9 days!) is in narrative, persuasion, cognition, and informal learning. It's a trip. It's also a lot of reading.  

In my ASU program (Human and Social Dimensions of Science and Technology), each student develops their reading lists for their fields and subsequent exams. These, of course, have to be approved by their committee (three faculty), and then they are tested on their readings. The reading list must include at least 40 relevant journal articles, chapters, textbooks, etc., from the scientific literature.  

As I got more and more into the literature, my reading list grew and grew. I was fascinated by the likes of Blaise Pascal, Daniel Dennett, Alan Hajek, Charles Darwin, Jan van Prooijen, and Daniel O'Keefe, to name just a few – and that's only in the area of persuasion! I also am studying narrative (stories), cognition, and informal learning. And while it's a lot of reading, I am enjoying it, and at the same time (just as my academic advisor predicted!), my dissertation plan is taking shape. In future micro-blogs in this series, I'll likely write about some of those ideas.  

But let's return to some of the experts and what they studied, researched, and wrote. This will give you a flavor of what's to come in this series. We'll start with arguments … for the sake of argument, of course!

We seem to argue a lot – especially these days. One might think we are trying to persuade each other, but at times it seems as pointless as a Monty Python skit (and sadly not nearly as funny). It might even seem closer to "abuse," or they're "being hit on the head lessons" (watch the skit for context). It's all so pointless. We don't get anywhere with the back and forth, talking past each other, insulting the other who, of course, is so foolish, and the other thinking the same of us. That would mean we are both foolish, and if we were to ask some of the experts, they'd likely agree – we're both being foolish.  

We might as well start with Dale Carnegie. Remember him and his famous book, How to Win Friends and Influence People

I sure do. My old paperback copy is quite dog-eared from years of using it while teaching a Conflict Management and Resolution course. Dale has a great quip and advice on this very topic – which I'll cover in my next micro-blog in this series.  

We've known how not to try to persuade others for about 370 years – so why aren't we following this sage advice? That's in micro-blog 2 (about Dale) and 3: "If you think it's a contest, you've already lost."

And then, in micro-blog 4, we'll talk about "Why you want what's in a philosopher's toolkit."  

In micro-blog 5, we get to learn from both Charles Darwin and Michael Faraday how to use jiu-jitsu like logic to your attempts at persuasion that I've helped many an engineering student learn when they've asked me to approve their projects. It works, too.

In all seriousness, in micro-blog 6, I'll explain why "Jonathan thinks you should speak of yourself in the 3rd person based on multiple studies." As was said in the movie, The Wackiest Ship in the Army – "Don't laugh; it works."

And for those of you champing at the bit to bite into conspiracy theory research – yup, I will dare to take us there in micro-blog 7.

And finally, at some point (currently scheduled for micro-blogs 8-11, I'll share a bit of my research ideas on how we can conceptualize and systematize our view and approach to persuasion – and while playing a certain game, you likely have played. 

Well, that's about enough. At least for now, it is. So, tell me – are you persuaded to read more of these? I guess we'll see.


P.S. It's now after my exam and I …?

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