A simple checklist of understanding

During a discussion, and especially during a debate or an argument, it is useful to have a way of bringing things back to: "what do we really know?" "What does that say about our analysis so far?"

Here is a simple method or process for making the connections between our analysis and opinions, and what we actually know. This method is compatible with science and engineering rather than religion! The participants must be prepared to revise or even reject their prior opinions as the facts and analysis change.

The cycle (the red circle)

"Understanding", especially some sort of shared understanding of the real world, is rarely built up by some simple process of deduction or induction from a set of unchanging "facts". The real world is much too complicated to be revealed all at once.

Evolution over time is a vital aspect of this method. What this also means is that it isn't wrong to start with an opinion instead of facts, as long as the whole model evolves. It is necessary to be willing to absorb extra or changed facts and analysis, and be prepared to revise one's opinions. That requires that the linkages between the various components of the model are maintained.

The content (the green boxes)

The baseline

Vast numbers of discussions, debates, and arguments, go around in circles, or reach a "stand off", simply because the various sides don't first agree on some facts. At the very least, they need to identify what they do agree about, and what they don't. That is then an agreement of sorts! The baseline may change, but at least it should change under control.


Typically, "information" should include citations as well as the bald facts. And even so-called "facts" turn out to be wrong, or sometimes get superseded! For example, the law relating to a particular topic may be an important fact, but the law at one time may get eventually get replaced by a new law. Or erroneous "facts" may get corrected.


Here, this means "clarification of the facts", rather than anything stronger. For example, UK law is written in a form that is hard to read. But it is often accompanied by "explanatory notes" that do not have legal significant but can save a lot of reading time.


This should relate in some repeatable way to the baseline. This means, of course, that as the facts evolve, the analysis may have to be re-done. Obviously, the analytical method itself must be revealed, and indeed should preferably be part of the baseline.


It must be accepted that, even with full agreement on the facts and the analysis, people may retain different opinions. Their values may differ, as may their personal histories.

If someone's opinion contradicts the baseline, or contradicts agreed analysis built on that baseline, they may simply be foreseeing a need to evolve those. Or they may have their own agenda that is in contradiction to the purpose of the dialogue. An aim of this method is to flush out hidden agendas.


This is simply the word used here for a bird's eye view of the current contents of the model. It typically implies something that is suitable to act upon.