I have some ideas related to computer architecture/electrical engineering on which I would like to get feedback from academics.

A professor at a university I visited has the belief that something I proposed is crackpot, and that I must be delusional for not accepting his arguments. I turned up out of the blue one day for the first meeting, which I suspect many "crackpots" likely do, and I suspect that this fact alone has made him tune out.

He has a very fixed mental model of the concepts being dealt with, and makes many assumptions that only hold in certain cases, for particular definitions of a concept, or for what has been observed so far but not tested in the context of the idea. An unfairly high standard of proof is then requested of me, when a much less clear-cut body of evidence, or less-rigorous tests lend support to my claim. Discussions with other people educated in the area are more fruitful, but the same fallacies that only apply conditionally are frequently trotted out.

I am not formally educated in the field, and he uses this during every part of the conversation to insist that only a learned person (professor or researcher in the field) has the ability or competence to comprehend the concepts properly (which is false), and that only such a trained person who has built themselves up from the bottom can develop and spot flaws in the difficult concepts entertained.

(This is not true, and I believe the following analogy applies to my situation: one can easily run or swim before they can walk.)

Competence doesn't always make you strictly better at something in the same way that one number is always bigger than another.

If I ask him to not dismiss these options and rebuttals out of hand, he simply says that everyone says that... Bozo the Galileo clown... you're not right because you're laughed at. A strawman which I never implied - I am being laughed at (because I am right?) in spite of being right.

Since I'm introducing new terminology and modifying existing terminology (while trying to clearly explain what I mean by it) in some of these discussions, I have also been ridiculed for essentially describing something that few others understand, and accused of 'trying to sound smart and be the next lone genius' of the field. Without this new terminology, explaining what I mean by it gets clunky and easy to confuse with similar concepts already employed in the field.

What can I do to open some kind of productive dialogue or actually get heard out (should I talk about the details of the ideas here)? Publishing a full academic paper (as an outsider) and going through potential rigamarole during the process seems a poor option to me; though pointers would be appreciated if you feel this is appropriate regardless. I'm quite sure that I'm either right about this idea, or any errors in it have not been brought up yet and are in the more minute details.

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    You might be interested: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/18491/… – Allure Jun 14 '19 at 2:56
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    Hint: if you really are sure you are not a crackpot, think about how you could look different from all the thousands of crackpots out there. Every academic has run into many crackpots throughout their career and has learned by hard experience that talking to them is a waste of time. – knzhou Jun 14 '19 at 12:29
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    Using terminology in a non-standard way very probably costs you more than it is worth. If your idea already is so novel that people are ready to write you off as a crackpot, I wouldn't give them additional ammunition by using different terminology from them, or, even worse, using the same terminology in a different way. – sgf Jun 14 '19 at 23:27
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    Saying "some of the common classifiers for concepts are a bit vague and maybe deceptive" is going to make people think you're a crackpot. "A bit vague" and "deceptive" are wildly wildly different concepts, and you're conflating them as though they're similar. I can assure you that experts in the field are not being deceptive. Vague maybe, wrong maybe, but not deceptive. That's a serious allegation that would require serious evidence. By contrast, "a bit vague" is a pretty normal state of things, and most likely the concepts would become clearer with further serious study. – Noah Snyder Jun 17 '19 at 15:37
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    @CorrectCrackpot I would be very careful to use the terminology of the field exactly the way it is used in the field. It is a very easy assumption to reach that someone who uses the terminology in nonstandard ways does so because they don't actually understand the field, and indeed it is a great heuristic for finding crackpots; and there is virtually no (personal) cost for any academic if their heuristic yields false positives: Nothing bad happens to you if you write someone off as a crackpot when they're actually right. – sgf Jun 18 '19 at 13:17

Let's simplify your circumstance into two dichotomous possibilities: either your proposed "crackpot" idea is wrong, or it is right. (There are of course other more graded possibilities, but this strict dichotomy will help me to give a useful answer to your question.) If your idea is wrong then exchanges with these critics might help you to see why it is wrong, which can assist you to reformulate or abandon your idea. If your idea is right (or at least, right enough to constitute progress) then your goal ought to be to demonstrate its usefulness in the face of this criticism. This will entail making some demonstration that your idea explains some aspect of reality better than presently existing theories with which it is competing.

In regard to this latter exercise, I would suggest you consider adopting Milton Friedman's dictum that a theory is as good as its ability to make predictions about reality. In regard to the construction and assessment of a theory, Friedman (1966, p. 41) argued that "[c]omplete “realism” is clearly unattainable, and the question whether a theory is realistic “enough” can be settled only by seeing whether it yields predictions that are good enough for the purpose in hand or that are better than predictions from alternative theories." Friedman argues that people tend to be overly concerned with arguing about the realism of assumptions underlying a theory, when they ought to be more concerned with measuring the adherence of the theory to reality, via its ability to make good predictions.

In your question, you state that your disagreement with these learned men is in large part a matter of disagreement about whether various underlying assumptions hold in the context of the problem you are trying to solve. Your critics hold certain assumptions that you say do not apply in the context that is of interest for your idea. Assuming you are right, I will refer to these as the "false assumptions" of your critics. If you are right about your idea, and it is more realistic than present alternatives, then it should be able to make better predictions in those contexts. Thus, a demonstration of the validity of your idea would have three parts: (1) an argument against the false assumptions that you say don't hold in this context; (2) an argument in favour of your alternative idea, and why it is more realistic in the relevant context; and (3) a demonstration that your theory makes predictions about reality that are better than predictions made by theories using the false assumptions.

If you are willing to undertake the work to do this, then it will either yield a demonstration that your idea performs poorly, or it will yield a demonstration that your idea has merit. As to the "standard of proof", obviously the more rigorous you can be the better, but if you can give a good demonstration of the practical/predictive ability of your idea, this will go a long way to demonstrating validity of the idea.

Finally, you are right to ignore arguments to authority, or other fallacious arguments that do not deal with the merits of your idea. The fact that you are not educated in the field should not be entirely discounted, but it does not constitute an argument against your idea.

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  • Without knowing the nature of your idea, or its context, it is hard for me to offer an opinion on what would constitute a good demonstration. However, I have in mind something beyond a mere explanation of the idea ---i.e., some demonstration that this idea "works" in reality. – Ben Jun 14 '19 at 11:38
  • @Ben The strongest demonstration would be a working product based on, in whole or part*, the idea. Weaker demonstrations could be done by simulation (this in itself is hard to pull off) or rigorously proving that adding "complexity" to improve upon one area need not drag down the rest if carefully done. I see a likely challenge with 'describing reality' being the 'tested in the context of idea' issue, as there have been notorious attempts at similar ideas that 'failed'. *In this case the 'part' should offer some benefit related to why it was proposed in the first place. – CorrectCrackpot Jun 14 '19 at 11:51
  • @TommiBrander The tools that most would use for a 'decent', semi-rigorous demonstration are commonplace at any place that offers courses in the subject, but at the same time very expensive, clunky, and with a whole host of requirements. I might be able to get to use them to some extent though. This doesn't mean that there aren't other ways to do it. – CorrectCrackpot Jun 14 '19 at 13:08
  • It's very late but thanks for this answer, I have ticked it as I think it best answers the question. The false assumptions thing always seems to be an issue with those people though. Y'know, peer review process being opaque, 'crackpot vs non-crackpot' thing not always being so stark? – CorrectCrackpot Aug 14 at 4:36

I would recommend that you learn the foundations of the field in which you want to contribute.

To do this, I'd recommend taking a university course on the subject, if possible, and/or reading one or more textbooks. If you choose to read a textbook, I'd recommend that you (1) choose something conventional which is widely used in universities; (2) start from the beginning and don't skip anything; and (3) do as many of the exercises as is practical.

As you proceed, try to understand the professor's "fixed mental model" and the "fallacies that only apply conditionally". As Nietzsche said, "The thinker needs no one to refute him, for that he suffices himself." Be your own harshest critic and make sure you thoroughly understand potential objections to your theory. Try to think of every possible reason why your theory might be wrong.

If you do this, and you still believe your theory to be correct, you will have better odds of persuading others to take you seriously.

Good luck.

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