Proposal: Mind

TL;DR: My question was this: "Can we have a different set of Q&A guidelines for this proposed topic?" The remainder of this "question" is a lengthy exposition of context and supporting arguments in favor of that idea. But after I gained a better understanding of the Stack Exchange format and community values, I was able to provide a clear and concise answer to my own question below, so I would recommend that you skip directly to that answer. I will leave the original wording of the question as-is. (2014-03-09)

Looking through the example questions that have been closed, and the reasons given, it occurs to me that there is a fundamental difference between the topic of "Mind" and most other topics covered by Stack Exchange sites. When you ask a question about programming, servers or software, cooking, bicycles or Judaism, it's reasonable to expect a fairly broad consensus about the correctness of a given answer. But the "Mind" is a metaphysical entity of emergent complexity, and our best attempts to understand it are still only "soft" sciences, with a great diversity of opinions (and very few concrete facts) about how it actually works. This inherent lack of absolute clarity surrounding the entire topic suggests that MOST of these questions are going to be vague and/or subject to debate. Arbitrary abstract models and statistical analyses of behavioral observations don't readily yield themselves to the kind of black-and-white explanations that seem to be expected by S.E. moderators.

However, in my opinion, this topic is still very important and useful. The general format of S.E. Q&A would still work quite well for weeding out answers that ARE clearly wrong, and collecting a spectrum of plausible interpretations for cross-reference, weighted by consensus agreement. The "validity" of this weighting would be subject to the sample size of voters, community biases, and other factors -- and that's OKAY. Answers and votes don't have to be objectively "correct" to be useful, helpful, or "constructive."

I suggest a reconsideration or relaxation of Q&A criteria and guidelines for a certain subset of topics, particularly this one. Aside from the reasons given above, also consider that some of the questions may come from people who are struggling with mental health issues, and may be having difficulty with rational thinking or communication, and may perceive a rejection in a much darker sense than what a moderator intended. For instance, a vague question about self-worth or suicidal ideation, closed as "Not Constructive", could have a very devastating impact on someone in need of help. At the very least, the specific wording used in the rejection of questions and answers on this topic should be carefully revised to avoid misinterpretations by such individuals, and redirect their inquiries to more appropriate sources of help. That consideration may be relevant to the CogSci site as well.

It is obvious that any Q&A site about the human mind should come with a prominent disclaimer to take EVERY answer with a metaphoric "grain of salt", carefully worded. Along with this disclaimer, any differences in moderation policy could be noted for clarity, to distinguish the site's format from what participants would expect on other S.E. sites.

I do understand that the rules exist for good reasons, and may simply represent a defining characteristic of what exactly a Stack Exchange site is SUPPOSED to be. So, if these rules are set in stone, then perhaps the topic of "Mind" just doesn't fit with the S.E. format. To me, that would seem to be an unnecessary restriction to place on such a brilliant form of organized discussion, but I defer to the opinions of the Stack Exchange community, mods, and admins, with the hope that there is some degree of flexibility when defining an entirely new site.

EDIT: Here's what it comes down to: Self-Help Questions are not accepted on the "Cognitive Science" site, because its emphasis is obviously on Science, and questions of a personal nature are presumed to have no relevance to anyone else. But somehow that rule has been generalized as a precedent to all member sites, even though it is acknowledged that Stack Exchange has no firm policies on the matter. Some comments have alluded to issues of legal liability, but that's what disclaimers are for.

What I challenge you to consider is to allow the existence of a Stack Exchange site that welcomes personal questions, and allows more open-ended discussions, and even some debate, as long as the arguments are grounded in credible references, with sensible restrictions against giving specific medical advice. Even if a particular question seems unique to an individual, there are surely other human beings out there who can relate, or find the discussion valuable in some way.

I know that some of these questions CANNOT be answered exactly as they're asked; in particular, if someone gives specific treatment recommendations or advice about medications, those types of answers should be removed by moderators. When questions solicit that kind of advice, an acceptable answer would politely define the limitations of information available through the site, and give helpful suggestions about how to seek professional help. Exactly where to draw that line may require some clarification, but most of it could be boiled down to a few template responses, which could be given more tactfully in the form of an answer, rather than "CLOSED: Not Constructive."

The argument could be made that duplicate questions would abound, to which I'd reply, "So what?" When a question is "closed" it isn't deleted -- I've found "closed" questions directly from Google SERPs. I don't see any particular advantage in closing a question, versus providing a polite referral to professional help in an answer, and letting that answer compete for votes along with other answers that may attempt to provide more specific help -- trusting the community to vote appropriately.

is to allow the existence of a Stack Exchange site that welcomes personal questions, and allows more open-ended discussions, and even some debate This suggestion has come up multiple times, and honestly just doesn't make sense. The core philosophy of SE doesn't support extended debate, so much so that the very UI is actively hostile to extended back & forth. Why Stack Exchange? There are other forums and systems much more conducive to this form of personal, non-canonical advice and discussion. – Ben Brocka Mar 1 '13 at 22:06
Why not use Jeff Atwood's new Discourse forum platform instead? I agree with @BenBrocka that this sort of self-help forum is not a good fit for the SE framework. – Artem Kaznatcheev Mar 2 '13 at 0:48
Name one site with a voting system this powerful. The UI is ideal for differing opinions to compete. Is this "core philosophy" in the SE TOS? Corporate bylaws? Joel Spolsky's blog? Please provide a link to this strict policy, or discuss your specific objections beyond "doesn't make sense." – Andrew Lundin Mar 2 '13 at 0:56
There's at least a dozen blog posts on SE's philosophy, and it's hard-coded into the /about and /faq pages of every single Stack Exchange site site in a non-editable section. It is clearly part of the philosophy. The ToS is not the founding principles, it's simply legal terms and is largely standard compared to any other site allowing user generated content and operating in the US. – Ben Brocka Mar 2 '13 at 3:14
The SE interface is simply not tooled for open-ended discussions and debate. Answers do not appear chronologically, making it impossible for users to reply to each other and address criticism. All SE sites have a close reason called Not Constructive, the wording of which clearly implies that debate and extended discussion is not appropriate or encouraged by the SE community. – Jeff Mar 2 '13 at 3:15
I do agree with you though, that the standard Q&A criteria are fundamentally inappropriate for [many of the example questions]. Perhaps someone should consider Google Groups or Wordpress, both of which have the ability to vote on posts. – Jeff Mar 2 '13 at 3:19
@AndrewLundin: "The UI is ideal for differing opinions to compete." In a popularity contest, maybe. But good opinions need argument and justification. There can be no discussion when the only interaction between ideas is a vote. – Nicol Bolas Mar 2 '13 at 3:59
BTW, I found myself in complete agreement with the first paragraph of this post. This proposal does seem to be wrong-headed. It's what you think we should do about that which I disagree with. – Nicol Bolas Mar 2 '13 at 4:00
inherent lack of absolute clarity surrounding the entire topic suggests that MOST of these questions are going to be vague and/or subject to debate That Physics.SE will never catch on either, since we don't understand it with absolute clarity! Brain science has progressed dramatically in the last 20 years and, despite the reckless banter of the pop-sci crowd, has been substantiated with experimental evidence in medicine, biology, and psychology. – jonsca Mar 2 '13 at 5:09
This is a great question which is highly undervalued because it contains a lengthy and unpopular "answer" embedded within it. The question is concisely stated in the title; it doesn't need to be much more than that. Consider the following edit: Cut out everything but the core question, and put that into another answer. At the bottom of the question, put a note indicating that all the question comments before [date of edit] refers to [link to new answer post which you can get from the "share answer" link]. At that point, both your question and your answer would most likely get upvoted. – CoolHandLouis Mar 9 '14 at 14:06
@CoolHandLouis: I added a TL;DR section and clarified my answer. I think this should satisfy the same objective while preserving the original context. – Andrew Lundin Mar 10 '14 at 2:25
up vote 9 down vote accepted

Okay, I'll attempt to answer my own question now:

Not only the rules, but the Stack Exchange interface itself is not well suited to the type of open-ended discussion needed for many of the example questions given for this proposed topic. Here are some insights shared in the comments above:

Answers do not appear chronologically, making it impossible for users to reply to each other and address criticism. -Jeff

Good opinions need argument and justification. There can be no discussion when the only interaction between ideas is a vote. -Nicol Bolas

The remaining example questions for this topic -- the ones which CAN be reasonably answered through this interface -- would easily fall under the purview of Cognitive Science, a preexisting proposal site which has been in beta for over a year. That would include any specific questions about the research or practices of mental health fields, but not the direct application of that information to any particular individual.

So, more to the point, the topic of "Mind", as a mental health resource, would seem to be fundamentally inappropriate for a Stack Exchange site, in its present form. I think it's worth noting that it wouldn't be very difficult to broaden the capabilities of the interface to support discussions of this nature, if its creators and maintainers ever had the desire to do so. But it seems clear that the SE community strongly identifies itself as a source of credible expertise on verifiable facts, which could be undermined by allowing round-table discussions of diverse views about poorly defined subjects. I can certainly respect that.

Thanks to the commenters for clarifying my understanding, and I'm sorry you had to re-explain this. In my defense, there is no link to the SE/about page from Area 51. Also, the FAQ linked from this page is NOT the Area 51 FAQ, which isn't really obvious. You might avoid some future re-explanations by making those resources more accessible.

Thanks, also, for the link to Discourse -- that does look pretty awesome, and I'd second that recommendation for the good folks over at Fight for the Future.


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