What Keeps Us From Changing Our Minds Despite the Facts
As J.K. Galbraith once wrote, “Most people choose to prove there is no need to change their minds rather than change their minds.”
Even the slowest person can understand the most incompetent person if he has no initial idea of what is being discussed. But even the stupidest of men cannot fully comprehend anything if they firmly believe they already know it all.
Why is this happening? Why aren’t facts changing our minds? Why would anyone continue to believe incorrect information? What is the purpose of this behaviour?
Beliefs Based on False Logic
To survive, we require a reasonable understanding of the world. Every day, you struggle to take practical actions if your model of reality is so different from the actual world.
Human minds are interested in other things in addition to truth and accuracy. The desire to belong seems to be another critical factor.
Having the respect and approval of our peers is essential to us. We want to fit in, bond with others, and gain their support. It is an instinct that comes naturally. Our ancestors were primarily tribal for most of evolution’s history, and it was a death sentence to be cast out of the tribe or to be separated from the tribe.”
Being part of a tribe is as essential as understanding the truth of a situation. Both of these qualities can coexist, but sometimes they clash.
You will find that a strong social connection is more valuable than understanding a particular truth or idea in many circumstances. Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker said, “People are accepted or rejected according to their beliefs, so the mind may take into account beliefs that will draw the most allies, protectors, or disciples instead of beliefs that have the greatest likelihood of being true.”
Things aren’t always true just because they’re right. In some cases, we believe things because they make us look good to our caretakers.
When a brain anticipates being rewarded for adopting a particular belief, it’s delighted with doing so. It doesn’t care if the reward is pragmatic (better outcomes from better decisions), social (better treatment from peers), or a mix of the two.
Even if false beliefs are not helpful in a real sense, they can still benefit social purpose. In the absence of a better phrase, this approach could be called “factually false, but socially accurate.” When faced with a choice between the two, people often choose friends or family over facts.
Not only does this insight explain why we might hold our tongue at a dinner party or ignore our parents’ offensive comments, but it also reveals a better way to change someone’s mind.
Facts do not change our minds, and they are changed by friendship.
Changing a person’s mind requires convincing them to change their tribe. The risk of losing social ties increases if they abandon their beliefs. Taking away someone’s community won’t make them change their mind. Instead, make sure they have a home to return to. The result of loneliness is no one wants their worldview torn apart.
It is essential to become friends with people, join their tribe, and incorporate them into your circle so that they can change their minds. They no longer have to fear social rejection if they change their beliefs.
We can share meals with those who disagree with us, according to the philosopher Alain de Botton:
As an only and strange benefit, the act of sitting down with strangers at a table makes it a bit more difficult to hate them as much as you want. Racism and prejudice thrive on abstraction. However, it is a fact that the proximity of a meal is displacing our ability to hold on to the belief that outsiders wearing strange clothes and speaking with quirky accents are worthy of assault.
Despite the many political solutions proposed to alleviate ethnic conflict, forcing suspicious neighbours to eat supper together is the most effective method of fostering tolerance between them.”
Tribalism and hostility may not be caused by differences but by distance. The closer a group is, the greater the understanding. “I don’t like that man,” Abraham Lincoln said. But I must learn more about him.”
Facts don’t change our minds. Friendship does.
Beliefs on a Spectrum
Several years ago, Ben Casnocha mentioned an idea to me that I haven’t been able to shake: the people with whom we agree on 98 per cent of topics are the ones most likely to change our minds.
An idea that you know, like, and trust is more likely to be given merit, weight, or consideration when it comes from someone you know, like, and trust. Many of your beliefs coincide with theirs, and you may also change your mind about this issue. It’s easy to dismiss someone who proposes the same radical idea as you when they’re so different from you.
Graphing beliefs on a spectrum allows us to visualize this distinction. It makes little sense to try to convince someone at Position 1 if you are at Position 7 in this spectrum when divided into ten units, which is a considerable gap. It’s better to connect with people at Positions 6 and 8, gradually pulling them towards you if you’re at Position 7.
People often argue most passionately over far apart issues, but they learn the most from those who are close. You’re more likely to internalize someone’s one or two beliefs that you don’t share as you grow closer to them. A proposal that is far removed from your current position is more likely to be rejected outright.
If you want to change people’s minds, jumping from one side to another can be very difficult. Jumping from one end to the other is impossible, and one must slide down this path.
Whenever you face an idea that differs sufficiently from your current perspective, you will feel threatened. An environment that is not threatening is the best place to think through a bad idea. Book discussions are, therefore, far more effective than conversations or debates in transforming beliefs.
A person’s appearance and status must be carefully considered when conversing. People want to avoid looking stupid and save face, and a person tends to hold onto their current position rather than admit that they were wrong when faced with uncomfortable facts.
Reading books can help resolve this tension. Using a book, a person can carry out a conversation inside their head without worrying about being judged. If you don’t feel defensive, you can be more open-minded.
A person’s identity is attacked with full force when they raise an argument. An individual reads a book like planting a seed in their brain to grow in their way. When someone is overcoming a pre-existing belief, there’s plenty of wrestling going on inside their head—no need for you to enter the fray.
The Persistence of False Ideas
People continue to talk about bad ideas, which is another reason bad ideas persist.
Any silent idea is dead, and the person who conceived the idea dies with the idea if it’s never expressed or written down. An argument can only be remembered if repeated, and only by repeating them will it become true.
According to my analysis, people repeat ideas to signal their affiliation with the same social group. However, there’s an important point most people overlook:
Complaining about bad ideas can also lead to them being repeated. References must precede criticism. It’s as if you’re continually repeating the same ideas you’re hoping people will forget — but they won’t because you keep bringing them up. People are more likely to believe a bad idea if you repeat it over and over.
There is a phenomenon known as Clear’s Law of Recurrence: People are more likely to believe an idea if they have heard it repeated during the past year, even if it is false.
You feed the very monster you are trying to destroy every time you attack a terrible idea. “Hey retweeted or quoted someone you’re furious with, it benefits them.”, tweeted one Twitter employee. Their garbage gets spread around, and their trash gets buried. Teach them how to deal with their waste.”
Instead of tearing down bad ideas, spend your time championing good ideas. Instead of explaining why bad ideas are wrong, support good ideas. If you do this, you are only fanning the flames of foolishness.
A terrible idea’s best chance of success is forgotten, and good ideas should be shared with others. It reminds me of Tyler Cowen’s advice, “Spend as little time talking about how others are wrong as possible.”
Don’t starve the good ideas, but feed the bad ones.
Soldiers of the Intellect
To be precise. A mistake can be pointed out or criticized as a bad idea, and what matters is the goal.
What is the point of criticizing bad ideas in the first place? Your goal in attacking bad ideas is to make the world a better place by reducing belief in them. Essentially, you think people should change their minds on a few essential topics if they feel about them differently.
Criticizing the other side may not be the most effective method of changing minds if the goal is to change them.
Arguments are usually won for winning, not for learning. People often behave like soldiers rather than scouts, as Julia Galef so aptly puts it. Soldiers are attacking people with different positions to defeat them intellectually, and victory is the driving force. A scout, in contrast, is more like an intellectual explorer, slowly mapping terrain with others. A scout’s curiosity drives him.
It is more important to act like a scout than a soldier if you want people to adopt your beliefs. Tiago Forte asks a wonderfully direct question at the heart of this approach, “Are you willing to lose to keep the conversation going?”
Be kind first, then be right later.
Haruki Murakami, the brilliant Japanese author, once wrote, “To argue successfully and win requires breaking down the reality of your opponent.”. Even if you are right, try to be kind to your opponent.
Often, when we are in the moment, we forget that we are trying to befriend, collaborate, and integrate the other side into our tribe. Our minds are so busy trying to win that we ignore to connect. Rather than working with people, it is easy to spend your time pointing out their faults.
The term “kind” comes from the word “kin.” Being kind means treating someone like a family member. This technique is effective in changing people’s minds, in my opinion. Create friendships, Share meals, Give books as gifts.
Kindness comes first, then rightness.