Changing my mind: the big list

How do we change our minds? I find this question fascinating and important. To start: only fools never change their mind. Secondarily, it is surprisingly hard to remember on what I actually did change my mind, and equally difficult to pinpoint why. Finally, understanding how and why our opinions change is of fundamental importance in political discourse, because of the obvious link to the art of persuasion. [A delightful tangent arises also when considering history and philosophy of science: apparently, it’s not all about logic and “facts”.] In this post, I’ll start building a list of things on which I have changed my mind, I encourage every reader to do the same: it’s a fascinating endeavour.

Image by AZQuotes (Quote Source).

Some time ago Adam Elkus tweeted a self-challenge: he would tweet one thing on which he changed his mind for each “like” he received. [Unfortunately, the impressively long thread that resulted appears to be deleted.] Shortly after, Artem Kaznatcheev directed my attention to it: we ended up agreeing that it’s a good idea to keep such records.

I am not aiming at producing a complete list, instead, I’ll try to stick to subjects I do care about. The “strong feelings” filter is important to me: on one side, I’m convinced that our core beliefs are the least likely to change.On the other, it’s in our interest to change our views, if/when they happen to be wrong or harmful.

To try impose some order in an otherwise messy list, I’ll group entries by broad topics, starting with what feel like the most important changes. I’ll conclude with a summary of what seem to be the most frequent elements that appear in the disparate instances. In time, I hope to extend the present list with new entries, and perhaps with “feature-length” posts about one or the other specific case.

Big, world-view changes:

I will start with the most remarkable flip-flops, where changing my mind required to re-adjust a significant proportion of linked beliefs. Unsurprisingly, it’s a short list. Moreover, only one change in this section did start well after reaching adulthood.

What it means to be an adult: with effects on my understanding of competence.

As a child, I displayed a remarkable case of cognitive dissonance. I believed that:

A: Being an adult means “knowing what you are talking about”, and
B: Most adults are idiots, commanded by their emotions and unaware of this fact.

Growing up, I tried hard to achieve A, striving to learn what felt important and trying to develop reasonable ways to know when it was OK for me to express my thought (e.g., when I wasn’t risking to be badly wrong). Growing old, I’ve realised that nobody knows what they are talking about – instead, some rare and noteworthy individuals are able to express opinions while acknowledging and accounting for their own ignorance. In the process, I’ve developed a keen interest in epistemology.
This change is interesting to me on multiple fronts. First and foremost, it’s a prime example of why the ability to concurrently hold incompatible beliefs is useful: cognitive dissonance is, at least sometimes, an asset – in my case, what I now consider a false belief (A), helped me to become what I am now (in what feels as a useful way). Secondarily, this change consolidated my idea of competence: you have achieved competence on a given domain when you can attach reasonably reliable confidence intervals to your own predictions. It’s a view founded on the acceptance that what we don’t know always surpasses what we do know. Finally, it’s the reason why I maintain this  blog: I write to test, clarify and improve my ideas – trying to be mindful of my own ignorance.

Overall, this change initiated during adolescence (if not before), as I became articulate enough to try expressing beliefs like (A) and (B). Since I grew more and more convinced that (B) is fundamentally correct (as a rule of thumb – we are all slaves to our emotions), (A) had to give way.

Apparently, this path is quite common, here is proof (recommended soundtrack for this post):

Politics – how to achieve change and the role of radical positions/rhetoric.

For as long as I can remember, I always preferred building bridges to winning. I like to compete, but on the condition that the confrontation is seen by all participants as a mutual way to help each other at becoming better at whatever it is that we’re competing on. I think this is a useful attitude to maintain, but in my case, I can claim no credit for it: it’s not something I’ve learned with effort and dedication, it comes natural to me – I’ve got it for free. As a result of this inclination of mine, I always had an instinctive dislike for radical and uncompromising political stances. In many cases, I still do. However, in recent years I’ve changed my stance by introducing a very important class of exceptions. Specifically, I’ve realised that when a given group of people is marginalised, deemed irrelevant, and/or otherwise oppressed, the power imbalance that sustains the situation makes it impossible to change the status quo by deploying only persuasion and bridge-building strategies. This change of mind may be subtle, but has remarkable consequences. For example, as a young adult, I loathed radical feminism: I thought it was unquestionably counter-productive in that it facilitated a self-sustaining and fruitless confrontation. The same applied to probably most positions (see quote in the picture above: it’s really hard to remember what I thought before changing my mind) where the weak side in a power struggle advertised itself as combative and intransigent.

Right now, my view could not be more different. When one wants to eliminate a long-lasting power imbalance, if historical precedents are an indication, it seems to me that it is necessary to deploy a fair amount of intransigence. Specifically, it’s necessary to have a group of people who very clearly, and very publicly, won’t accept anything less than the complete elimination of such an imbalance (even if, or maybe especially when a complete resolution is manifestly impossible). If such a group is very visible and stubbornly refusing to be silenced, only then a separate group of more conciliatory activists (those who will accept or even seek small improvements as a form of progress) can become effective. I still believe that the first group will have the negative effect of fostering confrontation and entrenching, and that in most cases it is the second group is the one which can more effectively achieve desirable results. However, I now think that activists of the second kind can be effective only if, when and while the first kind is well established (crucially: when their common opposition believes that the radical activists will never cease and desist). Thus, even if my own predispositions force me to deploy and/or endorse the second strategy, I’m now fully convinced that the first approach is necessary and has to coexist with the first. (There is a parallel here with my views on Cognitive Dissonance, perhaps worth a future post).

How did I make this change? This story is too long to fit in here, but I’ll tickle my readers’ curiosity by mentioning the two crucial elements that contributed: the new atheism movement (yes, I know!) and the patience of many women, especially Abeba Birhane.

Science and epistemology – objectivity.

I presume that when I started my BA I thought I was in the business of understanding how the world works in a fairly straightforward manner. However, I can’t really be sure (see pic on top): while I was changing my mind on competence, I am now guessing that also another change was happening. Right now, I don’t believe in objectivity as normally understood, and it feels as if I always held this view. I doubt that’s the case. I do know that when I started blogging the big revolution had already happened, as it’s clear by reading this early post. I also know that my view has kept changing, but it seems that it’s merely becoming richer, not changing in a radical way. To spill my beans in full, right now I believe that any single method to understand the world around us must have limitations. It will be suited to pick out certain features of reality, but will also hide some other ones. Thus, by necessity, no single assertion about the world out there should be considered “objective” to the point of being unquestionable. As a result, I’m developing a deep dislike for the canonical writing style in science and philosophy. To my eyes, it looks designed to hide the elements of subjectivity that inevitably inform any piece of research (or thinking). In other words, it requires authors to deceive, which feels counterproductive to me.

Coherence.

All these changes contributed to something that continues to puzzle me. I once believed that coherence was a genuine indicator of value – in practical terms, I still do. However, I’m also growing more and more convinced that cognitive dissonance is a necessary ability of well-formed human beings. Without the ability of holding incompatible beliefs, humans would find it very hard to thrive. This topic is huge and controversial: hopefully I’ll find the energy to write about it explicitly. For now, it’s amusing to notice that “changing one’s mind” implies a break in coherence across the time-domain, which, I argue, is both necessary and generally a good thing.

Music.

Music is important to me. To remain sane, making and listening to music helps me a great deal.

Pop.

Until my late twenties, I was convinced that light, apparently simple and mainstream pop songs had no value (not even those which resisted the test of time). I then started playing in a band: as it happens, most of us wanted to play the stuff I thought wasn’t interesting. Playing it made me change my mind. In short, I now realise that much of the value of music is that it makes people happy, at a negligible cost. Even the things I (still) don’t like make someone happy. Overall, I can’t imagine what could be considered as more useful than making people happy. Thus, suddenly, the awe inspired by some performers of mainstream pop, starts making sense. A better understanding of the technical skill, the sophisticated sensibility and the performance discipline helps solidifying my current view.

Queen.

In my early teens I lumped them amongst the “pop, pointless” lot. My best mate disagreed, and kept telling me I was wrong (for probably a couple of years, or perhaps less: time flows slower when you’re young). He succeeded in changing my mind, but only obliquely: he persuaded me to give them a chance. Listening to their music, especially their less famous tunes, did the rest. I am now convinced they were and still are underestimated. I mention this because it’s the only case I can recall where I was actively persuaded by someone else.

People and society:

As my professional career meandered in new directions, it forced me to change my mind in quite spectacular ways, twice. These are both special cases, because I can link these changes to specific situations.

“Bad” people are inevitably unhappy.

I used to believe that selfish, vindictive and mean people (Jerks, if you prefer) must be living in a never-ending nightmare. Despised or, at best, feared by most, they deprive themselves of what truly matters. I now think that I was (badly) wrong: genuine psychopaths don’t give a toot and can be (often are?) as happy as any human can be.

How did this change happen? At the start of my professional career, I was in close contact with a genuine, highly successful psychopath: very smart, extremely charming and completely a-moral. When things worked for him, he was genuinely happy. He did care for his family, so did have a source of human warmth, and apparently that was enough: for all the rest, personal success was all that mattered – on top of that, exercising power, for the sake of it, appeared to give him genuine pleasure. Having professional success and a reasonably stable family, he was as happy as any human can hope to be.

Selfish and ruthless people are those who inevitably end up with managerial roles.

In the first 10+ years of my professional life, this rule held true. I then started working in SSRU and changed my mind. Since moving to London, I’ve been managed by extremely smart, caring and well-rounded human beings. Within the limited reach of my current work-environment, managers actually care for the people they manage: thus, I have to admit that my belief was wrong. I still can’t really figure out what makes it possible, though. With a consistent pattern involving multiple individuals and lasting 10+ years, I’m pretty sure it isn’t chance, but the necessary and sufficient conditions are eluding me: it still feels a little bit like a miracle.

Specific People:

Perhaps surprisingly, I usually change my mind about people in a fairly predictable way. I do, as most people, instantly form an opinion about everyone I meet, in the super-rapid, “automatic” way. If this opinion is negative, I am usually aware that I might be wrong, so it happens fairly often that, by learning more about the person in question, I will succeed in changing my (conscious/explicit) initial judgement. However, with surprising frequency, over time I frequently re-switch back to a negative view. This is another pattern that might be worth considering separately.

Corbyn.

I’ll use Corbyn as the paradigmatic example of the process I’ve observed numerous times. I met him almost a decade ago: he did a short intervention at a rally I was co-organising. My immediate reaction was: this chap reasons by applying rigid ideological positions to everything – i.e., he does not think, he merely applies pre-existing rules to new situations. I didn’t like the man at all.
Sometime after his election to the leadership of the Labour party I changed my mind. Finally, there was someone saying what needs to be said: he was the only politician I’ve known in my lifetime able to expose the failing of Neoliberalism in a way that could actually reach the masses. I did like that, and I still do. So I concluded that there must have been more than what met my eye in the first encounter. Since then, I’ve flipped back, with a vengeance: I do accept that his intellect is more elastic than I initially thought, but now I also think that he is self-interested much more than is generally appreciated. I can make sense of his political actions over the last three years only by accepting that he’s not as interested in the common good as he would like us to believe. He appears to be happy to act in ways that are designed to preserve his position in the Party instead.

Boris Becker.

As a kid, for one or two years, I hated him – couldn’t watch him play. For reasons I’ve forgotten, I then forced myself to watch an entire match anyway. A couple of hours later I had flipped, and enjoyed watching his tennis ever since. I mention this here because it is perhaps the older instance of a change of mind (on something I cared about) that I can recall – it is also the only abrupt change that I can actually recollect.

Steven Pinker.

Given my original interest for cognitive science, even if I always disliked his way of presenting himself, I did have a bit of an intellectual crush for his views and work on cognition. I now think that he’s a self-righteous impostor, because he’s not at all interested in intellectual honesty. In his case, I know exactly what made me change my mind: it’s this discussion, in which he uses rhetorical tricks to obscure and deceive – the opposite of intellectual honesty. He then started working on his more popular books, and all my bad impressions got confirmed multiple times. This change did take some time: I was already contemplating it quite seriously when the discussion in question was published. In my mind, the specific trigger counts as the classic “last straw”.

Conclusion.

That’s it! This is my provisional list, limited to some of the things I actually do care about. The most common element in the big and small changes listed above is that, aside for one case, all of these changes took time. Years, to be precise; ten or more, for the bigger ones. This matters to me, because it informs my actions, especially online. It makes no sense to debate anyone with the aim of changing their mind. On the internet, by definition, it all happens too quickly. I do debate online, every now and then, but I try to do it when I have a genuine interest in understanding what justifies a position I disagree with. I do hope that (my) online/offline activism can change some people’s mind (for the better, hopefully!), but I’m also convinced that if it does work, I won’t be there to witness the change. Significant rethinks simply take too long.

Another common element is that many of the changes above have a simple (and somewhat reassuring) ’cause’: learning. As I learned more and more about a given subject, my views changed. Sometimes radically; more often, subtly. This is probably healthy (and is perhaps uninteresting), so I suppose I should be happy about it, even if it’s disappointingly predictable.

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Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Premises, Psychology
9 comments on “Changing my mind: the big list
  1. Michael Pye says:

    I have just read the Pinker article and the neo-liberalisim link. I found them fascinating and came to the exact opposite conclusion than you. Pinker’s argument is a masterclass in logic, well structured, clear premises and easy to understand (on an individual point, like most of his work it goes on for a while). The neo-liberal piece was a polemic which didn’t even try and define it’s key point until half way through and then did so poorly (neo-liberalisim is just liberalism in which the state activity encourages it, really!). The constant personal attacks on Hayeck were also annoying and contradictory (brought in to rival Keynes but was no good, no one valued him except famous world leaders)

    Now i am assuming you don’t agree with Pinker’s assessment and do believe in neo-liberalism (and you may be right, I need to read up on both ideas more, especially group selection theory) but purely on an analysis of writing style you seem to have concluded the opposite of what has occurred. Pinker’s rhetorical tricks are simply sound reasoning (which, to repeat, doesn’t make him right) while the other article, while engagingly written, is outright rhetoric. i urge you to go back and re-read them, not at the content level but purely for an analysis of style and reasoning. I think this is a pretty great example of cognitive dissonance between your beliefs and your objectivity.

    P.s i really liked your article and the links were interesting.

  2. Sergio Graziosi says:

    Thanks for the interesting nudge, Michael!
    I’ll do some re-reading and report back. In the mean time, I can say:
    the “logical” style, with clear order and signposts for: premises -> thesis -> evidence -> confirmation, is a rhetorical technique which is perfect to convince a particular audience. Pinker is very good at it.

    • Michael Pye says:

      I agree that the logical style appeals to a particular audience (I am definitely in it). However if we treat that as equivalent to more polemic styles we have taken subjectivity to absurdity. You can’t say he has used tricks to make his point you can only say you disagree with his viewpoint (or more accurately dislike).

      Do you honestly belief a logically constructed argument is merely equal to either an emotional or character driven one?

      As far back as Agrippa’s trilema and Socrates we have been wrestling with the boundaries of knowledge but they always seem to indicate that it is the foundation of understanding which is subjective, the way our understanding flows from our axioms, core principles or tautologies is perfectly ammendable to reason. We can separate the argument from conclusion. Pretty sure I’m preaching to the choir though.

  3. Sergio Graziosi says:

    Michael, apologies for the slow reply!
    I find our disagreement, or misunderstanding, interesting, didn’t want to rush and treat it lightly.

    Do you honestly belief a logically constructed argument is merely equal to either an emotional or character driven one?

    No I don’t, but that isn’t what I was trying to (hastily) say. I also don’t think your framing is a useful one, which is why a long reply is necessary.

    I guess we agree on a different way of approaching this kind of issue:
    Arguments and propositions should not be judged by the style used to express them; they should be judged by their content.

    With this in mind, I can try clarifying. Re the neoliberalism article, I liked it because I thought it clearly shows how neoliberalism is just another ideological stance, which is a point that need making, since in our current world Neoliberalism is treated as the unquestionable default position. Also, things like this quote:

    Hayek’s was a total worldview: a way of structuring all reality on the model of economic competition.

    really work for me and resonate with my own understanding of the subject. Neoliberalism does catastrophically fail at the intellectual level because it is a simple framework that claims to apply to everything that matters. Well, reality doesn’t care and obstinately remains complex: such attempts just cannot work…
    In other words, I basically agree with the content and I paid no attention to style.

    Onto Pinker’s take re group selection. When I found that essay and discussion I was already intrigued by the debate. What interested me at the time was the claim that mathematical formalizations of group selection are able to produce the same predictions as more traditional models, and – importantly – that the usefulness of the concept then resides on how it makes models of other phenomena (those which are difficult to tackle with more traditional approaches) more tractable. I knew this claim was disputed and read Pinker’s essay/discussion hoping to learn more (being lazy and merely a keen bystander, I knew I was never going to dive into the maths myself). This gave me a particular lens, which in turn informed my reaction to Pinker’s approach.

    He seems to address the point, but does neither negate nor concede the “mathematical equivalence” claim. The deal breaker is in his final reply: he actively misrepresents the actual claim, and then mocks it (while making sure his style remains, on the surface, dry and “logical”).
    You can understand my disappointment: I was hoping to learn about a honest disagreement by reading the competent opinion of a highly respected expert. I found nothing of the sort: what I got is a lot of words, carefully put together to look dry and “rational”, but with misleading content. I repeat: he does not state whether in his opinion the central claim I mention above is true, false or irrelevant. He merely phrases it in a way that allows him to make it look absurd. Now, that is a rhetorical trick, if there ever was one, and an intellectually dishonest one. Classic straw-manning, in my eyes (he attacks a conveniently changed version of the original claim). I was really disappointed, at the time…

    My conclusions were:
    1. The central claim is probably true, because otherwise Pinker would have refuted it “properly”.
    2. Pinker was merely defending “his team” (Dawkins, Coyne et al.). Since his audience was mostly other scientists, his style was chosen accordingly, but was actually designed to hide the weak points in his reasoning, which is the opposite of what it’s supposed to do.

    After that, impression 2. got confirmed countless times: in his more popular writings, the most important/informative insight comes from the evidence he avoids mentioning and/or interprets in partisan ways.

    We come back from my starting claim: how an argument is proposed does not tell us anything regarding its validity. Using style as a proxy for validity is always a strong temptation, but a very bad idea nevertheless.

  4. Michael Pye says:

    I appreciate the measured reply. I still believe that you have trapped yourself in an example of
    cognitive bias. You are obviously allowed to have preferences and even personal understandings of concepts such as neo-liberalisim but the contrast between the logical and measured replies on your blog and your reaction to these specific cases is stark. My use of the “do you honestly believe…” line was purely rhetorical to close down the argument of subjectivity. I believe we can agree (and certainly discuss) which text is better than another as long as we use one criteria (in this case I am using who is making the most honest argument).

    First let’s focus on neo-liberalism. It is mostly pejorative. It is used most by people who oppose it not by people who believe in it (this should be a warning sign of a strawman). As a result your dislike communicates information about your political and moral priorities (which is fine) what it doesn’t do is clearly define your opponents beliefs unless you attempt to articulate them using other clearly defined terms. I so no evidence of that in the text or your commentary. Imagine you did not currently possess an understanding of that word (neo-liberal) and I would suggest that you would struggle to define it from the text and your replies. At best you would say it is bad and provide a few examples of what it is apparently not.

    A polemic style using personal attacks and insults is clearly visible throughout the text even when the reader has a poor understanding of the underlying argument (I was that reader). Now polemics are a thing but I suspect, like me, your not normally a fan of of them as they require extra work to unpick.

    Now the Pinker one is interesting and I must confess I am a big fan of his. I did reread the article (and the essay long comments) and I believe the modeling argument is elaborated there. My understanding is currently that if the evolutionary model can provide more useful (accurate) predications then that would be proof Pinker is wrong. I am obviously willing to accept I have misunderstood that.

    Interestingly if i consider your point about Pinker’s final argument as factually correct (that he evades the key point and mocks it unnecessarily) then this still means most of his article is still reasonable. Can you see how you have held him to a higher standard? This isn’t even considering the fact that it was a simple error at the end of a long argument. (For comparison most of the comments utterly ignore Pinker’s argument as well so i would say talking past each other is the norm).

    I can see how his failure to be a paragon of reason would be annoying but every writer, where I have read a significant amount of their work, commits these kind of mistakes. I often scream you missed the point in my head, hell I did it repeatedly while trawling those comments for the few that actually illuminated the argument on both sides. The interesting thing about this blog post is that after writing a well thought out blog post you selected some examples which are the opposite of what I would expect. The neo-liberal piece is objectively a poor argument while Pinker’s argument is logical and well constructed. This is independent of whether they are right or wrong. I find this juxtaposition interesting.

    Hope this clarifies my viewpoint.

    P.s Are you familiar with the fundamental attribution error?

  5. Michael Pye says:

    Sorry I realise I forgot to address your conclusions.

    1. The central claim is probably true, because otherwise Pinker would have refuted it “properly”.
    2. Pinker was merely defending “his team” (Dawkins, Coyne et al.). Since his audience was mostly other scientists, his style was chosen accordingly, but was actually designed to hide the weak points in his reasoning, which is the opposite of what it’s supposed to do.

    I feel the first one can be easily dismissed for the following reason. Pinker’s text is long, complex and detailed, if something is missing it is more likely because the issue is complex rather than an evasion. The attribution error really applies here. I am interested in what you think his central claim was. My reading was that Pinker argued that evolutionary based models don’t add more detail than other models and are therefore unnecessary (with a side helping of embedding misunderstandings of evolutionary theory). How does yours differ?

    The second is obviously true, whether deliberate or subconscious, the issue is how much this compromises his argument. To convince me of that could you elaborate on how his style hid weak points in his reasoning or are you revering to the specific put down/evasion you were talking about above (in which case I consider that one of his arguments more than his style).

    When I think of Pinker’s style I generally consider it as an example of how clear you can make an idea while making making minimal allowances for a lack of audience knowledge. He uses clear arguments but doesn’t avoid relevant technical terms. I have come across more easily understood writing styles but they seem to compromise precision and detail by significantly simplifying content (I tend to prefer them when studying unfamiliar domains of knowledge).

    I really am struggling to see why you picked him as an example of obfuscation especially considering your counter example as I mentioned above.

  6. Sergio Graziosi says:

    Michael, thanks again!
    I think I am understanding better where and how we differ. The central thing I guess you didn’t pick starts from the purpose of my OP and ends with the consequences of what I wrote and how I wrote it.
    My general aim was to document where I’ve changed my mind, preferably on subjects that I feel strongly about, and then see if patterns emerge regarding what made these changes happen.
    The result is that, unlike much of what I write here, I made little or no effort in explaining my own reasons – or even represent the various possible positions in any detail… At the conscious level, I was not intending to either explain or persuade. This created the stark contrast, made even more sharp by the fact that the article re Neoliberalism is not at all an example of something that did make me change my mind on anything (it’s just what I had handy at the time of writing), and for the purpose of the OP, an unnecessary distraction. On the other hand, the essay/discussion on Group Selection is in fact something that did change my mind.
    Thus, I think that now I do understand why you see such a startling difference, but I also think this is because you are comparing things that I did not expect or consider directly comparable. My ideas re Neoliberalism pre-date the article in question by a long time. Moreover, my OP does not even try to explain my actual position – the link, at most, provides a hint re where I personally stand. Moreover, I’m sure you’ll find it easy to believe that if I were to write something on Neoliberalism, my style and approach would not resemble the linked article at all.
    Likewise, my replies here aren’t intended to convince you or anybody, my aim is to understand better your own strong reaction, which is very interesting to me (thanks again!).

    To be extremely explicit: if we do compare the two contrasting essays, and decide to use the “construction” of the argument therein as the criteria for the comparison (which article is better organised, and better follows a logical structure?), Pinker wins hands down, there is nothing to discuss about this. I was wrong in taking this last point for granted… However, to be able to understand where my impression of obfuscation comes from, comparing it with the article on Neoliberalism does not help at all, I hope you now know why I did not intend readers to do so.

    To wrap-up, my change of mind re-Pinker happened because I thought he was actively obfuscating, hiding and mocking the central claim (on which I was already focussed, which is something that certainly coloured my own experience), in a way that I found (and, even more now, still find) impossible to consider accidental. My assessment is that he knows exactly what he’s doing and it isn’t intellectually honest. You assessment is very different, and I think I see why.

    The consequence is that I’m very happy we had this exchange, as I think I’ve learned what I wanted to. The one question that remains is whether you are already satisfied as well or not. If not, I guess I should address the points you made in the last two replies: I know I’ve ignored them and selfishly addressed only what interested me the most.
    Do let me know if you wish me to! I promise I’ll find the time, but can’t promise when (I’m not at work ATM, so had more spare time and energy than usual, for a few days).

  7. Michael Pye says:

    Don’t feel like you need to satisfy me in any way. I enjoyed your post and both understood and agreed with its central thrust. The contrast created by your examples was only ever a fringe issue but I find it fascinating. I understand how the article wasn’t intended to argue those choices but i feel the starkness in contrast between the two pieces is revealing. As you quoted Daniel Kahneman I will assume you remember the bit were he reveals that even as a world renowned experts on cognitive fallacies (or cognitive bias) he found himself committing most of them regularly. Obviously this somewhat lowers the bar far the rest of us.

    If you are familiar with Agrippa trilemia then you know that circular reasoning is one of the three foundations of our knowledge, obviously most of us don’t like to admit this. In your blog you talk about moving away from coherence (which I see as the circular reasoning the trilemia is talking about). The key here is that circular reasoning means contextualized and interlinked
    beliefs (inter-connective reasoning with no clear end or beginning makes more sense). This is how most of us think most of the time. We just know because our experiences and knowledge of the world have created a schema we are barely aware of.

    You were than of course right to argue for an increased tolerance of dissonance as that short-circuits this kind of thinking. It slows you down and forces you to isolate out the threads which is anathema to circular or thinking. Now I suspect you didn’t re-read, or instead skimmed, both articles instead relying on memory. By this point the actual text has faded and a mere summary remains Forgive my assumptions but i suspect that summary was, I agree with text A and disagree with B. I then think you rationalized backwards. My evidence for this would be that you selected these particular texts rather than a stronger argument against neo-liberalisim and Pinke’rs position both of which i suspect exist and would be easy to find.

    Now the point i am trying to make is that you, someone who has clearly thought about these kind of pit falls, both in this post and likely a lot of other times, has managed to select two texts which strongly indicate that you are rationalizing backwards from your conclusions to your arguments, changing your view of a writer to conserve another part of your worldview. This seems pretty relevant to a discussion on admitting when we are wrong.

    Just in case I have not made it clear i am not disparaging your judgment or character Instead i am trusting that you will appreciate the irony of my point, that even the best of us can’t extract ourselves from these mental devils. I of course readily admit that I am just as guilty of this.

    Alternatively of course I could simply be talking a load of rubbish.

    As I have a tendency to keep picking at an idea I will promise that this will be my last reply on this article. Thanks for being so patient.

  8. […] that the sentiment above is not only wrong, it is actively harmful. Spectacular changes of mind are rare, more so after reaching middle age. Thus, I’m going to explore what I believe are the reasons […]

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