Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds

When given the option of proving there is no need to change one’s mind, practically everyone chooses to focus on the proof, according to a quote by economist J.K. Galbraith.

Even more audaciously, Leo Tolstoy said, “The most difficult subjects can be explained to the slowest man if he has not formed any idea of them; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the wisest man if he is firmly convinced that he knows already, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what is laid before him.”

What is happening here? Why don’t facts persuade us otherwise? And why, in any case, would someone continue to hold onto a misleading or incorrect notion? How do these actions benefit us?

The Logic of False Beliefs

To exist, humans require a fairly accurate perception of the outside environment. You find it difficult to operate effectively every day if your model of reality differs greatly from the real world.

However, the human mind is concerned with other things in addition to truth and accuracy. People appear to have a strong desire to fit in. some time we are playing game.

I stated that “humans are herd animals” in Atomic Habits. We want to blend in, form relationships, and get the admiration and respect of our peers. These tendencies are necessary for our survival. Our ancestors spent the majority of their evolutionary history in tribes. Separation from the tribe, or worse, being cast out, meant certain death.

Knowing the reality of a situation is crucial, but so is sticking with your tribe. While these two desires frequently mesh well, they occasionally clash.

In many cases, making new friends is more beneficial to your daily life than learning the reality of a certain thought or fact. “People are embraced or condemned according to their ideas, so one role of the mind may be to hold views that bring the believer the greatest number of allies, protectors, or disciples, rather than beliefs that are most likely to be true,” wrote Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker.

We don’t always accept things as true just because they are true. Sometimes we believe things simply because they help us appear credible to others.

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When he said, “If a brain anticipates that it will be rewarded for adopting a particular belief, it’s perfectly happy to do so and doesn’t much care where the reward comes from — whether it’s pragmatic (better outcomes as a result of better decisions), social (better treatment from one’s peers), or some mix of the two,” I thought Kevin Simler captured the situation well.

Even if they are not useful in a factual sense, false ideas might be valuable in a social sense. Without a better term, we could describe this strategy as “factually wrong, but socially accurate.” People frequently chose their friends and relatives above facts when given the option to choose between the two.

This realization not only explains why we might keep our mouths shut at a dinner party or turn a blind eye when our parents say something inappropriate, but it also illuminates a more effective strategy for influencing other people.

Facts Don’t Change Our Minds. Friendship Does.

In reality, persuading someone to change their tribe is the same as persuading them to change their thinking. They run the risk of severing social ties if they give up their ideas. If you take away someone’s community as well, you can’t expect them to change their viewpoint. You must provide them with somewhere to go. Nobody wants their worldview broken apart, especially if it leads to loneliness.

Making friends with them, including them in your tribe, and bringing them into your circle are all effective ways to influence people’s opinions. They can now alter their opinions without fear of societal rejection.

Alain de Botton, a British philosopher, advises that we simply eat with those who don’t agree with us:

“The incomparable and peculiar benefit of sitting down at a table with a group of strangers is that it makes it a little harder to despise them with impunity. Racist tension and prejudice are fueled by abstraction. However, the closeness required by a meal disrupts our ability to cling to the notion that strangers who dress strangely and have unusual accents should be sent home or physically attacked. Something about passing the dishes, unfolding napkins at the same time, and even asking a stranger to pass the salt. There are few more successful ways to foster tolerance between wary neighbors than to make them eat supper together, despite all the widespread political remedies that have been put up to ease ethnic violence.

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Perhaps distance rather than difference is what fosters hatred and tribalism. Understanding grows along with proximity. I’m reminded of the saying “I don’t like that man” by Abraham Lincoln. I must learn more about him.

We are not convinced by facts. It is friendship.

The Spectrum of Beliefs

The notion that Ben Casnocha shared with me years ago has stuck with me ever since: The persons most likely to influence our opinions are those with whom we agree on 98 percent of issues.

You are more likely to give credence to, weigh, or contemplate a radical concept if you know, like, and trust the person who holds it. You already concur with them on the majority of life’s issues. You ought to reconsider your position on this issue as well. However, it’s simple to write someone off as crazy if they make the same extreme suggestion but are vastly different from you.

By plotting beliefs on a spectrum, one may see this distinction. There is no point in trying to persuade someone at Position 1 if you divide this spectrum into 10 parts and find yourself at Position 7. It is too big of a gap. The best use of your time at Position 7 is to make connections with those in Positions 6 and 8, gradually luring them in your direction.

The most passionate debates frequently take place between people who are at opposing ends of the spectrum, but learning happens most frequently from people who are close by. The more closely you are related to someone, the more probable it is that you will internalize their one or two differing opinions and let them influence how you think. You are more inclined to reject a concept outright the further it is from your current viewpoint.

It is incredibly challenging to switch sides when it comes to influencing people’s opinions. The spectrum cannot be jumped down. You must descend it by sliding.

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