Changing your mind

Over the past year or so, I kept a list of articles where I noticed someone admitting they’d changed their mind about something, or discussing the idea of changing your mind in general. I wrote this week about how I was wrong about paywalls. So I figured I’d put the various links I found here on the blog, too. Here goes, in no particular order:

Tyler Cowen, on what it would take to convince him to support net neutrality, a position he once supported but no longer does:

Keep in mind, I’ve favored net neutrality for most of my history as a blogger.  You really could change my mind back to that stance.  Here is what you should do…

Akshat Rathi in Quartz, on coming to appreciate the merits of so-called “clean coal”:

As I began to report on the technology, it became clear I hadn’t looked beyond my own  information bubble and may have been overtly suspicious of carbon-capture technology. By meeting dispassionate experts and visiting sites, for the first time, I began to grasp the enormity of the environmental challenge facing us and to look at the problem in a new light.

David Brooks on a new book by Alan Jacobs called How to Think:

Jacobs mentions that at the Yale Political Union members are admired if they can point to a time when a debate totally changed their mind on something. That means they take evidence seriously; that means they can enter into another’s mind-set. It means they treat debate as a learning exercise and not just as a means to victory.

How many public institutions celebrate these virtues? The U.S. Senate? Most TV talk shows? Even the universities?

Conor Friedersdorf on taking on the best form of an argument you disagree with, and quoting Chana Messinger:

And America would benefit if our culture of argument elevated the opposite approach, steel-manning, “the art of addressing the best form of the other person’s argument, even if it’s not the one they presented.” … In short, she says, “Think more deeply than you’re being asked to.”

Tyler Cowen, speaking on the longform podcast:

“I think of my central contribution, or what I’m trying to have it be, is teaching people to think of counter arguments. I’m trying to teach a method: always push things one step further. What if, under what conditions, what would make this wrong?”

A study by Alison Gopnik and co-authors on becoming more close-minded as we get older:

As they grow older learners are less flexible: they are less likely to adopt an initially unfamiliar hypothesis that is consistent with new evidence. Instead, learners prefer a familiar hypothesis that is less consistent with the evidence. In the social domain, both preschoolers and adolescents are actually the most flexible learners, adopting an unusual hypothesis more easily than either 6-y-olds or adults.

Chadwich Matlin: I was a meditation skeptic until I tried to make my case. At FiveThirtyEight:

Skepticism is a FiveThirtyEight staffer’s currency. The only mantras we chant around the office are: Wait for the evidence; wonder if the evidence has something wrong with it; trust the good evidence only until better evidence comes along.2 I was especially distrustful because mindfulness and meditation have been having a moment — meditation apps occupy some of the top spots on the App Store’s rankings of most popular health and fitness apps; Anderson Cooper has profiled the merits of mindfulness on “60 Minutes”; mindfulness is being used in schools as a way to help manage classrooms. Given the hype and this publication’s natural aversion to health trends, I figured I was safe disregarding my therapist’s big claims.

But as FiveThirtyEight’s science team assembled the junk science we wanted to shed in 2018, I started to wonder whether mindfulness really was bunk. So I dove into the scientific literature and discovered I was wrong: There is some limited evidence to suggest that meditation might help with some ailments and may produce measurable changes in the brain. It’s no miracle cure, and there’s still a lot of science left to do, especially about the kind of casual meditation people may fit into a busy day.

Julia Galef: Not all disagreements are opportunities to change your mind.

This is kind of a funny thing for me to be pushing back on, since I so often write and speak about the virtues of trying to change your own mind. But I want to push back on it anyway. I think that “trying to change your mind” is a great goal we should be striving for, but that most debates have a pretty low probability of succeeding at that, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. Here are some examples to illustrate the difference…

Bryan Cantrill, on Twitter:

How about a conference called “In Retrospect” in which presenters revisit talks they’ve given years prior — and describe how their thinking has evolved since?

Conor Friedersdorf on Eric Liu’s Better Arguments Project:

Be Open: “You cannot possibly change another person’s mind,” Liu said, “if you’re not willing to have your own mind changed. You may be able to rack up debater’s points. But you won’t change their mind if they sense you aren’t willing to have your mind changed. It’s a matter of mindset but also ‘heart-set.’”

Brian Resnick at Vox on intellectual humility:

Even when we overcome that immense challenge and figure out our errors, we need to remember we won’t necessarily be punished for saying, “I was wrong.” And we need to be braver about saying it.We need a culture that celebrates those words.

A challenge from David Leonhardt:

Pick an issue that you find complicated, and grapple with it.

Choose one on which you’re legitimately torn or harbor secret doubts. Read up on it. Don’t rush to explain away inconvenient evidence.

Then do something truly radical: Consider changing your mind, at least partially.

Agnes Callard on Pascal’s Wager and convincing yourself to believe something:

This argument has produced few converts, as Pascal would not have been surprised to learn. He knew that people cannot change their beliefs at will. We can’t muscle our mind into believing something we take to be false, not even when the upside is an eternity of happiness. Pascal’s solution is that you start by pretending to believe: attend church, speak the prayers, adopt religious habits. If you walk and talk like a believer, eventually you’ll come to think as one. He says, “This will naturally make you believe, and deaden your acuteness.”

Paul Krugman:

“what is remarkable is how small a role evidence has played in changing
minds. This is clear with respect to fiscal policy, where the strong association between austerity and economic contraction has made little dent in anti-Keynesian views. It’s even clearer with respect to monetary policy, as illustrated by a clever 2014 article in Bloomberg. The reporters decided to follow up on a famous 2010 open letter to Ben Bernanke, in which a number of well-known conservative economists and other public figures warned that quantitative easing would risk a “debased dollar” and inflation. Bloomberg asked signatories about what they had learned from the failure of inflation to materialize; not one was willing to admit they were wrong.”

What have you been wrong about? And what are you doing to improve your thinking process to ensure you’re willing to change your mind?

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