Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds

Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds


Table Of Content(toc)

1. Intro


I used to think facts did change our minds, but I’ve come to realize that they don’t. Thinking in terms of facts changes our brains, but not our minds.

So we need to get back to the basics of what we do.

Not just getting people to change their minds, but understanding why they change their minds and then going through the process of testing whether our understanding is correct.

In other words: we need to be able to tell a story about why people think and believe things in particular ways.


2. The Economist JK Galbraith on Change and Proof


In fact, I have been trying to think of a more specific way to talk about this — but I can’t. In a sense it is not even a question of facts or proof, but of “evidence”. The best arguments are the ones that are supported by evidence, and the best evidence is the kind that you can see, touch, smell and taste. If we had to go by what we read in the newspaper or on our Facebook newsfeed (or watch TV or listen to radio) then we would probably all be better off believing what was being said rather than thinking for ourselves.

The truth is that the world is complex enough that there will never be a simple answer to any question — no matter how confident you are in your knowledge of what’s going on. This is a very good thing when it comes to choosing how to spend your time and money — because if you don’t feel comfortable with uncertainty then it’s likely you will do something less productive (and therefore more wasteful).

With such frankness I am not advocating being unassertive — far from it! I just want everyone to think about how they spend their time and money carefully: looking at both sides of the argument before making a decision.


3. How to Explain a Road Map


As a quick reminder, the thesis statement summarizes your argument. In our case, it is: “In order to meet the goals stated in our road map, we need to provide more value than any of our competitors.”

The popularity of this article is probably in part due to its brevity. We have summarized the main ideas succinctly by using a one-sentence summary. But it really depends on the topic at hand and how much detail you feel you need to give (see below for some examples).


4. A Road Map for the Future


If you’re not familiar with the book I wrote about this topic, I recommend reading the summary at its start.

The basic idea is to understand why our minds don’t change, and what we can do to make that happen. We need to become more aware of how we think and how our minds work. This is something we have in common with most of the mental models that are out there, so it should be easy enough to learn (and remember). But once you get started, especially when you are new at it, it can be hard to keep up.

The main issue is that most people seem to have a mental model for how thoughts work — what their “mental model” will look like if they are exposed to new information. And even for people who recognize that their minds don’t change much with exposure to new information, they still think their minds change little as a result of exposure. This is because our neural networks are designed in such a way as to make them very resistant to changes: new information will cause activation of parts of the brain that would normally be inactive (the hippocampus). And when these parts of the brain become active they feel like they are changing: they become more “vibrant” and “purposeful” than what they actually are — which makes us think that things have changed.

This problem is called cognitive bias or confirmation bias . One important way we can overcome this problem is by changing our modes of thinking: instead of focusing on looking at lots of evidence (which looks good), we should focus on looking at only what looks bad; instead of looking for patterns where none exist (which looks good), we should look for patterns where none exist; and so on…

We can use this knowledge in two ways: firstly, by understanding better how our brains work — why certain things happen and other things don’t happen just the same way — and secondly, by actively controlling those parts of our brains which sometimes do tend towards unhelpful biases — e.g., being biased towards consistency where there isn’t any (see also Pessoa et al.). In addition, if you want your mind itself to be more flexible, then focusing on thinking about your mind in a more flexible way will help too: imagine yourself as an open book with all your thoughts clearly written out in front of you; what kind do you prefer? Here is an example:


5. Conclusion


Facts are stubborn things. One of the first things you should do if you can’t change your mind is to stop trying. You never know when there will be a new, better or more relevant piece of information that will change your mind.

This is an issue that has been discussed in marketing circles for a while now, and yet it seems to be one that sells itself poorly:

If we think about our own values, beliefs and assumptions as knowledge structures, we can see how this works. If we want to learn something new, we need to consult one or more sources of new information (whether it is from other people, books or journals). If we believe something for which there are no other reasons (e.g., “I don’t feel like going out tonight so I am staying in”), then not only must the information come from somewhere else (e.g., from a book or journal), but it must also satisfy a core value-based belief that was part of the initial source of the belief (e.g., “I don’t feel like going out so I am staying in”). If you want to understand what you believe and why you believe it, then you need to consult all sorts of sources (any number of them might work). You can always find someone who believes what you believe and wants to talk about why. But even in those cases where the true source is unknown — where there are no other reasons for believing what you do — the practice becomes circular: The true reason for believing what I do is unknown because I don’t know it myself; therefore I cannot ever hope to know it myself; therefore my beliefs cannot ever be verified by any other source.

Now try this in reverse:  if someone tells me they have some new information on my belief structure that changes my mind about something important, then I have an obligation not only to trust them but also to ask them how they got their information and what they think makes their analysis better than mine. In fact, if they don’t tell me how they got their information, then I have an obligation not only not believe what they say but also not ask them anything at all lest they violate trust by providing me with false info.


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