Thursday, February 25, 2010

Are You Open Minded? Are You SURE?

Hearts and Minds, Swords and Mirrors

According to Christopher Joyce of NPR, in his article Belief In Climate Change Hinges On Worldview, we're not as open-minded as we'd like to believe.

From the article:
Dan Kahan, a law professor at Yale University and a member of The Cultural Cognition Project says people test new information against their preexisting view of how the world should work.

The operative word here is "should".

"If the implication, the outcome, can affirm your values, you think about it in a much more open-minded way," he says.

And if it doesn't?

It's headed for the trash can -- mostly out of fear. "Basically the reason that people react in a close-minded way to information is that the implications of it threaten their values."

Huh. Isn't that interesting.

Whether the world actually works the way you think it does or not, you fit the data to what you believe about the world. Not whether it fits your (or anyone else's) empirical data or even experience. Your VALUES.

To quote Mark Twain, "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."

This finding sheds some interesting light on why trying to change people's hearts is more effective than trying to change their minds.

There's another side to this coin, too.

The saying,
"I'll believe it when I see it,"
is actually the wrong way around, because the truth is,
"I'll see it only after I believe it's possible."
A double-edged sword, it cuts both ways. We can be deluded by our values into seeing what isn't there. And we can be prevented by our ignorance and prejudice from seeing what really IS there.

What's even more interesting to me is that how you see yourself impacts how you see the world. That may sound abstract, but here's where the rubber meets the road:
The participants tended to believe the message that came from the person they considered to be more like them.

So, how do you see yourself? As open? Closed? Certain? Doubtful? Are you kind and compassionate? Are you afraid? Are you aggressive? Are you weak?

Here's an interesting test. Take a look at what you believe in. Take a look at who you listen to on those topics. Then look at the messenger, and make an assessment.

That's an interesting mirror, now, isn't it?

The article ends with a "what to do about it" theme, which is useful enough. Kahan says, "The goal can't be to create a kind of psychological house of mirrors so that people end up seeing exactly what you want. The goal has to be to create an environment that allows them to be open-minded."

That's a challenge in dissolving dualism, so that we don't see ourselves as "different" or separate from one another or the universe. (A topic for another day.)

But I'd like to end somewhere a little different.

It's not about them and what they believe or what they do to try to get you to believe. No sir. It's about you.

Find the mirrors that enable you to see yourself clearly.

Then decide whether you like what you see. Change what you don't like.

And when you change yourself, you'll change the world.


  1. Good way to start my day. Thanks, John. Your essay brings to mind my reaction to Tom's teachings about soldiers/warriors and war; during one of the workshops of our two year session. I have always been a vehement anti-war, nonviolence believer and practitioner. But that particular study and discussion, opened up my mind and caused me to do a lot of soul searching. A very unsettling, mind stretching experience. <3

  2. Very interesting! I'm all for dissolving dualism but I wonder if we also must learn to live with paradox. What if both views are correct and mutually exclusive? How do we remove the filter of our culture, upbringing, etc.? Can we, really?
    It makes sense to me that we would respond more positively to what fits what we already know since those brain pathways are already in existence in our brains and the incoming information has a place to go. And, for me, I think I much rather listen to someone who presents a reasonable argument filled with history and science to one that is based soley on an emotional response. But I'll have to see if that is really true about me...

  3. John,
    This is a great thing to ponder. I once had a fortune cookie in which my fortune read, "If you picture it in your mind, you will find it in your life." Put another way, be careful what you wish just might get it.
    My younger sister once told me a story of a student she was teaching English to in the UAE. She flunked her student not becuase the student had presented a report to the class derogatory towards the United States. She said that it was a great content, sound arguments, etc. She flunked the student because the student forgot her audience...meaning my sister. I wondered, as only a sibling can, did my sister forget her audience?
    Paradox, I think, is life. Summer, winter, life, death...

  4. Thanks for the great comments, gang.

    Life IS a paradox - dualism and unity are mutually exclusive, and yet they are both true. I think that the way they are each (truly) experienced is, perhaps not surprisingly, from a mutually exclusive perspective. The truth doesn't change. Our vantage point, on the other hand, can be infinitely varying, if we're willing.

    I have been going through a very powerful process of self-change lately. In it, I have often asked myself, "What beliefs am I willing to give up, in order to become whole? In order to find truth?"

    There were a LOT of them, once I started looking -- beliefs that made me feel good about myself, or righteous, or whatever. And many were at least partly true.

    But I suspected that many obscured my vision and the path to understanding. So I'd give them up, at least for a while, and contemplate the world that I saw without them coloring my vision.

    Turns out, they WERE in the way. And I didn't need most of them.

    They were also hard to abandon.

  5. Hi John,
    I'm moved by your presence to this particular transition in your life. It's amazing how spot on Plato was..."the unexamined life is not worth living."

    It's amazing to see the shift in perspective, presence, the enthusiasim behind your words,the hope in this project. "Massive Action" my brother!

  6. Hi Anonymous,
    Thanks for your support. I am enthusiastic about this project. I'm looking forward to what emerges, both for me personally, and for those who come along.

    Thanks for stopping by! Do come again.

  7. A pleasure to find you doing well and a pleasure to find your blog! Interesting stuff indeed.

    As to this particular issue, we are basically talking of overcoming confirmation bias in our daily lives. We always resist information that contradicts our general ideas of how the world does work as well as how it should work. This is not at all a bad thing. In fact it is quite a good thing. It is the AMOUNT of resistance that is important.

    To address jacstankavage's question of "How do we remove the filter of our culture, upbringing, etc.? Can we, really?" I submit that we simply shouldn't. It is these influences that make up our unique perspective and provide us with opinions that have value. It is how we utilize these filters that is important. For example, if a person tends to be politically conservative, these filters will catch information about, say, global warming and isolate it. This is a good thing. We SHOULD have filters to judge what we simply accept as fact and what we do not. The problem is that the common thing to do with what has been filtered out it to simply throw it away. What one needs to do to be whole is to examine what is in your filter from time to time and make sure that what you are throwing out is, in fact, worthless.

    Personally, I have a very useful filter that removes anything that Glenn Beck says from consideration. It serves me well and allows me to move more efficiently through life. I do, however, check from time to time to see if our mentally deranged friend has hit on something. So far, there have been no real results as anything he says that has merit has been said better by someone else. However, his passion for his position creates a slim potential for accidental wisdom, so I check.

    One should be skeptical of information that challenges our worldview. We EARNED our worldviews through our experiences. However, a skeptic is not a person who rejects out of hand. A skeptic is one who requires proof AND will accept said proof if the preponderance of the evidence is tipped by it. THIS, to me, is what is meant by having an open mind...the willingness to accept evidence that challenges your position.

    As a final note, if you ever are arguing with someone and getting nowhere, ask this question to your opponent: What evidence would you accept that your position is flawed? If the answer is "none" you are wasting your time debating with a person who is not debating you, but is instead attempting to perform on you what amounts to a religious conversion.

    Asking the same question of your OWN beliefs is how one overcomes confirmation bias in daily life.

  8. Hi Jeremy,
    Very cool comment. Thanks. I actually like very much your closing commentary. "What evidence would you accept...?" It's a pretty revealing question. Now, if only we were honest with ourselves...