On the changing of minds

“I remember once, it was in a bar, during the 1930s, and there was a drunken debate going on that was trending on towards violence when something so unusual happened that everyone froze in place. The silence was like a soft winter snow falling in the woods. Everyone looked on in wonder. A guy, sitting in the corner and surrounded by empty and half-full glasses of beer, announced that he was persuaded by the logic of his opponent to change his mind on a subject.

It had never happened before. It has never happened since.” (Quoting my grandfather)


Since I put up an ill-conceived piece below, properly dismantled by a commenter, I am making amends. This piece I guarantee to strike a note. It is called How I changed my Mind … About Global Warming. Here is the opening paragraph:

Most, if not all, people would consider themselves to be open-minded. Yet, if you ask someone to name an important belief that they have changed their mind about, in response to evidence and/or logic, most struggle to give even one example.

Honestly, I could make a very long list of things I have changed my mind about, from peak oil to climate change to Judy Wood to low-carb dieting (all of Italy looks fit and healthy even as they mostly live on pasta). I must be an exception, or maybe I just jump from one wrong idea to another, embracing each like a politician shaking hands in a greeting line.

But I must say in observing the behavior of others that the author, Byron Sharp is right. People rarely change their minds, and certainly do not admit error. It is as someone said (these words are attributed to several people but have landed in the lap of Jonathon Swift) that “those who are not reasoned in cannot be reasoned out.”

Take a look at the link if you have time. Anthony Watt reprinted it with permission and I don’t have permission, so am limiting myself to the brief citation above. It is a short piece, five minutes tops.

32 thoughts on “On the changing of minds

  1. I must be an exception, or maybe I just jump from one wrong idea to another, embracing each like a politician shaking hands in a greeting line.*

    I’m curious, Mark, if you’ve always been that way, or if it’s something that has happened later in life?

    When I was younger, there were a few people I would argue with bitterly, all the time, often writing rambling emails or going on long tirades fully aware that I was supporting my positions with statements that even I wasn’t sure I believed. And I think a small part of my brain was aware of how ridiculous the delusional fantasy behind all that sound and fury was. If I just kept yammering long enough, sooner or later the other person was going to have a moment of clarity and realize they were completely wrong and I was completely right and they would be grateful to me.

    I think the silliness of that fantasy has gotten more apparent to me as I’ve aged. I’ve known quite a few people for long enough now that I’ve seen how if they do change their minds about something, they do it kicking and screaming, and are anything but grateful…and they pretty much never change their minds in order to think and believe whatever the hell I was trying to make them think and believe. It’s such a ludicrous and pointless game, and all the more ludicrous the more deeply my ego is invested in it. As I’ve seen this more clearly, I’ve pretty much given up on the fantasy that deliberately changing anyone’s mind about anything is a worthwhile goal. And as I’ve let that notion go, I’ve naturally grown a lot less resistant to seeing my own mistakes and changing my own mind. It’s not a big deal. Why in the world did I think it was a big deal for so long?

    Have you undergone a similar letting-go experience, or would you say you always had a pretty easy time of admitting you were wrong?

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    1. That pretty well sums it up … when I was younger I had the same arguing experiences as you did, but looking back can see that I ran into roadblocks, usually put up by the other people, but also caused by the limits of my understanding. I needed to think more and think harder, and that had not been my habit. Like most everyone I looked to gurus to do the hard work, only slowly realizing that if there is hard work to do, I must do it myself. Thinking is hard, roadblocks are difficult to overcome. I am surrounded by them now … just one example, watching Patriots Giants the other night, Tom Brady sitting on the sideline was the spitting image of Matt Damon. They are Brats. OK, so what? It is time to push, to think hard, to take this information and drive it further, to obtain new understanding. I am stymied.

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    2. “It’s not a big deal.”

      I wonder if it is kind of a big deal though? I’ve been skimming a book about Nietzsche that seems relevant. His famous “will to power” theorizes that culture is a sublimated battlefield of ancient barbaric drives. So influencing others, changing their ideas, while it should perhaps be just a disinterested rational conversation, is usually bound up in a struggle for dominance. (If I’m not butchering his views too badly, I’m no expert.) Not news to anyone here that people have fragile egos and need to maintain their worldviews, but Nietzsche does put it in a broader perspective.

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      1. Oh, I don’t disagree with that at all. I think the development of our individual and collective worldviews is a very big deal, and deliberately trying to change someone else’s understanding of reality is absolutely a power play.

        It seems to me that much of my understanding of the world has come from people with tremendous power in our material world. Generally speaking, my mind has been changed by people who were not attempting to change it willfully–by people who had no motive or reason to assert that kind of dominance over me–by people whose views I was attracted to or that resonated with me. In fact, the more I sense that an individual or an author or a group is willfully trying to change my mind about something, the more my defenses go up. And other people react exactly the same way when I willfully try to assert my dominance over them and change their mind about something.

        You’re right, though–it’s careless of me to say it’s not a big deal. Maybe what I meant was that it’s a natural and important growth process that isn’t a dramatic emotional event when I remove ego and worries about power/dominance from it.

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        1. I think, because it is so hard to change minds, that the people with real power rely on behavioral psychology and propaganda techniques.Real attempts at logical persuasion are simply not done.

          As I used to say about my late older brother, who stubbornly held to many illogical beliefs, “there are many ways to approach him on these subjects. None work.”

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  2. Excellent post. One section in particular resonates with me:

    Most, if not all, people would consider themselves to be open-minded. Yet, if you ask someone to name an important belief that they have changed their mind about, in response to evidence and/or logic, most struggle to give even one example.

    Indeed. I sometimes ask people, ‘what was the last major topic or opinion you changed your mind about?’ Rarely do I receive a thoughtful or interesting response.

    Most people don’t think about their own thinking, so how are they going to recall a time when they thought to change their mind?

    For me, I have changed my mind on so many things, the me of six years ago and the me of today are very different people (insofar as a person is connected to his thoughts or opinions).

    Dinosaurs.
    Human evolution theory.
    Heliocentrism.
    Nuclear bombs.
    Intercontinental ballistic missiles.
    Outer space.
    The medical industry.
    Prenatal ultrasound.
    Where diamonds come from.
    Where petroleum comes from.
    Ancient egypt/rome/greece/china/etc.
    Abortion.
    Marriage.
    ‘Multiculturalism’.
    Climate change.

    And so much more.

    The thing is, I still know all of the ‘reasons’ and ‘arguments’ and ‘evidence’ put forward for the standard / common beliefs on these matters. When chatting with somebody on any of these topics, if they decide to turn it into a debate (friendly or otherwise), I tend to know their position better than they do, because I used to hold their opinion, and I remember what happened, what I learned, that caused me to change my mind.

    It is like fighting with a man who has both arms tied behind his back. Too easy. and yet it is the man with his arms tied behind his back who wants to instigate the debate!

    I don’t seek out debates on these matters, but of course, as most (if not all) readers of this blog are well aware, once a member of the lemming masses knows that you are a heretic of some kind, then they are liable to demand you explain yourself.

    To go against so-called ‘science’ i.e. the authorities is to blaspheme, to be a heretic, an apostate. This is especially true if you hold a degree from one of the Scientism seminaries i.e. university.

    What! You don’t believe in dinosaurs! I demand you tell me why!

    I feel like I’m living in Groundhog Day sometimes. Eventually I reached a point where it became obvious to me that most people alive today are no different in form or function from NPCs.

    Think about it: do the non player characters in video games tend to say or do anything other than they have been scripted to say and do? Of course not. What makes the average lemming alive today any different? This is not a rhetorical question.

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    1. JLB, it is my sincere wish that your comments would go through without moderation. As you know, I put no roadblocks in place. I will take time to contact WordPress, but if anyone can help decipher this problem, I would be appreciative.

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    2. Jon, WP is looking into why you are being blocked here. They asked me, the next time you comment, to leave the comment in moderation so they can look into the matter in more depth. So send a comment this way please.

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    3. Facts make me create or dismiss positions on a particular topic. That is what I seek in a debate. Subjects like 911 are hotly contested, because the foundational facts aren’t readily available. All the same, nearly every position put forth is shot through with certainty.

      Many protracted debates on a particular subject are short on facts, and long on emotion. This is because the participants identify with the subject matter or position, then feel personally attacked in the realm of debate, as you have pointed out.

      This emotional binding, belief, personal attachment or whatever; is rocks in the gears when dispassionately reviewing facts in order to come to a sound logical conclusion.

      Identity politics make debate more difficult as participants try to ascertain political, religious, or moral identifications in order to dismiss all of their opponents arguments because they are a – fill in the blank.

      It is a difficult time in our collective histories to participate in productive argumentation. I can’t say that I avoid these emotional pitfalls during debate, but I do feel the opportunity cost whenever I do. Our collective quest for truth has been reduced to an ego battle.

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  3. ‘Ego’ is the key word. The WP mod problem is them. The words (subject) written are triggering gatekeepers. WP is notorious PTB site. Passion & ego intertwine much like lust & love. Mucking it up to ruinous end, if left unchecked.

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  4. I don’t believe in Space Rockets or Nuclear Weapons. In my mind I have scientific proof they don’t exist. I went online an tried to explain myself and as far as I can tell, one person understood what I was getting at. Rather than continue to beat my head against that wall, I took my advanced degree from the Ivy League in Science and started to use it against Fake Science. Based on my skills, training and experience, finance is the angle of attack. All of mathematical finance is run by Physicists who believe in Rockets and Nuclear Weapons. My old boss used to tell me if he had stayed at MIT he would have won the Nobel prize because that was his lab (before he left to make millions) that was awarded the prize. Nobel for believing 100 years of fakery. Congratulations! AI is full of shit too. It’s fake Computer Science for Frat Boys with gentlemen’s B’s from Most Competitive Universities who majored in International Relations propped up by desperate engineers. So I said fuck them all. I threw all their shit away and did my own work. I’m the guy who figured out that nobody ever tested a rocket in a vacuum. I mean, not since Goddard in 1914, 100 years without experimental proof. Fine, I won’t be bitter, I’ll wipe all that from my mind and get back to the math I was told to forget. That nobody talks about on TV or the Internet. Put that to work in the markets. It’s not about the money, it’s about seeing the real world while they operate in the fake one. The money only proves I’m right. I started a company to do this. It’s running and making money. So I call one of my old colleagues who runs a lot of money and has a Ph.D. in Math. I tell him that I’ve got the antidote to the crap Physicists have been pushing down our throats for the past 40 years. Told him that their math, the Stochastic Calculus, to be specific, isn’t the only way to explain variance in the markets. I told him I’m using ideas from mathematicians who have been pushed to the side, the heroes of Computer Science, a field which has been gutted, degraded and denuded by Facebook, Apple, Google and the rest. He’s in. That’s my angle. He’s who I convince. The smartest people in the world know it’s all shite but they’re not going to give up their 10MM/year jobs to go online and rant. They shouldn’t have to and I wouldn’t wish that upon them. The truth should be worth more than than the lie.

    All this would be good enough for me. (being “Against the Day”). The financial company proud not to believe in Science without proof. My brother hates the idea, with his “skytracker”software watching the Space Station fly over his house. He still can’t believe the 2nd plane on 9/11 made no sound. Except thanks to Miles I find out that I might be part of a family that a)was behind the rise of the Papacy in the middle ages b)the Protestant Reformation in the Renaissance c)Union Generals during U.S. Civil War d)Generals during WWII e)Behind the creation of Israel e)on September 11, 2001 they (me) were at the WTC, the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania where a plane “crashed”. That’s some “Crying of Lot 49” shit right there. 1,000 years of spookery at the highest levels. Is everything I’m doing a continuation of that plan? I’ll find out when I talk to them, if they want to talk to me.
    Spook out.

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  5. I find it amusing and ironic that, if my memory is correct, my very first post on this site resulted in not a few people leaping to the conclusion that I was a “shill” or “disinfo”, all seemingly due to the fact that I disagreed with the premise of the article I posted under and said so.

    Yet fast forward to today and I find one of my comments used as the jumping off point for an article on changing one’s mind.

    On that topic: Someone once said “never try to argue with someone who knows they’re right”, and that sounds about right to me. Others have said that no one is ever actually taught anything, that they only teach (or un-teach) themselves, that there’s a component of will involved and that where the will is absent no one on Earth can force knowledge in. That sounds about right, too.

    Even so I find myself in disagreement with the premise that “most people can’t name one important thing they’ve changed their minds on.” Everyone I’ve ever known who has “come to Jesus”, for example, would likely cite that as their number one change of mind. Ask anyone sitting in an AA meeting that question and I’ll be amazed if you don’t get plenty of quick responses.

    I only made it a few paragraphs into the linked article. The author recommends that everyone change their minds more often, without citing any reason why. What if the thing I believe happens to be true?

    Examine your beliefs, certainly. Examine your motivations, by all means. But the author telling me, as a simple principle, to change my mind more often sounds absurd. Can I expect a new paper from the author in a year or five year’s time, outlining his reasons for changing his mind back to believing in global warming caused by humans?

    As someone else this site’s readers are no doubt familiar with has pointed out: Change is and has been the mantra of the last century. Tick-tock, flip-flop, up is now down and to be out is to be in. Either way you can bet there’s a new product on the shelves or in the works, new “R&D” to invest in as the author suggests. “New low carbon energy”, as he puts it.

    But wait: is carbon the problem or isn’t it? I guess carbon’s effect on the environment wasn’t included in the Great Mind Change. Not yet, anyway.

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    1. It is important not so much to change your or my mind, but to be open to evidence.

      Example: I was pretty hard on Michael Moore in my Columbine work, thinking he was a disinformation agent. Now he’s come up with a new documentary that is very critical of alternative energy sources, solar and wind. Apparently, he (or his people) went into it preparing to do a movie supporting those things and stumbled on to evidence that both are unreliable and oversold. That is not something a disinfo guy would do. Maybe, with Columbine, he was just blind.

      His movie, unfortunately, does not have distribution behind it.

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      1. “It is important not so much to change your or my mind, but to be open to evidence.”

        No argument here.

        I can’t comment on Moore’s new documentary as I haven’t seen it, but I will say that of all the words I’d use to describe the Sun “unreliable” is not one of them.

        I remember the first time I saw a solar panel. It was on a toy radio-controlled car. I think it was probably around 1985. I remember that the man in the store who showed it to me was of the firm belief that these little panels were going to revolutionize our lives. I remember that his enthusiasm was contagious, and I expected to see them begin appearing on…. well, basically on every damn thing you could put one on because why the hell not?

        Is that unreasonable, do you think? (rhetorical “you”, by the way) I mean, why not have the roof of every car lined with solar cells? Every little bit of “free” juice one can squeeze from sunlight is a benefit, isn’t it? Why not have every rooftop lined with solar cells? Why isn’t every “smart” phone coated with them on the backside, so that one could simply flip their phone over to get a trickle charge? etc etc.

        I assume the answer to “why” is akin to the apocryphal tale of George Westinghouse’s response to Nikola Tesla wanting to provide free wireless electricity to everyone: “Yes, yes, that all sounds wonderful,but where would I put the meter?”

        The Sun is about as reliable as it gets, but it’s also free for the taking, unlike the electricity we obtain from the grid. That alone is a compelling reason to blackwash solar power. But all of this presupposes that what we need in society is… more power, or at the least “different” power. I’m not so sure that’s the case. I could certainly make a reasonable argument that if anything we need less power, because of the prevalence in homes of so many single-use devices, etc. “Reasonable” being, naturally, quite open to interpretation. 🙂

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        1. The problem with solar is economics and reliability … if the sun is not shining it needs a backup. Not so with oil, gas, coal. There is also the payback factor, that solar cells do not make economic sense above the 35th parallel.

          However, I see highway signs out in the middle of nowhere where they use solar, and that makes sense. For cars, I’ve not seen one proposed. There must be a weight factor and point of diminishing returns where you are driving a battleship down the freeway.

          Anyway, solar and wind do not exist without subsidy. Australians are pissed having very high electricity bills and subsidizing windmills while they export their coal to China to produce cheap electricity.

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      2. Problem: global warming
        Solution: alternative energy

        Problem: alternative energy inadequate to replace carbon
        Solution: drastic cutback in energy use

        Moore might just be laying groundwork for that eventual bitter pill. Unless he is questioning global warming itself…

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        1. I get conflicting ideas … climate change is now our new Cold War, keeping people (who are “paying attention”) in a constant state of tension. That was the whole idea then, to keep us in a state of fear.

          If anyone really thought CO2 was a problem, some effort might be made to stop China and India from investing heavily in coal, as they should if they want cheap energy. No effort is being made. (Then again, I am in Colorado and have no idea what is happening in Asia, just as I have no way of knowing if there is a polluted zone of plastic in the Pacific the size of Texas.)

          Stupid things are being done, the City of Oakland CA not allowing natural gas in new homes, Australia shutting down coal-fired generating plants (while people scream and change PMs due to high energy costs).

          YouTube is heavily censored, but the other side of the climate debate is all over it. Do they want us having this stupid argument? It appears so.

          All in all, we’re being fucked with. As usual.

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      3. Having seen Bowling for Columbine and his health care movie Sicko, I can’t seriously entertain the idea that he’s anything but disinformation/limited hangout. That obviously-staged Charlton Heston “interview” is the most striking example of what a total phony he is, but there are so many others. His protestations of moral outrage, his relentless posturing as an “average Joe” up against the big bad corrupt world, has always been laughable. Of course he wants us to think he can’t get funding for his latest truth bomb. In addition to TimR’s speculation about the “bitter pill” his critique of alternative energy could be laying the groundwork for, I’d guess he’s also trying to lend credibility to his preposterous fictional role of the “outsider” who uses the Hollywood system to bring us the unvarnished truth and strike terror in the hearts of the evil-doing PTB. Uh-huh. You go, Michael. No. Seriously. Go.

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        1. So you understood that neither Charleton Heston or Dick Clark would have appeared in B4C without pay and scripting. Kudos. Another character, Matt Stone, was in that movie, and while people trail off on me on this matter, I think his youthful photo was used as that of either Dylan Klebold or Eric Harris, I forget which, in the school’s yearbook, or at least in the post-tragedy writings about the event. I was unable to get a copy of that yearbook. This does not mean that Stone, or his partner Trey Parker, the other photo used, were anywhere near Columbine at any time, only that their photos were used as those of the phantom students. Putting this information forth does not mean I pretend to understand it. It befuddles me. [To be clear, Klebold and Harris were phantoms, never existed.]

          And thanks for the insight … of course, if Moore was a disinfo guy in B4C and all his other movies, he still is, and our mission, should we decide to accept it, is to understand true motives.

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          1. Re:motives. Seems to me mass psychosis has its advantages to the higher-ups.

            “Groupthink is most often associated with business, politics and policy making, but it also relates to the psychology of collective phobias and mass hysteria.

            The term “groupthink” was coined in the early 1970s by psychologist Irving L. Janis. In 1972, Janis published his book Victims of Groupthink: A Psychological Study of Foreign-Policy Decisions and Fiascoes.

            Janis defines “groupthink” as “a psychological drive for consensus at any cost that suppresses dissent and appraisal of alternatives in cohesive decision-making groups.”” https://www.verywellmind.com/understanding-groupthink-2671595

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          2. Yeah, I’ve heard theories about Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s images being used for the villains of Columbine and don’t reject or accept them. Stone’s inclusion in the Columbine movie does seem rather arbitrary though; why the hell does Moore interview him as if he’s some kind of expert? Maybe he threw Marilyn Manson into his panel of “what the fuck do they know about anything?” experts to deflect attention from the oddness of Stone’s presence. Or maybe Manson was in on the psy-op too and the three of them laughed about it together off camera. At any rate, Moore’s whole career as a revolutionary seems as phony to me as little Greta Thunberg’s. Who knows, they may even have some of the same writers.

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    2. My perception has been that people project their own wisdom onto others. Or their own bullshit. A while back I reconnected with a woman I dated twenty years ago and she thanked me for some mean thing I said off the top of my head to get her off my back when I was drunk. My thoughtless put-down prompted her to do some soul searching that she says changed her life. That sort of randomness certainly seems more typical of how minds (including mine) are changed than logical nuanced debate.

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        1. I suppose this is why I’ve grown more and more interested in how information is presented as much as or more than the information itself. Why is it being presented in this particular way? What does the way it’s presented say about what the author thinks of my intelligence? What is the author trying to make me FEEL? (Crichton wants me to be afraid, be afraid!) What underlying assumptions is the author expecting me to share? (It sounds like Joki did a better job than I did of asking those kinds of questions about the WUWT article.)

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      1. Misoneism: a hatred, fear, or intolerance of innovation or change

        Is it real? Who knows, but it’s been in use since 1886 according to Webster’s.

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  6. Good thing you don’t write books.

    (NEWSER) – A jury in Wisconsin has awarded $450,000 to the father of a boy killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting after he filed a defamation lawsuit against conspiracy theorist writers who claimed the massacre never happened. A Dane County jury on Tuesday decided the amount James Fetzer must pay Leonard Pozner, whose 6-year-old son Noah was among the 26 victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012. Fetzer, a retired University of Minnesota Duluth professor now living in Wisconsin, and Mike Palacek co-wrote a book, Nobody Died at Sandy Hook, in which they claimed the Sandy Hook shooting never took place but was instead an event staged by the federal government as part of an Obama administration effort to enact tighter gun restrictions.

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    1. Yeah, that’s in the news. This part is a farce too, Swede. Jim Fetzer is a disinfo agent. I assure you, no money will change hands. Stuff like this is just a booster shot, a way of making sure people like you never awaken from your golden slumbers. The concept of a fake trial is a little hard to grasp, but the OJ trial was a farce, and if they could pull that off, this one is peanuts.

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