Feeling Free to Change Our Minds

Last week one of the topics I discussed was about facts and opinions. After my wife reviewed what I’d written, she suggested that I talk more in depth about people being willing to changing their minds.

As a skeptic, I try to believe as many true things as possible and as few false things as possible. When my opinions collide with verifiable facts I desire to change my stance on a subject to match the facts and not reinterpret or change the facts to match my opinion.

When facts and opinions collide, facts seem to lose out more often than not. I’ve particularly noted that this is more often true the more a person is emotionally invested in an opinion. Changing your mind on chocolate or vanilla ice cream being better has a lot less emotional baggage than changing your stance on GMOs, nuclear power safety, or immunizations causing autism. The greater the emotional investment in the opinion, the less likely a person is to change their mind. If a person were to identify themselves strongly in the movement such as an expert or leader, they are also not very likely to change their stance.

As Americans, we place too much emphasis on being steadfast in our views, maintaining consistency in our approaches to our environment rather than changing our outlook based on new experiences. Leaders whose views change are called out as “flip floppers” or “wishy washy”. In some cases this may be deserved, such as when a politician says anything they think will get them more votes. However, if a politician was to change their stance on something like sentencing minimums because data had come in over the last 20 years showing that sentencing minimums were tying the hands of judges and sending people to jail for very long periods over minor infractions, that would be a good reason to change their stance.

When we form an opinion or take a stance I hope people would be willing to revise that position when they encounter new evidence that confirms or conflicts with those perceptions. They should impartially evaluate the quality of the new evidence they’ve found and weigh it and the opinion to see if a) the new information is valid and/or b) whether this can and should change their stance.

Furthermore, if people do change their opinions, they should be willing to change even those they hold strong emotional attachment to. Nobody should maintain a stance they know to be false either because they have a strong emotional attachment to that opinion or because they have spent a lot of time and/or effort shoring it up. Positions such as these may be painful to change, but it is more painful than the inevitable cognitive dissonance that results from maintaining an opinion that is contrary to reality.

As a society we need to embrace the idea of changing our opinions in light of new evidence rather than staying the course after contradictory information is presented. Sticking to your guns is only valid as long as your opinions are lin line with the facts. If we maintain an idea long after it is proven wrong we risk acting on information that could bring harm to ourselves or those around us. We should encourage those around us to stay true to the facts and update their opinions to match, not the other way around.

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