How to want to change your mind

New video blog: “How to Want to Change your Mind.”

This one’s full of useful tips to turn off your “defensive” instincts in debates, and instead cultivate the kind of fair-minded approach that’s focused on figuring out the truth, not on “winning” an argument.

20 Responses to How to want to change your mind

  1. leereed says:

    Great post. I see this all the time in social media sites; people who are emotionally invested in arguments that simply don’t hold water. Sometimes the guilty party is me and I need to use some of these techniques to speak a bit more rationally.

  2. Max says:

    The more you dig yourself in at the beginning, the harder it will be to dig yourself out.
    My suggestion is to put your money where your mouth is AFTER you’ve heard all the arguments, not before. After a few losses, you’ll want to use all the information you can to improve your chances.

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  4. Andrew T says:

    To me the key is number 2, framing the encounter in a different way. “Debate” may once have meant an objective trading of points of argument, but it’s such a loaded word now that it’s hard not to feel like a debate is meant to be won rather than finding truth. I find that in almost any situation of my own life, once I think of it as a “discussion” rather than a debate or argument, all else follows.

    But then again, I’m not a public speaker (or a public *debate*r). It’s a shame that many rules of rationalism do not apply to political arguments to the public. Like concession of a point being considered flip-flopping or bad judgement instead of “cash in the bank” for perception of your rationality.

  5. Greg Linster says:

    Nice post! We should be happy when we lose an argument because it gives us the opportunity to gain some knowledge. I like the way economist Steven Landsburg put it in his book The Big Questions: “Argue passionately for your beliefs; listen intently to your adversaries, and root for yourself to lose. When you lose, you’ve learned something.”

  6. mynameis required says:

    you can’t project your inabilities onto others and proclaim it as wisdom.

    sorry…. this is almost as bad as vegetarians eat eggs.. lmfao!

    education of thine not!

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  8. Larry says:

    One must consider the purpose of a debate. If the purpose of a debate is to lead to an actionable outcome then mere seeking of truth may simply forestall necessary decision making, since truth is always at best provisional.
    In a previous episode you made reference to the adaptive nature of certain habits. Argument and debate is more functionally adaptive than ultimate truth seeking since survival is a series of decisions. A decision is nothing more than an inner debate seeking the right course of immediate action vs ruminating about ultimate truth.
    It is no coincidence that the leaders in our society are the better decision makers. Not that they make better decisions, but that they are better at decisiveness. This it appears at times to come at the cost of being prone to a distaste for ultimate truth seeking. In other words anti-intellectualism. Debate as a tool for greater understanding is valuable, but it is only useful for preparation for argumentative debates which result in actionable outcomes — decisions.

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  10. Keith Comito says:

    Good post, Julia. I find it useful to always keep in mind that the more interesting scenario is actually the one in which you are wrong; then you have something new to learn.

  11. Michael D says:

    I have always been mindful of the fact that what I desire most is the most accurate description of reality possible, truly integrating this idea makes changing your mind quite easy and leads the tone of debates and discussions you from one of telling people what to think to sharing why you think what you think and encouraging them to do so.

  12. Grognor says:

    The “divorce your belief from yourself” technique is one of the most fundamental and important aspects of critical thinking (when it’s used to reach the truth and not ‘the desired conclusion’). There are many essays about this. My favorite is Paul Graham’s:

  13. Steven Brent says:

    I still haven’t found anything better than a good ol’ Socratic dialectic when it comes to hashing things out with others. Of course, the success of that approach depends on a full commitment from all participants — so it makes a few assumptions up front that may not be founded.

  14. Steven Brent says:

    Also, what @Grognor says!

  15. DC5 says:

    I was glad to hear you talk about importance of first removing the argument from yourself. Personal investment tends to hide the truth of a matter—the very truth that should be our ultimate goal. Moreover, personal investment involves the ego, which tends to fight back when challenged.

  16. Dan says:

    “If human nature were not base, but thoroughly honourable, we should in every debate have no other aim than the discovery of truth; we should not in the least care whether the truth proved to be in favour of the opinion which we had begun by expressing, or of the opinion of our adversary. . .

    Our innate vanity, which is particularly sensitive in reference to our intellectual powers, will not suffer us to allow that our first position was wrong and our adversary’s right.”

    Arthur Schopenhauer, The Art of Controversy

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  18. This is exactly how I have argued points with the possible exception of the imagining your position/belief “outside” or “away” from yourself. I have always made myself aware that if I am wrong, that’s a bonus because I’ve learned something, and thus reduced any defensiveness I might had had otherwise. But actually visualizing it away from me might be a nice addition to the toolbox.

  19. Nisha says:

    I blogged this video and Julia’s definition of ‘rational’:

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