Why facts don’t change minds

The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of a doubt, what is laid before him. – Leo Tolstoy, Novelist

To survive effectively in the world, humans need a reasonably accurate view of the world. So the model of the real and actual world shouldn’t be too far apart in your mind, both in truth and inaccuracy.

Not just truth and accuracy, humans have an innate need to belong. We all need to fit in, bond with others, and earn the respect and approval of our peers. 

Understanding the truth of a situation is important, but so is remaining part of a tribe. While these two desires often work well together, they occasionally come into conflict.

And this means, sometimes we don’t always believe things because they are correct. Sometimes we believe things because they make us look good to the people we care about.

This is the “actually false, but socially accurate” approach. False beliefs can be useful in a social sense, even if they are not useful in a factual sense.

Facts don’t change our minds. Friendship does.

If you abandon your beliefs, you run the risk of losing social ties. It is like saying changing your mind will take away your tribe too. Would you then like to change your mind?

The way to change people’s minds is to become friends with them. Bring them into your tribe before you ask them to change their beliefs. Once they are in, they will be more willing to change their beliefs without the risk of being abandoned socially.
You will also be willing to change or consider a belief if someone you know and trust believes an idea.

Any idea that is sufficiently different from your current worldview will feel threatening.  Therefore, if you want someone to think or change a belief, it is best done in a non-threatening environment.

Debates and arguments are like a full-frontal attack on a person’s identity. People tend to get defensive when engaged in this way. 

Books are often a better vehicle for transforming beliefs. With a book, the conversation takes place inside someone’s head and without the risk of being judged.

Why do false ideas persist?

People repeat bad ideas when they complain about them. So you end up repeating the ideas you’re hoping people will forget—but, of course, people can’t forget them because you keep talking about them. 

The more you repeat a bad idea, the more likely people are to believe it.

Clear’s Law of Recurrence: The number of people who believe an idea is directly proportional to the number of times it has been repeated during the last year—even if the idea is false. Feed the good ideas and let bad ideas die of starvation.

Soldiers are on the intellectual attack, looking to defeat the people who differ from them. If you want people to adopt your beliefs, you need to act more like a scout and less like a soldier.

Always remember that to argue, and win, is to break down the reality of the person you are arguing against. It is painful to lose your reality, so be kind, even if you are right. – Haruki Murakami, Writer

When you are in the moment, you may get so caught up in winning that you forget about connecting. Always remember the goal is to connect with the other side, collaborate with them, befriend them, and integrate them into our tribe.


Sign Up for nextbigwhat newsletter

The smartest newsletter, partly written by AI.

Download Pluggd.in, the short news app for busy professionals