February 23, 2008



The following post was first published on my now defunct blog "Random Acts of Thought" on June 4 2005

An interesting article in the New York Times ran today concenring the degree to which beliefs are entrenched.

The vast majority of people hold essentially closed opinions on many many subjects and changes of mind are almost impossible.

I believe it was either Kuhn or Popper who stated that scientific theories are not so much discarded as that their proponents die. In general we cling to our beliefs with incredible tenacity. Differing degrees of intelligence seem mainly to influence how sophisticated our defense of those ideas is rather than our ability to abandon them in the face of conflicting evidence. Loyalty to ideas seems unfortunately to be something that is hardwired into us.

This is a subject Naseem Taleb discusses in his excellent book Fooled By Randomness.

The huge psychological resistance to changing our mind seems unfortunately hardwired into us. Idea, values, and beliefs become such an integral part of the self concept that refutation of them becomes a kind of challenge to the sense of "I"

Most people (including myself) instinctively distrust the opinion of individuals who frequently change their mind on issues. Flip flopping on issues is one of the worst sins a politician can commit in the public eye.

Why are changes in opinion accompanied with a loss of pride? The degree of difficulty involved in changing your opinion seems proportional to the energy and time you have invested in thinking about it. Inability to abandon existing ideas and beliefs is one of the most problematic of human traits and I would wager that it responsible for a large proportion of the evil and folly in the world


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