The title of this post is ironic. What is science/truth/knowledge if not picking one story over another, in other words, the creation of bias? Hopefully the bias we create is useful and allows us to predict and create a future that is better (in some agreed upon sense) than the past.
To get to “better” we have to be able to change our minds when we get stuck on locally maximal peaks. That’s why I love this post on the Rationally Speaking blog called How to Want to Change Your Mind. The techniques are simple, but profound, and harder to put into practice than they seem. Here they are in summary:
- Divorce your belief from your self
- Think of disagreements as collaborative, not adversarial
- Visualize being wrong
- Take the long view
- Congratulate yourself on being objective, not on being right
- If you can’t overcome your competitive instinct, re-direct it
To these, I will add some of my own:
- Truly Listen – I am told that I am a good listener, but I am dismayed by how infrequently I truly listen, without judgment, and with compassion, to what people are saying. Are you truly listening?
- Resist the urge to interrupt – How can I be listening as deeply as possible if I’m spending some of my mental energy looking for an opening to interject? If I have something to say in response, surely it can wait until a few seconds after you stop talking.
- Ask how other person could be RIGHT – The habit of the scientist is to ask how things can be wrong; this is the hegemony of falsifiability. Computers are the world champions of falsification (ask Kasparov). This frees us humans up to do the creative part. Isn’t that more fun than crunching symbols?
- Ask why the other person believes what they do – If the answer is “they’re an idiot” then try again. That’s not very creative. Nor is it likely true.
- Notice emotional reactions – Our mind-bodies know when something we hear resonates with our current biases or is in discord; the effect is emotion. A negative emotion is a particularly good clue that there’s something interesting to explore…
- Notice language – Empirically I’ve noticed that I use the second person (“you’re wrong”) when my argument doesn’t speak for itself. When I’m confident about what I’m saying, I have no trouble using first person (“I think”, “I feel”), or use simple statement of fact without making it personal at all.
- New models, no judgment – There’s no harm in trying on new clothes, even if you decide to return them later. What is harmful is trying on new pants and judging them without trying on the rest of the outfit first. Hey, maybe you’ll be the belle of the ball if you give the new duds a chance…
- Embrace Paradox – Paradox and dualisms are your clue that you’re outfit doesn’t match. Do you really think that “light sometimes behaving like a particle and sometimes like a wave” is the end of the story?
Hat tip: Eric Brooks