How To Change A Mind

By Paul Homewood



Guest post by Duncan McNeil:

How to change a mind.

I have always found it difficult to answer the question from advocates of the dangers of anthropogenic climate change that “do you think there is a vast conspiracy of scientists lying to us about climate change?” I found the beginning of an answer in a book called Rebel Ideas, the power of diverse thinking by Matthew Syed. It helped me to understand the dynamics of groupthink.

“Homogenous groups don’t just underperform, they do so in predictable ways. When you are surrounded by similar people, you are not just likely to share each other’s blind spots, but to reinforce them. This is sometimes called “mirroring”. Encircled by people who reflect your picture of reality, and whose picture you reflect back to them, it is easy to become ever more confident of judgements that are incomplete or downright wrong. Certainty becomes inversely correlated with accuracy.”

It then cites a study concerning two teams trying to solve a complex problem, one team being a group of friends, the other team including an outsider, thus introducing diversity of thought to the process.

“Those in the two groups had very different experiences of the task. Those in diverse teams found the discussion cognitively demanding. There was plenty of debate and disagreement, because different perspectives were aired. They typically came to the right decisions, but were not wholly certain about them. The fact that they had such a full and frank discussion of the case meant that they were exposed to its inherent complexity.

But what of the homogeneous teams? Their experiences was radically different. They found the session more agreeable because they spent most of the time, well, agreeing. They were mirroring each other’s perspectives. And although they were more likely to be wrong, they were far more confident about being right. … And this hints at the danger of homogeneous groups: they are more likely to form judgements that combine excessive confidence with grave error.”

Later on in the book Syed details the conversion of one of America’s most famous white supremacist, Derek Black, to being able to see the world as full of individuals irrespective of colour. Before his conversion any attempt of debate on race was immediately shut down with no attempt to consider another point of view. The key to his change of mind was the slow establishment of trust with a different thinker through discussions not related to race. When he realised that they had much in common he became open to the idea of looking at his racial beliefs from another point of view. And so the conversation began.

So how can a conversation, a discussion begin with an advocate of the dangers of anthropogenic climate change?

I have found that if I have the time and the opportunity to let a person get to know me, chat with them, even share a few jokes, see me as, not a science denier or an environment hater, but as someone who is willing to listen to them and consider their point of view then a fruitful discussion may ensue.

I always encourage them to put their point of view forward first, let them lead the discussion. “Why do you think that?” is always a good question to ask of them (and myself). Never try to push too hard. Try to stay focussed on the subject of climate change, maybe point out when they conflate climate science with environmentalism or rubbish disposal or politics. Ensure there is a differentiation made between climate change and anthropogenic climate change. Make the point that the human population has always changed the environment to suit its needs.

When asked “Do you believe in climate change?” I answer “Belief is not founded on facts, I prefer to look for evidence on which to base my understanding of the world.”

In answer to “What do you believe?” I warn them that my answer is quite a long one and is not a belief but a fact.

It goes:

“There is no reproducible empirical scientific evidence that the extra carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by the human population burning fossil fuels since the beginning of the industrial revolution has had, or will have, an effect on the Earth’s climate that is detrimental to the human population.

Empirical scientific evidence: data obtained by observation and measurement, processed transparently including full documentation of uncertainty levels.”

Be respectful at all times. It is difficult to even contemplate, let alone form a contrary opinion when a person is bombarded from all sides, at all times, by literature and videos produced by the advocates of the dangers of anthropogenic climate change. There is even the risk of being ostracised by the people around you if there is a hint that you may not agree with everything in their entire box of beliefs. It takes a strong person to stand against the currents of popular opinion.

“When my information changes, I change my mind. What do you do?”


January 14, 2020 at 06:24AM

One thought on “How To Change A Mind”

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