May 28, 2024

Why Facts Can’t Change Your Beliefs!

The vaunted human capacity for reason may have more to do with winning arguments than with thinking straight. Illustration by Gérard DuBois

Ask yourself, “What fact would change one of my strongly held opinions?” If the answer is “no fact would change my opinion,” you’re in trouble.

A person who is unwilling to change his or her mind even with an underlying change in the facts is, by definition, a fundamentalist.

Most of the time I find myself wondering, there’s no scarcity of information in today’s world. But very few cares to dig deeper, cares to “think” before believing anything, and even if they know the “truth”, it does not really bring much change in their behaviour or attitude. And I got stuck in same question — why facts don’t change one’s mind?

Here is why.

Because only facts simply don’t change our (most of us) minds. Period.

Multiple studies in Institutions like Stanford have shown that even after the evidence “for their beliefs has been totally refuted, people fail to make appropriate revisions in those beliefs.” Thousands of subsequent experiments have confirmed that some people simply can’t think straight. Anyone who even occasionally picked up a copy of Psychology Today — knows, any graduate student with a clipboard can demonstrate that reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational.


The mind doesn’t follow the facts.

Facts, as John Adams put it, are stubborn things, but our minds are even more stubborn. Doubt isn’t always resolved in the face of facts for even the most enlightened among us, however credible and convincing those facts might be.

One of the best supporting arguments is, popularly known as “confirmation bias”- the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them. We filter out inconvenient truths and arguments on the opposing side. As a result, our opinions solidify, and it becomes increasingly harder to disrupt established patterns of thinking. The “illusion of explanatory depth,” just about everywhere. People believe that they know way more than they actually do.

What can you do?

Convince yourself that your beliefs aren’t necessarily you. Anything you argue, anything you believe in or anything you stand for doesn’t necessarily represent your identity. Learn to adopt changes. If you supported something earlier doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to hold that position forever.

Things changes with time, new facts and data comes out every day. If you have made any decision earlier when data X wasn’t there, accepting that you aren’t right in holding that position after seeing the data X doesn’t necessarily make anyone less intelligent. (That shouldn’t be hard to understand)

Get out of the echo chamber. One of the major problems is that our opinions aren’t being stress tested nearly as frequently as they should. Make a point to befriend people who disagree with you. Expose yourself to environments where your opinions can be challenged, as uncomfortable and awkward as that might be.

Marc Andreessen has a saying that I love: “Strong beliefs, loosely held.” Strongly believe in an idea but be willing to change your opinion if the facts show otherwise. It takes courage and determination to see the truth instead of the convenient