In this video, I discus beliefs and why it’s so hard to change somebody’s mind once they’re set. I talk about identity and how people wrap their identity around their beliefs. We’ll look at a few studies surrounding the issue, and then try to offer up some kind of take away for communicating with others.
Sources:You are not so smart podcast: https://youarenotsosmart.com/podcast/ episodes: 93,94,95,144University of Southern California researchers – Neural correlates of maintaining one’s political beliefs in the face of counterevidenceJonas T. Kaplan, Sarah I. Gimbel & Sam HarrisThe debunking handbook: https://skepticalscience.com/Debunkin…Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler – research on motivated skepticismMotivated Skepticism: Use of Differential Decision Criteria for Preferred and Nonpreferred Conclusions (Study about yellow construction paper) – https://fbaum.unc.edu/teaching/articl…
God, it seems, cannot really be known, but only related to. Or, as the mystics would assert, we know God by loving God, by trusting God, by placing our hope in God. It is a nonpossessive, nonobjectified way of knowing. It is always I-Thou and never I-It, to use Martin Buber’s wonderfully insightful phrases. God allows us to know God only by loving God. God, in that sense, cannot be “thought.” 
Our scientifically oriented knowledge seeks to master reality, explain it, and bring it under the control of reason, but a delight in unknowing has also been part of the human experience. Even today, poets, philosophers, mathematicians, and scientists find that the contemplation of the insoluble is a source of joy, astonishment, and contentment.
.. One of the peculiar characteristics of the human mind is its ability to have ideas and experiences that exceed our conceptual grasp. We constantly push our thoughts to an extreme, so that our minds seem to elide naturally into an apprehension of transcendence. .
.. People practice their faith in myriad contrasting and contradictory ways. But a deliberate and principled reticence about God [talk] and/or the sacred was a constant theme [at the more mature levels] not only in Christianity but in the other major faith traditions until the rise of modernity in the West. People believed that God exceeded our thoughts and concepts and could be known only by dedicated practice. We have lost sight of this important insight, and this, I believe, is one of the reasons why so many Western people find the concept of God so troublesome today. . . .
.. We are seeing a great deal of strident dogmatism today, religious and secular, but there is also a growing appreciation of the value of unknowing [and unsaying].
.. There is a long religious tradition that stressed the importance of recognizing the limits of our knowledge, of silence, reticence, and awe. . . . One of the conditions of enlightenment has always been a willingness to let go of what we thought we knew in order to appreciate truths we had never dreamed of. We may have to unlearn a great deal about religion before we can move on to new insight.
My gut reaction is that these student mobbists manage to combine snowflake fragility and lynch mob irrationalism into one perfectly poisonous cocktail.
.. I came of age in the 1980s. In that time, there was an assumption that though the roots of human society were deep in tribalism, over the past 3,000 years we have developed a system of liberal democracy that gloriously transcended it, that put reason, compassion and compromise atop violence and brute force.
.. sophisticated people in those days wanted to be seen, to use Scott Alexander’s term, as mistake theorists. Mistake theorists believe that the world is complicated and most of our troubles are caused by error and incompetence, not by malice or evil intent.
.. Mistake theorists also believe that most social problems are hard and that obvious perfect solutions are scarce. Debate is essential. You bring different perspectives and expertise to the table. You reduce passion and increase learning. Basically, we’re all physicians standing over a patient with a very complex condition and we’re trying to collectively figure out what to do.
.. The idea for decades was that racial justice would come when we reduced individual bigotry — the goal was colorblind individualism. As Nils Gilman argues in The American Interest, that ideal reached its apogee with the election of Barack Obama.
.. But Obama’s election also revealed the limits of that ideal. Now the crucial barriers to racial justice are seen not just as individual, but as structural economic structures, the incarceration crisis, the breakdown of family structure.
.. The second thing that happened was that reason, apparently, ceased to matter. Today’s young people were raised within an educational ideology that taught them that individual reason and emotion were less important than perspectivism — what perspective you bring as a white man, a black woman, a transgender Mexican, or whatever.
These students were raised with the idea that individual reason is downstream from group identity. Then along came the 2016 election to validate that point of view! If reason and deliberation are central to democracy, how on earth did Donald Trump get elected?
.. If you were born after 1990, it’s not totally shocking that you would see public life as an inevitable war of tribe versus tribe. It’s not surprising that you would become, in Scott Alexander’s terminology, a conflict theorist, not a mistake theorist.
In the conflict theorist worldview, most public problems are caused not by errors or complexity, but by malice and oppression. The powerful few keep everyone else down. The solutions to injustice and suffering are simple and obvious: Defeat the powerful. Passion is more important than reason because the oppressed masses have to mobilize to storm the barricades. Debate is counterproductive because it dilutes passion and sows confusion. Discordant ideas are not there to inform; they are there to provide cover for oppression.
.. So I’d just ask them to take two courses. The first would be in revolutions — the French, Russian, Chinese and all the other ones that unleashed the passion of the mob in an effort to overthrow oppression — and the way they ALL wound up waist deep in blood.
The second would be in constitutionalism. We dump on lawyers, but the law is beautiful, living proof that we can rise above tribalism and force — proof that the edifice of civilizations is a great gift, which our ancestors gave their lives for... Our new generation was never taught how to communicate outside it’s own tribe. And failure to learn how to do that will not bode well for their future or ours... I have spent my entire adult life on college campuses, and I would say that most students do not subscribe to mobbism or tribalism. Alas, I would say apathy is far more common than protest, and that most students are unlikely to know that Christina Hoff Sommers is even speaking on campus, to have an opinion about her ideas, or to attend. I see few protests, flyers, or petitions on campus these days. Instead, I see harried students who work part-time, struggle to pay tuition, and are anxious about landing a decent job when they graduate.
If you actually experienced these worlds, and contrasted them with the normal world of high-minded liberal secularism, it was the charismatic-religious and “health food” regions
- where people were the most personally empirical,
- least inclined to meekly submit to authority, and
- most determined to reason independently and keep trying things until they worked.
That’s because those worlds’ inhabitants were a self-selected population who had either experienced something transformative or suffered something debilitating and been told by the official consensus, “We have no answers for you yet.”
.. If you refuse any non-F.D.A.-blessed treatment for chronic illness because there’s no controlled study proving that it works, or have a religious experience and pre-emptively dismiss it as an illusion without seeing what happens if you pray, you may be many things, but you are not really much of an empiricist.
.. Which is why in many instances the interests that Pinker dismisses as irrational hugger-mugger, everything from astrology to spiritualism, have tended to strengthen during periods of real scientific ferment.
.. It’s not that there is some quantum of unreason that needs an outlet when reason’s power grows. Rather, it’s that when people and societies are genuinely curious they are very reasonably curious about everything
.. Which is why if Pinker and others are genuinely worried about a waning appreciation of the inquiring scientific spirit, they should consider the possibility that some of their own smug secular certainties might be part of the problem — that they might, indeed, be stifling the more comprehensive kind of curiosity upon which the scientific enterprise ultimately depends.