August 11, 2008

Daniel Dennett quote

"You seldom talk anybody out of a position by arguing directly with their premises and inferences. Sometimes it is more effective to nudge them sideways with images, examples, helpful formulations that stick to their habits of thought."
~ Daniel Dennett, source


  1. Coert,

    I'd love to hear an example of how one could use this principle in real life. When I'm holding a position, I'm not sure what can convince me other than very hard evidence. However, that may not do it if I'm approached in the wrong way.


  2. Hi Rodney, I don't really have an example at hand. I tend to agree with Dennett. I have seldom seen that people change their position after a debate. It corresponds, i think, with what my post of yesterday was about ( ): we, by definition tend to think we are right when we have a conviction. Therefore we get defensive when we notice our position is confronted, challenged. We think the other person is ill-informed, stupid, or has bad intentions.
    I think that I have only been effective, or partly effective, in influencing people's view when I have been very subtle in my approach. Make clear that what I say is just my personal view, that I am not directly trying to convince the other person. Maybe I might even use a subtle reframing, or give an example, or metaphor.

  3. Coert,

    I agree with you that debates rarely if ever change people's point of view.

    I once read Ken Wilber, an American Philosopher, say that it's better to aim to change a person's belief by 1% instead of trying to convince them of an entirely new way of thinking.

    This kind of fits in with SF, since it also focuses on small steps.

    I also think that focusing on achieving a small change in the others viewpoint might keep us from being overly focused on persuasion and more open to focusing on the person's needs and concerns.

    Dennet's point about dealing with their own habits of thought is also useful here. We need to listen deeply enough to find out what kind of criteria the other person values about making a decision or having a viewpoint.

    Years ago I knew a very strong Christian who when we had a disagreement about politics would always quote the Bible at me. Since I'm not a Christian I told him, "I understand that we disagree but since I'm not a Christian nothing you quote from the Bible will seem as credible evidence to me." He was using a standard of evidence that I didn't agree with so the stories he told from the Bible had no persuasive effect on me.

    However, if I were to use just one image or story from the Bible, not to convince him but just to make a 1% change maybe that would have been helpful in having him see my perspective a little better.

  4. Interesting. Talking about 1% change. Here is an example, you may like:


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