September 10, 2009

Changing your mind can be an act of considerable courage

Have you ever changed your mind about something in a way that really surprised you? To do such a thing can be an act of considerable courage. This quote by Leo Tolstoy is about how hard fundamentally changing your view can be: "I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusion which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to other and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives."

On top of this there is the severe social sanctions that people can be confronted with for instance when changing some of the views they were broad up with. Doing this can make you even feel like you are being disloyal to your friends and family, or even yourself. That is why it is often easy for people to disregard evidence which goes against their views and to hold on to their views in spite of missing evidence. But there are many examples of people who have shown the kind of courage which is required to drastically change their minds. One example which I find inspiring is that of Roy Baumeister (which you can read about here).

Question: Have you ever seen anyone (maybe yourself?) making such a courageous change of mind? 


  1. In the summer of 2005 I stopped a wedding 3 weeks from the date it was supposed to take place. It was my wedding.
    Incidentally, it was after reading a book by Tolstoy.

    Here is another quote by Tolstoy, picked up from the Confirmation Bias page on Wikipedia:

    "The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him"

  2. Also, this explains the American society. The atrocities committed by the USA can only be possible if the American citizens KNOW beyond the shadow of a single doubt that they are the good guys, they seldom question the actions of their government.

    I've been immersed recently in videos by Noam Chomsky and it is mind-boggling to see how far can this go.

  3. Very interesting comments Peter. Great Tolstoy quote. What is it that triggers you in the Chomsky video?

  4. Well... I already thought that USA was not behaving very nice in its foreign policy BUT I never thought that it would be this horrible. Continuous involvement in genocides all over the planet.
    Had I heard someone speaking about something like this, I would have dismissed it as a silly conspiracy theory. However, it is frightening to see Chomsky explain how this is all properly recorded and that evidence is abundant.
    It also make me think about my own country and it made me think about what could I do. He is speaking about something that I saw being done here in the last 20 years but never understood until now.

  5. Peter,
    I would not consider Chomsky as a credible source re politics.

    The last time I fact-checked a statement by Chomsky regarding Israel, it was pure baloney.

  6. Paolo, can you provide a sample? What did he said that was baloney?

  7. I don't remember, it was the begining of a book that a friend of mine had. I started reading it but I was turned off after a few pages because of factual errors. Sorry...

    But I am confident you can find plenty, in his interview or in his books!

  8. Paolo,
    being lazy, I tried searching with Google for some factual errors that might be disputed by others. I couldn't find anything at hand.
    Then I thought I surely find something on Wikipedia, maybe a controversy or something but... nothing so far.

  9. Peter,
    I am sorry, I wish I had that book now.

    Anyway, being lazy myself, I googled too and I found this:

    "Chomsky has another technique he uses to disguise his ideological prejudices as reasoned research. He dismisses or attacks the integrity of sources that contradict his interpretation of an event, and then relies on obscure or nakedly biased sources to create the illusion of empirical evidence supporting his position. For example, after the fall of Saigon, the communists began their campaign of torture, assassination, forced relocation, and imprisonment of their political opponents, as well as ethnically cleansing Chinese citizens and creating hundreds of thousands of "boat people" refugees. Yet as Steven Morris writes in "Whitewashing Dictatorship in Communist Vietnam and Cambodia," Chomsky dismissed these well-documented reports of oppression as mere propaganda generated by the American need for "reconstructing the imperial ideology."

    Chomsky manages this feat of historical fabrication by ignoring the evidence of newspapers such as the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and Le Monde--all liberal papers opposed to the war in Vietnam--in favor of obscure newsletters such as the New England Peacework and The Disciple. Eyewitness accounts by those who lived through the war and its aftermath are ignored or vilified as the lies of imperialist stooges, while the observations of activists and fellow-traveling journalists vetted in advance by Hanoi for their political correctness are extolled -- so too with Chomsky's shameful refusal for years to acknowledge, without rationalizing or palliating, the Maoist-inspired Cambodian genocide. As Morris says of Chomsky's work on Vietnam and Cambodia, "it is merely a shallow and turgid brief for an ideologically driven prosecution."

    This is part of the introduction to the book "The Anti-Chomsky reader" - now I do not know the book or the authors, but apparently there is a whole book out disputing Chomsky's.

  10. How silly of me. I found an entire page dedicated to Criticism of Chomsky on Wikipedia.
    I'll look deeper.
    So far, what he said made sense.

  11. Peter,
    I am happy if Chomsky makes sense to you.
    He does not to me.
    But that is OK, in Italian we say: "il mondo è bello perchè è vario", which means "The world is beautiful because there is variety".
    I just wanted to point out that what Chomsky says is debatable.

  12. The question I'd like us all to consider is how does one find the courage to "change one's mind?" I know that I've done this in my life. I've gone all out to let people know that I believe in something. I then changed my mind but took years to start letting most people know about it. I've found that consideration for the feelings of the people I still know who believe what I used to believe with their whole heart and soul stops me. I'm not sure what if anything I should do about that.

  13. Hi Rodney, good point. I think it is not always useful and wise to be very explicit about what you think about something


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