Saturday, February 10, 2007

The virtue of changing your mind

More and more I have wondered why it is seen as such a disgrace to change your mind about things. I have had many different discussions on different subjects online as well as in real life, and almost invariably people hold on to their ideas and beliefs as if their life depended on it. I will haste to admit that I am also guilty of this type of behavior. Even when my opponent has brought up a really good point that threatens my entire argument, it is tempting to go "well you are just an ashole", or something equally relevant... When I am courageous enough to say, "that is a good point, you are right" it often feels like I have lost my dignity, and I will walk away like a dog with the tail between its legs. I wonder why it is so hard to admit that you were wrong? Is there some evolutionary explanation of this?

It is of course important to point out that it would also be a problem if people changed their mind too easily. Many of the ideas that are today seen as obvious, were ridiculed when first articulated (the earth revolves around the sun? I don't think so!). I don't know where to put the limit, but in general it seems that people are probably a little bit too slow in changing their mind.

I think that if people were better at changing their minds, we would have a better world. As a scientist the ideal-me should be able to change his mind if enough evidence against my belief is shown to me. This is by the way a difference between science and faith. In the latter you are not supposed to doubt, no matter what happens. I think that this inflexibility is probably the main problem with religion. Richard Dawkins in his documentary "the root of all evil" tells us about one of his professors who had been working on a theory for a decade or so when an American colleague came and showed him overwhelming evidence that the theory was wrong. The professor, unbelievably, admitted right there and then, in front of loads of people, that he had been wrong, Wow!

The reason I started to think about these issues was that someone very dear to me, after reading my post about homeopathy, said that I should be a bit more careful when I denounce ideas such as biodynamical foods. She said that these comments might come back to haunt me when I become a famous scientist. This is true indeed, but why should it be so hard to say that "that was my belief at the time, now I believe this and this". People should be allowed to change their mind. (of course, I should probably check my sources carefully before I throw out accusations). Knowing what we know today I think that the Iraq war was a bad idea, but back before the war I thought it was probably a good idea to get rid of Saddam and the WoMD that I thought were there.

This is what I am going to do. When I have written a certain number of posts on this blog I will review my posts, and then make a new post about which things I have changed my mind about, great idea is it not? I mean, it would be kind of remarkable if I got everything right the first time. So keep sending the good comments and tell me when you think I am wrong, you might just be able to change my rock-hard mind.


Anonymous said...

By the way, what does that mean: biodynamical?

(Assume it's more that just saving the pesticides).


Anonymous said...

...sorry, more thaN just not using pesticides


rasmussenanders said...

Here is a definition of biodynamic farming:

"Biodynamic farming is an approach based on the work of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. In addition to organic practices such as crop rotation and composting, biodynamics uses special plant, animal and mineral preparations and the rhythmic influences of the sun, moon, planets and stars to create a thriving agrarian ecosystem"

In my previos post ( I wrote the following about biodynamic food:

"They use celestial powers to make biodynamical foods that will give the consumer more spiritual strength"

So I guess that the first part of my criticism was fair game, but I have not gotten a reference to support my statement that those who make biodynamic foods suggests that the consumer will get more spiritual strenght. I think that someone has told me this at some point but it was wrong of me to state it as a fact... Of course I still remain very sceptical of their whole astrology approach to farming. I seriously doubt whether there is any evidence for this view.

Anonymous said...

...i have a hard time understanding astrology

(e.g. when standing on another planet, one would, from that angle, see a completely different pattern of stars?),

but, on the famous & humble other hand, i too believe in something Supernatural (God).


rasmussenanders said...

Yes there are many anomalies in the astrological theory. My favorite example is that over time the planets have moved so that all the zodiac signs should have moved one month, however, the signs are still between the same dates.

I think that a belief in a supernatureal being is almost as irrational though, there is just no good evidence in favour of a supernatural being...

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