Jeremy Côté


Can You Change Your Mind?

Despite people in the sciences are supposed to be rational, changing one’s mind on a topic is just as difficult (if not more difficult) as in non-scientific settings. Often, I’ll watch some sort of academic debate where the debaters will talk for over an hour on a topic, yet they still won’t listen to each other in a way that accomplishes the goal.

In my mind, a debate or talk is supposed to introduce new information to a person, which then will hopefully inspire a new perspective on a topic. If one enters a talk with someone else and doesn’t gain any new perspective or has none of their views stretched or challenged, there’s a fair chance the conversation wasn’t productive.

This drives me nuts. I’ll hear an argument from one person, and then the other person won’t actually interact with that argument, and just say that it’s wrong or that the person should think of something else. It’s infuriating because there is little interaction of ideas. Instead, it’s a conversation in parallels, with each person seeing the other but not directly interacting with them.

In this scenario, no one will ever change their minds. Additionally, one might even strengthen their old beliefs, which doesn’t do someone any good.

The sign of a great thinker (particularly in the sciences) is to not be married to any one idea. As soon as that happens, you’re biased and your judgement can become clouded. Furthermore, it becomes a challenge to interact with others, since they don’t subscribe to all your ideas.

Of course, I’m just as bad as anyone else. I can sit here and write about changing one’s mind as if I do it all the time, but the truth is that we are all biased in some way. We can’t escape this, so the best we can do is put our biases to use. In my case, this means use the fact that I believe science is the best route to discover the mysteries of the universe. Therefore, my interactions and beliefs will be based within that mindset. However, I try to keep in mind that when there is scientific uncertainty, everyone will have an idea for the underlying cause of a phenomena, and I should keep an open mind to all of them. Then, instead of shooting down an idea because it doesn’t fit in nicely with my idea, I should consider the weight of the argument on its own. From there, I can make a decision.

Too often, I find, we say we are rational, yet we don’t change our minds for anything that comes up. We may say that our reasons are scientific, but a lot of the time it comes to not wanting to accept that your personal idea is wrong, and that’s a problem.

As such, my personal goal is to seek to change my mind as often as I can. That is the sign of learning.