5 Books to Help Us Understand Our Internal Biases
There's a damaging and pervasive idea that's been floating around out there for too long; the idea that we should never change our minds, that we should be steadfast in our beliefs and never second-guess ourselves. This, apparently, is a great virtue. There's just one problem. By subscribing to this belief, we're also resigning ourselves to being wrong – a lot.
And no one wants to be wrong. It's uncomfortable. Most of the time we'd rather cling to old arguments than admit we made a mistake and update our thinking in light of new evidence or information.
Writer Julia Galef gave a TED talk about this very topic in 2016. She called it: "Why you think you're right, even if you're wrong" and in it she identified two types of people: Soldiers and scouts. Soldiers will defend their beliefs at all costs, spurred by the desire to be right and win the argument, while scouts will stay open to new information, spurred by curiosity and the desire to see as objectively as they can.
In a piece on learning to be okay with changing your mind, Galef writes that not wanting to be wrong is "so automatic that it's hard to notice it coloring your judgment unless you really pay attention, but once you do, you realize how frequently it makes you grasp for a fallacious argument just so you don't have to admit to yourself that you were wrong."
Her theory is that if we want to be actually right more often, we need to get comfortable with being wrong; to keep ourselves open to new information and to be proud of changing our mind when we do.
Here's five books that can help.
People are often made to feel stupid, uncommitted, flippant or flakey for changing their minds – but never changing your mind isn't something to be proud of. It just means you're wrong more often than you think you are.
If we can understand our own internal biases, even when it's difficult and uncomfortable, it can help us understand each other a little better, even when we disagree. Especially when we disagree. And, given the acrimonious times we live in, it might be particularly helpful to learn this skill.
One of my favorite pieces of writing on this topic is by Dr David Robert Grimes, a science writer and a physicist at Oxford University. He argues we should feel no shame in changing our minds in light of new information. We shouldn't aim only to pick holes in the arguments of others, but to be as committed to spotting flaws in our own reasoning.
But I'll leave the final word to Fyodor Dostoyevsky: "Above all, avoid falsehood, every kind of falsehood, especially falseness to yourself. Watch over your own deceitfulness and look into it every hour, every minute."