The virtue of having a closed mind

I have come to realise that I rarely change my mind. At first, I was horrified at the thought.

By that I don’t mean I never reconsider things, or never decide to do something different. I am talking about changing our mind about the things we actually believe (consciously and subconsciously) deeply.

We may change our preferences: You may decide to order pizza and then change your mind to get the Burrito instead. That is not a belief, it is preference.

We may change by learning: You may think that coffee is good for you and then you learn it is not, and you will think differently because you have learned something.

Neither of those are examples of 'changing your mind' about what you believe.

Beliefs don’t have to (only) be about transcendental ideas like God or karma. If you believe Tom Cruise is a great actor, despite the occasional shocker of a movie, then you too are highly unlikely to be persuaded otherwise.

I wonder why we so rarely change our minds, and it seems to me that our mind creates these heuristics (and biases even) for very good reason:

  • We get to navigate the world effectively despite the onslaught of information
  • We minimise decisions about things already considered and filed away, so as to allow us to consider new information and new dangers instead of the familiar (and safe) stuff
  • We know the people who want to change our minds do so for their gain, not ours, so our resistance is a natural, evolutionary response to protect our turf

We may instinctively distrust ideas and concepts that (and the people who) constantly change their minds because it signifies an inherent unreliability that is best avoided.

If you search the net about ‘changing minds’, you will find a good many quotes that suggest that changing your mind is a good thing and is a sign of a healthy perspective. Being open-minded is promoted a good thing.

The consensus seems to be with George:

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything. [George Bernard Shaw].

On the other hand there are a few contrarians:

Things don't change because people change their minds. They change because they retire or die. [Douglas Crockford].

I am with Doug.

It seems to me that we want to think of ourselves as open-minded and believe that we are capable of changing our minds. You may have spotted the irony there: we believe we are open-minded, and we are unlikely to change our minds about that. I just tried and probably failed.

But we delude ourselves, because changing our mind invites into it the chaos of the world, and most of us are not very good at coping with chaos. So we don’t change our minds about the things we believe, and the people selling us all those persuasion tricks are peddling snake oil.

That’s what I believe, and I am not going to change my mind about that.