Challenge: change someone's mind

by Blackened1 min read18th Jul 201215 comments

-7

Personal Blog

Pick one (or several) of the following. I used specific examples, therefore anything similar still counts.

1. You have a friendly new acquaintance who is pretty much an average person. He is a theist and doesn't believe Evolution, you have already had a polite debate about that. Convince him to believe in the truth*.

2. One of your friends is very deeply religious - he has devoted his life to already invested a lot of it in religion. Unexpectedly, he is also highly rational (as a personality) and very intelligent, he studies a technical degree (enjoys it), he has read books about critical thinking (he even knows a little about biases) and he says that he will stop believing in religion if you disprove it. Debating with him so far didn't help (also he isn't too good - he isn't aware of expected value and such ideas). For his own good, convince him to change his mind in the direction of the truth. He is wasting a huge potential and that's not only bad for him, but also for humanity. Also, he will feel more comfortable in his new, more sensible beliefs.

3. Your brother dislikes you because of his impression of you that was created several years ago and wasn't updated to reflect the changes in your personality. You easily make impressions to other people that are vastly different from his impression of you. Change his impression, so that he sees you truthfully.

[I have removed 4., because it wasn't about changing the mind of someone who isn't a rationalist, but about coming up with a good psychological mechanism - it deserves an entirely new thread; I suspect that 3 might be too different from 1 and 2, but it's too late to make a so big change to the thread]

 

I know at least one person for each category. And I haven't been able to change nobody's mind. Have you succeeded in a similar situation? Regardless of whether you have, what strategies do you think would be winning in the 4 situations? If some of them sounds good, I might even try them out and share the results. I'm especially curious about how to approach in #3, because if there is a way, it would come from low-level psychology, which is something I adore.

So, the aim of this thread is for the participants to try and change someone's mind and then tell the story.

(also, I'm willing to accept ideas of other templates for classical situations similar to those, in fact I think I had one or two more ideas, but I can't seem to recall them)

 

*Needless to say, if at any point, anyone proves to you that his direction is in fact the truth, it would be better to change yourself in that direction instead, but that's outside of the scope of the thread.

-7

15 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 9:01 AM
New Comment

Challenge: change someone's mind

A harder challenge: change your own mind. Your post gives off a vibe that you think that you have the monopoly on truth:

  • Maybe your brother dislikes you because you still rub him off the wrong way

  • Re your friend: "Change him to be like you" seems like a bad idea in general

  • "One of your friends is very deeply religious" is not necessarily a bad thing if this friend is also happy being religious.

  • "You have a friendly new acquaintance of about average intelligence" -- that sounds pretty condescending. Are you sure that you are smarter?

I can't understand how this is a popular post, giving the number of assumptions you made.

First, I don't have a brother. In my analogue of the situation, I'm kind to that person and he isn't kind to me. I never did anything bad to him (and I don't do bad things to people, by the way). But this is irrelevant, because the point here is to change the mind of someone you know who didn't change his opinion when the subject of that opinion has changed a lot.

Re your friend: "Change him to be like you" seems like a bad idea in general

By "like you", I meant in respect of skepticism. Isn't that the whole point of the community, to make other people more rational? Isn't that the whole point of popularizing skepticism? Of course I didn't mean to make him a person more like me, I thought this is so obvious that it's implicit.

"One of your friends is very deeply religious" is not necessarily a bad thing if this friend is also happy being religious.

The same person is the best (out of the people I've seen) programmer in the whole 1st year in my uni. He has a huge potential and he's wasting it. He prays 5 times per day, each taking about 30 minutes. And he does all this, because he is rigorously following what seems to be the best idea, according to his information - to be religious. Indeed, he is one of the most rational people I know. Isn't that a good thing?

"You have a friendly new acquaintance of about average intelligence" -- that sounds pretty condescending. Are you sure that you are smarter?

Okay, I used that to illustrate a person who is pretty much an average person, because personality matters a lot here. You're right that it sounds doesn't sound like what I meant and I have edited it. When I was writing it, I was very sleep deprived and I probably have other ambiguities.

Is that what I got the negative karma for? When I saw it at first, I thought I have said something wrong. But the karma on your post suggests that many people were thinking the same as you. Is it that the majority of LessWrong thinks that it's bad to change someone's mind even when it's only for his own good?

It seems that my opinion of LessWrong was very optimistic. It saddens me to think that probably I have not found the community of people who are actually rational, unlike the rest of the world. I can't possibly be biased here, because half of my counterarguments don't include significant judgments, but plain facts (2 and 3 include judgments, but the judgment part is so insignificant that I'm only saying this out of perfectionism). Any counter-counterarguments are welcome, I would be happy to see myself proven wrong here.

Edit: I have edited my original post. It did indeed sound like I'm a dark lord on the mission to bind people to his will and be like you, their opinions doesn't matter, etc.. Instead of a rationalist striving for a better world with less delusion and wasted resources.

Also, I forgot to say again how much I dislike it when people make assumptions about what I said. I didn't write "your brother" because I have a brother, but because I wanted to more accurately describe the template (but this doesn't mean that real life situations should be more similar to that example situation, I have only wanted the template to be closer to what I originally thought).

Is that what I got the negative karma for?

Don't sweat about karma, it's there mostly for feedback and filtering, not as a judgment tool.

It seems that my opinion of LessWrong was very optimistic. It saddens me to think that probably I have not found the community of people who are actually rational, unlike the rest of the world.

If you define "rational" as "those who understand what I mean, rather than what I say, and agree with me", then no, you have not.

I can't possibly be biased here

Famous last words...

Don't sweat about karma, it's there mostly for feedback and filtering, not as a judgment tool.

I didn't get this. Isn't it that people should vote down everything they disagree with?

If you define "rational" as "those who understand what I mean, rather than what I say, and agree with me", then no, you have not.

Maybe you're right, I can't possibly judge how did it look like when read from a different person. Mental contamination.

Famous last words...

Would you still say that if I said "it's 15:00 here, therefore it's not night - this contradicts your claim that it's night here, I can't possibly be biased here"? Because I said something of similar probability, and by "can't possibly", I obviously didn't mean "100% confidence", because that would be an oxymoron (I can't have 100% confidence). I expected you to point at some of my statements and claim them to be wrong, that would help me to reach your conclusion, if it's any different from mine.

Isn't it that people should vote down everything they disagree with?

Not really. The usual convention is "vote down what you want to see less of." People differ in terms of what they want to see less of. For example, some people downvote poorly-reasoned arguments defending positions they agree with, because they want fewer poorly-reasoned arguments. Some people downvote well-reasoned arguments defending positions they agree with about topic X, because they want fewer discussions of topic X. Some people downvote well-reasoned arguments defending positions they agree with in response to known or suspected trolls, because they want fewer response to trolls. Etc.

and I don't do bad things to people, by the way

Everyone is the hero of their own story, even the villains.

Is that what I got the negative karma for?

Like shminux said, don't sweat karma. It's not a big deal. I cared way too much about karma when I first joined, because this was the first time I'd found an internet community whose opinions I genuinely respected. I still care too much about it, but not nearly as much as I did. I think you got the negative karma primarily because of tone - as several people mentioned, and you've acknowledged, you came across as "a dark lord on the mission to bind people to his will and be like you". My impression is that you have a tendency to write this way. Which isn't a terrible thing, you should just be aware of it. People rarely understand you exactly as you mean them to. Secondarily, I think you got it because changing other people's mind isn't really an exercise in rationality, as rationality is fairly rarely convincing to people. Lastly, it may be to poor editing "he has devoted his life to already invested a lot of it in religion", and "I haven't been able to change nobody's mind". I make mistakes like this all the time, when I go back and change part of a sentence and forget to change the other. (For the record, if anyone notices mistakes like this in my writing, please point them out to me, because I'm morbidly embarrassed when look at my recent comments and I have a three day old comment with improper subject verb agreement) But it makes your (or my) post look like it's unpolished and you didn't put any effort into it. Alternatively, if English is not your native language, as is the case for many users, you may want to put a disclaimer at the beginning of your posts. The welcome thread also has information on people who can give you English help.

Is it that the majority of LessWrong thinks that it's bad to change someone's mind even when it's only for his own good?

Well the way you phrase it, no. But there are several reasons I wouldn't try to change someones mind in some of the examples you've mentioned. Your programmer friend at Uni is probably too devout to be swayed. Spending what would be about one ninth of his waking day praying does seem like a waste, you're right. But I don't think many people who do this could be convinced of atheism regardless. I did find the situation about your "brother" (who I guess isn't your brother?) compelling, but it would probably be better suited to an open thread. FWIW, my advice is to A. do nice things for him, as moridinamael suggested and B. After doing A. for a little while, address it head on, if it does not work, ask him what you could do to improve your relationship. Express that you enjoy his friendship but have gotten the impression that he thinks XYZ of you. B. may or may not be appropriate given the level of friendship between the two of you, but since you used "brother", I'm assuming you're fairly close and that such a conversation wouldn't be too terribly awkward.

Changing other people's minds is, generally speaking, much more about dark arts than rationality.

Persuasion isn't all dark arts.

There are all sorts of common ways to shoot yourself in the foot when trying to influence people, and there's nothing dark about removing obstacles that bring instant fail regardless of truth/value.

[-][anonymous]9y 6

Challenge declined. The opportunity cost is way too high for me.

Beware of other optimising was a sequence article that this post reminded me of.

In cases like this, focusing on yourself first is a good idea. If you're a rational person and you're also a very successful person in all of your endeavours, as well as a supernice guy, people will be much more likely to swayed by what you say, moreso than cool arguments or whatever. At least they may tie the idea of rationality and success in life together in their heads.

For what it's worth though, my advice is not to force any of it. After speaking with me on the topic, a few of my friends now accept evolution and one has become agnostic. I have never raised the topic out of the blue, and I try to make my points very gently, and it has been somewhat effective. Starting arguments and debates and whatnot have been ineffective in the past, for me.

(Against my better judgement,)

1 & 2: Invite him to hang out with you and your rationalist friends. Over time, your target friend will gradually come to realize that his new friends think he is dumb for saying and thinking certain things. Day by day he become less inwardly certain of his religion as the power of social pressure erodes his resolve. He will find himself laughing alongside his new rationalist friends as they make fun of Creationists and seething with them as they rail against the Wesboro Baptists. When questioned, he will make and defend increasingly tentative assertions over time, perhaps first surrendering his insistence on the literal truth of the earth being created in seven days, then later admitting that the virgin birth may have been exaggerated, and finally muttering things about theism being unfalsifiable in principle, at which point it will only take a short verbal shove to get him to stop calling himself religious.

If you wanted some kind of argument that would change his mind, I've never heard of such a thing working on anyone.

3) Give your brother thoughtful, useful gifts that he will appreciate. Do not expect anything in return for these gifts. It helps if you are giving the gifts from a sincere motive of wanting to see your brother do well and be happy.

4) Not touching this one.

I thought 3 was an interesting example because my first thought would be to do something he'd consider out of character. If my brother thought I was selfish, do something altruistic. If my brother thought I was lazy, do something that requires great effort. I wouldn't even think about merely debating him. In the other examples I would have tried to think of an argument, but maybe 1, 2 and 4 should all be approached the same way as 3? For example, maybe I'd take 1 to a natural history museum or fossil hunting. Maybe I'd take 2 to a rationalist meeting or convention so he could meet other rationalists and discover how much he had in common with them. This makes me wonder if, generally, this kind of intervention would be better for changing minds than debate.

Unfortunately, it's not as simple as that. My sister (yes, I was talking about her all this time) is so prejudiced against me, she even thinks I'm physically weak (despite that I'm not just average, I'm well above the average and I even receive compliments for that; also, my lifts are significantly above the average, according to some papers I saw).

I've contradicted her so many times, she didn't bother to change her opinion. Not only that, but I've met a few of her friends who reacted like "wow, you're either an entirely different person, or your sister outright lied me about you", but I haven't done it recently and they might have not expressed this opinion loud enough.

Does she think this or does she just say it to put you down to your and others?

In cases 1, 2, and 4, doing what you want would be possible, though a fairly major time committment (except in the case of #4, which could be fixed by sunlight, social interaction, and getting enough sleep, and antidepressants if that doesn't work). However, there is some question of why you want to, and whether there are easier ways to achieve your goals.

What personal stake do you have in the situation given in #1 and #2? Are you aiming to validate your own belief that deities don't exist? Is your friend trying to obtain antibiotics when he doesn't need them, and refusing to believe that he is breeding antibiotic-resistant bacteria? Alternatively, is your friend trying to convince you to be religious (or simply attend services)? Is your 'friend' a potential romantic partner, who objects to your lack of religion? Do you just want to get better at convincing people of things generally?

Without this information, we'll have a bit of trouble helping you achieve your actual goals.