Wherever we look, we find otherwise sane men and women making extraordinary efforts to avoid changing their minds.
Of course, many people are reluctant to be seen changing their minds, even though they might be willing to change them in private, seemingly on their own terms—perhaps while reading a book. This fear of losing face is a sign of fundamental confusion. Here it is useful to take the audience’s perspective: Tenaciously clinging to your beliefs past the point where their falsity has been clearly demonstrated does not make you look good. We have all witnessed men and women of great reputation embarrass themselves in this way. I know at least one eminent scholar who wouldn’t admit to any trouble on his side of a debate stage were he to be suddenly engulfed in flames.
If the facts are not on your side, or your argument is flawed, any attempt to save face is to lose it twice over. And yet many of us find this lesson hard to learn. To the extent that we can learn it, we acquire a superpower of sorts. In fact, a person who surrenders immediately when shown to be in error will appear not to have lost the argument at all. Rather, he will merely afford others the pleasure of having educated him.
Intellectual honesty allows us to stand outside ourselves and to think in ways that others can (and should) find compelling. It rests on the understanding that wanting something to be true isn’t a reason to believe that it is true—rather, it is further cause to worry that we might be out of touch with reality in the first place. In this sense, intellectual honesty makes real knowledge possible.
Our scientific, cultural, and moral progress is almost entirely the product of successful acts of persuasion. Therefore, an inability (or refusal) to reason honestly is a social problem. Indeed, to defy the logical expectations of others—to disregard the very standards of reasonableness that you demand of them —is a form of hostility. And when the stakes are high, it becomes an invitation to violence.
In fact, we live in a perpetual choice between conversation and violence. Consequently, few things are more important than a willingness to follow evidence and argument wherever they lead. The ability to change our minds, even on important points—especially on important points—is the only basis for hope that the human causes of human misery can be finally overcome.
[206 contributors; 143,000 words:] Scott Aaronson, Anthony Aguirre, Adam Alter, Ross Anderson, Samuel Arbesman, Simon Baron-Cohen, Lisa Feldman Barrett, Thomas Bass, Nicolas Baumard, Gregory Benford, Jeremy Bernstein, Laura Betzig, Susan Blackmore, Giulio Boccaletti, Ian Bogost, Joshua Bongard, Raphael Bousso, Stewart Brand, David M. Buss, Jimena Canales, Nicholas Carr, Sean Carroll, Leo Chalupa, Ashvin Chhabra, Jaeweon Cho, Nicholas A. Christakis, Brian Christian, David Christian, George Church, Andy Clark, Gregory Cochran, Jerry A. Coyne, Helena Cronin, David Dalrymple, Richard Dawkins, Aubrey de Grey, Luca DeBiase, Sarah Demers, Daniel C. Dennett, Emanuel Derman, David DeSteno, Diana Deutsch, Keith Devlin, Jared Diamond, Rolf Dobelli, Scott Draves, George Dyson, Nick Enfield, Brian Eno, Juan Enriquez, Nancy Etcoff, Dylan Evans, Daniel Everett, Christine Finn, Stuart Firestein, Helen Fisher, Tecumseh Fitch, Jessica Flack, Steve Fuller, Howard Gardner, Michael Gazzaniga, James Geary, Amanda Gefter, Neil Gershenfeld, Gerd Gigerenzer, Bruno Giussani, Nigel Goldenfeld, Dan Goleman, Beatrice Golomb, Alison Gopnik, Kurt Gray, Tom Griffiths, June Gruber, Hans Halvorson, Sam Harris, Cesar Hidalgo, Roger Highfield, W. Daniel Hillis, Michael Hochberg, Donald Hoffman, Jim Holt, Bruce Hood, Daniel Hook, John Horgan, Sabine Hossenfelder, Nicholas Humphrey, Joichi Ito, Nina Jablonski, Jennifer Jacquet, Matthew O. Jackson, Kate Jeffery, Koo Jeong A, Gordon Kane, Stuart Kauffman, Kevin Kelly, Katherine Kinzler, Gary Klein, Jon Kleinberg, Brian Knutson, Bart Kosko, Stephen Kosslyn, Kai Krause, Lawrence Krauss, Coco Krumme, Robert Kurzban, Peter Lee, Cristine Legare, Martin Lercher, Margaret Levi, Janna Levin, Daniel Lieberman, Matthew Lieberman, Andre Linde, Antony Garrett Lisi, Mario Livio, Seth Lloyd, Tania Lombrozo, Jonathan B. Losos, Ziyad Marar, John Markoff, Chiara Marletto, Barnaby Marsh, Abigail Marsh, Ursula Martin, John C. Mather, Ian McEwan, Hugo Mercier, Yuri Milner, Read Montague, Richard Muller, Priyamvada Natarajan, John Naughton, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, Richard Nisbett, Tor Nørretranders, Michael Norton, Peter Norvig, Hans Ulrich Obrist, James J. O’Donnell, Steve Omohundro, Bruce Parker, Irene Pepperberg, Clifford Pickover, Steven Pinker, David Pizarro, Robert Plomin, Ernst Pöppel, William Poundstone, Robert Provine, Richard Prum, Matthew Putman, Steven Quartz, David Queller, Sheizaf Rafaeli, Lisa Randall, Abbas Raza, Azra Raza, Martin Rees, Diana Reiss, Siobhan Roberts, Daniel Rockmore, Andrés Roemer, Phil Rosenzweig, Carlo Rovelli, David Rowan, Doulgas Rushkoff, Paul Saffo, Eduardo Salcedo-Albarán, Buddhini Samarasinghe, Robert Sapolsky, Roger Schank, Maximilian Schich, Laurence C. Smith, Simone Schnall, Bruce Schneier, Oliver Scott Curry, Gino Segre, Charles Seife, Terrence J. Sejnowski, Eldar Shafir, Michael Shermer, Seth Shostak, Gerald Smallberg, Lee Smolin, Dan Sperber, Paul Steinhardt, Victoria Stodden, Rory Sutherland, Melanie Swan, Tim Taylor, Max Tegmark, Richard Thaler, Frank Tipler, John Tooby, Eric Topol, Barbara Tversky, Athena Vouloumanos, Adam Waytz, Eric Weinstein, Linda Wilbrecht, Frank Wilczek, Jason Wilkes, Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, Victoria Wyatt, Itai Yanai, Dustin Yellin