People reject science even when they are informed about it

Yesterday's New York Times had an interesting article about the collision between belief and fact.

Hope that better education and more information about science might change minds is not always well-founded.

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That's a situation where it might help to use the Socratic method, i.e. start questioning the person about the evidence for their skepticism. 

Peter Boghossian writes a lot in A Manual for Creating Atheists about how one changes people's minds.  It's not simply by presenting them with info that disputes their view. 

He says people become willing to change their minds in a non-threatening atmosphere.  Arguing doesn't do that - people set themselves up in opposing camps and become entrenched in their views.  The Socratic method is about asking them questions and presenting them gently with other interpretations of the facts.  Not as in "I believe" but "Perhaps," then furnishing another possibility besides the person's belief.  So it's not saying to the person "you Should believe as I do", but rather "Here's another possibility for you to consider". 

And one never insults them.  I listened to a conversation between Stefan Molyneux and Peter Boghossian.  They're both nonbelievers, but Molyneux played a believer while Peter Boghossian demonstrated his Socratic method on him.  PB is very gentle about it.  And it's actually very flattering, how he politely asks SM about his position as a believer.  There's a fable somewhere, about a bet between the Sun and the Wind about who can get someone to take off their coat.  PB is like the Sun in this dialogue. 

This is exactly the right approach if you truly want to convince someone to change his mind and I'm inclined to say that nothing else works quite as well. Unfortunately it is a rather slow process and sometimes people lack the patience it requires.

With some people it is like talking to a brick wall.  And, they never change.

It does require patience, especially the way PB does it.

I've been trying it with religious people on Youtube.  I'm not as slow and patient as PB, but I've had some interesting and rather profound conversations. 

The Socratic method opens up one's own mind too.  With these religious believers - ok, a Creator God is a possibility.  I acknowledge that - while mentioning other possibilities. 

One person told me that something told him when he was a child that he would live to see the end of time.  He took this as a divine message that God would end the world in his lifetime.  I replied "Maybe every human lives to see the end of time.  Maybe when they die, that's the end of time". 

It seems like his mind was gently informing him of his mortality, in this dreamlike and poetic way. 

I didn't hear back from him, but I don't mind that.  I figure people are maybe mulling over it in private. 

And people don't seem to mind.  It is flattering, just to be asked these questions.  I'm reassured that I haven't set off any frothing vituperation, they have been quite cordial. 

Peter Boghossian's idea is to turn a lot of nonbelievers into Socratic questioners.  So you see, all of us together would have the time. 

A man named George Lakoff has proposed some rules for politeness in discussions:

1. Formality: keep aloof.
2. Deference: give options.
3. Camaraderie: show sympathy.

These help to promote good exchanges with others and they are very much in the spirit of the Socratic method.

I agree, especially with avoiding personal insult.  Personal insults degrade many discussions into the equivalent of monkeys throwing shit from the trees. 

But the Socratic method goes way beyond those rules.  In its cordial and flattering way, it's also a kind of interpersonal aggression.  Stefan Molyneux commented in another video that people can feel like they're disintegrating when they're Socratized.  The politeness and deference - after all, one is only asking another person questions, and giving them facts - enable a kind of attack on illusions that may be someone's prize possession. 

I wonder how many of these people have ever done a hands-on experiment, in chemistry or mechanics or electronics.  How many of them have ever titrated a solution to a pH of 7 using phenolphthalein as an indicator or balanced two dissimilar weights using a fulcrum and a off-center level or forward-biased a bipolar junction transistor with a couple of microamperes of current and watched the collector current rise 100 times more, perhaps lighting up a lamp or closing a relay.  My bet would be damned few, even with something as simple as the lever example above.

One of the best things about being involved in engineering is that things WORK, and I've sometimes been really excited about that during my career in electronics.  They'd better, because you have customers who depend on them to work.  The people who diss science want their widgets to work as well, but they haven't the least appreciation for HOW or WHY they work because they've never been exposed to the principles which allow them to, and that is a damned shame.

Science isn't just functional or utilitarian; it's EXCITING, and if the doubters could learn that, perhaps their attitudes could change.

You're absolutely right that experience is much stronger than just information. One of the things my oldest son says he is grateful for was a simple circuit board I made for him when he was a child. It had several switches, lamps, and bells with parallel and serial circuits to activate them. It was very simple, but he played with it for hours.

I had something like that as a kid.  I LOVED it, I suspect mostly because it WORKED, and it demonstrated so many fundamental principles of electricity.

I should also mention ... it was GREAT FUN!

The point the author seems to be making (or, at least what I came away with) is that political/religious belief trumps reality. Loren points out the simple exercise of balancing two dissimilar weights on a fulcrum and off center level. I have brother who fits the "belief trumps reality" mold only all too well. He used to work in quality control for a major manufacturer; a position where a modicum of scientific, or at least rational thinking, would be a requirement. So, one would think he would be more rational than most. One would be wrong.

He cannot bring himself to accept man made climate change because he has been programmed to hate Al Gore. When he recently went on a rant, I asked him about the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. He got on a further rant until I mentioned the recipient I was referring to was not Al Gore. I mentioned the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and I honestly don't think he had a clue. At that point, he got completely frustrated - especially when I mentioned that it might benefit him to learn to think for himself, rather than spouting pre-programmed propaganda talking points that have been crammed down his throat (or as I actually told him, stuffed up his ass).

Point is that political belief is not dissimilar to religious belief. Both are founded on a firm conviction that faith in a particular world view are what is needed to insure prosperity, security, and justice for all. Unfortunately, as we here know, faith is nothing more than the willful suspension of disbelief. And facts and reality just can't get in the way of faith.

I suppose it depends whether one is looking for the truth or "THE TRUTH". The latter isn't necessarily limited by facts, reason or reality.



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