May 112005

John Gruber in an interesting little argument about his program Markdown, makes a compelling case for how we usually end up changing our mind on things.

Here’s a question: When was the last time you listened to an argument, and on the basis of that argument, changed your mind? Not just about something you hadn’t really given much thought to, but something which, prior to considering the argument in question, you felt quite certain regarding your original stance.

In other words, when was the last time you realized you were completely wrong on a matter of opinion?

If your answer is “never”, or even “a long time ago”, is it because you’re always right?

The author then goes on to explain a recent case where he changed his mind. He knew the facts and so knew he was right. He then read someone else’s opinion on the matter, which introduced another fact into the equation. This fact did not change the others, it was just one more factor.

I read this, I engaged in his thought experiment, and I realized that I was completely wrong, and he was right.

Solely on the basis of his argument in “Thought Experiment”, Pilgrim persuaded me that I was wrong. But what’s interesting is that in doing so, he did not refute a single one of the three points that led me to side with the “be strict” camp in the first place.

When I end up changing my mind on a matter of opinion, it usually is not because I had the facts wrong; it’s because I was looking at the wrong facts.

I wonder how many times we do that. Maybe always? We know we are right because we know the facts. But isn’t it strange that others disagree with us, others who know the same facts, who are just as intelligent as we are (and maybe even more so)? As I read this I realized how often our point of view shapes our thoughts, our beliefs. And in the same way, it shapes everyone else’s opinions.

When we ‘argue’ with others how often do we go about it all wrong – trying to prove they are wrong, instead of trying to give them more information in order that they can begin to see it our way? How often is the argument just plain silly because the differences in our points of view will never allow us to see things from the same point of view. We are arguing over something we both can see but we are looking at it from 2 completely different perspectives and until one of us moves we will never be ‘seeing’ the same thing even though we are ‘looking at’ the same thing.

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