If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence.
If there’s one tip I might offer on how to think better it would this: try to explore rather than confirm your biases.
I have spent a lot of time actively seeking out evidence which disconfirms my biases and then having a really good think about why I’m resistant. As a case in point, when I visited Michaela School there were a number of aspects of their work which surprised me. Instinctively it ‘felt wrong’. I wrote today about their decision not to display students’ work after spending the week looking for evidence that countered my instincts and thinking about why I might be wrong. I could have spent the week looking for evidence for why my instinct was correct and I have no doubt I would have found it.
I’m not saying I’m right. God knows I’m often and spectacularly wrong. But not more than anyone else. And I do think I’m pretty good at acknowledging errors, admitting mistakes and thinking about what else might be true.
You see, generally we use our ability to reason to confirm our biases. We look for evidence we are right and By Jingo! we find it. QED. This is remarkably easy to do. Much harder to look for flaws and blind spots in our thinking and explore them vigorously.
So whilst I’ve come to expect it, I’m always a little bit disappointed when the response to a blog post is for readers to take the ‘Yeah, but’ approach and assemble easy to find evidence that what they always thought to be true is, in fact, true. C’mon; try harder. Make an effort to explore rather than confirm.
Because seriously, what if you’re wrong?