Summary of Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds

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Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds summary

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When most people think about the human capacity for reason, they imagine that facts enter the brain and valid conclusions come out. Science reveals this isn’t the case. People’s ability to reason is subject to a staggering number of biases. But what if the human capacity for reason didn’t evolve to help us solve problems; what if its purpose is to help people survive being near each other? getAbstract recommends Pulitzer Prize–winning author Elizabeth Kolbert’s thought-provoking article to readers who want to know why people stand their ground, even when they’re standing in quicksand.

In this summary, you will learn

  • Why researchers are searching for alternative explanations for the evolution of human cognition,
  • How human capacity for reason may have evolved for social rather than problem-solving purposes, and
  • Why there is reason for hope despite the human proclivity for flawed thinking.
 

About the Author

Elizabeth Kolbert is the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. She has written for The New Yorker since 1999.

 

Summary

In the mid-1970s, Stanford University began a research project that revealed the limits to human rationality; clipboard-wielding graduate students have been eroding humanity’s faith in its own judgment ever since. Why is human thinking so flawed, particularly if it’s an adaptive behavior that evolved over millennia? Cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber have written a book in answer to that question. In The Enigma of Reason, they advance the following idea: Reason is an evolved trait, but its purpose isn’t to extrapolate sensible conclusions from studying the available data. When living in a close-knit group, there is often more to be gained from winning disputes than there is from actual problem solving. “My-side bias” helps people spot the flaws in the other person’s argument while remaining blind to weaknesses in their own.

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