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Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds

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Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds

New discoveries about the human mind show the limitations of reason.

The New Yorker,

5 min read
5 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

In an ideal world, people’s opinions would evolve as more facts become available.

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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 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...

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.

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