How We Change Our Mind

This is actually related to my last entry. In it, I pointed out how, early Wednesday morning, the NWS changed their forecast thinking radically over the course of an hour or so.

I don’t mean to pick on NWS. Their forecasts are normally excellent. It would be unfair to judge them based on a single forecast.

I have been through the same angst they experienced, but my forecasts aren’t as well documented. That’s why they’re being used as my example – convenience, nothing more.

How do we change our minds? In most cases, change in thought comes gradually, but there’s usually a tipping point when you go from one way of thinking to the other. That point is not, as you might think, simply where evidence on one side outweighs evidence on the other.

My first experience with this was in the 60s, with the Vietnam War. I was, as were most, a supporter of that war in its earlier days&#185.

I remember doing a term paper on Vietnam for a class. I sat in the Jamaica Public Library and tried to balance arguments. I couldn’t. The preponderance of what I read made me think we shouldn’t be there.

I rode the Q17 bus home feeling conflicted. It was a significant enough episode to remember 40 years later. Yet, even in the face of that evidence and deep contemplative thought, I continued to support the war.

I did later change my mind, probably sometime in ’67 or ’68, and became fervently anti-Vietnam. My realignment came long after the my internal balance of evidence had shifted. Looking back, I’m sorry I waited so long.

Isn’t that strange? Even when my better judgment should have pointed me one way, my earlier decisions made it much more difficult.

My suspicions say that’s what happened last night at the Weather Service. I wasn’t there, but I’ve been through many similar forecast decisions. What you’ve called for isn’t going to happen… and yet you don’t want to let go of the forecast.

Is it an ego thing? Is there a worry the mere act of having been wrong is a blemish to be avoided?

Flip flopping was portrayed as a weakness when John Kerry ran for president. Is it possible having the ability to easily flip flop is really a positive trait?

Making that second decision… overruling your first call… is the weightier of the two processes. It takes much more evidence to change an opinion than to form a similar opinion in the abstract.

I’m not sure what’s to be learned from this, except to say it seems better to make these radical shifts in opinion sooner, rather than later. That’s much easier said than done.

&#185 – Actually, in its earliest days, American involvement in Vietnam was so small and obscure, few realized we were there and even fewer cared.

One thought on “How We Change Our Mind”

  1. I don’t think that the ability to flip-flop easily is necessarily a desirable trait, but to be able to change one’s opinion in the face of evidence to the contrary is essential for a leader.

    I like what John Maynard Keynes said when he was accused of flip-flopping: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

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