Why You Think You’re Right – Even If You’re Wrong

TEDx PSU Talk by Julia Galef

Have you ever insisted on doing or saying something when you knew that it might not be right? Or perhaps you really did believe it to be right, but it was then proven that you were, indeed, wrong.

How does this happen? Is there some unconscious factor in play that creates these circumstances? As it turns out, there is and Julia Galef explains why in a very interesting TEDxTalk.

Julia Galef

Co-founder of the Center for Applied Rationality, Julia believes that “perspective is everything—especially when it comes to examining our beliefs.” In her talk she speaks of a “soldier” and a “scout” as metaphors to explain her theory.

Julia asks, “Are you a “soldier,” prone to defending your viewpoint at all costs — or a “scout,” spurred by curiosity?” She then examines the motivations behind these two mindsets and how they shape the way we interpret information. Interwoven in her talk is a compelling history lesson from 19th-century France that, in and of itself is great fun.

Imagine if you will that you are a “soldier” in the heat of battle with elevated adrenaline, actions stemming from deeply ingrained reflexes rooted in the need to protect yourself, your country and to defeat the enemy. And, if you find yourself as a “scout” in that same battle, you have a very different role. It is not your job to attack or defend; it is to understand. Mapping the terrain and identifying potential obstacles is your job. Above all, the “scout” wants to know what’s really there.

Julia argues that having good judgment, making accurate predictions and good decisions is mostly about your mindset.

She illustrates her theory with a story about an innocuous-looking piece of paper that launched one of the biggest political scandals in history. Known as The Dreyfus Affair, a group of officers was determined to find a fellow officer guilty of treason and did everything they could to convince themselves of this fact. Julia calls this “motivated reasoning,” a phenomenon in which our unconscious motivations, desires and fears shape the way we interpret information. And in this case a “soldier” mindset.

She also notes that Dreyfus was the only Jewish officer of that rank in the French Army that was at that time highly anti-Semitic. However, one of the officers, a man named Picquart who had the same prejudices as those who convicted Dreyfus, was motivated to find the truth. He had, according to Julia, “scout” mindset. The drive not to make one idea win or another lose, but just to see what really was there as honestly and accurately as possible, even if it was not pretty, convenient or pleasant. I will let you read the conclusion of the story yourself.

Julia continues to study the cluster of traits found in “scouts” that predict good judgment. “And they are not about how smart you are or about how much you know,” she adds. “They don’t correlate very much with IQ at all, but are about how you feel.”

She ends her talk with the following questions: “When your steadfast opinions are tested, “What do you most yearn for? Do you yearn to defend your own beliefs or do you yearn to see the world as clearly as you possibly can?”

And I ask: Are you a “soldier” or are you a “scout?”