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Facts don’t change minds

Why is it that facts are less influential in changing people’s minds that we would hope? The answer is that there are too many facts overwhelming us, in an age of information overload where the objective has become about learning how to swim in a sea of information, rather than walk on the land of factual reality.

Today, people value organization of previous facts rather than acknowledgment of new, contradictory facts. This is because we live in an information overload society, and are struggling to digest it all. Humans are information junkies. We love to know more. In the past, we did not have the opportunity to know as much as we do today. We understood that we were information deprived and this presented a spirit of interest, curiosity, and readiness to discover new things. Today, too many people have ‘discoveries,’ and an increasing amount of varied opinions are overcoming old facts and information that we thought we could trust. More and more information passes over us every day. As a result we have shifted from a desire to discover to a desire to implement and uphold labels and categories for people and their opinions, as a simplification technique to deal with the overwhelming load of new information.

In practice, this method of dealing with information is both good and bad. In one sense, it is a healthy defense against losing our achievements of the past. It assures us that bad information is properly sorted. We use labels and generalizations to avoid needing to burden ourselves with everyone else’s opinion. However, the unforseen consequence of this is we end up with an unhealthy trust in others, or in institutions, who presume to have taken the time to assess everything, and offer a ‘best choice’ moving forward.

With information overload, people have additional problems making truly informed decisions. As paradoxical as this may sound, it’s apparently the case, for we either end up mislabeling information that could be useful to us, or we end up placing our trust in someone else to inform us, which may put us at increased risk, since others cannot value our own lives like we do.

There’s a tendency in today’s political climate to call anyone who disagrees with us, ‘racist,’ ‘sexist,’ ‘anti-science,’ ‘dogmatic,’ or some other pejorative term. Now we know why. People are drowning in a sea of information. They want to simplify, to drain the water to remember what it means to have two feet on solid ground. What we are dealing with are rather infantile methods of dealing with information overload, since this is the first time in human history we’ve experienced information overload at this scale. Without precedent, its difficult to compare one method from another. The truth is, categorically “understanding” groups and individuals in a simplified way is the appropriate goal when faced with information overload. Indeed, it actually proves to be a truly great accomplishment. The problem is, simplification of complexity is more often pretended than it is actually achieved. The difference is that the result of real simplification, is unification. This happens in science, when a simpler explanation supplants a more complex one. People unify to the simpler version, authentically. If the opposite occurs, that is, if divisiveness increases, individually or in society, we can know we have not succeeded in simplifying the complexity, but that more work still needs to be done.

So that’s the insight we need to remember moving forward. If you find people to be closed minded to new facts, recognize that this is a reflection, not of the individual nature, as much as the collective burden we are facing of learning how to digest overwhelming amounts of new information.