Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Changing your mind

Scientists argue with each other. A lot. This is supposed to be a good thing, and I think that in its best form, criticism is one of the best ways to ensure the soundness of an approach or the veracity of a discovery. But I think there is an important nuance here: criticism is only useful if someone is willing to change their mind. Ideally both parties, but at least one of them. If you are unwilling to be persuaded by facts, or even entertain plausible alternatives to your point of view, then you are no different from those talking heads on political talk shows. Scientists are not immune to this, as we are humans and as such have our own mental inertia of what we feel is right and wrong (part of the beauty of math, I suppose, is that there is an ultimate arbiter in the dispute). I certainly have had some notions that I’ve been wedding to long past their expiration date.

As such, I’ve been wondering how to do a better job of being open minded. Which got me thinking a bit more about how the process of changing one’s mind actually happens. I find that I rarely change my mind during the actual discussion. Perhaps this stems from the natural desire to defend one’s own position, which I suppose requires what is on some level a fundamentally irrational belief in said position. Usually, I change my mind after the fact, when I have time to think more carefully about all the different points someone made. Is it possible to change this dynamic to make it faster? Or is this just inherent to the process? I feel like my discussions could sometimes be more productive if I could make it easier for me to readily accept new ideas and thoughts counter to my own preconceptions. Hmm. It is as simple as just being more open minded in more situations? I don't think I'm a particularly closed-minded person, but I could be better, I think...

Interesting related side note about review processes: did you know that at the patent office, you can request an interview with your patent examiner to discuss the case face to face (or voice to voice)? Wouldn’t it be nice to have an actual discussion with paper/grant reviewers? I feel like that would make everything much much better.

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