Here’s Why You Can’t Convince Someone With Rational Arguments

Argument: (noun) 1. A fact or assertion offered as evidence that something is true 2. Discussion in which reasons are advanced for and against some proposition or proposal

We spend too much time arguing with people about things that don’t matter. Things like which phone is better, why some film is good, which stock to invest in, which is a good holiday destination, what is the best way to lose fat etc.

It is not important to change someone’s mind about things like these. People can be left alone with their opinions once disagreement is found.

These are the kind of things on which different people are most certainly going to have different opinions. But when we hear from people an opinion that is different from ours, we want to convince them of our point-of-view by arguing with what we think are rational explanations for why we think what we think about it.

If we knew how our minds work, however, we would consider it a waste of time.

In this post I am going to tell you exactly what you need to know about human mind to save your time and energy by not engaging in arguments of this nature.

We Are Irrational All The Time

What if I told you that all human beings are irrational all the time? Yes, you read it right. ALL OF US ARE IRRATIONAL, ALL THE TIME. Even the philosophers and scientists, and so-called rationalists.

The only time we are rational is when we are making really simple decisions.

Here’s what I mean by really simple decisions: Let’s say you want to reach somewhere within an hour and if you walked it would take you two hours to reach there. So you employ rationality and say it’s rational to take a cab instead of walking.

That’s an example of really simple decision. I want you to remember this example or refer to it when I say simple scenarios where we do use rationality.

Such simple decisions are where we use perfect rationality. Our rationality is not really boast-worthy then, is it?

The moment there are multiple variables in the mix, rationality goes out the window and emotions or gut feeling takes over. We make up our minds based on how we feel about something and continue to think we are being rational. What we are actually doing there is rationalize the decision we have arrived at through emotions or gut feeling.

I will give you some examples of the decisions that we think are rational, but are most likely taken based on emotions or gut feeling.

The choice of school or college, the preference for workplace, the choice of cellphone and cellphone carrier, your favorite film or film star, your support of political party or candidate, etc. These are the kind of decisions that we like to think are rational but are anything but.

How do I know these are not rational decisions?

Any time you see two people having two different opinions over something, or different people having different opinions over something, though it may seem simple, it is not one of those simple scenarios (refer above to the example of simple decision) where we are rational. It is the multiple variables scenario where the opinions are based on emotions and subjective experiences, or gut feeling, so to speak. People who think they are being rational about these things are merely rationalizing their positions.

Why We Don’t See Our Irrationality

If we are rationalizing our beliefs, opinions and decisions rooted in emotions or gut feeling and all we are doing is rationalizing them, then why do we keep thinking that we are being rational?

The answer to this lies in confirmation bias.

As soon as emotions or gut feeling biases our mind towards one position, confirmation bias kicks in. We start noticing things that confirm the position we are already now biased towards, all the while blocking all the conflicting information that may come our way, which keeps on expanding the bias until we become certain about the correctness of our position.

Confirmation bias is a well-known psychological phenomenon. If you don’t understand confirmation bias, you have not taken the first step in understanding human interactions.

Convincing Someone With “Rational” Arguments

When an opinion is formed in the irrational way, that is, based on emotions or gut feeling (which is how it is almost all the time), it is almost impossible to change that opinion using facts and “rational” arguments.

Reason: An opinion or decision based on emotions or gut feeling is likely fueled by a lot of confirmation bias. When that position is argued against using facts or what the opposing side thinks to be rational arguments, it induces cognitive dissonance in the person holding those opinions.

Cognitive dissonance is another well-known psychological phenomenon, and is equally essential in understanding human interactions in a meaningful way.

Cognitive dissonance is a mental discomfort one feels when one is presented with facts and arguments that conflict with one’s own beliefs or opinions. The stronger one’s beliefs/opinions are, the more the dissonance.

Once the dissonance is created by conflicting information/facts, the person would want to get rid of it. Now there are two ways to remedy cognitive dissonance. Either the person suffering from the dissonance can agree with the person with the opposing view (and accept that they were wrong), or make up more irrational hypotheses to justify their views in the face of conflicting information.

For some reason, humans are not good at accepting that they were wrong upon being countered with conflicting facts and information – at least not immediately. But they can’t live with cognitive dissonance either. Result: The disagreement widens.

When Rational Arguments Work

There may be times when you have changed other people’s minds using rational arguments and facts to counter their opinion. I don’t say it never happens.

But if you credit your rationality or facts alone for that success, you may be mistaken.

First of all, no one is perfectly rational except in case of really simple decisions (refer above to the example of simple decision). So when you thought you convinced someone using a rational argument, you were actually using better rationalization for your position than your opponent was using for theirs.

That said, some positions are more rational, or better, than others, even if both the positions are held by different people based on their emotions or gut feeling. And a person with aptitude for rationality is easy to convince with facts and “rational” arguments.

So here’s two situations where rationality and facts have worked for you –

  1. When the person you presented your differing view to already saw you as an authority, or generally respected you, regarded you as an intelligent person.
  2. The target of your argument was someone who had aptitude for rationality. Meaning, they regarded rationality as a virtue.

Barring scenarios with the above two conditions, there’s no way anyone can convince another person of a different or opposite view – at least not immediately.

So if you are setting out to argue for what you consider to be a superior belief, opinion or decision with 1) someone who doesn’t know you or doesn’t regard you as a particularly intelligent person and/or 2) doesn’t have aptitude for rationality – which is most people you will come across – good luck with getting your point-of-view through their head.

You might want to save time and energy, and possibly even the relationship, by hearing a different opinion from someone and letting it be.

The Best Definition of Transgender

From Urban Dictionary:

A mentally-ill man who chops his balls off for attention, injects himself with pregnant horse urine, and stuffs their franken-snatch with a dildo to prevent it from healing shut (because human biology is “transphobic”). They justify this decision on extremely-tenuous “scientific research” where any dissenting psychologist or medical expert is fired/blacklisted if they were ever to question it. They usually suffer from clinical depression, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and/or schizophrenia.

After transitioning, they will usually kill themselves upon discovering that the grass isn’t greener on the other side. The few that don’t kill themselves eventually de-transition back to their real gender and obtain the real psychiatric help they need, all while being ostracized and marked as a traitor by “tolerant” LGBT groups.

Women trying to be boys supposedly can also be transgender, but about 90% of all trannies are MtF, which should be a red-flag to anyone with a brain

“Look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at me look at meeeeeeeeee!”

– Every transgender person, ever.

by Best UD author June 04, 2016

Found via Chateau Heartiste

Why the screens are so addictive

The kind of addiction to screens that was perhaps only suffered by stockbrokers and individuals trading in the stock market a decade ago is suffered today by most of the urban human population. What is worse is, unlike the stock market, it keeps one glued to the screen virtually all the time!

I am talking about smartphones, instant messaging and social media.

One should hardly be surprised by the research that says people are sleeping fewer hours because of smart phones.

Adolescent sleep needs range from 8.5–10 hours per night, with older adolescents requiring less sleep than younger adolescents. On average, however, American adolescents receive between 7.5–8.5 hours of sleep per night, with many sleeping fewer than 6.5 hours on school nights. Cellular phone use is emerging as an important factor that interferes with both sleep quality and quantity, particularly as smartphones become more widely available to teens.

This article in The Guardian, among other things (like how multitasking makes us less efficient), sheds light on why the screens are so addictive.

Because it [texting] is limited in characters, it discourages thoughtful discussion or any level of detail. And the addictive problems are compounded by texting’s hyperimmediacy. Emails take some time to work their way through the internet and they require that you take the step of explicitly opening them. Text messages magically appear on the screen of your phone and demand immediate attention from you. Add to that the social expectation that an unanswered text feels insulting to the sender, and you’ve got a recipe for addiction: you receive a text, and that activates your novelty centres. You respond and feel rewarded for having completed a task (even though that task was entirely unknown to you 15 seconds earlier). Each of those delivers a shot of dopamine as your limbic system cries out “More! More! Give me more!”

In a famous experiment, my McGill colleagues Peter Milner and James Olds, both neuroscientists, placed a small electrode in the brains of rats, in a small structure of the limbic system called the nucleus accumbens. This structure regulates dopamine production and is the region that “lights up” when gamblers win a bet, drug addicts take cocaine, or people have orgasms – Olds and Milner called it the pleasure centre. A lever in the cage allowed the rats to send a small electrical signal directly to their nucleus accumbens. Do you think they liked it? Boy how they did! They liked it so much that they did nothing else. They forgot all about eating and sleeping. Long after they were hungry, they ignored tasty food if they had a chance to press that little chrome bar; they even ignored the opportunity for sex. The rats just pressed the lever over and over again, until they died of starvation and exhaustion. Does that remind you of anything? A 30-year-old man died in Guangzhou (China) after playing video games continuously for three days. Another man died in Daegu (Korea) after playing video games almost continuously for 50 hours, stopped only by his going into cardiac arrest.

Each time we dispatch an email in one way or another, we feel a sense of accomplishment, and our brain gets a dollop of reward hormones telling us we accomplished something. Each time we check a Twitter feed or Facebook update, we encounter something novel and feel more connected socially (in a kind of weird, impersonal cyber way) and get another dollop of reward hormones. But remember, it is the dumb, novelty-seeking portion of the brain driving the limbic system that induces this feeling of pleasure, not the planning, scheduling, higher-level thought centres in the prefrontal cortex. Make no mistake: email-, Facebook- and Twitter-checking constitute a neural addiction.

Now when you find yourself checking your smartphone or computer insanely frequently when you should be doing something important, or sleeping, you should understand what is making you do that.

Oh and before I am misunderstood, I am by no means implying that we couldn’t control it so it is not our fault. It is quite the contrary.

There Is No Such Thing As True Nature

Originally written in July 2012

One often hears that one should always follow one’s true nature. Many people hold that in difficult situations where an important decision has to be made following one’s true nature is the right and the only moral way to go. However, the question is: What is true nature?

Humans are driven by emotions/instincts as well as by intellect/rationality. The drive of instincts pertains to animal nature and the drive of rationality pertains to human nature. We have both the natures within us. And more often than not both natures want us to do different – often opposing – things. For example, a smoker has an instinct to smoke but his rational mind would say that it is bad for health. What for him is the right thing to do then? Which one of the two is his true nature? If the proponents of follow-your-heart philosophy are to be believed then he must smoke. But it’s clear that if we all lived like that the society would soon perish. That can’t be right.

Another camp believes that rationality is a higher faculty (which I too agree with) and the decisions arrived at rationally are always the right ones. For if you keep doing things driven by your instincts while at the same time rationally you also know that they are harmful to you, or even have the knowledge that you could live better by doing better things, that knowledge will gnaw at you and won’t allow you to be happy. Thus, the decisions approved by rational thought seem to be superior than those driven merely by instincts. If so, following the true nature would mean acting rationally.

Is the matter of true nature settled thus? Far from it. A little more reflection on rationality would reveal that rationality itself is not constant. Rationality is just a tool, a method of arriving at a conclusion by structured thought. The outcome depends on the goals determined by values and knowledge level of the person employing rationality. The goals themselves are corruptible by instincts and also the knowledge level isn’t constant. Therefore, all “rational” people won’t necessarily have the same conclusion over something. And even one person may not hold the same rational position all the time. As the knowledge level changes, so does the outcome of rational thought.

I also said that the goals are corruptible by instincts/emotions. In fact, they have to be so! A rational human being without emotions would be akin to a robot. One has to have emotions and one has to respect instincts to an extent. The goals are essentially set by, or are rooted in, emotions. And rationality is a means to the ends which are those goals. Rationality on its own can’t provide us any goals because, rationally speaking, universe has no meaning for us whatsoever. Unless one is emotionally rooted there would be no motivation to live.

The question of true self, thus, doesn’t have a clear answer. Instincts and rationality will often conflict. Follow-your-true-nature people want to get rid of the conflict by choosing one side. They err. The conflict is actually the healthy state.

The truth is that there’s no such thing as true nature. We are fundamentally made with conflicting motivations. The universe grows by conflicts. Without conflicts there would be no evolution, no life. If one chooses to go with instincts alone, one will be doomed. If one follows rationality alone, one would meet the same fate. One should accept the conflict and base every decision on one’s best judgement at that moment and not bother about true nature.

Follow-your-true-nature is a narcissist’s way of saying do whatever the hell you like. For it justifies the action by saying one just followed one’s true nature.

True Self and Individual Sovereignty – No Such Thing

Originally written in June 2012

There is no such thing as true self. Yes, genetically speaking everyone is unique, but genetic blueprint is not equivalent to self. Genetic blueprint is like a mold. It does in part shape the outcome as to how the individual would turn out, but the substance of the outcome also – and more importantly – depends on the ingredients of the inputs. These ingredients are thoughts and ideologies and other elements from the social environment the individual is exposed to through his life. These would determine what thoughts and ideologies the individual himself would have.

When whatever ideas one has are acquired from and influenced by the world outside (meaning, however the individual is he is shaped by the elements from the external world) how can one claim a set of ideas as truly one’s own? How can one say that a particular behavioral pattern is one’s true self? The term true self assumes a particular mind with specific thoughts and ideologies as a given.

People develop ideologies, tastes, preferences, wants, desires and so on, and begin to think they are their personal tastes, preferences,.. In a way they are, but not really. Moreover, people think that because there is such a thing as true self and since everyone has a true self everyone is entitled to live life the way they want. Pop culture tells them that following one’s true self is the only right way for a person to act. They call this entitlement individual sovereignty.

Let’s have a closer look into this to see whether one’s ideologies, tastes, preferences, wants, desires and so on (self) are really one’s own. When I am writing this, slim fit jeans are in fashion so I prefer those, as does everyone else I know. Ten years ago wide bottom jeans were in fashion. I do remember that I had then a couple of old slim fit pair of jeans (which would have been considered ultra-modern today) of my dad’s which I never thought of wearing. because in those times only girls wore slim fit jeans. I, like everybody I knew then, preferred wide bottom ones. And I thought that those looked attractive too, which seems rather funny today, because today slim fit ones are deemed attractive and everybody wants slim fit jeans. The fact that my dad had slim fit jeans means in his time they must have been in fashion, too.

How is it that people (a group as large as a community, city or even a nation) have one uniform preference at one point in time and another uniform preference at another point in time? Is my desire today of buying a pair of slim fit jeans my own desire? In other words, is the desire coming from my true self? Is it just a coincidence that my true self and the true selves of the entire world I know have the same preference in jeans? The fact is, what I think is my own desire is actually formed by what I see other people around me doing.

Whatever we think we are – our thoughts, ideologies, tastes, preferences, wants, desires, … – it is all shaped by our experiences with the world we live in, by seeing and observing other people, their behavior and habits, and many other things surrounding our existence. People from a particular religious or cultural background have similar traits and behavioral patterns. Most people behave in statistically predictable ways. It points to the fact that individual self is made up of shared and collective ideas and experiences. Self is not a genetic given and hence no individual has a true self.

The fact that one’s self or individuality is formed by the elements of the external world means that people can be systematically conditioned to have certain self. That’s what corporations and vested interests through media and advertisements are doing today. They make people desire things they don’t really need, but people think it’s their own desires.

No true self means that no one has preferences that are truly their own. No one has individuality in true sense, and therefore in my opinion there should be no such thing as individual sovereignty which is above the shared interests of humans as a group.