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Changing Minds:

The Art and Science of Changing Our Own

and Other Peoples Minds

by Howard Gardner

After finishing this book in October of 2022, I wrote,

 

"Although what we and others believe and don't believe is and can should be informed by facts and evidence, it is helpful to know the many other factors by which our minds can be bent even in the face of contradicting facts and evidence. Gardner does a decent and entertaining exploration of these other factors."

 

My clippings below collapse a 262-page book into 5 pages, measured by using 12-point type in Microsoft Word.

Special note: for whatever reason, several of my selections were truncated. Consequently, the notes here will not reflect as fully on the content of the book as I would have liked and was able to provide when sharing from other books in this section "Books That Have Made Me."

See all my book recommendations.  

Here are the selections I made:

British economist John Maynard Keynes. Note his insightful words, courtesy of the (Wikipedia): When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir? A study of the history of opinion is a necessary preliminary to the emancipation of the mind. Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds.

 

The tenets (and limits) of behaviorism are well conveyed in an old joke: Two behaviorists make love. The first then says to the second, “Well, it was great for you. But tell me, how was it for me?”

 

They reflect common sense or—as my mentor Nelson Goodman used to quip—common nonsense.

 

CHANGING MINDS THROUGH REPRESENTATIONAL REDESCRIPTION

 

Narrative: telling stories about the topic and the people involved with it (e.g., the story of Charles Darwin for evolution or of Anne Frank for the Holocaust) 2.  Quantitative: using examples connected to the topic (e.g., the puzzle of different numbers and varieties of finches spread across a dozen islands in the Galapagos) 3.  Logic: identifying the key elements or units and exploring their logical connections (e.g., how Malthus’s argument about human survival in the face of insufficient resources can be applied to competition among biological species) 4.  Existential: addressing big questions, such as the nature of truth or beauty, life and death 5.  Aesthetic: examining instances in terms of their artistic properties or capturing the examples themselves in works of art (e.g., observing the diverse shapes of the beaks of finches; analyzing the expressive elements in the trio) 6.  Hands-on: working directly with tangible examples (e.g., performing the Figaro trio, breeding fruit flies to observe how traits change over the generations) 7.  Cooperative or social: engaging in projects with others where each makes a distinctive contribution to successful execution

 

Moreover, if one can present a topic in several ways, two important outcomes ensue. First, one reaches more students; after all, some students learn better from narrative entry points and others from social or artistic entries. Second, one conveys to students the idea that disciplinary experts readily conceive of topics in more than one way. There is no royal road to disciplinary understanding.

 

BEYOND SCHOOL: CHANGING ADULT MINDS THROUGH REPRESENTATIONAL REDESCRIPTION

 

People can be placed along the continuum, and the aspiring mind-changer needs to alter his approach accordingly if resonance is to be achieved. Argument, facts, rhetoric: Is this person moved chiefly by argument, with its logical components? What role do facts, information, and data play in this person’s hierarchy of considerations? Are rhetorical flourishes or logically ordered propositions more likely to capture attention and bring about changes? Central versus peripheral routes: Is this person more likely to be engaged by a direct discussion of the issue? Or would it be best to bring up one’s concerns indirectly—through questions, examples, tone of voice, gestures, pregnant pauses, and well-timed silences?

 

Consistency: How concerned is this person with consistency? Does this person care about whether stated beliefs, attitudes, and actions are consistent with one another? If so, how can one help this person deal with any inconsistencies? Stance on conflict: How much is this person bothered by the give-and-take of argument? Does this person like to match wits, or is it preferable to avoid sharp exchanges? If one has gone too far, how does one restore calm or equilibrium?

 

Emotionally charged territory: What are the issues and ideas about which this person feels strongly? Should one engage these or avoid them? Can one mobilize this person around an area of strong feeling? How does one avoid the minefields that stand in the way of the desired change? Is this person m...

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Current scripts—form: Individuals differ in the symbol systems, formats, or intelligences in which they habitually encode their mental representations. To the extent possible, it is desirable to determine which “forms of representation” are favored by an individual and to embed new concerns in those familiar forms. So, for example, if a person favors graphic demonstrations, these means should be employed when feasible. If, on the other hand, the person is influenced by the human embodiment of a desired perspective, the mind changer should try to model or embody the desired changes.

 

The most important consideration for those engaged in mind change, however, is probably the following: Avoid egocentrism—becoming ensnared in one’s own construal of events. The purpose of a mind-changing encounter is not to articulate your own point of view but rather to engage the psyche of the other person. In general, the more that one knows about the scripts and the strengths of the other person, the resistances and resonances, and the more that one can engage these fully, the more likely one will be successful in bringing about the desired change—or at least holding open the possibility of such changes.

 

Influential thinkers in the West have done an admirable job of cleaving apart excellence in technique from distinction in morality. We appreciate that a person can be highly skilled without being moral in the least; that a person can be ethical without having the requisite competence; and that many of us stand out neither in terms of excellence nor social responsibility.

 

With this generic view of mind changing as background, I teased out a number of crucial dimensions. These can serve as a checklist when one is considering candidates for mind changing:

 

Present Content and Desired Content One should begin by determining what is the present (current) content—be it an idea, a concept, a story, a theory, a skill—and what is the desired content. Once the desired content has been identified, the various competing counter-contents must be specified. The more explicitly one can lay these out, the more likely that one can arrive at a strategy suitable for mind changing in the particular instance. Both contents and counter-contents may be presented in various formats.

 

Size of Audience The challenge of mind change is quite different depending on whether one is dealing with a large audience or a tiny audience. Large audiences are affected chiefly by powerful stories, rendered by individuals who embody their stories in the lives that they lead; intimate audiences can benefit from approaches that are much more individually contextualized. Of special interest are the ...

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Type of Audience When one is dealing with an audience that is large and heterogeneous, one is dealing with the unschooled mind. Expertise cannot be assumed. Simple stories work the best. On the other hand, when one is dealing with individuals who share knowledge and expertise, one can assume a mind that is schooled and relatively homogeneous with respect to other minds in the group. Stories or theories re...

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Directness of Change Political, business, and educational leaders bring about change through the messages that they convey directly to their respective audiences. Creative and innovative individuals bring about change indirectly, through the symbolic products—art works, inventions, scientific theories—that they fashion. In general, mind changes due to indirect creations take longer, but their effects have the potential to last for a far longer period of time. In...

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Levers of Change and Tipping Points Classically, change takes place through compulsion, manipulation, persuasion, or through some combination thereof. In this book I have directed attention to deliberate and open attempts at mind change. I have also stressed the classic forms of persuasion: talk, teaching, therapy, and the creation and dissemination of new ideas and products. We must recognize, however, that in the future, these low-tech agents may well be supplanted by new forms of intervention: some will be biological, involving transformation of genes or brain tissue; some will be computational, entailing the use of new software and new hardware; and some will represent increasingly intricate amalgams of the biological and the computational realms. Perhaps the greatest challenge is to determine when the desired content has in fact been conveyed and whether it has actually been consolidated. Alas, there are no formulas for this step: each case of mind changing is distinctive. It is helpful to bear in mind that most mind change is gradual, occurring over significant periods of time; that awareness of the mind change is often fleeting, and the mind change may occur prior to consciousness thereof; that individuals have a pronounced tendency to slip back to earlier ways of thinking; but that when a mind change has become truly consolidated, it is likely to become as entrenched as its predecessor. Every example of mind changing has its unique facets. But in general, such a shift of mind is likely to coalesce when we employ the seven levers of mind change: s... (less)

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The Ethical Dimension As Niccolò Machiavelli pointed out dramatically, skills in bringing about change need not (in fact, he argued, should not) have a moral dimension. Indeed, most of the processes outlined in this book can be carried out for amoral ends, for immoral ends, or for impressively moral ends. Given the complexity of forces in the world, it is tempting to throw up one’s hands and to declare that the possibilities for positive, deliberate changes of mind are modest. That may be true. But unless one is willing to become a full determinist—and no one ever leads his or her own life that way—we must continue to believe that the will is free and that individuals can make a difference. The human mind is a human creation, and all human creations can be changed. We need not be a passive reflector of our biological heritage or our cultural and historical traditions. We can change our minds and the minds of others around... (less)

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