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Thursday, 31 March 2016

Why are opinions stronger than facts?

I noticed several interesting studies at the British Psychological Society, and one in particular: Why is it so hard to persuade people with facts? (BPS) A late 2015 study blames anger: "when people read information that undermines their identity, this triggers feelings of anger and dismay that make it difficult for them to take the new facts on board". No doubt anger indeed plays a role. 

It is essential to realise where facts and opinions originate. Facts are derived from Knowledge which is in the "known knowns" domain. Opinions are derived from Beliefs which is in the domain of "known unknowns". The two other relevant domains are outlined in my diagram below.

Beliefs (ie, opinions) are part of the 7 Belief systems, being: Love, Money, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Science and the Truth.

The essential characteristic of any Belief system is the willingness to die for that Belief - or to sacrifice oneself for the Cause.

Knowledge (ie, facts) will never ever be a reason to sacrifice oneself. Ignorance is a perfect shield. This is the key reason why opinions are stronger than facts.

To complicate matters, Science has become a Belief system. Science used to be dominated by facts but scientists have been able to erode the importance of Science by promoting their individual - and often politically motivated - opinions rather than undisputed facts. The climate change controversy is probably the best - or worst - example how Science has become a mere opinion and is no longer able to deliver undisputed facts.

Once facts have become disguised opinions, it makes perfect sense that facts are no longer able to persuade the minds - or opinions - of people. Basically, you might be exchanging one opinion for another one. In this vacuum, sites like FactCheck.org are blooming. These sites make an effort to separate facts from opinions.

Several decades ago, Ronald Reagan used the famous Russian proverb "doveryai no proveryai" or "Trust but verify" (Wiki). Today, verification has been replaced by mistrust as people use facts and opinions as means to justify their own end. This proverb from Machiavelli's The Prince implies that "morally wrong actions are sometimes necessary to achieve morally right outcomes; actions can only be considered morally right or wrong by virtue of the morality of the outcome" (Wiki).

This mistrust amongst people is what is paralysing our societies today, and what is also causing the departure of consensus politics, and the rise of extreme politics. 

Massive Attack - Safe from Harm (1991) - artists, lyrics, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

But if you hurt what's mine
I'll sure as hell retaliate

You can free the world, you can free my mind
Just as long as my baby's safe from harm tonight


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