The True Believer’s Algorithm

Discussions on Religion and Politics Seldom Change Anyone’s Mind. Here’s why.

Ever notice that people never say “gosh you are right” when it comes to changing deeply held beliefs. There is a reason for this. Psychologists call it “cognitive dissonance theory.”

When talking to someone about a cherished belief that you find false, they will fight you tooth and nail (even it you sometimes try to get out of it) and go round and round this structure without ever knowing they are doing it. It’s like fighting a hydra that you can never slay. And any effort to be civil and communicate just keeps the cycle going round and round.

When you spot this algorithm – GET OUT. You cannot change their mind. Promise. Your best way to help them is through indirect means. Or as the Lojong Proverbs Say:

“Do not strike at the heart.”

And if you find YOURSELF stuck in it. GET OUT ASAP.

The Scene: You passively mention to a true believer that you no longer believe like they do and then …

Step 1. The “Oh You Poor Thing” Step. 
In this step the person acts sad and concerned on why you find this belief false. It’s a very soft, and caring approach.  “I’m so sorry you didn’t have the strength to keep your faith. Maybe I can help you FIND YOUR MISTAKE”

In this step, they will create the belief that you are a failed and pitiful believer and will IGNORE YOUR DATA COMPLETELY.

IF YOU INSIST ON STICKING TO THE FACTS AND DATA THEY WILL LIKELY MORPH THE DISCUSSION INTO ANY STEP BUT STEP 7.

Step 2. Tough Love Approach
In this step when you present your undeniable evidence why the belief in question is not true. They will get all “tough love” on you and blame and attack your character rather than look at the undeniable evidence. They will call you dishonest, bring up past failures, claim you need mental help, call you a pansy, or some other label AND USE THE BLAME TO IGNORE YOUR DATA COMPLETELY.

IF YOU INSIST ON STAYING ON THE FACTS THEY WILL EITHER KEEP DOING THIS OR EVENTUALLY GO TO ANY OTHER STEP BUT 7.

Step 3. Topic Change. 
In this step, they will change what you were talking about so that your data doesn’t matter. They will pick some other diversion to try to keep you from your point. “What about this huh? I’m not going further until this is resolved.” Once they shift you to the new topic and you start to use facts, they will go back to Step 1 or Step 2 to avoid IT.

AND THEY WILL IGNORE YOUR ORIGINAL DATA.

IF YOU INSIST ON STICKING TO THE FACTS, THEY WILL EITHER KEEP DO THIS OR EVENTUALLY GO TO ANY OTHER STEP BUT STEP 7.

Step 4. Change the Criteria for Truth
In this step, a true believer will take your data and repackage it so it wont falsify their belief system: they’ll say the science is flawed; science itself is flawed; call “bullshit”; say “it doesn’t matter in the big picture” or “I’m skeptical of this so called fact,” They may find or invent an obscure example that can be seen as an exception and hold it up to you to show you to be incorrect. They will do ANYTHING to invalidate your data.

BUT THEY WILL NOT CONFRONT YOUR DATA AS IT IS. THEY MUST REPACKAGE IT.

IF YOU CONTINUE TO INSIST ON STICKING TO THE FACTS, THEY WILL GO TO ANY OTHER STEP BUT 7.

Step 5. Temporarily Open Minded
Getting here with a true believer is a miracle, but don’t hold your breath. If they confront your data and admit your facts are … facts, they will experience a personal crisis in their minds and will do anything to create some way to sustain their faith. They may get sad and defeated, but their minds are working overtime to find the “one thing” that can put the faith back in first place. Two days after such an event they will typically find “proof” that you were wrong. Their minds may actually change their memory of the discussion you had earlier (really).

Step 6. Appeal to Personal Experience and Not Needing it to Be True.
The phrase “It worked for me” will end virtually ANY chance of them accepting your point of view as valid. Sometimes, in this stage they are playing for a draw “You don’t know and I don’t know so let’s just agree to disagree.” A person will use their personal experience and the power they gained by it to IGNORE YOUR DATA. You will get story after story after story on why it is true enough. In this case, a person can flip from being a fundamentalist to a moderate by the hour.

THEY MAY CONFRONT YOUR DATA AS IT IS, BUT THEY WILL CREATE A  BUFFER FOR IT WITH THEIR LIFE EXPERIENCE

IF YOU CONTINUE TO INSIST ON STICKING TO THE FACTS, THEY WILL GO TO ANY OTHER STEP BUT 7.

Step 7. Accept the Data and Change a Viewpoint
This so seldom happens in such discussions, that it is hardly worth mentioning. It usually happens outside of a direct conversation. I have never seen a Step 7 happen as a result of a conversation when the subject was a deeply held belief.

YOU CAN GET MORE THAN ONE STEP AT ONCE!

EXAMPLE:
“You know, let’s be honest. You are really to blame for this because you didn’t follow the Way. It’s time you got honest with YOURSELF Fred. You know, I really feel sorry for you Fred, I really do. And even though you think that the prophesy of Wag-Wog demonstrably failed in the Ancient Testement of old, let me tell you one thing that has NEVER failed for me personally – Phil the Prophet.”

I write this not only as the inventor of the True Believer’s Algorithm, but as a recovering client

10 thoughts on “The True Believer’s Algorithm

  1. hehe Good one!

    Schopenhauer said, “Every truth passes through three stages before it is recognized. In the first it is ridiculed, in the second it is opposed, in the third it is regarded as self-evident.” I like this too.

    • I love that phrase Chris and it’s one of my favorites.

      The algorithm needs a lot more polish. It has a “make wrong” feel to it.

      So “wrong” may not be the way to go here. “Inconsistent” may be better. Illogical? Donno .

    • Yeah our man Kraus sure mucked up the power of science when he proved that eventually, the Universe will expand to the point where evidence for the big bang will all be gone and the Scientific method will leave the future races on other planets thinking that the milky way is the ONLY galaxy and believe in a steady-state Universe.

      And boy it’s fun watching scientists whose cherished beliefs get trashed by data RAIL against it like a fundie minister.

      Cognitive Dissonance isn’t a religion problem, it’s a human problem IMHO.

      So, the way I look at things, the question may be “How do I want to be wrong?”

  2. I’m not sure calling a belief “false” is the way to go. It is not false to the person believing it. When a true believer trades in his old belief for a new belief, well, he’s still a believer. Maybe there is a crack here waiting for a pry bar.

  3. I think we all walk our own path. That seems to be a belief too, and I truly believe it for now. It has me comparing every datum that I come across to every other data that I know anything about to see how they fit. Like a maniac I spend all my free time doing this activity even using time that should be better allocated for balancing the books, etc.,. I’m not sure what it would take for me to reconsider my beliefs and go to number 7 in this regard.

    • The TED talk from Jane McGonigal in the prior post is amazing in this regard. She is a game designer who got a serious head injury that didn’t heal well. To recover, she made an electronic game called “SuperBetter” which uses proven physical activities to help us recover from whatever thing we want to recover from or achieve what we want to achieve.

      If you watch it, I promise you that you will live and additional 7 minutes longer (guaranteed by Jane) and that you will refer this game to people!

      McGonigal is brilliant and the ap is free and literally takes minutes a day to stimulate our systems to line up with our chosen directions. It’s on iPhone and iPad. I don’t know about Android.

  4. When a person is a true believer in true belief, then public opinion comes into play. If this person is left alone he will seek equilibrium of belief without a conversation but only allowing him to simmer next to the warmth of public opinion. I’m straying but just jotting some thoughts about your OP.

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