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Think Again. Be A Scientist

Be a scientist

We live in strange times. Whatever nation you may be from, over the last five, six years, the political discourse has become very divisive. I come from India, and any conversation with anyone about the socio-political situation is combative and polarized. Conversations happen on a divide that has no middle ground. If you don’t agree with something, you are the anti-group. If you agree with some position, you are from the pro-group. In the midst of all this, people who know how to manipulate social media are having fun seeding all kinds of random stuff that people use as evidence to argue their respective positions.

I have found myself getting snared into a few of these conversations. As much as I wanted to keep to my objectivity, I have struggled.

I have reflected on my behavior and wondered why I was getting riled up.

I got some answers to why my behavior was what it was after reading the latest Book by Adam Grant titled Think Again, where he explores how people get stuck in their beliefs and operate with blinders.

Preacher, Prosecutor, And Politician

Adam Grant says we all slip into three mental frames when we get into any form of intellectual debate. We toggle between thinking like a preacher, prosecutor, and politician depending upon our situation.

If we find ourselves in a situation where someone challenges our sacred beliefs, we assume the preacher mode. We deliver arguments to protect our ideals. 

We then activate the prosecutor persona when we discover flaws in other people’s reasoning. Like a prosecutor, we marshal arguments to prove the other side wrong and win our case.

And, if there are other people involved, we quickly bring out the politician in us to garner the support of the others. We try to campaign and lobby for people to appreciate our position.

The problem in all this is that we get so wrapped up in preaching that we are right, trying to prosecute others who we believe are not correct, and politicking to gather support that we don’t bother to rethink or question our own views.

We find it easier to judge the other person’s thinking to be wrong without for a moment wondering if there is a flaw in our own thinking.

Thanks to these three mental frames, we are always trying to either defend our position or prosecute the other’s position. We think we are trying to protect the truth, but we are not. We are only defending our beliefs- what we believe to be true- our version of the truth.

Why do we do this?

Confirmation And Desirability Bias

Unfortunately, when it comes to our core beliefs, we fall victim to two powerful biases.

Confirmation Bias: We tend to search for, interpret and recall information in a way that confirms or supports our pre-set beliefs. Thanks to this bias, we only see what we expect to see.

Desirability Bias: Here, we open ourselves to viewpoints that only match our own expectations. We only see what we want to see.

Sadly both these biases don’t just prevent us from applying our intelligence. They also warp our intelligence into a self-sabotaging fight against the truth.

We will believe only what we want to believe. And, we will consider only viewpoints or evidence that conform to our position.

The tragedy is that we are blinded by these two biases and we lose all sense of objectivity.

Become A Scientist

Adam argues that we must assume a Scientist’s mindset if we want to discover the truth instead of pandering to our beliefs.

When you are in a scientist mode, you constantly question and doubt what you know. You are curious about what you don’t know and continuously update your views, beliefs based on new evidence and facts.

When we are in a scientist mode, we are searching for the truth. We are in an unbiased discovery mode where we don’t let our ideas get calcified into ideology. We don’t start with answers and opinions. Instead, we lead with questions, and we don’t preach from intuition just to make ourselves look right.

We must actively search for reasons why we might be wrong and not for reasons why we might be right. And, we must be open to revise our views based on what we discover and learn.

While I share this wisdom from the Book using the backdrop of the polarized socio-political conversations many are having, the perspective of taking a Scientist’s mindset is equally relevant to the way we approach our Work.

How open are we to questioning our beliefs? How wedded are we to the idea of how something has to be done when it comes to people, relationships, situations?

Thanks to the Mnemonic of the four personas, Preacher, Prosecutor, Politician, and Scientist, I have been able to reflect on and recognize my behaviors in the past. I was a preacher because I felt I knew more than the other person, and therefore, my position was correct. I was a prosecutor trying to shoot holes in the arguments and viewpoints of others, and I was the politician trying to garner support for my point of view.

Once you learn something at a fundamental level, it changes you. Now, even before I get into any conversation, there is a voice in my head asking me- “pramod, are you being a preacher, prosecutor, or a politician?”

I quickly remind myself that I need to be a scientist.

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