Stop Fooling Yourself by Changing Your Mind

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Here’s a way to arrive at what you believe: first, decide that you believe something. Then, throw your very best arguments against it until you believe something else. Repeat as many times as possible.

Most people do this in some capacity, probably subconsciously and very quickly, but I recommend doing it consciously, slowly, and deliberately. You may be surprised by what you find.

Now, no blog post by a (former) physicist is complete without a Feynman quote, so let his words enlighten us here:

  • “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”
  • “We are trying to prove ourselves wrong as quickly as possible, because only in that way can we find progress.”
  • “I’m talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you’re maybe wrong.”

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Are You Thinking Enough Before You Commit?

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Back when I was a first-year physics graduate student, one of my favorite professors used to get on my case about using pencil instead of pen for my notes and problem sets.

He’d say, “think and then commit with ink!”

As I progressed through my studies, I realized that my use of the pencil was a symptom of something deeper. I’d developed the habit of trying to get toward a solution by writing equations down and having to erase my errors as I went along.

This is fine at first. But when a complete equation involves so many complexities and spans multiple lines, you begin to confuse the activity of writing for clear thinking, diving in for the sake of starting. Using the act of writing as a way to figure out what’s going on in a physics problem can end up obstructing itself and taking too long for a good feedback loop to form. It becomes difficult to actually think because there are so many adjustments and things on the page to take in.

I eventually did switch to ink.

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