To argue with a man who has renounced his reason is like giving medicine to the dead.
-- Thomas Paine, The CrisisIt might be tempting to quote Paine in arguments where we think the other party is being unreasonable. But very few people actually renounce their reason, and I think those who do are still acting from reason even after renunciation.
It seems plausible that we evolved reasoning as a means to win arguments, rather than as a means to discern what is true. If so, then perhaps a strategy of argumentation starting from the backfire effect might yield results where changing beliefs seems otherwise impossible.
I recently tried this approach of starting with the premise that argumentation may be insufficient to change anyone's mind, including my own. I made a couple mistakes, but hope to fine tune it.
I think it's critical when using this gambit to acknowledge openly how it applies to you too, and not just use it as a weapon against your opponent. Knowing about biases can hurt people, and it's probably about as difficult for a believer in chemtrails to change their mind as it is for a skeptic.
By opening from this position, that the argument between a strong believer and a strong skeptic is unlikely to change anyone's beliefs, I hope to crack open the door just a tiny bit. If there's anything dishonest about this approach, it's that I'm subtly challenging the other person's autonomy by declaring that they can't rationally evaluate their own strong beliefs once they've acquired them. I think this is why acknowledging the difficulty as it applies to myself too is so important. In a sense, we're both in the same boat and there's potential solidarity in understanding that our beliefs have such a tight grip on us that we can't change our own beliefs any more than we can change the other's beliefs.
My strategy is then to discuss what I know about the formation of persistent contrail cirrus. I use some anecdotes about a friend who studies cloud physics. I conclude by acknowledging that I can't be sure there isn't a secret chemtrail program. Because I know enough about how and why contrail cirrus forms to know that it is a real phenomenon, I have no way of visually differentiating between contrail cirrus and chemtrails in photos or videos.
For me to change my mind about the chemtrail conspiracy requires something other than visual evidence of airplanes leaving trails. This is all completely true, of course. Someone who wants to change my beliefs will have to provide better evidence than I've yet encountered. I leave open the possibility that I could change my mind if presented sufficient evidence.
It's my hope that by showing why I reject photographic evidence of trails in the sky without claiming absolute certainty in the matter, I can get people to move closer to questioning their own certainty.
fMRI studies and experiments with split-brain patients show that we engage in post-hoc rationalizations all the time, even those of us who believe we always operate from reason. We're so adept at inventing cover stories for our actions that we don't even realize when we're fooling ourselves. I'm pondering if and how to incorporate this information into my backfire gambit.