What Have You Changed Your Mind About? January 1, 2008

What Have You Changed Your Mind About?

Each year, Edge asks some of the most prominent thinkers in the world one question.

This year’s question:


Science is based on evidence. What happens when the data change? How have scientific findings or arguments changed your mind?”

Some answers from our favorite atheists are below:

Richard Dawkins:

A flip-flop should be no handicap

… I have changed my mind, as it happens, about a highly paradoxical theory of prestige, in my own field of evolutionary biology. That theory is the Handicap Principle suggested by the Israeli zoologist Amotz Zahavi. I thought it was nonsense and said so in my first book, The Selfish Gene. In the Second Edition I changed my mind, as the result of some brilliant theoretical modelling by my Oxford colleague Alan Grafen…

Daniel Dennett:

Competition in the brain

I’ve changed my mind about how to handle the homunculus temptation: the almost irresistible urge to install a “little man in the brain” to be the Boss, the Central Meaner, the Enjoyer of pleasures and the Sufferer of pains…

Sam Harris:

Mother Nature is Not Our Friend

Like many people, I once trusted in the wisdom of Nature. I imagined that there were real boundaries between the natural and the artificial, between one species and another, and thought that, with the advent of genetic engineering, we would be tinkering with life at our peril. I now believe that this romantic view of Nature is a stultifying and dangerous mythology.

PZ Myers:

I always change my mind about everything, and I never change my mind about anything.

That flexibility is intrinsic to being human — more, to being conscious. We are (or should be) constantly learning new things, absorbing new information, and reacting to new ideas, so of course we are changing our minds. In the most trivial sense, learning and memory involve a constant remodeling of the fine details of the brain, and the only time the circuitry will stop changing is when we’re dead. And in a more profound sense, our major ideas change over time: my 5-year-old self, my 15-year-old self, and my 25-year-old self were very different people with different priorities and different understandings of the world around them than my current 50-year-old self. This is simply in the nature of our existence.

You can see previous editions of the Edge Annual Question here.

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • I am rather disturbed by how so-called “flip flopping” is treated as a bad thing in politics, and how those accused of this “sin” don’t seem to understand how to address the charge. Presented with new information, it’s only the fool that can’t re-evaluate the situation and even change their mind.

  • Stephen

    You know, I like PZ Myers, and I read his blog daily, but that was a pretty pointless non-answer he gave.

  • So is this an open question?

    I hope so. ‘Cuz I’m going to treat it like one.

    I’ve changed my mind about the causes of sexual orientation. I used to be a strict constructionist, who believed not only that sexual orientation was entirely socially constructed, but that the idea of sexual orientation being inborn was un-PC. (Don’t ask me why. Queer theory in the early ’90s was an unholy mess.)

    Now I think the idea of sexual orientation being at least partly inborn is, at the very least, plausible and not ridiculous or offensive. And while I think the jury is still out as far as a final answer goes, I think it’s very likely that it’s largely inborn.

  • I used to believe that all religious people idiots who blindly followed the dogma of their churches. I’ve discovered that this is the case only for a tiny minority and that my previous view was a skewed stereotype of reality.

    It’s good to be proven wrong once in a while, it’s a validation that we’re still learning and that we haven’t stagnated. I should know I’m wrong on a regular basis. 😉

  • Greta Christina:

    I used to be a strict constructionist, who believed not only that sexual orientation was entirely socially constructed, but that the idea of sexual orientation being inborn was un-PC.

    Wow. I’m actually surprised at that. I’m so used to those with the hate on gays being the ones denying that homosexuality was innate rather than learned. But then as you said, queer theory was a mess back then.

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