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Book review: "How Minds Change" by David McRaney

January 3, 2023

Assuming you’ve never come across this before, see if you can make sense of it1:

A newspaper is better than a magazine. A seashore is a better place than the street. At first it is better to run than to walk. You may have to try several times. It takes some skill, but it is easy to learn. Even young children can enjoy it. Once successful, complications are minimal. Birds seldom get too close. Rain, however, soaks in very fast. Too many people doing the same thing can also cause problems. One needs lots of room. If there are no complications it can be very peaceful. A rock will serve as an anchor. If things break loose from it, however, you will not get a second chance.

While I found this book through the EconTalk podcast (yet again2) where it came across more as a guide on how to best get people to change their minds, it also precisely explains how our brains and minds have wound up being how they are. The author is able to explain concepts with erudite clarity without having the text be too technical. Everything is paced wonderfully and ideas are interspersed with engaging stories from the author’s own experience.

As far as I can remember I’ve held the belief that there must exist a set of words in a specific order that would enable them to see the world as I do, or at least reason about it in a similar way. This is often done in a combative way with a barrage of facts, possibly even ad hominem attacks, where the goal is just to be right, foregoing maximum civility. It turns out that groups of people have been engaging in something called deep canvassing for years now. Deep canvassing is a method of talking to strangers in an emphatic way to try and shift their beliefs. Invidivuals such as Anthony Magnabosco have also done something similar through street epistemology where the end goal is the same with minor nuances.

To me, the discovery and elucidation of these two concepts through multiple examples, analyses, and explanations, have made this book worth its weight in gold. I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone, especially those who are prone to be the argumentative type as I think they have the most to glean from it. The more polarizing our world is becoming, the more we need level-headed discourse where it’s not just about being right, but learning where our equals are coming from and learning about ourselves in the process.

  1. If I told you what it describes you would not be able to re-read that paragraph disregarding what I said. Reading that bit of text would never again have a vague sense of knowing where you are forced to second-guess your own knowledge. If you really want to know and ruin the pristineness of that paragraph then I invite you to either read the book or just google it. ↩︎

  2. The previous book, though I assume there are more, was Amor Towles' “A Gentleman in Moscow”, which I briefly discussed here↩︎

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