A friend recently sent me a link to the Edge World Question Center. Each year, Edge, a foundation that promotes inquiry into and discussion of intellectual, philosophical, artistic, and literary issues, poses a question to the world’s leading thinkers.
This year’s question, “What Have You Changed Your Mind About? Why?“, prompted many answers, to which I keep returning to explore.
It’s a good question, and one I’ve pondered often. Last March I asked, “Since when is changing your mind a bad thing?“:
There is no greater insult in America today than “flip-flopper”, a label anyone with political ambitions is eager to avoid. It’s as if the act of changing one’s mind as the result of reasoned self-reflection is somehow as shameful, as, say, lying about sex with an intern, rather than a mark of maturity and character.
Certainly anyone who changes their views with the prevailing wind as a matter of political expediency deserves our condemnation, as do those who fail to keep their promises, both political and otherwise.
But as a mediator I have to ask, what’s so great about consistency anyway? If you’re going in the wrong direction, what’s the problem with heading in a better one? When exactly did it get to be a bad thing to change your mind?
Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, in considering the question Edge posed, had this to say as he contemplated his own change of mind:
When a politician changes his mind, he is a ‘flip-flopper.’ Politicians will do almost anything to disown the virtue — as some of us might see it — of flexibility. Margaret Thatcher said, “The lady is not for turning.” Tony Blair said, “I don’t have a reverse gear.” Leading Democratic Presidential candidates, whose original decision to vote in favour of invading Iraq had been based on information believed in good faith but now known to be false, still stand by their earlier error for fear of the dread accusation: ‘flip-flopper’. How very different is the world of science. Scientists actually gain kudos through changing their minds. If a scientist cannot come up with an example where he has changed his mind during his career, he is hidebound, rigid, inflexible, dogmatic! It is not really all that paradoxical, when you think about it further, that prestige in politics and science should push in opposite directions.
What about you? Are you ready to exercise your reverse gear? Or, like Blair, do you deny owning one?
What have you changed your mind about?