My new favorite book -- the latest in a countless (almost) series of favorites -- is Julia Galef's The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don't.
Galef's key concept is the distinction between a Solider and Scout mindset. This chart shows basic differences between them.
In an initial chapter, Galef talks about motivated reasoning, the basis for a Soldier mindset.
The tricky thing about motivated reasoning is that even though it's easy to spot in other people, it doesn't feel like motivated reasoning from the inside. When we reason, it feels like we're being objective. Fair-minded. Dispassionately evaluating the facts.
Beneath the surface of our conscious awareness, however, it's as if we're soldiers, defending our beliefs against threatening evidence.
In fact, the metaphor of of reasoning as a kind of defensive combat is baked right into the English language, so much so that it's difficult to speak about reasoning at all without using militaristic language.
We talk about our beliefs as if they're military positions, or even fortresses, built to resist attack. Beliefs can be deep-rooted, well-grounded, built on fact, and backed up by arguments. They rest on solid foundations.
We might hold a firm conviction or a strong opinion, be secure in our beliefs or have unshakeable faith in something.
Arguments are either forms of attack or forms of defense. If we're not careful, someone might poke holes in our logic or shoot down our ideas. We might encounter a knock-down argument against something we believe.
...And if we do change our minds? That's surrender. If a fact is inescapable, we might admit, grant, or allow it, as if we're letting it inside our walls.
If we realize our position is indefensible, we might abandon it, give it up, or concede a point, as if we're ceding ground in a battle.
The Scout mindset is much more appealing to those who value truth.
If directionally motivated reasoning is like being a soldier fighting off threatening evidence, accuracy motivated reasoning is like being a scout forming a map of the strategic landscape.
What's beyond that next hill? Is that a bridge over the river or are my eyes deceiving me? Where are the dangers, the shortcuts, the opportunities? What areas do I need more information about? How reliable is my intel?
The scout isn't indifferent. A scout might hope to learn that the path is safe, that the other side is weak, or that there's a bridge conveniently located where his forces need to cross the river.
But above all, he wants to learn what's really there, not fool himself into drawing a bridge on his map where there isn't one in real life. Being in scout mindset means wanting your "map" -- your perception of yourself and the world -- to be as accurate as possible.
Of course, all maps are imperfect simplifications of reality, as a scout well knows. Striving for an accurate map means being aware of the limits of your understanding, keeping track of the regions of your map that are especially sketchy or possibly wrong.
And it means always being open to changing your mind in response to new information. In scout mindset, there's no such thing as a "threat" to your beliefs.
If you find out you were wrong about something, great -- you've improved your map, and that can only help you.
Obviously we here at the Church of the Churchless (OK, me, since I'm the only one writing this) favor the Scout mindset.
Changing your mind about religion or spirituality is a great thing to do. Being skeptical of beliefs lacking demonstrable evidence is the way to go. Choosing the solitary way of truth over communal falsehoods is what should be done.
Here's a video of Julia Galef delivering a TEDx talk on this subject.