Why You Think You’re Right Even If You’re Wrong — TEDx PSU Talk by Julia Galef

Why You Think You’re Right – Even If You’re Wrong

TEDx PSU Talk by Julia Galef

Have you ever insisted on doing or saying something when you knew that it might not be right? Or perhaps you really did believe it to be right, but it was then proven that you were, indeed, wrong.

How does this happen? Is there some unconscious factor in play that creates these circumstances? As it turns out, there is and Julia Galef explains why in a very interesting TEDxTalk.

Julia Galef

Co-founder of the Center for Applied Rationality, Julia believes that “perspective is everything—especially when it comes to examining our beliefs.” In her talk she speaks of a “soldier” and a “scout” as metaphors to explain her theory.

Julia asks, “Are you a “soldier,” prone to defending your viewpoint at all costs — or a “scout,” spurred by curiosity?” She then examines the motivations behind these two mindsets and how they shape the way we interpret information. Interwoven in her talk is a compelling history lesson from 19th-century France that, in and of itself is great fun.

Imagine if you will that you are a “soldier” in the heat of battle with elevated adrenaline, actions stemming from deeply ingrained reflexes rooted in the need to protect yourself, your country and to defeat the enemy. And, if you find yourself as a “scout” in that same battle, you have a very different role. It is not your job to attack or defend; it is to understand. Mapping the terrain and identifying potential obstacles is your job. Above all, the “scout” wants to know what’s really there.

Julia argues that having good judgment, making accurate predictions and good decisions is mostly about your mindset.

She illustrates her theory with a story about an innocuous-looking piece of paper that launched one of the biggest political scandals in history. Known as The Dreyfus Affair, a group of officers was determined to find a fellow officer guilty of treason and did everything they could to convince themselves of this fact. Julia calls this “motivated reasoning,” a phenomenon in which our unconscious motivations, desires and fears shape the way we interpret information. And in this case a “soldier” mindset.

She also notes that Dreyfus was the only Jewish officer of that rank in the French Army that was at that time highly anti-Semitic. However, one of the officers, a man named Picquart who had the same prejudices as those who convicted Dreyfus, was motivated to find the truth. He had, according to Julia, “scout” mindset. The drive not to make one idea win or another lose, but just to see what really was there as honestly and accurately as possible, even if it was not pretty, convenient or pleasant. I will let you read the conclusion of the story yourself.

Julia continues to study the cluster of traits found in “scouts” that predict good judgment. “And they are not about how smart you are or about how much you know,” she adds. “They don’t correlate very much with IQ at all, but are about how you feel.”

She ends her talk with the following questions: “When your steadfast opinions are tested, “What do you most yearn for? Do you yearn to defend your own beliefs or do you yearn to see the world as clearly as you possibly can?”

And I ask: Are you a “soldier” or are you a “scout?”

Wait A Minute – I Have To Take This Call

Have you even been engaged in deep conversation with a friend when their cell phone rang and you were “put on hold?” Or, perhaps you were in the midst of an important business discussion when a text was received and you were “cut off” in mid-sentence? I’ll bet that didn’t feel good!

How can we balance the extraordinary advances and benefits of digital technology in our lives without sacrificing the irreplaceable and powerful rewards of in-person human interaction and conversation?


Not being a slave to digital technology is one way! Each individual deserves your full attention. For all its significant benefits, it is important not to let technology own you. Cell phones especially can:

  • Distract attention and diminish the quality of conversation.
  • Lack the spontaneity of real-time, in-person conversations.
  • Diminish the quality, connection and commitment of each conversation.
  • Enable us to “hide” from each other by avoiding a person, a problem or a situation.
  • Preclude substantive discussions.
  • Pressure us to always be connected or available to others.
  • Enable people to seemingly be connected but, in reality, they are “alone.”

We all have experienced unpleasant, rude behavior by people on their cell phones. Talking loudly in public. Making or answering calls or texts during conversations or meals. Holding up lines while on the phone. I’m sure you have your own stories.

While spotlighting a few challenges inherent with digital technology, I acknowledge and appreciate the convenience of mobile phones, texting and emails in our lives. A few ways include:

  • Managing logistics and plans easily and quickly.
  • Leaving messages from anywhere, at any time.
  • Sending a virtual “high-five” or an encouraging message.
  • Finding directions and information while on the move, but not while driving.
  • Uniting us easily and quickly with simple messages and answers.
  • Getting simple answers and help fast.

Since we live with great technological advances, it’s important that we understand how to utilize all of the benefits. However, it’s critical to acknowledge how our human interaction and productivity can be negatively impacted. It does require a conscious effort to balance the help and intrusions of digital technology, and the choice is yours to make!

Business gets done by people’s productivity, commitment and relationships, often facilitated by technology. Scheduling meetings. Handling emergencies. Conference calls. However, digital devices often interrupt and distract the real-time, in-person collaboration and engagement needed for having quality conversations and building trust.

Without face-to-face communication, genuine connection, shared experience and spontaneous chats, we lack the substantive conversations that help us learn and clarify our thinking. In-person conversation is an important way of being with each other and includes rich non-verbal messages that build trust, connection, productivity, creativity and understanding.

Our need for human contact is essential and digital technology can foster superficial connectivity, alienation and isolation in a virtual world. Technology will not improve the quality of our lives if we cannot successfully navigate being bombarded with data and disconnected from one another. As we expect more from digital technology, we must guard against expecting less from each other.