Are you a Rationalist or Senser? Most of us are not even aware there is more than one way to establish an opinion on a subject. In the same way that our sub-conscious (including the brain cells in your spine) never bothered to tell us that when we learned to ride a bike, we actually went left, when we turn the handle-bars slightly to the right. As a result, although the ability to ride a bike is almost universal, barely one person in a thousand is aware of this basic manoeuvre having the intuitive but incorrect opinion that to go right, you turn the handle bars to the right. (If you doubt this, ask any professional or just try it for yourself.)

And so it is with forming an opinion. Intuitively, we think there can only be one way and that we all do it the same way. But that is not the case and intuition strikes out again.

Middle ground
There are two opposite methods of forming an opinion and most of us use both, but with a strong leaning one way or the other. The most common method, the ‘natural’ method if you like, is when we use what we see, hear and feel. Those who use only their senses are at one end and we could reasonably call this a ‘senser’ one who uses his or her five senses almost exclusively and generally accepts the validity of the ‘sixth sense’ or intuition.

The second common method is the attention to facts variety, one who will only look at proven facts, established and repeatable evidence and has no room for opinions on any subject that cannot be substantiated with evidence. We would reasonably call this person a ‘rationalist’.

Most people are in the middle, leaning one way or the other.

Despite the high visibility of stage magicians demonstrating how easily our senses are fooled, most of us still rely on them to provide us with the evidence we need to form an opinion. To make matters worse, in the absence of input from our five real senses, we rely upon intuition, the notoriously inaccurate guess, made when our brains are in an information starved state.

Justification for using our senses abound, ‘seeing is believing’ ‘if you can touch it, it’s real’ etc., and they are just a couple of the reassurances we give ourselves, despite knowing full well that our senses can be so easily deceived.

Add to that the fact that the information provided by our eyes is nothing more than a small fraction of what is in front of us, a series of snapshots of the world that our brains stitch together to create a picture of what we ‘see’. Worse, out brains often create images that are not even there in an attempt to interpret the world for us.  Another fine example of what our sub-conscious brain never bothers to tell us about, taking care of business and leaving us with the illusion of being in control.

However, the king of the five senses is hearing. True Sensers accept a very large part of what they hear from trusted sources, as statements of fact that require no checking. We have a long evolutionary trail of trusting what we hear from the lips of elders. It is also called ‘faith’ in many quarters and which is generally lauded as a desirable and admirable trait.

The other method used is reliable, deniable, confirmed, repeatable evidence citing sources than can be checked for accuracy. Obviously this method of forming an opinion requires a certain amount of effort and often turns up evidence that contradicts our preconceived notions.

The rationalist will sift the evidence, read up on the subject, look for the conflicting arguments and evaluate not only the arguments themselves but the qualifications of the source of the information and any evidence of a conflict of interest.

Rationalist: a person who bases their opinions and actions on reason and knowledge rather than on religious belief or emotional response.

This too has an evolutionary trail when some survived the less than accurate words of wisdom heard around the campfire and passed on this skepticism to their progeny. While research sounds like a lot of work, rationalists generally enjoy the chase and like any tradesman, get faster with practice.

While both methods produce an opinion, they have completely different ownership rules.

Rationalists don’t ‘own’ the opinions they hold, they tend to think of it more like a rental or lease arrangement and will upgrade or even change to a better model as soon as more relevant evidence comes to hand. Have nothing invested in the opinion, rationalists don’t hold their opinions to be especially valuable.

On the other hand, sensers, are like a potter, shaping their opinion in this most tactile way, keen to show off their work but not to see it destroyed. They do not separate their identify from their opinion because they have formed their opinions entirely from their own minds. Their opinions become not only their property, they are the construct of their identify and understandably, an extremely valuable product.
To destroy their opinion is to destroy their valuable endeavours, to destroy, who they are, their identity. Anyone attempting to break, destroy or alter their valuable opinion will be hated for it. Nor will they accept an improved model. Telling any artist how they can improve their creation will be met with resentment at the very least and outright hostility a more likely scenario.

Change by argument
No one can win an argument with a true or extreme senser (even another senser). As sensers and rationalists use entirely different tools to build their opinions, there is no use supplying a senser with evidence tools. They simply are not interested in trying them out, view evidence tools with suspicion and have developed no skills in using them.

Sensers typically identify with one political party and are blind to both the good in opposing parties and failings in ‘their’ team. Every event in the political life of the ‘opposition’ is bad or at very least, only what ‘our team thought of first’. No matter what indiscretion is committed by members of ‘our team’, it can be ignored, excused or forgiven. The only news worth seeing is that which supports their team, aka confirmation bais.

These are opinions founded on seeing and hearing and jealously protected, seizing upon any scrap of evidence that appears to support their opinion. The senser is more likely to have respect for individuals who have wealth, power or position if the message matches their beliefs and have no respect for the opinion of anyone whose viewpoint counters their own.
They will vigorously undermine conflicting evidence or ignore it in an effort to avoid what they see as the embarrassment of being wrong.

When backed into a corner with irrefutable evidence placed in front of them, ‘sensers’ will find a reason to excuse, ameliorate or mitigate their previous position in order to avoid admitting they were wrong, which they perceive as a personal failure. They will not cooperate in changing their opinion unless absolutely forced to do so and even then, will recant immediately afterwards finding new reasons to explain why they were not wrong in the first place.

True sensers are often, but not exclusively, religious and naturally, those that are religious are absolutely sure their version of the deity is the correct one and the thousands of other versions are wrong.

The irony is, the person to which this applies, the senser, will never agree the description applies to him or her.

In The Middle
Most of us fall somewhere between extreme ‘sensers’ and  the extreme rationalists. For many people being shown to be wrong or being criticized in any way is fairly unpleasant but they are not above changing their minds if the evidence is overwhelming or comes from someone who has earned their respect. Unfortunately, there is a correlation between the depth of pain felt and the tendency to revert to the original position once the evidence has faded into memory.

To the right of middle ground, we find the scientists, the educated and the thinkers. They are the rationalists who are prepared to look at the evidence, even when it conflicts with what they hope is true, evidence that would back up their personal preferences and prejudices . Scientists are well represented here as they, by dint of their training, look for other explanations for every event, an improved take on every subject.

Some are also found in the extreme rationalists, the sub-set that find an almost masochistic pleasure in being found wrong. These are the people who seek out every opportunity to be proven wrong. They have a keen interest in getting the perspective of anyone who can speak with some conviction and present evidence of something that is contrary to what they had previously thought was true.

Only this will satisfy their desire for the truth or as near to it as they can be.

Right or Wrong?
The quirky, almost counter intuitive part of this is, the extreme sensers who refuse to admit being wrong, are wrong more than 50% of the time while the extreme rationalists are seldom wrong.

While most of fall somewhere in between, the reasoning is simple. The rationalists change their opinion immediately the facts change and adopt the latest move towards the truth or accuracy of any given situation as new information, both accurate and inaccurate are encountered. As they age, the more subjects they accumulate upon which their information is very accurate.

On the other hand, the ‘sensers’ move in the opposite direction as they age and take on more information (both accurate and inaccurate) failing to throw out the inaccurate and failing to amend already accumulated inaccurate information. The extreme senser is indignant and responds to the perceived ‘attack’ with justification, deflection and insults, utterly incapable of admitting their position is flawed, thus inhibiting their ability to accumulate knowledge. Eventually, the proportion of accurate assessments falls to the point where they are wrong about a very high percentage of matters.

It’s not intelligence
The tendency to resist admitting wrong is not an indicator of intelligence it’s a question of ownership. While it (difficulty in admitting an error) is more commonly found in dullards, it is not altogether uncommon in the (often opinionated) highly intelligent.

The difficulty for most of us is to make the effort to move towards respecting the evidence. The more one values evidence over intuition, over ‘faith’, the easier it will be to establish the truth.

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