I know someone who swears that (his preferred) academics and the people at Popular Mechanics are more credible than "conspiracy theorists", which is to say anyone who says something he doesn't like. When he hears something he doesn't like, he compares the source to the makers of Ancient Aliens, and backstabs the speaker claiming they are believers of Ancient Aliens (false). When presented with scientific evidence and logical reasoning, he slams it as being conspiracy theories, inventions of loonies, and nonsense like Ancient Aliens. Is there any way to pry open this person's closed mind? This person is by the way an academic.

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    This is not only ambiguous but totally open-ended -- is there any chance you might be able to specify your question a bit further, maybe develop the background and motivations for the concern a little more? – Joseph Weissman Dec 23 '12 at 15:19
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    It is hard to tell what you are asking. Maybe you can present some "scientific evidence" that he is skeptical of, for instance? In particular, it is not obvious from what you have said that it is you and not he who has misjudged the quality of the evidence, and therefore also hard to tell whether it is your mind or his which is open to the wrong degree, and therefore hard to give quality advice. Even assuming that this is a philosophical question, which I am not sure about at the moment--but perhaps you are asking to identify the fallacies he's engaging in? – Rex Kerr Dec 23 '12 at 19:14
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    What is "Popular Mechanics"? – DBK Dec 23 '12 at 19:30
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    @DBK It is a magazine which published a rather exhaustive rebuttal of the various 9/11 conspiracy theories. (Other than that I'm unclear what the relationship to the question might be.) – Joseph Weissman Dec 23 '12 at 20:08
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    Could it be possible that what you are trying to convince him of is, in fact, a conspiracy theory? – SAHornickel Dec 24 '12 at 2:44

When presented with scientific evidence and logical reasoning, he slams it as being conspiracy theories, inventions of loonies, and nonsense like Ancient Aliens. Is there any way to pry open this person's closed mind?

Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance can account when belief is held with lack of, in spite of or against reason and evidence. The more important a particular belief is to us, the more strongly we will ignore or reject evidence suggesting we are wrong. There are beliefs central to what gives many people meaning and purpose in life. This type of belief will be defended at all costs. If we've been deluded long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the delusion. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The delusion has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we've been taken.

But it is unlikely that one isolated believer could withstand disconfirming evidence. The individual believer must have social support. If the believer is a member of a group of convinced persons who can support one another, the belief may be maintained and the believers may attempt to proselytize or persuade nonmembers that the belief is correct. Therefore, perhaps the only "way to pry open this person's closed mind" is his isolation among people with other thoughts, and restriction of communication with the old ideas.

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    Note also that you can get a large fraction of people to believe pretty much anything by isolating them and restricting their communication; this is commonly called "brainwashing" if done to excess. – Rex Kerr Dec 23 '12 at 21:55
  • Indeed it is important! I'm just pointing out that there is not much room for reason in there; on the one side people self-reinforce and are immune, and on the other you're brainwashing. – Rex Kerr Dec 24 '12 at 0:34
  • Read a little about cults and how they get their members to do and believe weird things. Call it whatever you want, but given that (a) cults exist, (b) they have weird social behaviors, and (c) members believe and do weird stuff, you are obligated to conclude that something cognitively powerful is going on which has essentially zero to do with truth. Call it whatever you want. Saying "here's mainline research on how to manipulate people to believe or not believe things!" and then saying "manipulation is not part of accepted mainline science" is a bit, um, hard to reconcile? – Rex Kerr Dec 24 '12 at 12:25
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    I agree with your characterization; I think that's what the best research/analysis of the situation shows. That said, I do not think all forms of manipulation are equal; some are substantially more coercive and harmful than others. There is hopefully some space between effectively forcing your ideas on someone and enabling someone to break free of other ideas forced on them. – Rex Kerr Dec 24 '12 at 18:43
  • Please do avoid vandalizing your own contributions! I'm not looking forward to reverting all of this. Keep in mind all posts on SE are Creative Commons. Please review the terms under which you are participating on this site if any of this is unclear. – Joseph Weissman Aug 8 '13 at 17:00

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