The Question, and the Moment that follows

You only care about the truth if you will jettison your present beliefs if you find it.

Consider any proposition that you believe is true. Any proposition at all. For example...

Apple products are superior to Microsoft products.
Human carbon emissions are increasing global temperatures.
Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
Herbal remedies are more effective than pharmaceuticals.
Lower tax rates spur social wellbeing and development.
Vaccines cause autism.

You get the idea. These are just examples. Maybe, instead, you believe the opposite of the above statements. That’s fine.

All that we are looking for is a declaration, "I believe that..."

Now, the Question: What would it take to prove to you that your belief is wrong?

The moment that follows the Question is crucial.

If the Question leaves you utterly perplexed, what is the nature of your belief? What does it mean if you cannot even imagine or conceive of a shred of evidence that would force you to reevaluate your position? If you cannot hypothesize the existence of a compelling counterargument, have you even considered that contrary evidence might exist? Does dumbfounded confusion betray the likelihood that alternative ways of thinking have not been honestly considered?

Suppose you respond to the Question with a ready list of hypothetical proofs that, if showed, would admittedly force you to reconsider your convictions (and renegotiate your understanding). Such a response suggests some degree of intentional, constructive self-criticism. The stated belief, in this case, is a tentative assent to the truth, an openness to revisit the belief if additional evidence emerges.

How can we work to overcome our biases and mental blind spots? We can use this falsifiability criterion as an intentional heuristic. Every time you hear yourself declare a proposition, use your next breath to ask, "Now, what it would take to change my mind? What kind of evidence would demand my reevaluation?"

Over the last few years, amid debates about vaccines, conspiracy theories, racial injustice, religion and populism, I have found this Question to be the most helpful anchor for tough conversations. Regardless of what we are discussing specifically, if we can both enter a dialogue by offering what we "need" in terms of new evidence, then we can have a discussion about the evidence. We can learn together and from one another.

If your belief is unquestionable and unassailable because it transcends evidence — that is, if you can't hypothesize that contrary evidence could even exist — there is obviously no point at all in us having a debate. Instead, we need to explore the nature of ideological commitments that defy falsification. How do you defend your ideological commitment against an opposing, transcendent belief? Or: what makes your belief, which doesn't need to refer to evidence, "more true" than any other belief that doesn't need to refer to evidence?

I suspect the only remedy to dialectic gridlock is to not insist on proving your point at the expense of learning from the counterarguments. When questioning is muted, when critical inquiry is brushed off, and when only the established answer will suffice, then belief morphs into dogma. And delusion.

Articulating what it would take to change your mind does not mean you lack commitment to the truth. It means you value the truth above and beyond your current understanding.

If you are not willing to question what you believe, then it would seem that your beliefs are more important to you than the truth itself.