Deric Hollings

# What Would it Take to Change Your Mind?

When using Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I assist clients with the disputation of irrational beliefs which cause unpleasant emotional, sensory, and behavioral consequences. This isn’t a comfortable process and it has its limits.

One limiting factor is an individual’s willingness to consider alternative beliefs. Here, I’m not discussing one’s *ability* to do so, though the act of a person considering new evidence and applying personal *choice* to change one’s mind.

Rather than addressing some imprecise concept, it may be useful to provide a concrete example to illustrate my point. For this blogpost, I’ll discuss the original 7 World Trade Center which was a 47-story tall building that was destroyed in the September 11 attacks in 2001.

Colloquially known as “Building 7,” the structure fell into its own footprint on September 11, 2001 (9/11), which is a subject of controversy for many people. Speculation about what actually occurred has been attributed to “conspiracy theory.”

Generally speaking, people express doubt about how a burning building could fall in a controlled demolition-style manner without other factors facilitating the collapse (i.e., explosives). According to the official government report:

Global collapse occurred as the entire building above the buckled region moved downward as a single unit. This was a fire-induced progressive collapse, also known as disproportionate collapse, which is defined as the spread of local damage, from an initiating event, from element to element, eventually resulting in the collapse of an entire structure, or a disproportionately large part of it.

This “extraordinary event” scenario is refuted by one source which claims that the “probable collapse sequence is physically impossible as well as incoherent.” Personally, I have no idea what actually occurred with Building 7.

Throughout my life, and in person and via video, I’ve witnessed many structures burn. The only one I’ve observed fall into its own footprint without the influence of explosives occurred on 9/11.

Whereas I’m agnostic regarding the matter, some people adamantly claim to *know* that the official report is false. Concerning such people, I appreciate how one source urges:

If you are going to form an intellectually honest opinion on the collapse of World Trade Center Building 7 then by all means read the information provided by Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, and others. But intellectual honesty requires knowledge of other positions before you can reject them.

What would it take to change your mind when faced with conflicting evidence? Enter, Bayes’ theorem, named after Thomas Bayes, which one source suggests is a tool which “describes the probability of an event, based on prior knowledge of conditions that might be related to the event.”

This is accomplished through a mathematical formula. Hold on, reader, don’t run away. I, too, become skittish in regards to my beliefs about math. In fact, I don’t comprehend Bayes’ theorem well enough that I could teach a course on it—let alone use it with any level of proficiency.

Nevertheless, I offer that if the reader considers there are methods available—other than merely going with one’s instinct or simply believing something, because someone told you it was true—there may be utility in understanding how to approach a topic using logic and reason.

According to one source, Bayes’ theorem “can be used to determine how the probability of an event occurring may be affected by hypothetical new information, supposing the new information will turn out to be true.”

In order to consider the Building 7 issue, let’s review Bayes’ formula. Per one source:

P(A|B) = __P(A) P(B|A)__

P(B)

Which tells us: how often A happens *given that B happens*, written P(A|B),

When we know: how often B happens *given that A happens*, written P(B|A)

and how likely A is on its own, written P(A)

and how likely B is on its own, written P(B)

Admittedly, I see this equation and my mind starts wandering in another direction. Others look at the formula and can comprehend how to use it when receiving additional information.

Another way of writing Bayes’ theorem is to replace the variables with those related to probability, hypothesis, and evidence:

P(*H*|*E*) = __P(____H____) P(____E____|____H____)__

P(*E*)

P = probability

H = hypothesis

E = evidence

In this regard, my mind is still actively resisting any consideration of Bayes’ theorem. Perhaps the “mathematics disorder” with which I was diagnosed has something to do with how difficult it is to comprehend use of the theorem.

Therefore, I will rely heavily on one source which addresses Building 7 as follows:

As an example, we can evaluate the evidence for a hypothesis that most readers will consider an implausible conspiracy theory: that the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were brought down not by the hijacked planes that crashed into them but by demolition charges placed in advance, with the objective of bringing about a “new Pearl Harbour” in the form of a catastrophic event that would provoke the US into asserting military dominance. We’ll call the two alternative hypotheses for the cause of the collapses – plane crashes, planned demolitions – H1and H2 respectively. The proponents of this hypothesis attach great importance to the observation that a nearby smaller tower (Building 7), collapsed several hours after the Twin Towers for reasons that are not obvious to non-experts. I have no expertise in structural engineering, but I’m prepared to go along with their assessment that the collapse of a nearby smaller tower has low probability given H1. However I also assess that the probability of this observation given H2 is equally low. If the planners’ objective in destroying the Twin Towers was to create a catastrophic event, why would they have planned to demolish a nearby smaller tower several hours later, with the risk of giving away the whole operation? For the sake of argument, I’ll put a value of 0.05 on both these likelihoods. Note that it doesn’t matter whether the observation is stated as “collapse of a nearby tower” for which the likelihoods of H1 and H2 are both 0.05, or as “collapse of Building 7” for which (if there were five such buildings all equally unlikely to collapse) the likelihoods of H1 and H2 would both be 0.01. For inference, all that matters is the ratio of the likelihoods of H1 and H2 given this observation. If this ratio is 1, the weight of evidence favouring H1 over H2 is zero.

The conditional probabilities in this example are my subjective judgements. I make no apology for this; the logic of probability calculus says that you can’t evaluate evidence without making these subjective judgements, that these subjective judgements must obey the rules of probability theory, and that any other way of evaluating evidence violates axioms of logical consistency. If your assessment of these conditional probabilities differs from mine, that’s not a problem as long as you can explain your assessments of these probabilities in a way that makes sense to others. The general point on which I think most readers will agree is that although the collapse of a nearby smaller tower would not have been predicted from H1, it would not have been predicted from H2 either. The likelihood of a hypothesis given an observation measures how well the hypothesis would have predicted that observation.

We can see from this example that to evaluate the evidence favouring H1 over H2, you have to assess, for each hypothesis in turn, what you would expect to observe if that hypothesis were true. Like a detective solving a murder, you have to “speculate”, for each possible suspect, how the crime would have been carried out if that individual were the perpetrator. This requirement is imposed by the logic of probability calculus: complying with it does not imply that you are a “conspiracy theorist”. The principle of evaluating how the data could have been generated under alternative hypotheses applies in many other fields: for instance, medical diagnosis, historical investigation, and intelligence analysis. A CIA manual on intelligence analysis sets out a procedure for ‘analysis of competing hypotheses’ which ‘demands that analysts explicitly identify all the reasonable alternative hypotheses, then array the evidence against each hypothesis – rather than evaluate the plausibility of each hypothesis one at a time.’ I am not trying to tell people who are expert in these professions that they don’t know how to evaluate evidence. However it can still be useful to work through the formal framework of probability calculus to identify when intuition is misleading. For instance, where two analysts evaluating the same observations disagree on the weight of evidence, working through the calculation will identify where their assumptions differ, and how the evaluation of evidence depends on these assumptions.

Since I don’t understand Bayes’ theorem well enough to employ it—let alone explain it—with a relatively precise level of competency, the reader may wonder why I introduced it in the first place. I have a simple enough answer to this question.

I understand there are a great many things I don’t understand. Ignorance is defined as the lack of knowledge or information, and it’s nothing for which I’m ashamed.

I simply don’t know what I don’t know. Once, I was convinced that the United States government was not only partially responsible for 9/11, I thought I *knew* that government actors helped facilitate the events that led to the demolition of Building 7.

While this belief isn’t entirely in the realm of impossibility, I now consider it as little more than a hypothesis—a supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation. Moreover, I don’t dedicate much time to proving or disproving my hunch.

So, what did it take to change my mind from where I once was to where I currently stand in regards to this matter? At some point, I decided that there may never be a suitable answer to the questions I maintain about 9/11 as a whole.

Rather than disturbing myself with beliefs about unavailable information, I’d rather devote my resources (i.e., time, attention, etc.) to matters which impact me and others within my sphere of influence. As an example, I’m currently writing this post with hopes it may influence the reader.

I changed my mind by acknowledging truth—I simply don’t have control over most matters in life and with the little time I have left on this Earth, I don’t care enough to bother myself with beliefs about the events of 9/11. With that, I moved from unverifiable claims to an agnostic perspective.

Now, I ask the reader, what would it take to change your mind—about anything? Do you need the complexity of a complicated formula such as Bayes’ theorem?

Alternatively, does a shorter path to unconditional acceptance appeal to you? If neither of these methods is acceptable, how do you go about changing your mind?

If you’re someone who remains inflexible in regards to information about any given topic, opting rather to disturb yourself with unhelpful beliefs while refusing to consider new evidence, does this method of interfacing with yourself, others, and the world serve you well?

If not, I may be able to help. (No worries, I won’t be using Bayes’ theorem in our sessions, although I appreciate that it exists nonetheless.)

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to *feel* better, I want to help you *get* better!

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW

References:

AP Archive. (2015, July 21). Building weakened by WTC attack collapses [Video]. *YouTube*. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/7ZiMG84hws0?si=Zy26K1OkcF08ZPOH

Cohen, A. (2017, August 1). World Trade Center 7 report puts 9/11 conspiracy theory to rest. *Popular Mechanics*. Retrieved from https://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/design/a3524/4278874/

Hayes, A. (2023, August 10). Bayes’ theorem: What it is, the formula, and examples. *Investopedia*. Retrieved from https://www.investopedia.com/terms/b/bayes-theorem.asp

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National Institute of Standards and Technology. (2008, November). Final report on the collapse of World Trade Center Building 7. *U.S. Department of Commerce*. Retrieved from https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/GOVPUB-C13-4d4c17460292ee57ef313f6491fa8d1e/pdf/GOVPUB-C13-4d4c17460292ee57ef313f6491fa8d1e.pdf

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