Science Solitaire

[Science Solitaire] Arguments are our antidote to our naturally lazy brains

Maria Isabel Garcia

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[Science Solitaire] Arguments are our antidote to our naturally lazy brains

David Castuciano

Listening and arguing with others is a healthy human endeavor. It just has a bad rap because of the rigged-to-fail arguments that inhabit the way politics is done in many societies, including ours.

What one fact would you wanted to have learned as early as you could? I asked this of myself and my two closest friends as we spent a few days together in the forest. One of them, “M” said, and I agree, that we should have learned natural history very early – not just the names of trees and animals but how we are connected to all there is in nature. The other one, “C,” said something about how we can connect with other people’s minds and that was really fascinating. Me, I would have wanted to learn early on that human brains are naturally lazy.

By “naturally lazy”, I do not mean that they are not wired to work. Brains are always working even if you are sleeping and daydreaming (in fact daydreaming plays a big role in your creativity or being inspired). By “naturally lazy,” I mean that when faced with a lot of information where you have to decide what to give in to, your own brain will always find the reasoning that will be easily acceptable to you, in terms of your comfort level and loyalty to a belief in someone or a group, or a concept. It will find the easiest and quickest way for you to arrive at a judgement even if that reasoning is wrong or not good enough. 

That is laziness because that is one of the shortcuts that our brains make when faced with conflicting information we have to make sense of. It is called a “confirmation bias.”  It is a shortcut and yes, it is natural. Natural does not necessarily mean it is good. Remember, cigarettes and cancer are natural.

I would have wanted to have known even as a child that our brains are naturally lazy so that I could have been as enthusiastic in checking my own enthusiasm or loyalty to a belief or opinion with other views. But my traditional early schooling was overwhelmingly filled with exercises on building confidence and religion.

Luckily, there was a unique role that my wonderful and funny Dad played in my life. Whatever discovery I shared with him, he will say “good job” but would always have a counterpoint (most often funny) which would make me even more curious as to how far and big anything could go. He was my first and habitual counterpoint to every response I had with an encounter with the world. 

When I was 11, for reasons outside my control, I was made to wait for him alone late at night in our garage entrance with my graduation medals pinned on me. People made me believe at that point that I was really smart to have all those medals. But when he saw me, he just said, “Why do you look like General Patton?”  And because I knew him to be that way, I replied, “Who is General Patton?” and he said, “Hmm, all those medals and you don’t know who he is. Come and let us have ice cream together and I will tell you.” 

That time with Dad really struck me. I really had a visceral feeling of being very bored with my own feeling of accomplishment and was really seething with interest to passionately learn more about others and the world by “arguing” with others. Up to now, I am extremely bored when I am made to think about my own accomplishments. 

This is why listening and arguing with others is a healthy human endeavor. It just has a bad rap because of the rigged-to-fail arguments that inhabit the way politics is done in many societies, including ours. Most argue only from authority, positions of power or entitlement and not from data/facts/evidence. If the Catholic Church in 1633 was able to make the Sun shift places with the earth by sheer authority, Galileo would not have won the argument. But he did not win it because he had a cool double name and gadget (telescope), but because the data/fact was evident from the tool he used and the insight he arrived at.  If the Church wanted to dislodge Galileo’s data that it is the Earth that revolved around the Sun, they should have come up with data to upturn the evidence of Galileo. Just citing “blasphemy” and “sacred” text in those times versus data clearly shows how naturally lazy human brains are and how much power they yield together with other lazy brains. 

Modern organizations routinely fall into confirmation bias when they become too loyal to their brand or their big idea that they cannot see anything else but that. That is why the best outcomes come from collaborations which are filled with arguments to thresh out inconsistencies and to calibrate judgements. Arguing with yourself alone or your “minions” throughout anything maybe the most ego-enhancing drill but it does not get you anywhere new and useful because you are just running in place. 

Knowing we are naturally lazy helps us build in a “kick-start” mechanism to check ourselves when we believe in ourselves too much.  It will be painful for sure to admit that you may be wrong based on evidence but when this happens, I suggest you think “Galileo.” In 1992, the Catholic Church admitted Galileo was right. As if the planets would dance differently by that admission. The sooner you get a clear-headed view about what is real and evident, the sooner you can get a working plan together – for a better project, a better organization, a better you. –

Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, “Science Solitaire” and “Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire.” You can reach her at

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