The Jenga tower of identity

Why do humans struggle so much with changing their mind, especially when it comes to the big questions of life?

In their book “Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction”, Philip E. Tetlock, ‎Dan Gardner present a metaphor that helps to answer that question. It has been on my mind ever since I read it.

The metaphor describes one’s identity as a large Jenga tower (you know, Jenga, the game). Each building block represents a personal value, opinion or idea about oneself or the world. If one of the building blocks in the higher sections of a Jenga tower is removed, chances are good that the damage will be limited to the higher sections, or that nothing will happen. However, the closer a building block is located near the bottom of a Jenga tower, the more likely it is that removing one single block would lead to a collapse of the whole thing.

If you see human identity as a Jenga tower consisting of dozens of ideas, attributes, opinions and values, the core elements are located in the lower parts of the tower. They are the foundation of one’s self. Removing one piece would possibly cause a complete collapse of the identity. And therefore, humans can change their mind about what to eat for dinner multiple times during the day, but they won’t just change their favorite sports team as easily, and they’d be even more hesitant to give up on their political ideology or religion. They can’t, because it would rob them of their identity.

This is why people, even when confronted with the strongest evidence one can imagine, don’t seem to get convinced and sometimes even start to defend their position more strongly than before. They experience an unarticulated fear that removing a block from the the Jenga-like tower representing their identity will lead to a complete collapse.

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