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Stories are More Persuasive than Data

March 16, 2021

People seem to be much more persuaded by stories than data. Both David Boaz and Will Wilkinson have commented that Ayn Rand stories have more of an effect on people that Hayek’s non-fiction. I remember Ralph Raico commenting in my IHS seminar that historical examples are much more persuasive to people that are studies or theoretical explanations.

I suspect that has to be with Ray Kurzweil’s insight that the human brain is a slow but massively parallel machine that does a great job of pattern recognition. Thus, analogies are more in tune with the way people think that is data analysis or abstract theories or proofs. People can analogize to stories (and history is a collection of stories that have the virtue of being true!) much more easily than they can analyze data or apply a theory.

I suspect that those sufficiently steeped in a discipline start seeing analogs and patterns where others don’t based on theories and principles that have become second nature. Likewise, it becomes easier be persuaded by data if you have become familiar enough with the data in question that you start seeing how it matches up (or doesn’t) with stories or theoretical predictions.

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