Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Colorful backlit oak leaves

with 20 comments

During our sunny morning circuit of Balcones District Park on December 8th, which led to pictures of bright ash and cedar elm trees, I also noticed a few colorful oak trees along the trail. While I don’t know what species they were, I do know that their leaves looked richly colorful with the light passing through them and the blue sky beyond them. Notice the leaf miner trail in the second leaf.

▼        ●        ▼

A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.

We have all experienced the futility of trying to change a strong conviction, especially if the convinced person has some investment in his belief. We are familiar with the variety of ingenious defenses with which people protect their convictions, managing to keep them unscathed through the most devastating attacks.

But man’s resourcefulness goes beyond simply protecting a belief. Suppose an individual believes something with his whole heart; suppose further that he has a commitment to this belief, that he has taken irrevocable actions because of it; finally, suppose that he is presented with evidence, unequivocal and undeniable evidence, that his belief is wrong: what will happen? The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before.

So begins the 1956 book When Prophecy Fails, by Leon FestingerHenry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter. They studied cases in which a person felt inspired to issue a prophecy, only to have the prophecy fail to materialize at the predicted time. The “prophet” then typically rationalized and explained that the prophecy was valid but there had been a mistake of some sort in its interpretation. Nowadays we’d say the person “doubled down.”

While the cases in When Prophecy Fails are extreme, it’s a sad truth of human psychology that easily verifiable facts often fail to change people’s opinions.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 22, 2021 at 4:32 AM

20 Responses

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  1. Isn’t that bright and beautiful!! I love how the colors of the blue sky and the red/orange leaf complement each other so well. Nature puts the best color combos together doesn’t it. I do see the trail on the second leaf! 😀💙🧡


    December 22, 2021 at 8:08 AM

    • “All things bright and beautiful.” I’m big on bright color contrasts, as epitomized in these views of colorful backlit leaves against a clear blue sky. That’s the sort of trail I often travel in my photography .

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 22, 2021 at 8:26 AM

  2. The second leaf not only has its little miner, it looks as though something took a chomp out of the upper edge of the leaf: or a series of nibbles, more likely. The color combinations you’ve been showing are as pleasing to me as a dramatic landscape view of fall color. They remind me of something Hal Borland once wrote: “Woodland in full color is awesome as a forest fire, in magnitude at least, but a single tree [or leaf] is like a dancing tongue of flame to warm the heart.”


    December 22, 2021 at 8:15 AM

    • I was so impressed by the leaf I missed mentioning the section from When Prophecy Fails. As in 1956, so in 2021, I’m afraid. On the other hand, it’s somehow satisfying to see insights like the authors’ endure over time.


      December 22, 2021 at 8:26 AM

      • You said it about 2021, which after a decade drove me to offer sociopolitical commentary along with views from nature. Bobby Duffy’s recent Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything makes the same point as its predecessor 60 years earlier. Utopian ideologues don’t understand that human nature doesn’t readily change.

        Steve Schwartzman

        December 22, 2021 at 8:41 AM

    • Give me those dancing tongues of flame! This year Austin hasn’t provided much widespread fall foliage, even by Texas standards, so I’ve been focusing more than usual on individual leaves, of which other examples are in the posting pipeline. You could be right about a series of nibbles rather than a chomp.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 22, 2021 at 8:33 AM

  3. Great post as ever.
    A counterpoint to “When Prophecy fails”.
    John Maynard Keynes was once reproached for changing his view on something.
    He responded:
    “When the facts change, I change my opinions. What do you do sir?”

    This is more than a clever retort, it expresses an attitude to life.
    Happy holidays to you and Eve.

    Jack Durston

    December 22, 2021 at 9:35 AM

    • I’ve heard that Keynes quotation several times this year. Alas, facts often fail to govern people’s behavior. That’s as applicable now as in Keynes’s time—probably a lot more so.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 22, 2021 at 1:00 PM

    • And happy holidays to you guys, too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 22, 2021 at 8:52 PM

  4. Gee, I have no idea what that oak is. It looks like a few, except for the simplicity of the lobes. Most lobes have only a single tip. Only a few have branch into another tip.


    December 22, 2021 at 11:32 AM

    • I may try to match up outlines of leaf shapes in a book of Texas trees.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 22, 2021 at 3:30 PM

      • I tried that with the species that I am not familiar with, but got nothing. Two were close, but had lobed lobes. I suspect that it is one of those two.


        December 22, 2021 at 4:23 PM

  5. Leaves on fire. There are quite a number of oak leaf ID sites. And, of course, iNaturalist.

    Most prophecies do not come to pass, at least not when predicted. Early science fictions, like H.G. Wells, were fairly prescient. But as you mentioned above, human nature resists change or being incorrect despite strong evidence of the other. Many do not have open minds and will only see what supports their view so even beyond prophecy, just different opinions and facts are irrelevant.

    Steve Gingold

    December 22, 2021 at 3:31 PM

    • Jules Verne and H.G. Wells were probably the two best early science fiction writers. I read them both when I was a teenager.

      It’s discouraging when people refuse to acknowledge accurate data. Of course sometimes data is inaccurate or purposely fudged. I’ll have a link to an example of that in an upcoming post.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 22, 2021 at 6:58 PM

  6. I fully agree that it’s strange but common when evidence to the contrary will not change one’s mind. There are a few exceptions though, worth mentioning, when this might have a positive outcome, for instance an unreliable young person may become more trustworthy if someone he or she respects refuses to give up on that person. I have long given it up arguing with those who are true believers. Waste of time. I also cannot resist a see-through leaf 😉.

    Alessandra Chaves

    December 22, 2021 at 5:48 PM

    • John McWhorter, whom I’ve mentioned in several commentaries, agrees with you. He also takes the stance that there’s no point trying to argue with true believers. He goes further, saying that they’ll call him a racist (he who’s black!), but he shrugs it off and says that if we all shrug it off, the name callers will eventually see there’s no point to it and will stop doing it. I’m not as optimistic as he is on that point.

      We’re in accord about see-through leaves. I’ll have some more in the weeks ahead.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 22, 2021 at 7:03 PM

  7. I like the past-prime details in these!


    December 28, 2021 at 4:36 PM

  8. Wonderful colours Steve .. sure does look like a leaf miner


    December 29, 2021 at 1:53 PM

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