Andy Norman (@drandyno) directs the Humanism Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University, is the founder of CIRCE, and is the award-winning author of Mental Immunity: Infectious Ideas, Mind-Parasites, and the Search for a Better Way to Think.
What We Discuss with Andy Norman:
- Like our bodies, our minds and cultures have immune systems, and they can break down under certain conditions.
- How the root cause of contemporary divisiveness is a compromise of these mental and cultural immune systems.
- What it takes for certain ideologies to weaken our mental and cultural immune systems.
- Why, if you want to effectively persuade others, you must also show your willingness to be persuadable.
- How you can inoculate your mind (and help others protect themselves) against divisive ideologies to build the mental rigidity to withstand their influence.
- And much more…
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Just as our bodies have immune systems designed to fend off diseases that can incapacitate or kill us, our minds and cultures have similar processes in place to keep us safe from bad ideas and stop their spread to others. But when these mental and cultural immune systems break down, bad ideas run rampant — like a pandemic.
On this episode, we talk to philosopher Andy Norman about his book Mental Immunity: Infectious Ideas, Mind-Parasites, and the Search for a Better Way to Think. Here, we discuss how the root cause of contemporary divisiveness is a compromise of these mental and cultural immune systems, how demagogues use certain ideologies to weaken these immune systems and hijack the amygdalas of their followers to brainwash them into believing absurd ideas, and why applying indiscriminate critical thinking to the problem isn’t as effective as understanding how mental immune systems work, how they go awry, and what we can do to strengthen them in ourselves and others. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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Miss our conversation about the spooky nature of perception with world-renowned neuroscientist Beau Lotto? Catch up with episode 177: Beau Lotto | Why You See Differently When You Deviate here!
Thanks, Andy Norman!
If you enjoyed this session with Andy Norman, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resources from This Episode:
- Mental Immunity: Infectious Ideas, Mind-Parasites, and the Search for a Better Way to Think by Andy Norman | Amazon
- Cognitive Immunology Research Collaborative (CIRCE)
- Andy Norman | Website
- Andy Norman | Twitter
- Andy Norman | Instagram
- Andy Norman | Facebook
- The Cause of America’s Post-Truth Predicament by Andy Norman | Scientific American
- Andy Norman | The Joe Rogan Experience #1653
- What Is Cognitive Immunology? | Psychology Today
- Amygdala Hijack: When Emotion Takes Over | Healthline
- ‘Murder Hornets’ in the US: The Rush to Stop the Asian Giant Hornet | The New York Times
- ‘Killer Bees’ Approaching US Revive Crop Fears | The New York Times
- Functions of the Autonomic Nervous System | Boundless Anatomy and Physiology
- People Are Entitled to Their Own Opinions but Not to Their Own Facts | Quote Investigator
- How Social Media Works | Adam Carolla, Instagram
- Principle of Charity | Intelligent Speculation
- Sam Harris | Making Sense of the Present Tense | Jordan Harbinger
- The Steel Man Technique: How to Argue Better and Be More Persuasive | Constant Renewal
- On the Belief That Beliefs Should Change According to Evidence: Implications for Conspiratorial, Moral, Paranormal, Political, Religious, and Science Beliefs | Judgment and Decision Making
- Boosting Mental Immunity: Andy Norman | Future Hindsight
- The Storm Is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything by Mike Rothschild | Amazon
- Cults, Scams, and Conspiracies Starter Pack | Jordan Harbinger
- Debunking the Rothschild Conspiracy | Paul Salmons Associates
- Does the Bible Teach a Flat Earth? | The Good Book Blog
- Neil DeGrasse Tyson Convinces Anti-Vaxxer to Get Vaccinated, Encourages More Science Lessons | Portland Press Herald
- Kevin McCarthy’s Very Trumpy 8-Hour House Speech | Time
- What FBI’s Surveillance of Martin Luther King Gave History | Time
- Gay Frogs (Alex Jones REMIX) | Placeboing
- DJT’s I Got It Done REMIX Ft. LIL KC | The Remix Bros
590: Andy Norman | The Search for a Better Way to Think
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Special thanks to our sponsor Glenfiddich single malt scotch whisky. For the next few weeks and the previous few, you've heard me talk about Glenfiddich, the highly recognizable stag icon that's now on our show art. They've got a new body of work that aims to challenge the traditional notions, commonly portrayed in culture, of what it means to be wealthy and live a life of riches. Glenfiddich believes that beyond the material, a life of wealth and riches is about family, community, values, fulfilling work. These are the values that led Glenfiddich to become the world's leading single malt scotch whisky. This week's guest, Andy Norman, exemplifies these values and you'll find out why later on in the episode. More from our partners at Glenfiddich later in the show.
[00:00:34] Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:37] Andy Norman: It's like active listening, right? Where you say, "Okay, this is what I hear you saying. Am I getting you? Do I really understand you?" You don't have any right to start tearing something down until you've really done the hard work of understanding it. And I see a whole lot in our culture right now where people are so eager to tear things down before understanding it. And it's really, really not serving our culture well. It's one thing that's tearing America apart right now.
[00:01:00] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people. We have in-depth conversations with people at the top of their game, astronauts and entrepreneurs, spies and psychologists, even the occasional journalist turned poker champion, drug trafficker, or economic hitman. Each episode turns our guests' wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better critical thinker.
[00:01:28] If you're new to the show, or you're looking for a handy way to tell your friends about the show, we've got these episode starter packs, which I recommend, of course. These are collections of top episodes organized by topic. That'll help new listeners get a taste of everything we do here on the show. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start to get started or to help somebody else get started. And you can find these on Spotify as well, aside from the website.
[00:01:50] Today, people have been manipulated to think beliefs need change in response to evidence, making us more susceptible to conspiracy theories, science denial, extremism of all kinds. Motivated reasoning, preconceived beliefs, agenda, and other cognitive biases are always at play here. Now in today's world, closed-mindedness can get rebranded almost as a virtue when you're not supposed to question something. But just as physical health is not personal because we live in herds, cognitive health is also subject to these same demands. Many ideologies, especially rigid ones, weaken our mental immune system. And today, we'll be talking about a prospective antidote to this and how to strengthen our mental immune systems. So bad ideas and ideologies are slower to take root. Mental rigidity is acquired. We aren't born being too stubborn or proud or diluted to change our minds so we can acquire the inverse, the ability to change our mind based on reason. And today's guest, Andy Norman believes that if you want others to be persuadable, you must also be persuadable. So heavy dose of critical thinking, or as Andy Norman likes to say, definitely not critical thinking, but whatever maybe that's just semantics.
[00:02:56] And if you're wondering how I managed to book all these amazing people on the show, it's about my network and I'm teaching you how to build your network for free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. And most of the guests on the show subscribe and contribute to that same course. So come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong.
[00:03:11] Now, here's Andy Norman.
[00:03:14] So on the show, we do talk about critical thinking all the time. It's right in the mission statement as you and I talked about pre-show here and it's very apropos of our time of global pandemic here to argue that bad ideas are like a disease that actually infects our minds and weakens our thinking. So I want to start from the jump here. What is mental immunity?
[00:03:35] Andy Norman: Yeah. So mental immunity is resistance to the uptake of bad ideas. So each and every one of us has a bodily immune system and it protects us from infectious microbes. Turns out based on about 60 years of research in psychology, our minds have immune systems too, and they protect us from infectious ideas to one or another degree. And what we're witnessing today, if you want to understand a root cause of contemporary craziness, it's that mental immune systems have been compromised by ideas that actually disrupt their functioning. So that's the thesis of my book, and I argued that by developing the science of mental immunity, the science of resistance to bad ideas, that we can actually enhance critical thinking and take it to a whole new level.
[00:04:21] Jordan Harbinger: So it sounds like immunity is kind of the opposite of susceptibility, both in terms of diseases and in terms of believing bad ideas or buying into bad—
[00:04:30] Andy Norman: Exactly.
[00:04:31] Jordan Harbinger: —concept.
[00:04:32] Andy Norman: Immunity and susceptibility are just inverses of one another, the more immune you are the less susceptible you are and vice versa. And I've noticed you can be immune or susceptible to many different things. You might be immune to Scientology, but highly susceptible to alien abduction stories.
[00:04:48] Jordan Harbinger: Or the tooth fairy, right? I think that's an example you gave in either the book or somewhere else, maybe the Scientific American article that you wrote, where, you know, if you're a kid you might believe in Santa Claus, but that doesn't mean that you're going to believe in something else or that you are going to keep that belief forever. But that sort of goes beyond what we're, what we're touching on right now.
[00:05:06] Andy Norman: Yeah, but I mean, I think we're born extremely trusting of the authority figures in our lives. And so we believe what they tell us, even if it's nonsense, like the tooth fairy. I was talking about this with Joe Rogan a while back. And I actually had a mentale — had a verbal slip and I talked about the truth fairy.
[00:05:21] Jordan Harbinger: Oh nice.
[00:05:22] Andy Norman: He thought that would be probably a nice substitute for the tooth fairy.
[00:05:26] Jordan Harbinger: There you go. Yeah, it's like you wake up and there's a note under your bed that's like, "Your breath smells and most of your friends hate you." And you're like, "Damn it. I knew it." I don't know if that's good for kids though. I think adults need that. I don't know about that. I don't know about eight-year-old kids. That might be a little bit harsh.
[00:05:40] Andy Norman: We'll see, I'm thinking about a kid's book called the truth fairy.
[00:05:43] Jordan Harbinger: The truth fairy, yeah, yeah. Like you leave your tooth out under the pillow and it's like, it's just your mom, but here's a dollar.
[00:05:52] Andy Norman: Yeah. I might work with that idea. You want royalties for that concept?
[00:05:55] Jordan Harbinger: No. No, it's all yours. It's all yours. We have it right here in the recording that I'm seeding that over to you.
[00:06:00] Andy Norman: Okay.
[00:06:01] Jordan Harbinger: It seems like bad ideas, we don't just have to keep them out at the door, right? There has to be — it's like a doorman. You don't just want to screen people for weapons at the door. You also have to have security inside the venue as well.
[00:06:14] Andy Norman: Exactly. So ideas slipped past our mind's defenses, bad ideas slipped past our mind's defenses, and some of them take root as belief. And if we don't have a capacity to spot them and remove them, our minds start filling up with bad ideas. And bad ideas attract more of their kind because other bad ideas fit in with the ones that are already on board. And so you need to get good, not just at spotting new bad ideas, new disinformation, but also be humble enough to go after the ideas that some of what you become quite fond of and be willing to rethink them.
[00:06:49] Jordan Harbinger: So not just avoiding planting weeds, but pulling the ones out that show up there anyway, that slipped by.
[00:06:55] Andy Norman: Exactly. I take some pride in having developed the idea — well, the metaphor of it makes sense to weed our minds of bad ideas and seed them with good ones. But the idea that our minds are like a festival of ideas that have bouncers at the gates to try to keep out the bad ones is a metaphor I owe to an immunologist whose name I'm blanking on at the moment, but I borrowed his metaphor there.
[00:07:21] Jordan Harbinger: Fair enough. With the news today, we have you mentioned, this is called amygdala hijacking, and both sides have this, I think, where it's just, what's scary. And you can watch the news and it's like the new variant of this disease is scary, but maybe I'm not even as scared as I should be from that, because yesterday it was murder hornets, which sound much scarier than they actually are. And then throughout the '90s, it was Africanized bees that I've never really had to do. So there's all kinds of things that people are used to being scared about it, and it gets short-term clicks and short-term views on a news channel, but it also sort of makes a lot of people resistant to worrying about real, real stuff.
[00:08:03] Andy Norman: Yeah. There are a lot of people out there right now that get attention by fear-mongering or they accumulate power by fear-mongering or they actually managed to brainwash a lot of people with fear-mongering. So fear-mongering is an age-old tactic for demagogues, and propagandists tell people that immigrants are coming to take their lunch money and people get really fearful.
[00:08:24] And what happens in the brain when you get really fearful, is that the part of your mind responsible for calm, rational, judicious thinking flips switches off and you go into fight-or-flight mode. There's just basically two systems in the brain. It's called sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system basically prepares you to flee or fight. And when you're in that mode, you don't care about fairness. You care about winning, but if you want to learn how to think, well, like a good scientist does, or a skilled philosopher does, or somebody who's really good at figuring out what's true. You need to learn to calm your sympathetic nervous system and turn on your parasympathetic system, which is the one that actually gets you to slow down and assess ideas carefully and judiciously.
[00:09:12] Jordan Harbinger: You wrote, "When we fixate on the wing nut outrage of the day and nurse our own grievances, we suppress our own higher brain function." So that's what you're talking about now, right?
[00:09:21] Andy Norman: Exactly. That's the amygdala hijacking as what some brain scientists call it. One way to practice the insight here is to pay attention to your own sense that you're getting defensive. So we all have conversations and sometimes we run into people who we disagree with on very fundamental things. When they say something and you start to feel defensive or a little bit angry or a little bit bothered, notice that and just calm that sense down. Just saying, "I'm not getting any good to anybody if I'm just going to be reactive to what this guy is saying," and give the guy a chance to just spill out what he has to say. Delay the moment of judgment and ask clarifying questions, and a lot of times that's the road to genuinely fruitful dialogue rather than just mutual acrimony and fault-finding.
[00:10:08] Jordan Harbinger: There's not just sort of the, the idea that we get resistant or defensive right away, right? I mean, we, you don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to know that in America, we have this virtue or core value where we say, "I have a right to believe what I want." And that sounds good on its face, but then once you say — well, to your point, once you start to think about it, right? It becomes problematic because it touches on the idea that you have a right to your own opinion, but you don't really have a right to your own facts. But when we say beliefs, we're kind of incorporating facts inside that particular statement.
[00:10:47] Andy Norman: Yeah. There's a famous statement that Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the former democratic senator said, "You're entitled to your opinion, but you're not entitled to your own facts." I actually think that doesn't go far enough because the idea that we're entitled to believe whatever we darn please, that we're entitled to propagate any opinions we like, that idea is not serving us well. It's led to a culture where we all feel kind of entitled, cognitively entitled. It's almost like we've been emphasizing our cognitive rights to the exclusion of our cognitive responsibilities for so long, for so many generations in America.
[00:11:22] We've developed a decadent culture where people just believe what they want and say, "To hell with you. It's my belief. Go away." And when you do that, you undermine the norms that allow for the kind of dialogue that bring us back together and allow us to reconcile our differences. So I actually think that it's only half true at best that we're entitled to our opinions. We're maybe legally entitled to our opinions, but that in no way means we're morally entitled to our opinions. There are objectively, morally bad opinions.
[00:11:56] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. You wrote that rights belong to a category of things, psychologists called sacred values. Things we're not supposed to trade off against other things, but evidence and critical questioning can and should impinge on belief. And that makes them transgressive of something we're conditioned to see as a right. So in this way, we've made critical thinking about core values, all but taboos. So that's a big problem.
[00:12:20] Andy Norman: Yeah. So if you take our belief rights to be absolute, then they override even your ability to criticize, right? Because your criticism does in fact, can in fact interfere with my beliefs. If the right to believe is absolute, then criticism is transgressive. And you can see this in sort of the hypersensitive woke culture right now, where you're making me feel uncomfortable. So you're doing something wrong. Well, you know, deep conversations cause discomfort, and we need to get comfortable with that. The fact that you feel offended doesn't automatically mean that I've done something wrong. It might, but sometimes people are offended because they're being over-sensitive or because they misinterpret what's actually being said.
[00:13:08] Jordan Harbinger: Well, some of that is deliberate though, right? I mean, there's a lot of — and I noticed this online. I don't, you know, now that it's a pandemic, especially I don't talk to anyone in person, but not that I enjoyed it before. But you see this online where, and I think it was Adam Corolla who recently posted something where he goes, "This is social media right now. I prefer oranges over mangoes." And the other person said, "So what you're saying is you hate mangoes. You're a mango hater. I'm literally shaking right now." And it's a joke, but it's also, I've had this happen to me all the time. I'll say something like, "Well, you know, let's explore the idea that maybe you're wrong here." And someone who will just absolutely implode. "You can't tell me that my beliefs are wrong," and it's like, "Well, but you are objectively mistaken on many things here." "But you can't tell me this. You don't know, I have a right to—" And I'm thinking like, "You're literally getting history wrong." Or, you know, in some very clear cases, "You are just objectively wrong. No fact check, no research would back up your opinion. It's just how you feel."
[00:14:08] Andy Norman: That's right. If you say, "I prefer oranges to mangoes," and I say, "You're a mango hater," I have misinterpreted and misrepresented what you said. I am objectively wrong in that characterization. Look, philosophers have been practicing the art of having difficult conversations about core values for thousands of years. And one of the things philosophers recognized very early on is, those conversations just don't bear fruit. They can't be productive if the participants don't bring what's called the principle of charity. I'm going to do my best to understand your words in the best possible light. You accord me the same courtesy, and then maybe we have a chance to actually make some headway in our conversation. If we just bring mutual suspicion and distrust and willfully distort what each other, the things the other person, is saying, the conversation will go downhill fast.
[00:14:56] Jordan Harbinger: I think Sam Harris had mentioned this, right? You sort of steel man, the other person's argument. So instead of taking the mango thing and saying — here's the weakest interpretation, the least charitable, the one that makes you look like the biggest a-hole, I'll take your argument instead," and make it the strongest it possibly could be where I might say, instead of, "You're a mango hater that makes you a terrible person. I'm literally shaking right now." I might say, "Oh, so there are some instances in which you prefer mangoes to oranges. And in those instances, it doesn't really mean anything about the oranges or your belief about oranges. It's really, probably, in many times, it's just your belief about mangoes and it's only your personal opinion in that instance."
[00:15:33] Andy Norman: That's right. By Sam's terms, steel man is meant to contrast with straw man. So a straw man argument is when you misrepresent something in a way that makes it look silly, and then you shoot that down. It's like shooting fish in a barrel, right? Anybody can refute anything if they're allowed to misinterpret it. The right way to do it is to actually assume that the person you're disagreeing with is trying to bring something valuable to the table and help them articulate it as best in the best possible way so that you can learn from it.
[00:16:02] Sam uses steel man, which I think is a term that has gained some currency in logicians and argumentation theorists. But, you know, it goes all the way back to Socrates who was really, really good at this. He would always characterize the other person's position as charitably as he could and saying, "Hey, do I have this right? I'm not going to criticize you until I'm sure I really understand what you're saying." And then you'd say it back in his own words. It's like active listening, right? Where you say, "Okay, this is what I hear you saying. Am I getting you? Do I really understand you?" You don't have any right to start tearing something down until you've really done the hard work of understanding it. And I see a whole lot in our culture right now where people are so eager to tear things down before understanding it. And it's really, really not serving our culture well. It's one thing that's tearing America apart right now.
[00:16:46] Jordan Harbinger: The reason that this is important — a lot of us, we probably covered this on in parts before, but the reason that this particular subject is important is because when people lose what you call the meta belief, that beliefs should change in response to evidence, they become more susceptible to conspiracy theories, paranormal beliefs, science, denial, extremism, mind viruses as you refer to them.
[00:17:08] Andy Norman: Yeah. So a psychologist in Canada and Gordon Pennycook has a wonderful paper on that metabelief. He's basically been able to show empirically that when people start to let up or compromise their commitment to revising their beliefs in the face of evidence, the moment you start compromising that for your religious faith, for your political ideology or anything, your mind becomes more susceptible to all kinds of mind viruses, essentially.
[00:17:32] In my own book, I actually characterize the same idea as I call it reason's fulcrum. It's the idea that we should always yield to better reasons. Reason's fulcrum is a way to make intellectual humility actionable. It's like, if you present a good reason, I have an intellectual duty to back down and acknowledge that you've made a good point. It may not mean I have to give up all my core beliefs, but I need to give them due weight and do what I can to learn from them. That attitude, I think, is sorely lacking in America today.
[00:18:04] And the key to restoring a civic culture that works for all of us is restoring that commitment. We all need to be deeply committed to this metabelief or reason's fulcrum, and we can begin to dialogue in fruitful ways and problem solve again.
[00:18:19] Jordan Harbinger: Right. This is where identity politics becomes so toxic, right? Because I can't really yield to your better idea if — look, if you tell me that something is better, a better way to cook pasta, I don't really have an attachment other than just being right for ego reasons to my old way of cooking pasta. But if me acknowledging that you have a better way to cook better pasta means that I can no longer hang out with everyone that are my friends and these activist groups that I'm in, or that all of the things that are talked about on my favorite news channels are wrong. That my podcasters, that I've been listening to are also mistaken, and that my family that agrees with me or disagrees with me or whatever sort of identity I've built around this is also, now the foundations of that are also shaken. Then I have a really vested interest in making damn sure that you are not able to attack that particular method of cooking pasta.
[00:19:10] Andy Norman: Well, and you're more likely to push back against this better way of cooking pasta if your identity is all tied up in the results. Let's suppose you imagine that you're the greatest Italian chef ever. And I come along and say, "Hey, you're doing it wrong," you're likely to feel threatened. And this is true, generally, the more you hitch your identity to a set of beliefs, the more defensive you get when people raise questions about those beliefs so the antidote to this kind of identity politics is to take a stand against it by refusing to identify with any one set of beliefs.
[00:19:42] In fact, think of your beliefs as house guests that are likely to wear out their welcome eventually. They might serve you well for a while. They'll eventually reach the point where the beliefs that are dear to you, where you start to see their limits and their defects. And when that happens, you need to be willing to let go of them. Otherwise, you become part of the problem instead of part of the solution.
[00:20:02] Jordan Harbinger: So that's the house guests heuristic, right? We're sort of thinking, "All right, this idea is a guest, but at some point you got to get out of here because you keep putting your feet on the furniture and I've told you a hundred times."
[00:20:13] Andy Norman: Exactly.
[00:20:13] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. Gotcha.
[00:20:15] Andy Norman: That's it.
[00:20:15] Jordan Harbinger: How do some people resist toxic and radical ideologies and others just can't seem to do this? And maybe we need an example of these toxic ideologies as well, right? You, you give an example in the book, which is the synagogue shooter, but anybody, basically anybody who shoots people who are a different color or religion has fallen prey to this.
[00:20:34] Andy Norman: So think about Jihadi or Islamism, which is kind of a Holy War worshiping kind of Islam, almost everybody agrees that that's a destructive or harmful ideology, except for a few radicals. But there are similar things growing right here in America on both sides of the political divide. We have toxic forms of conservatism and toxic kinds of progressivism that simply take no prisoners, culture, war, identity politics. And I see a lot of people pointing to the identity politics on the other side, without seeing that it's also flourishing on their own side. And the fact is we need to call out identity politics and toxic ideologies of all kinds if we want to get out of this mess.
[00:21:22] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest, Andy Norman. We'll be right back.
[00:21:27] This episode is sponsored in part by BiOptimizers. Winter aka sick season is upon us, and we all know this is the time of year to take extra care to protect ourselves. You can do this from the inside, not just the out, by building up your immune system with some high quality probiotics. Those are beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract. P3-OM is a patented probiotic that can help with digestion, metabolism, and boost immunity. Check out the video of the probiotic literally breaking down a piece of steak at p3om.com/jordan.
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[00:23:11] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is also sponsored by Better Help online therapy. Y'all know I am a huge proponent of therapy. I recommend it like five times every single Feedback Friday. It's also helped me tremendously during pivotal times in my own life, in business and my personal life. One way to think about therapy can be through analogies. We get our cars serviced to prevent bigger issues down the road. We work out and visit the doctor to prevent injury and disease in our bodies. We see the dentist for our teeth to prevent cavities and other issues. This is all very, very normal. Going to therapy, it's like all of the above. It's routine maintenance for your mental and emotional wellness. Going to therapy doesn't mean something's wrong with you, it doesn't mean you're broken. It means you are investing in yourself to keep your mind healthy. Better Help is customized online therapy that offers video, phone, even live chat sessions with your therapist. You don't even have to get out of bed. You don't have to see anyone on camera. You don't have to drive. You don't have to park. It's much more affordable than in-person therapy. And you can start communicating with your therapist in under 48 hours. Why invest in everything else and not your mind?
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[00:24:36] We've also got worksheets for many episodes. If you want the drills and the exercises talked about during the show, those are all in one easy place at jordanharbinger.com/podcast.
[00:24:46] Now back to Andy Norman.
[00:24:48] It seems like some subcultures have evidential norms, right? So if I'm really into science or I'm a journalist, that's a credible, I would say ethical journalist, right? There are evidential norms. There are expectations of me looking at other people's research and saying, "Okay, this person has done the work. They're also ethical. This is how they did it. They're transparent." This typically serves to make scientists less prone to false beliefs. I want to include journalists in that because it's a whole can of worms, but other subcultures have little — it's not that they don't. It's just that if I say that people are going to blow up — but other subcultures have little infrastructure for slowing the spread of bad information. And you mentioned propaganda peddlers online that actively subvert mental immunity.
[00:25:34] Andy Norman: Yeah. So I'm reading a book right now, it's called The Storm is Upon Us. It's the story of how QAnon evolved as a set of beliefs. And one thing that's just patently obvious is that most ardent QAnon followers, they don't care about evaluating evidence and revising their beliefs to get a more accurate picture of the world. They're simply reveling in the tribal solidarity that their QAnon belief affords them. And it's so obvious that they're unhinged. Their grasp of reality has become extraordinarily tenuous and their grasp of morality, their sense of right and wrong has been deeply corrupted as well. If you don't maintain the habit of revising your beliefs in the face of evidence and good points from the other side, you will become gradually more unhinged over time and become somebody who functionally undermines the very values you hold dear.
[00:26:28] Jordan Harbinger: That should scare people who are in this camp, but somehow it doesn't, right? And I think there's probably a whole psychology behind this. Of course, there is, but a lot of it just comes down to what? Loneliness and isolation and feeling powerless. You know, we've done shows on conspiracy theories before. And a lot of it comes down to the guy on the block with no friends who wants to feel smarter than people for the first time in their entire life.
[00:26:50] Andy Norman: That is a consistent theme. And it's always a combination of factors, right? Loneliness, isolation can be part of it, wanting to feel smarter than others. One of the features of many QAnon believers highlighted by this guy, Mike Rothschild, who wrote the book.
[00:27:05] Jordan Harbinger: Oh God, his last name is Rothschild. That's not doing them any favors, right?
[00:27:08] Andy Norman: Well, exactly. He points out he's no relation to the Rothschild family but—
[00:27:11] Jordan Harbinger: I'm sure the QAnon followers all believe that too, yeah.
[00:27:14] Andy Norman: An anti-semitic tropes against the Rothschild family go back generations. This was not something I knew until I read the book.
[00:27:21] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, yeah.
[00:27:21] Andy Norman: Yes, that's a, that was a coincidence.
[00:27:23] Jordan Harbinger: He should have a co-author. Maybe he should have, poor guy, wrong topic.
[00:27:27] Andy Norman: Right.
[00:27:27] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:27:28] Andy Norman: Well, he just points out how frequently QAnon followers are lonely, are disaffected. They feel as though they've lost control. Actually, this is the point I was, I was coming at. When you feel like your life is out of control, you become more susceptible to sweeping conspiracy theories that wrap it all up in a neat bundle, because then at least you can have hope that, you know, deposing, the conspirators would solve everything. And all of us have this need to feel as though we're in control of our lives. And right now the internet connected world feels out of control to a lot of people. And so more and more people become susceptible to dangerous ideologies, like those propagated by Q.
[00:28:09] Jordan Harbinger: So it's not just about ideas, disrupting mental immune function. Some attitudes also disrupt mental immune functions as well. And one of those that seems really obvious is arrogance. I think if anybody who's ever argued online with an idiot, which we've all done or at least I have, we've seen this, right? Where you'll say somebody that the thing is incorrect and it's just like googleable false, and then they'll go, "Oh, well, you're using Google. Well, you should use DuckDuckGo." And I go, "Fine. Here, my DuckDuckGo results. Here's the result. It's from Wikipedia or it's from another, it's from an encyclopedia and says this from Scientific American." "Oh, well that's liberal of the propaganda." "Okay. So what source would you pick for this?" "Oh, well, the only source I would pick is one that says the thing that I'm telling you right now." And you're like, "But the airplane wasn't invented in 900 BC. So you're asking me to find a source that says that and then says that that is not true." And you just can't argue with these people because the arrogance is there. They have decided to not believe you and nothing can convince them otherwise.
[00:29:08] Andy Norman: When you look at the way in which conversations break down, sometimes it's because people bring the wrong attitudes to it. And sometimes it's because they bring so many mistaken ideas to the table that there's just, you have trouble finding any common ground. So it's very important that we maintain the right attitude so that we can inquire and actually find out what's true and problem-solve together. I call that the way of inquiry or the attitude of the inquirer. Basically always reason to find out if you realize that your reasoning to win, to beat somebody else up and win the argument, you've already sown the seeds of your mind's decay. Because truly people with strong mental immune systems make a habit of reasoning to find out rather than reasoning to win. And if you adopt the attitude of the aggressive, arrogant attitude of a cultural warrior, you will very likely lose your own moorings, your own intellectual moorings and your grasp for the truth.
[00:30:06] Jordan Harbinger: That is so tempting though, right? I don't want to sort of sell this, like I'm above this. I see this online all the time, and it's so tempting to be like, "I'm going to rip this person a new one. It's going to be awesome. I have such a great comeback for this," and halfway through typing it, I go, "You know what? I'm going to end up getting a bunch of likes for shredding this nobody on the Internet who probably lives in like Ohio." I'll never meet them, right? It's not somebody that I'm going to be able to sort of rib them about this at a barbecue. I'm just doing this because I can make myself, I can jump on their head, right? Metaphorically, and it doesn't help anything. It just reinforces them going back to their QAnon buddies or they're like flat earth friends or whatever. And just saying, "These guys, they hate us all. They're just part of the conspiracy. Look at this guy with the blue check, mark pissing me off," and then I'm going to get nothing out of this.
[00:30:54] Andy Norman: Just basically trying to prove that you were right. And make somebody else look silly. It's a loser's game, right? All you do is kind of toxify your own mind. Think about the person most important to you, your partner, say when you try to work out a difference with your partner, do you really reason to win and prove that you're right?
[00:31:13] Jordan Harbinger: It depends, right? It depends, highly dependent on the situation, but let's be real. No, probably not. I just want to be right once.
[00:31:23] Andy Norman: I have a strong wife as well, strong willed woman, and I love her to death. But I also have learned sometimes the hard way that when I just try to prove myself right and don't pay attention to the quality of our relationship and trying to instill trust and actually understanding among. When I do that, I always, always regret it.
[00:31:43] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, don't get me wrong. This has never done me any good. It's still something that I do. It's never been a good idea for me to do.
[00:31:50] Andy Norman: I share the weakness and I don't, I don't always, I'm not always my best self, but I do try.
[00:31:55] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I try to remember in the moment, it's just very hard. So I have some sympathy for people who have succumbed to things that damage their mental immune system. And we've all seen bad ideas that use people to proliferate just like a disease would, right? Smoking — one of the examples you give in the book is suicide bombing, which totally makes sense. And an idea can benefit its host by being comforting, but still be bad because it's false. That's also from your book. I'd love an example of that because I feel like humans are full of ideas that are comforting, but that are not true even a little bit.
[00:32:29] Andy Norman: Well, I hope I'm not alienating your listeners by suggesting that a lot of religious beliefs have this character.
[00:32:35] Jordan Harbinger: I think that you probably are going to piss some people off, but it doesn't mean that all religious people are dumb or something. So maybe we should have them hear us out here.
[00:32:42] Andy Norman: Clearly not. And if you, if you're not ready to apply this idea to your own religious beliefs, at least think about another set of, I don't know, new age, spiritual beliefs.
[00:32:53] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Let's pick a different example because people are going to go, "My religion is not false." Click, done, unsubscribe. Right?
[00:32:58] Andy Norman: Imagine the astrologer or the person who's into astrology, who thinks that the alignment of the planets at her birth will always look out for her and make sure things work out for her. You know, we shake our heads and think, that's silly. Of course the alignment of the planets has no has no capacity to keep you safe. That's just not the way the world works, but it's easy to imagine that ideas like that provide comfort. That they actually provide a kind of emotional stability. I think a lot of beliefs are like that. And if you're not ready to apply that, consider that possibility with regard to your most cherished religious beliefs, well, take your time. But think about whether maybe some subset of your religious or political or ethical beliefs are essentially there because they make you feel better. Or maybe they even make you better adjusted. Maybe they help you keep a positive frame of mind.
[00:33:49] Religions actually have a handle on a very important truth, which is that we need to fill our heads with ideas that keep us helpful, that keep us maintaining a positive attitude. Now, when science comes along and says, you shouldn't believe anything, except unless it has enough evidence, defenders of religion want to say, "Yeah, but my belief served me well. My beliefs impact my frame of mind. They affect my relationships. These things matter too. And I think religions are right about that.
[00:34:18] In the book, I talked about the upstream evidence that either supports or fails to support. But also the downstream consequences of belief. Because once you accept a belief, you behave differently. You feel differently, you interact with other people differently. And those downstream consequences matter too. So science has a piece of the truth when it talks about upstream evidence. Religion has a piece of the truth when it says, "Hey, downstream consequences matter also." And I totally respect people who say, "I need these beliefs to help me be a good human being."
[00:34:46] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I don't think it makes people weak. I'm often quite envious of people who are faithful, because imagine the hardest time in your life and then being like, "But I got this because the man upstairs is looking out for me. So everything's fine. Even if I croak tomorrow, this is just a part of a big plan." I would love to honestly and earnestly believe something like that. I've said this on the show before that's go to be the most comforting set of beliefs anywhere.
[00:35:09] Andy Norman: Well, and when somebody uses that belief to develop a kind of equanimity that keeps them from, I don't know, flying off the handle or losing their cool or disparaging, yeah, hats off to them. I mean, I think equanimity is a wonderful trait. And if you can induce that trait in yourself by believing certain things, that's okay as long as the beliefs aren't also indirectly harming others. And I do worry that evidence defiant beliefs. So when you start down the path of believing things, because you want them to be true, you start down that path and you begin to compromise your mind's immune system. So it's a complicated thing.
[00:35:48] Jordan Harbinger: We see this with, with flat earthers too, right? So first, I just could not wrap my mind around why anybody would care to believe this. It just seemed like the dumbest way to embarrass yourself in public. But I started debating, this is years ago, I started debating with a few of them online and these debates were three lines long because what would happen is I'd say, "Please just show me what evidence you have for this. And within a few lines, not all of them, but with many of them within a few lines would say, "Look, the Bible says that above the sky is something called the firmament and above that our angels," and I would go, "Oh, of course, okay. Now I get it. If you believe the earth is round in this firmament thing goes away, which chips a hole in your belief, in your literal belief in the Bible, which you can't have happened because you are a literalist, maybe fanatic is a strong term, but you believe in these believed so strongly that I know tons of people who are faithful and religious, and they don't tell me that the earth is flat because of the firmament." They go, "Eh, okay. The book's old, you know, blah, blah, blah."
[00:36:46] Andy Norman: Exactly.
[00:36:46] Jordan Harbinger: There are people that don't do that as you're aware. You realize quickly that it just comes down to this. And so it sounds like what you're saying is when you harbor these beliefs that say everything in the Bible is literally true, or any sort of literal belief that requires you to have something sacred where, "This Jordan Guy, you can't even argue against this, because it says in the Bible that there's a firmament and above that are angels. And that means the earth is flat. You have a sacred belief that we can't even go in that arena. It's fenced off." And so now you're letting in whatever the hell else you want to put in there, QAnon or whatever.
[00:37:21] Andy Norman: I actually looked into the phenomenon of flat earth belief when I wrote the book and I actually found some research where — so I actually have a good friend philosopher of science who went undercover at a flat earth convention, and actually tried to figure out how to talk to a flat earther and persuade them. He's got a book coming out about it. It should be really good. But he found that number one, these flat earth conventions are full of religious fundamentalists. People who are looking for ways to make their reading of the Bible consonant with their beliefs about reality. And they're willing to throw out evidence, I don't know, photographs of the earth from space, right? To write those off as hoaxes, just to preserve their literalism with regard to the Bible.
[00:38:06] Now, I think this should seem just ridiculous to most of us. It's interesting that it doesn't feel ridiculous from the inside of the flat earth or religious fundamentalist outlook.
[00:38:18] Jordan Harbinger: You know, it makes me wish that I'd asked a rabbi or something like that. I know you just know these, all these Hasidic Jews that are very extremely religious. You know, they won't let you sign a check or hold a pen or do whatever on Saturdays. And it's just very, very fundamentalist. And they won't shake hands with women and all these things. They don't even believe that the earth is flat. And I remember talking about this, but I didn't ask enough questions because this is 20 years ago. Even they're like, "Well, you know, the Bible doesn't say the earth is flat. It says there's a firmament and above are angels, but it doesn't say that the earth is flat." So it's really interesting to find somebody who's even more sort of conservative than a Hasidic Jew, but then also is like sleeping with different women. It seems like we're still picking things in the Bible or in any sacred area — the reason we're picking up the Bible is because we're talking about sacred beliefs — they're still picking the ones that they want and rationalizing away the others.
[00:39:09] Andy Norman: And I think that's what has a lot of people misguided and confused right now is they think it's okay to accept certain things because you want them to be true or because you feel like your faith teaches them to be true. And it's okay for you to accept those, but there's always blow back. There's always secondary effects and it can affect your ability to see reality honestly, and it can affect your ability to understand the difference between right and wrong. There's lots of evidence right now that when you start to indulge in irresponsible, believing about facts, you end up with irresponsible believing about values.
[00:39:48] Jordan Harbinger: This is important because it's kind of like Neil deGrasse Tyson mentioned about having some people be vaccinated or not, which is another thing I don't really want to get into right now, because I don't need any more one-star reviews for having normal talks on this show. But the idea that there's a section of the swimming pool, that is the peeing section, right? And the rest of this swimming pool, you're not allowed to pee in. This is kind of like what's happening with our beliefs too. Right? So if I'm saying, look, there's this area where I don't want to hear it. This is what it is. You can't touch it. It's not up for discussion, period, because these areas are sacred. It sounds like what you're saying is, that area can sort of gradually enlarge where convenient.
[00:40:25] Andy Norman: I came across a metaphor on Facebook just the other day that illustrates this nicely, I think. Imagine that the passenger in the next state room over on a cruise ship, and suppose you're on the bottom level right near the hole, and this guy decides he's going to just drill down through that hole into the ocean below so he can look at it.
[00:40:42] Jordan Harbinger: Right. He wants to see the fish.
[00:40:43] Andy Norman: He wants to see the fish and the people around start saying, "Hey, wait, you can't do that. You're going to sink the boat." He was like, "Hey, it's my state room. I have a right to do what I like with my state room." I mean, how would you feel about that if you were somebody else on this boat, right? You'd go, "We're all in the same boat, buddy."
[00:40:57] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:40:58] Andy Norman: That's what I want to say to the anti-vaxxers these days. We're all in the same boat. We need you to do the responsible thing because with the delta variant continues to mutate, we could end up with a very seriously destructive next wave of this pandemic.
[00:41:14] Jordan Harbinger: It's inevitable though, right? Like even if every single person in the Western world got vaccinated tomorrow, which we know isn't going to happen, we still have all these countries that even if everybody wanted to get vaccinated, they couldn't because they don't have the access to this. There's going to be incubators everywhere, no matter what, right?
[00:41:30] Andy Norman: I think you're right about that.
[00:41:31] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:41:32] Andy Norman: In some ways, our failure to take a rational approach to this pandemic from the start — well, part of it is just resource limitations, right? Poorer countries have not snapped up as many vaccines as the richer countries have, but even in here among the richer countries, we've seen very poorly coordinated pandemic control efforts.
[00:41:52] Jordan Harbinger: Well, you're not going to find any argument from me there. In the interest of being completely fair, even the most strongest anti-vax communities here in the United States, we can't solely blame them for any sort of incubation of new variants. I would love to just be very black and white about it, but at the end of the day, even if the whole country was lined up like North Korea to get the jab, you know, no questions allowed, we still have, again, the peeing section of this swimming pool, unless we're going to close the borders off, we're going to have this happen no matter what. Back to beliefs though, right? This can still happen with our mind virus. Some ideas can benefit the host by harming others, for example, con men and swindlers, and a lot of these ideas that are bad — they have short-term benefits, right? We get offended and we get woke points, or we get points from our tribe of political believers, but then long term, they cause problems because we enact a crappy policy to get votes. Or we say something we regret to our spouse going back to our previous conversation.
[00:42:52] Andy Norman: Yes. Suppose you're like, I don't know, house minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, and you adopt the most extreme views, just so that you stand a better chance of getting elected next time around. So you can get Trump's endorsement. Yeah, that's a short term political calculation that might be aiding his political career, but it's tearing our country apart. We've got a lot of people who are indulging in irresponsible, believing for short-term benefits, not caring about the long-term benefits and not caring about the costs that they thereby put on others.
[00:43:23] Responsible believing pays attention to long-term effects as well as short-term effects. And it pays attention to the implications for others. It's not just you. If you're in believing, because you think it's the right belief for you, you're not being a responsible believer. If you're believing because it benefits you in the next election cycle, but not thinking about the long-term future of our country, you're not a responsible believer.
[00:43:45] Jordan Harbinger: Is there such a thing like mental auto-immunity? It seems like if there's mental immunity, you must've thought of the auto-immune thing as well.
[00:43:52] Andy Norman: Absolutely. So the body's immune system can be underactive and fail to fight off microbes, but it can also become overactive and attack the body itself. So when you have an allergic reaction to pollen, that's your body overreacting to something that is fundamentally harmless. So pollen won't hurt your body, but your body's overreaction to it. It can make you miserable. So that's an example of auto-immunity, the mind's immune system going hypervigilant and attacking things that it should leave alone.
[00:44:20] The minds can do the exact same thing. I'll give you an example. I grew up in a family that practically worshiped Martin Luther King. And when later in life, I learned that the Martin Luther King was unfaithful to his wife, I was like, "No way."
[00:44:32] Jordan Harbinger: Not him. He's a saint, right? Yeah.
[00:44:34] Andy Norman: No way. He's a saint, right? To me, that news threatened something that was almost sacred to me. And so I rejected it. I assumed, "Oh, you know what? I bet you J. Edgar Hoover spread that rumor to smear Martin Luther King. Well, it turns out it was true, but my mind's immune system overreacted to the information and came up with a reason to dismiss it.
[00:44:53] And so if your mind immediately goes from zero to 60 and starts generating objections. Before you even hear somebody out, that's assigned that your mind, that an auto-immune disorder of the mind is beginning to sink roots.
[00:45:10] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest, Andy Norman. We'll be right back.
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[00:46:19] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is also sponsored by Miro. Miro is a collaborative, white boarding online platform created to help people visualize, discuss, and share work. So basically Miro is just like the whiteboard that might hang in your office, where you and your team can write, draw, use videos, sticky notes, diagrams, or audio to conceptualize your vision. We actually used Miro to collaborate with our website designer, and we've got a lot of nice comments from you guys on our website, jordanharbinger.com. He was helping us improve the UI on several pages of the website. The new book page was created using Miro. He actually created a Miro board to map out all the changes, suggestions, and ideas, using images, and flow charts. It was really easy to visualize how everything would come together. So if you need a platform that organizes all the creative intricacies of your mind into one space, Miro is definitely the solution.
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[00:47:29] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is also sponsored in part by Glenfiddich. Glenfiddich breaks from the single malt scotch whisky norm and helps redefine what it means to be rich. It's easy to get bogged down in material success when the currency of the new rich is getting more time and enjoyment out of what we've already got. It's easy to compare myself to all the successful people I know and I interview and get FOMO for not being in the same tax bracket, but then I'm reminded about what it really means to be rich. I'm feeling under the weather today, which is why I sound like Steven Tyler mixed with some sort of frog. And I was just reflecting about how blessed I am to be able to have the flexibility in my schedule for not getting yelled at for not showing up for work or canceling a meeting. Glenfiddich is sixth generation, that's 130-plus years, independent family run business and is one of the few single malt distilleries to remain entirely family owned. And it's still produced in the same distillery, which William Grant and his children hand-built.
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[00:48:24] Jordan Harbinger: Now for the rest of my conversation with Andy Norman.
[00:48:29] Cults do this on purpose, right? They give you an auto-immune disorder of the mind, right? Because then it's like your parents call and say, "We just want to check in on you," and you start singing some weird fake Eastern European sounding chant because you don't want them in your head, right?
[00:48:42] Andy Norman: That's a really nice connection that I hadn't made before. Yeah, well, one of the things a cult leader has to do to keep his followers in line is to teach them not to trust almost all the other information sources out there. If a charismatic cult leader wants to keep you under his spell, he'll basically say, "Don't listen to the mainstream press. They'll just brainwash you. You don't listen to your parents. They'll brainwash you. And your friends, they're not your real friends or they'd support you in your membership of the cult." That's a way you hijack somebody's mind and make it so that they can't triangulate to find the truth.
[00:49:17] Jordan Harbinger: It's spooky to watch this happen. I mean, even in these sort of self-help cults where you're in a three or five-day seminar, you have people say things like, "This is my real family now." And it's like, "Whoa, where did you — how did that happen to you?" You know, obviously, when I go to these, I'm the guy in the back with the crossed arms and everyone hates me because I'm like not buying it, you know? And the leaders are like, "You know, you don't look like you're coachable." I stopped going to these for that reason, right?
[00:49:42] Andy Norman: Interesting.
[00:49:43] Jordan Harbinger: They're not looking for people like me. They want people like me to recruit other people. So they start offering me things like money or trying to play to my ego. But they're looking for people who will dive right into this because the people who are trying to brainwash or cultify others, they really do want to hotwire this mental immune system and have them just attack anything that says, "Are you sure it's a good idea to quit your job and go to a three-month long program for $30,000 and put it all on your credit card? Are you sure?" "You just don't want me to grow? You just don't want me to develop. You don't care about me. They said this would happen if I told you I was doing this."
[00:50:19] Andy Norman: I think you're illustrating in a really nice way how powerful this idea of mental auto-immunity can be, right? Because there are many, many phenomena like this. Propagandists have been hijacking mental immune systems for centuries. When Alex Jones tells you the mainstream media or Donald Trump decries the lame stream media, he's lumping together thousands of different organizations each with their own agenda. And that there's no central conspiracy. It's an oversimplification that allows you to throw out many reliable sources with some unreliable sources.
[00:50:54] And that's a way to cut you off from reality. So don't let somebody poison your trust of the many reliable information sources. There are many well-meaning journalists and scientists out there who are doing their damnedest to give you the truth. And they're not the same people who are pushing disinformation on InfoWars.
[00:51:15] Jordan Harbinger: So we're talking about being a little bit too trusting, or maybe being too skeptical, but it seems like there's a spectrum here and we can both be too trusting and too skeptical, right? There's a middle ground where we kind of have to hit.
[00:51:26] Andy Norman: That's right. And it's not as though there's a single level of trust. That's appropriate for every situation. You have to know when to be skeptical and when not to be. But the deep philosophical point you're raising here is that it's possible to be too skeptical for your own good. So the people who have been promoting critical thinking—
[00:51:45] Jordan Harbinger: Like me.
[00:51:46] Andy Norman: Well, you.
[00:51:47] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:51:47] Andy Norman: And I taught critical thinking for decades and higher education has been talking about critical thinking as one of its central values for almost a century now. But the fact is we haven't been able to put a stop to epidemics of unreason. And I don't think the critical thinking approach is actually doing its job. I mean, if you actually look at standard critical thinking textbooks, they basically say, "Hey, there are a lot of bad arguments out there. We're going to show you how to dissect them and find their flaws." And they say, "And you need to be skeptical. You need to be critical. In fact, you need to be more critical than you would normally be and now go out there in the world and dissect other people's arguments. When you teach people how to do that, they can easily become hypercritical. Or even worse, they become hypercritical of the arguments of their political opponents and uncritical of their own beliefs. They become opportunistic, critical thinkers as opposed to consistent fair-minded critical thinkers. I actually think that the critical, what I call the critical thinking paradigm, the approach to developing critical thinking skills that we've relied on for the last several decades is not doing enough to inoculate our minds against destructive and false ideas.
[00:53:01] Jordan Harbinger: Honestly, I can see this being quite a problem because I do, I love critical thinking. I love teaching people to debunk beliefs, but you're right. It's very often that we're aiming the candidate, everyone on Reddit or in our family, you know, Thanksgiving, we're just blasting people out of the water with our logic and our reason. Then people want to do that to us. And we're like, well, "Wait a second. We're talking about you right now. What do you mean?"
[00:53:20] Andy Norman: I love your use of metaphors here because I like to say the concept of critical thinking is a very blunt instrument. It basically says, "Yeah, I'd be a little more skeptical. Be more critical. Double check, triple check for faults. Well, a lot of people are rejecting that advice because they understand at a deep, emotional level that if you run around finding fault with people, your relationships are going to suffer. So be more critical is bad advice. It's not that we shouldn't be critical of flat earth theory or QAnon. There are lots of things we should be more critical of, but being indiscriminately more critical is not the recipe. What we need to do is actually understand how mental immune systems work to filter bad ideas and to pass through good ones and figure out why they malfunction so often and learn how to strengthen them.
[00:54:09] Jordan Harbinger: By way of closing here, I would love some practical ways to think about this. Some drills or exercises, right? One thing you mentioned earlier was paying attention to your mind when ideas enter. I don't think that's exactly how you phrased it, but it was, what's your reaction when a new idea enters your mind, are you rejecting it? Are you just gulping it down because it's from your favorite YouTuber? You know, what, where do you, what's your immediate gut reaction?
[00:54:32] Andy Norman: Yeah. Attention to the way your mind reacts with the kind of emotional valence your mind kicks up when you encounter new information of different kinds. A lot of times just you'll respond negatively or positively, and that will govern your subsequent interaction with that idea or the person who's who brought it to your attention. Instead, practice sort of conversational de-escalation. Just say, "That may not sound right yet to me, but let me hear this guy out."
[00:55:01] So it turns out that doubts are the antibodies of the mind. When bad information enters your mind, a healthy mind will generate doubts and questions and objections, and they'll swarm to the scene of the disinformation and try to neutralize it. Learn to listen to those doubts. If you ignore them, you'll train your mind not to notice the defects of ideas. The best thinkers in the world are ones who are, who are sensitive to the defects of even very seductive ideas. And they understand that becoming over-reliant on those ideas is a recipe for trouble. So listen to your doubts and listen to other people's doubts and objections.
[00:55:40] In fact, when somebody else raises an objection to an idea that is important to you, fight down the urge to issue a biting rejoinder and say, "All right, maybe this guy has got something he or she can teach me. Tell me more. In fact, trying to just be very simple, I call it the, tell me more method, just ask for clarification and give the guy five minutes to spell out his reservations about your ideas, really understand them. And then if you have an issue with it, gently try to explain why those are some habits of mind that I think we can, all we can all act on.
[00:56:14] I mentioned earlier that it's almost always a mistake to reason to win, pay attention to the way in which you're reasoning and arguing. If you're reasoning or arguing to win rather than to find out, if you're bringing a combative attitude rather than a cooperative or collaborative attitude to conversation, you're going to screw up your own mind.
[00:56:33] Jordan Harbinger: This seems like the reason why we were often rushed to defend bad ideas or to attack good ideas, right? Because I'm just not even, I'm not even evaluating the idea. I just want to be right or I want to look smart in front of the group or whatever the reason irrational happens to be.
[00:56:46] Andy Norman: And I think that wanting to look smart in front of others is a really underappreciated component of why things are going haywire right now. With so many conversations taking place online, where dozens or hundreds or thousands of others can view those conversations, everybody wants to look good in front of an audience.
[00:57:04] You know how young men are much more likely to shoot and kill other young men in front of a group of peers?
[00:57:13] Jordan Harbinger: I mean, I didn't know that, but it totally makes sense. Right, because if I get into a conflict with somebody and nobody's there to see it, I can just be like, "This is so annoying. This person's just pissing me off. I'm out of here." But if like my girlfriend is watching and all my buddies are watching, they're going to be like, "What's Jordan going to do?" If I walk away, they're going to be like, "Oh, really?" But if I shoot somebody's leg, you know, then they're like, "Don't mess with Jordan," and I'm like, I get a lot of social capital for doing something like that, even if I end up in prison.
[00:57:39] Andy Norman: That's right. It turns out that we're very, very sensitive to being disrespected in front of others. In fact, deep in our evolutionary programming is the understanding that if somebody tears down your reputation in front of others, that can be hugely damaging to your evolutionary prospects. And so when somebody makes you look foolish online, you lash out, right? Because that's a public shaming thing and you want to win by tearing apart their argument.
[00:58:08] So I would actually urge people to just shut down their message boards or their contributions to message sports and go have a one-on-one conversation with a friend. Have more conversations with small groups of people who enjoy testing ideas in a non-combative way. And you can strengthen your mind and become a wiser version of yourself.
[00:58:33] Jordan Harbinger: Before we wrap here and I want to add these to the worksheet. There's this list of immunity strengthening replies to use for when people come at you with, I don't know, bad ideas or poorly thought out concepts. I'd love to get a quick handful of these because I think they're useful and we can put them in the worksheet for the episode.
[00:58:52] Andy Norman: If you raise good questions about somebody else's value judgments, a lot of times they'll get testy and say, "Well, who's to say, who are you to say that my value judgment is wrong?" That maneuver, that conversational maneuver serves to protect cherished convictions when we're uncomfortable having to defend them.
[00:59:13] So the "who's to say" suggests that value judgements are fundamentally arbitrary. We're all entitled to accept whatever value premises or axioms we want. And so there's no point in having a conversation about it. That's not true. We actually need to learn how to test our core value assumptions just as we test scientific claims.
[00:59:35] So philosophers have said for a long time that it's not enough to test our factual beliefs. We have to test our value convictions also. And when we make a habit of that, we become less defensive, more open, more flexible, more mentally resilient. But when you disdain those conversations and reject them as a waste of time, and our culture has become hugely dismissive of philosophy as a discipline, then you start to see people dig into their ideological trenches and cultural wars break out. The cultural war we're experiencing right now is the completely predictable consequence of our cultures disdain for honest value inquiry.
[01:00:18] One additional thought here. I've said a couple things to suggest that the critical thinking paradigm is very limited. That's a very kind of blunt instrument. It's almost like a sledgehammer where we need a scalpel instead. I think the real alternative is this science, I call it cognitive immunology. It's basically the science of mental immunity to bad ideas. And it's the science that goes back several decades. It's gathering together a whole bunch of insights about what allows us to think well, and what harms our ability to think clearly and collaboratively, and the science of cognitive immunology, I think can transform the human condition as profoundly as the science of immunology did.
[01:01:03] Think about the human condition before the smallpox vaccine, right? Unbelievable suffering and millions and millions and millions of people killed by the smallpox virus. Then people figured out how the body's immune system works. We developed vaccines for smallpox, polio, tetanus, diphtheria on and on and on. And we've created so much better human condition. I think we can do the exact same thing for the viruses that infect our minds. We can actually develop vaccines against conspiracy thinking, vaccines against science denial and divisive ideologies. And I imagine a future, maybe a couple of decades hence, where basic instruction in how to keep your mind's immune system functioning well makes us dramatically less susceptible to cognitive contagion.
[01:01:57] Jordan Harbinger: Right. And these will be skills like the ones we're talking about here today. Because right now people are like, "I'm not letting them inject me with something that believes in science."
[01:02:03] Andy Norman: No needles involved. Just fun non-accusatory conversations that can do the trick.
[01:02:09] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Maybe a course or two in school and the university that you can pull your kid out of because you don't want them to think critically or to have this mental immunity or the mind vaccine.
[01:02:18] Andy Norman, thank you very much, really interesting. You know, the idea of bad ideas or poor thinking as an immune disorder, very good timing on this. I assume that the recent events that have just made absolutely no sense to most people with two brain cells to rub together is what sparked you thinking about this, right?
[01:02:35] Andy Norman: Well, I've been worrying about this problem for about 30 years, but the problem certainly seems to have come to a head just about the time the book came out. Maybe that's good timing, but my friends tell me, I should have published this years ago before our country went crazy.
[01:02:47] Jordan Harbinger: Ah, nobody would have read it, right? We don't need this. Everybody's pretty rational. Yeah...2020.
[01:02:54] Andy Norman: Do continue to think about the potential of these ideas to help people develop next level critical thinking skills. And I'll think of you as an ally in this fight. And I hope you'll think of me the same way.
[01:03:05] Jordan Harbinger: Yes, of course, absolutely. It's something that more people need. And I worry, unfortunately, that a lot of the people who need to hear this the most are going to be the ones that go, "Oh, I'm rational. I don't need that," right?
[01:03:16] Andy Norman: Well, I think that's right. But what we do is we reach the people we can now and the ideas will seep out by osmosis through the culture. I think it will happen given time, but — hey, so if people who hear your show are interested in the science and its applications, type cognitiveimmunology.net Maybe you can put this in the show notes.
[01:03:35] Jordan Harbinger: I did. I just did. It'll be linked in there. Yeah, this is a cool website.
[01:03:39] Andy Norman: I see synergies between what this nonprofit think tank is trying to do and your mission and the mission of your podcast.
[01:03:47] Jordan Harbinger: Likewise.
[01:03:47] Andy Norman: Jordan, you're really good at this man. I really admire your talent. You're extremely good at what you do. You have a manner that I think really draws people in and I certainly, both trust you, and even the first time I heard you, I was like, "I don't want to trust this guy."
[01:04:03] Jordan Harbinger: Thank you.
[01:04:03] Andy Norman: Keep fighting the good fight, my friend. It's a real pleasure to meet you and I hope we'll cross paths soon and often.
[01:04:09] Jordan Harbinger: Likewise, thank you very much.
[01:04:12] If you're looking for another episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show to sink your teeth into, here's a trailer for another episode that I think you might enjoy,
[01:04:19] Beau Lotto: There is a world out there that we don't see it as it is. So this isn't philosophy, this is just laws of physics. So if a tree falls in the wind no one's there to hear it, does it make a sound? No. It creates energy, but the sound is a concept of your brain. So the tree exists, the energy exists, but your brain then turns that into something useful, which is sound. Light, all the light that's coming around us, right? It's bouncing off objects. And then it's changing when it hits an object and then it comes to our eyes, right? But our retina has no access to the light directly nor to the surfaces. All it literally has access to is energy. And that's where your brain is actually constructing a meaning. And it's that meaning that you're seeing, you're not seeing the energy you're detecting the energy, but you're not seeing it.
[01:05:05] Language is not a construct of the world. Think about perceptions of pain. Is pain an illusion? Of course, it's not an illusion. It's a meaningful perception, but it's not something that exists in the world. There aren't painful things in the world.
[01:05:18] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:05:18] Beau Lotto: If we weren't here, pain would not exist. We can't hear the five sounds of A, that people in Scandinavia use, for instance.
[01:05:26] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[01:05:27] Beau Lotto: We can't see certain shades of red that Russians can see.
[01:05:30] Jordan Harbinger: Really.
[01:05:30] Beau Lotto: Yeah. And it's only when you have awareness of why you're doing what you're doing. That creates the possibility of doing it differently. Now, of course, if you don't have eyes, you can't choose to see it, you still have to function in a world that has gravity, right? That has light, but we have more freedom than we do. We have more agency than we think we do. So the world is always changing and complexifying and we need to complexify with it. And we never could if it always just see it as it really is.
[01:06:00] Jordan Harbinger: For more about how our brains produce vision and the constructs our brain makes to build our world, check out episode 177 with Beau Lotto here on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:06:12] So it's one thing to tell people what to believe and another to show people why something is true. And obviously one is harder than the other. Identifying reasons to believe something are kind of hard to identify, let alone, to identify a good reason. So it's important to define what a reason even is. And that's where this starts to delve from the practical, maybe even to the philosophical. We often think we have reasons to believe something, but we actually do not. It's better to ask what reasons actually support something? What do they support? What do they refute? What's the function? People often use reasons that don't even support their argument. And most of the time, we don't even notice that this is the case, right?
[01:06:48] If I give you a ridiculous example, like it's Wednesday, because the moon is made of blue cheese, that's a reason it's just not a good one that supports the argument. Now, that example might be obvious, but we see this happening all the time where bad reasons are given for beliefs. And we just don't even question it. In the end, the deep culprit here is not some shadowy government inside conspiracy. It's not an aspiring demagogue or a corrupt political party. The problem, if you trace it to its roots, we find a compromised cultural immune system here, especially in the United States, but in the west in general. And astonishingly irrational ideas proliferate because they're playing us. The idea is that is, not some shadowy government conspiracy or did I just come full circle? You'd be the judge.
[01:07:31] Big, thanks to Andy Norman. The book will be linked in the show notes. And if you do want to buy it, please use the website links. If you buy the book, it does help support the show. Those links are in the show notes. Worksheets are in the show notes. Transcripts are on the show notes, and there's a video of this interview going up on our YouTube channel at jordanharbinger.com/youtube. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram, or just hit me on LinkedIn.
[01:07:52] I'm teaching you how to connect with amazing people using the same systems, software, and tiny habits that I use every single day. It's our Six-Minute Networking course. The course is totally free. I don't need any personally identifiable information. None of that crap. I don't need your social or your credit card. I think all I need is your email. And frankly, I'm too lazy to email you and sell you stuff. I don't need to. I'm shilling mattresses over here. You know the deal. Anyway, the course is over at jordanharbinger.com/course. Dig that well before you get thirsty. That's what we're teaching you. And most of the guests you hear on the show subscribe and contribute to that same course. Come join us, you'll be in smart company.
[01:08:25] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, Josh Ballard, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for the show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. If you know somebody who could use a little critical thinking tune-up or just agrees with a lot of what we're saying here, a little to reinforce their cognitive bias and their agenda — why not? Share this episode with them. Hopefully, you find something great in every episode of this show. Please share the show with those you care about. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
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