Andy Norman is a philosopher and award-winning author of Mental Immunity: Infectious Ideas, Mind-Parasites, and the Search for a Better Way to Think. He studies how to help people develop immunity to bad ideas and believes that this is the key to growing wiser together. Andy directs the Humanism Initiative at CMU. He’s done research on the evolutionary origins of human reasoning and the norms that make dialogue fruitful. He’s published in Scientific American, Skeptic, Free Inquiry, and The Humanist.
Buy the book Mental Immunity here: https://geni.us/64iWZzx
Links from the discussion in the episode:
https://cognitiveimmunology.net (the science of mental immunity and efforts to apply its findings (CIRCE))
Practical steps to mental immune health: https://cognitiveimmunology.net/applied-ci
The New Socratic Method (1-page guide) https://bit.ly/3xjIKKp
Connect with Andy here:
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Clément: [00:00:00] Hello there. Welcome to another episode of unleashed love. My name is Clément young and I’m your host. And today I’m talking with Andy Norman, who’s the author of the book, mental immunity, infectious ideas, mind parasites, and the search for a better way to think. And in that book, Andy brings to our attention, a new concept, at least a new concept for me, I’d never really thought about this until Andy and I met, which is that the mind.
Has, or can be seen to have an immune system of its own something like our physiological immune system, something that keeps us safe from toxins, from viruses, from pathogens, but mind made ones like ideas or beliefs.
The conversation we have is really geared around how well, how do we strengthen this?
How do we improve it? We’re going through this kind of shift in our society where we eat up a lot of the information that we [00:01:00] get fed online. And we don’t really have the skills and the tools to be able to protect us or immunize us. Like just a normal immune system. We are not immunized from taking on.
Toxic ideas and beliefs that are passed around freely by whichever, players you want to say are the sources. So again, we talk about stuff to do with that book. We talk about when the last time the world was saying and what that looked like and how far we’ve come since then we talk about fake news, how facts don’t matter anymore.
I’m so glad you’re here. Thank you for tuning in. I hope you enjoy the show. If you do, please leave a rating and a review on the apple podcast platform. Cause every single one we get helps us reach a wider audience. All right, let’s dive right in. Welcome Andy Norman. I think you are mirroring a lot of the conversations I’ve had with introverted friends who say it hasn’t been so hard for them apparently in their [00:02:00] way of seeing things.
I’m an extrovert. I have no idea, but I’m sorry.
I would say I’m a little bit off center on, yeah. Not to the end of the extreme, I’m not the life of the party by any means anymore. Maybe that kind of thing flattens out over time, as you get older, you realize, yeah. I
Andy Norman: [00:02:15] outgrew that, huh? I only
Clément: [00:02:17] have so much energy and I think I need to be more strategic about how I spend it.
I don’t always have to be the most, the loudest guy in the room.
Andy Norman: [00:02:23] You at least were once the life of the party that not everybody made that.
Clément: [00:02:27] Yeah. At least I get to say that. But there’s you know what this it was quite Pleasantly surprised by the topic of this book because my assistant books, all of the episodes.
So she’s the one who reaches out and finds people that want to come on and talk. And I w I wasn’t expecting, to be talking about mental immunity, the book that you wrote, and I think it sounds right, really interesting to me, because I’m very much. Concerned with the way that society and culture is heading.
[00:03:00] I think a lot of us are, it’s obviously a growing concern, but these kinds of books that you’ve written are I think, essential for turning the tide. If we can we can talk more about that as well. Whether you think this is actually a, when do you think there’s actually a way we can actually, turn things around anytime soon, but yeah.
What even got you into this topic? How did you become, an author for what’s seen as a very highly praised mental health
Andy Norman: [00:03:29] Thanks. I’m I’m more of a philosopher than a teacher psychologist. And in fact, my training is very centered in philosophy. So I got, I’ve been thinking about how bad ideas take root in people’s minds and turn them against one another or lead them to adopt, dysfunctional behaviors.
I’ve been thinking about that for a long time. And I come from a long line of philosophers who are trying to PR who are trying to figure out ways to promote a little more wisdom and a little bit less foolishness in the world. And I’ve [00:04:00] after studying the matter for really about 30 years I’ve come to the conclusion that bad ideas can spread like viruses through a population.
I called them mind parasite. And some of them are highly infectious. Think about, the Q Anon conspiracy theory, which you can actually forensic examination shows how this idea has mutated and spread across the internet and infected minds that are alarming ways. Now that’s the bad news, right?
That our minds are infection prone. And almost every one of us carries mind parasites. W every single one of us hosts probably many parasites. The good news is that our minds also have immune systems that do a pretty good job most of the time at spotting and removing bad ideas. So that’s in the same way that your body’s immune system protects you against infectious microbes.
Your mind has an immune system that protects you. To one or another degree [00:05:00] from infectious ideas.
Clément: [00:05:01] That’s an interesting concept. And I love it because I am a, an advocate of having a strong immune system, physiological immune system. And this is the first time I’ve ever heard that concept of having an immune system of the mind.
Do you think that the immune system that you’re, you get, as you develop and as an adult, do you think that your immune system, your mental immune system. Is something that you can affect, particularly in a Delaware developmental years. Is there anything you can do about it later on?
Let’s say when you’re 30, 40.
Andy Norman: [00:05:34] Yeah. The answer is yes. W so there are a couple of things to say here. We’re born very gullible. If our parents teach us to believe in the tooth fairy, we believe in the tooth fairy which is to say w which means we’re not born with a high degree of immunity to falsehoods at least fun or sexy falsehoods.
So you have to grow your, develop your ability to spot and remove falsehoods and other forms of harmful belief. We typically. [00:06:00] Frame that, historically we’ve framed that fact as, we need to develop critical thinking skills, and I’m a big fan of critical thinking, but I also learned from teaching critical thinking.
Critical thinking skills are just a tiny piece of the mind’s overall defenses. And for about a century now, universities have been trying to impart critical thinking skills. Assuming that they would be enough to protect us from viral nonsense. And we’re now learning that it’s not enough and that we need a more comprehensive way of.
Thinking about the problem. And I think that this science of mental immunity, I call it cognitive immunology is a really good way to think about it. And thereby help us develop our immunity to bad ideas. And yes, I don’t think any of us is too old to benefit from this science and to begin strengthening our mental immune system.
Clément: [00:06:51] I’m thinking about myself when I ask that question. No, but I, I do know that. And especially, this is maybe not something that you focus your time on, [00:07:00] but I, as the host of a show about relationships and mental health, we talk a lot about intimacy. We talk a lot about partnerships with other people and I, as a single man and constantly noticing.
My mind take a life of its own. And maybe that immune system that you’re talking about that critical thinking part of that is the critical thinking part of that as the ability to be self-aware. And use some kind of a benchmark, which I want to talk to about in a second to say that’s a little bit off center.
That’s a bit far away from, the kind of direction that I should be taking with my thoughts and my beliefs. And I have to pull myself back from that point seems so far away that I got, and I think it was a lot of, it was fueled by the emotions that were made in the moment that I experienced. And I think what I’m trying to say it.
I recognize how pervasive [00:08:00] it can be this year, these parasites, these kinds of I’m bouncing back and forth between this is how reality is I’m. So right about this person is an awful person. Let alone, they did this to me. They did that to me. And then a day later, literally 24 hours later, I’ll be like, I was so wrong.
It was my fault. It was so you bounce back and forth. And how, what’s the benchmark though? How do we know where the center is that we can pull ourselves back when we’re off track?
Andy Norman: [00:08:25] It’s certainly true that ex that strong emotions can warp a judgment. And this is something philosophers have noticed for thousands of years.
So when you’re inclined to act in the heat of. W with out of anger, out of a sense of self righteous indignation, chances are you’re not serving your own interests very well. Th these are emotions best calmed down, set aside take 10 deep breaths. Come back to it. If you have to reply to that email, that has you [00:09:00] so upset, give it a day.
Think about it for a little bit. First you come across a tweet that used to think it must be must. Must’ve been posted by a complete imbecile. Maybe the tweet. Is in fact an imbecile or maybe you’re just too easily triggered into overreacting to it. So one of the things we’re learning is, but just as your body’s immune system can overreact to a perceived threat.
So allergies are a perfect example. When you suffer from hay fever, it’s not the pollen itself that makes you miserable. Body’s immune systems overreaction to the pollen that makes you miserable. And in the same way that a body’s immune system can overreact and mess you up, your mind’s immune system can overreact and mess you up.
And right now we’ve created this, digital world where we’re just confronted. Outrageous means I outrageous ideas, [00:10:00] outrageous posts out, right? Yeah. Articles recounting outrageous developments all the time. And our minds go into like fight or flight mode. And we feel like we have to attack things in order to protect ourselves, but it turns out that’s a really dysfunctional thing.
We all need to learn the art of calming our minds and responding in a judicious way rather than lashing out.
Clément: [00:10:26] Yeah. Yeah, everything you say I’m behind a hundred percent. I think my challenge is how do we get the masses? How do we get a like a critical mass? How do we get a critical mass to start seeing that?
Because I think a lot of us are asleep right now. Whether it’s the television that we’re always watching the mainstream news coming through and always yeah, there’s an agenda, there’s a misinformation, there’s a lot of fake news. There’s a lot of things that have happened over the last decade or so that you can, you’ve got a label [00:11:00] for.
Andy Norman: [00:11:02] it just
Clément: [00:11:03] goes to, I think we’re starting to, and you can tell me if I’m right or wrong in your opinion, but I think we’re starting to see. Some kind of event historically, where we’re transitioning from one way of life to another, like I, I could say I could say that maybe what it is we’re moving into a hyper technological stage of humanity where we have a very fast acceleration.
Toward automation. It’s making people, I think it’s leaving people in the dust and it’s leaving us with a sense of a loss or uselessness or, anxiety.
It’s the pace of an it’s the pace of society. It’s the quality of life has improved, approved. As far as I know, as far as I can see in general, the quality of life keeps improving. Our average age of deaths keeps getting greater and greater, but the actual happiness, I think the happiness of individuals.
Andy Norman: [00:11:57] in line that’s right. And the [00:12:00] evidence, I think, backs, backs that up. Overall life expectancy is up. Crime rates are down over the long haul. Many measures of human wellbeing have been improving for decades. And in some cases, centuries, and the book to check out if you have any doubts about this as Steven, Pinker’s the better angels of our nature.
And we know that over the last several years, anxiety and depression have been skyrocketing, especially among young people. And of course, partisan division and acrimony online have been rising too. And yeah, we’re in a, we’re in a challenging time and we need new strategies for. W we need to come up with techniques that can help us cope individually, but also collectively, how do we bring it?
The change on the scale. That’s where your question started. Boy, I wish I had the magic wand for this. What I do have is a set of ideas that I think are, have a lot of potential to produce a sea change and in [00:13:00] attitudes. But of course my book would have to sell a lot of copies. A lot of people would have to put the ideas in it to work.
But in the book I spell out exactly how you can become part of the the solution here. Basically, if you come to understand how your mind’s immune system works and learn how to make it work better, you then become an example to others, just an ordinary, everyday conversation of how to think more clearly and better.
And if you can embody that and exemplify that to the people around you, they start to internalize it from your example. And then the influence can spread. By osmosis or perhaps you might even say in a viral way, but in a good way, then a good viral way. That’s the model, right? So think about vaccines.
So we have a vac, we have several vaccines now for COVID. Now a vaccine is not a magic wand. You can’t just, wave a vaccine and modern incantation and cure the world. But vaccines are highly refined substances that if they’re administered [00:14:00] properly, have an almost magical effect on our immunity to dangerous diseases.
Smallpox has killed billions of people. In the history of the world and almost nobody suffers from it today. It’s one of the most astonishing successes ever in the history of science. I actually argue that we can develop a mind vaccines also and inoculate ourselves against the worst forms of.
Cognitive contagion. Epidemics of unreason have torn apart civilizations for thousands of years, but we’re, we suddenly now have the tools we can use to basically confer herd immunity. To cognitive contagion on entire populations, but the science is still young. We need people to help develop it, the science, and we need people like you, Clement, who are willing to help share these ideas with others so that they can put them to work in their own lives.
And the more people we don’t just need specialists and scientists and [00:15:00] pointy headed intellectuals to do this work. We need everybody to embrace some of these insights and become part of this.
Clément: [00:15:06] I see what you’re saying. And it reminds me a lot of what Malcolm Gladwell talks about in one of his books.
I think it’s called outliers or the tipping point. Sorry, it’s the tipping point. It’s the tipping point. I think when he’s mentioning that there’s a certain, there’s a certain ratio in a population that’s needed before an idea can really take hold. And once it’s reached, it’s like a snowball effect.
It just a viral idea, like exactly, like you said. And so there’s a, there’s definitely an alignment there with, I think how other people also perceive, viral ideas, these kinds of challenges that we face today and what’s needed to actually overcome them. What are some of the ways.
That we can inoculate ourselves. What are these kinds of mechanisms look like? And I’m already [00:16:00] thinking ahead, if you don’t mind, I’m going to talk a little bit about my experience, reading books, like a Ray Dalio’s principles. Okay. Yeah. For anyone who doesn’t know anything about the book?
Ray Dalio is one of the most successful investors of all time. And he runs a incredibly powerful organization that really has refined the science of investment. And so they use highly sophisticated algorithms to run their investments, strategies, and Ray Dalio wrote a book, even though he didn’t need to.
He wrote a book called principles. It’s a big. It’s separated into two parts. So the first side, the first half of the book is I believe your personal principles, that kind of guide you through your life as an individual and in your relationships with other people. And then the second half of the book is.
The work principles, what guides you through your career and how to navigate [00:17:00] that. And so it’s a very practical book. Every page has something that you can actually use in your real life. And I learned a lot from that book. And so Ray Daleo is basically programming you in a very specific way to deal with situations.
That he believes, can be distilled into this book. The solutions can be distilled into philosophies principles about how so I was just coming back to, what’s the mechanism for you or what are some mechanisms for you for inoculating people against bad ideas, toxic ideas.
Andy Norman: [00:17:36] Yeah. And so just to pick up on the Dalio point, if you study the, his philosophy and the history of philosophy, ideas have seeped out of the world of, intellectual philosophers and spread through populations and dramatically changed. Entire civilizations ideas can in one of the quotes from the book, ideas can unhinge the gates of empires.
[00:18:00] In fact, they have on a hinge to the gates of empires. And they’ve also built magnificent civilizations. So ideas can change the world very rapidly if they, if the right ideas spread and that can like it can dramatically change. For the worse in the way that we’re seeing today, but that can also change the world for the better.
And so if you’re tempted to despair because of our moment seems so helpless, remember that if the right ideas spread and catch the interest of enough people change can come very rapidly, needed change can come very rapidly. So don’t despair just make yourself an agent of helping to propagate the right ideas.
And you can. Change the history of civilization. You may not be recognized. I probably won’t be recognized as having, transformed civilization, but I will die content that I’ve done my best to nudge, not just all in the right direction. As far as what we can do to inoculate minds, I here’s some of the lessons from [00:19:00] this.
Young science of cognitive immunology. Number one, listen to your doubts. Doubts. In fact, are the mind’s antibodies and they swarm into your consciousness when you encounter a questionable or problematic idea. And they’re trying to warn you that something about this idea doesn’t feel right. Maybe an and sometimes the voice in your head that says, something’s not right here, it’s so quiet.
You ignore it. Learn to listen to that little voice, because it’s probably trying to draw attention to a feature of that idea that is genuinely problematic. Now the problematic aspect of that idea may not overwhelm all of the good aspects of that idea. But take a moment to notice what the doubt is trying to teach you, because it makes it before you embrace that idea or act on it or build your life around it.
[00:20:00] You want to make sure you understand the downsides as well as the upsides. So listen to your mind’s antibodies. Don’t buy, don’t develop the habit of tuning them out because that’s the path to, to compromising your own. To bad ideas. Yeah.
Clément: [00:20:19] This happens in relationships all the time. You probably know what I’m talking about.
You maybe it’s your wife, maybe it’s someone that you really like, that you want to be with, and then you get that doubt. You get that. I don’t really know if I like that side of this person or I don’t know if that’s a good idea, and you I think like myself, you go with, you give them benefit of the doubt.
This is something I, I talked about recently as compromise is the difference between knowing to trust your instinct about someone and giving them the benefit of the doubt. Like where’s the line that we draw, I think it’s very hard to say in a very, in a very focused kind of answer, oh, this is how you do it, but I do believe that [00:21:00] your instinct, whatever you want to call it, your doubts, your instinct is so powerful that even if you’re wrong, it would have been a bad idea not to listen in the first place anyway.
Andy Norman: [00:21:11] It’s important to let doubts qualms reservoir. It’s important to give them enough attention to understand what they’re trying to tell you. That doesn’t mean you have to dwell ceaselessly on your doubts or dwell ceaselessly on the negatives or the problems. So some people who are who are taught critical thinking or taught to question ideas.
End up like I did earlier in my life. When I, where I focus so much on the negatives, on the problems, on the questions, on the doubts that I actually became clinically depressed, you can overdo it just as you can become under attentive to criticisms and questions and ideas and problems. You can become overly obsessed.
With focusing on them alone and not appreciate all the beauty and all, everything that’s going [00:22:00] right in your world. In fact, there’s something psychologist called negativity bias. Yes. Our minds automatically please filter out a lot of the stuff that’s going, so we focus on the problems, fix them, but if you focus exclusively on the, go on the bad stuff and don’t take time to smell the flowers, so to speak, you can end up doing.
So pay attention to questions, doubts problems, but also give yourself a break from them, also just say, Hey, I’m my own name? Like activity bias might be giving me a much darker picture of the world then is really accurate. In fact, if you read the newspaper every day or watch the news and that alone can give you a very dark picture of the world and I need to step back from.
Almost every day and say, all right, I just read four really worrisome articles in a row. It’s a good thing. That’s only a tiny fraction of the overall reality because there’s a whole lot of other stuff [00:23:00] out there that’s going. But reporters aren’t report. Yeah. And you could look at the,
Clément: [00:23:03] Situation with, and I just want to riff off of this for a while because it’s so true that.
It becomes our reality. If that’s all we consume, that’s what we believe is happening. That’s it. And there’s nothing else going on out there. So you can look at that. And what’s happened with the police in the United States recently, as it’s been a pretty difficult time for police. And I think I read this morning that.
The number of, cops is dropping dramatically in the largest cities in the United States because people just aren’t as interested to be subject to that kind of scrutiny now. And to be, I would say many times unfairly treated or seen as a nuisance, rather than someone who’s trying to be there to serve in public.
But if you look at the bigger picture and if you can bring yourself to have an open mind oh, okay, maybe there’s something else going on here. You’ll see that the majority of police officers, the vast majority are literally doing what they’re supposed to, [00:24:00] because they it’s their job.
That’s what, and so I, I think you’re right. I think that the new. Mainstream news is something I think would be the first thing to get rid of as a staple of your diet.
Andy Norman: [00:24:14] You don’t, we want to be careful about how you consume news and not just mainstream news. Alternative news can also become toxic.
Morally disorienting and depressing all the rest. You have to be, become a mindful consumer of news, no matter what your sources, and there, right now, we live in an age when there are very lot of not just unreliable news sources. There are also a lot of unscrupulous, fake news sources out there.
And so if you don’t bring your critical thinking skills, if you don’t bring your mental immunity to the table, you’re going to end up being. By a demagogue played by a propagandist, played by a conspiracy theorist or a cult leader. These things are happening all over the world because people don’t know how to distinguish reliable and [00:25:00] unreliable sources online, but you can learn these things and they’re not terribly hard to learn some very simple questions.
Do I really know this? Or does this just seem. And if I do know it, how do I know it? And is that method of knowing really reliable? These are the questions you have to get in the habit of asking yourself in this day and age, or you’re a sitting duck.
Clément: [00:25:22] That’s it. It’s the quality of the questions that you’re asking yourself?
It’s not how many questions or how few questions. It’s the quality.
Andy Norman: [00:25:30] Absolutely. And in fact, you’ve just capsulated one of the other, one of the most important things you can do to inoculate yourself is just practice the art of questioning. Just ask the best questions you can try not to get hung up on the questions that just allow you to slam opponents or the questions that just allow you to feel better about yourself though.
Those are true thinkers. Don’t just wield questions and reasons to. They wield questions and [00:26:00] reasons in order to understand. And if you find yourself caught up in a culture war or a flame war, and you’re basically just using reasons to bash the other side in unprincipled ways, you’re setting yourself up for a major mental immune disorder.
Always prioritize. Trying to deepen your understanding and that’s a lodestone, that’s a touchstone. That’s a way to stay anchored and centered in this crazy new world we’ve built ourselves.
Clément: [00:26:30] What you’ve just reminded me of is the feeling that you get when you’re caught up in an argument and you notice that you’re caught up in an arc.
There’s that moment in time where it suddenly becomes, it’s like an epiphany and then it’s an embarrassment. It’s like an epiphany followed by an embarrassment. And sometimes you want to keep it going because you’re like I’ve gotten this far already. I might as well keep going because maybe I’ll be right in the end.
Maybe they’ll concede and maybe I’ll win. [00:27:00] And then maybe I can just go and make a sandwich like I was going to anyway. And that is what I think what we’re leading to with this conversation really is that this is the ultimate goal. It’s to be inoculated it’s to have all these antibodies it’s to have this immune system that’s so strong that you’re basically, You basically a stoic you’re basically you basically a very wise individual who doesn’t get influenced by emotions and whatever else can
Andy Norman: [00:27:29] I just say?
I think you’ve just put your finger on something really important. Philosophers have been chasing wisdom for a long time, and there’s no reliable evidence that we’ve caught it we’ve captured it, or we certainly haven’t done a very good job of imparting it to the rest of humanity. But I actually think that this concept of mental immune.
And if we actually learn how to inoculate our own minds, I actually think we’ve become wiser versions of ourselves. And you’re not going to know nobody not reading my book. Won’t instantly make you like, eternally wise, anything like [00:28:00] that, no false promises there. But if you absorb a few of its ideas and just take a little more time every day to ask good questions and to try to understand stuff.
There’s a glide path to a wiser version of you that will serve you so well in life. And I think this is one of the most look. My, one of my heroes is the philosopher Socrates from ancient, Greece, and Socrates basically wandered the streets and he’d strike up conversations about life’s deepest questions, and he basically get people to open up about their beliefs.
And then he’d just really test those ideas. With brilliantly framed questions and this art it’s called the Socratic method of using questions to clarify, and then sharpen up your ideas is a beautiful thing. And I argue with that, it’s one of the most powerful mind inoculants ever invented. If you can learn the basics of the Socratic method and I can reduce it to a single page for you, in fact, that can send Clement to link [00:29:00] to a one-page guide, to what I call the new Socratic method, which is an enhanced version of the famous Socratic method from 2,400 years ago.
Clément: [00:29:12] Yeah. You said something like reading a book. Over, isn’t going to make you inoculate it overnight. And I was thinking neither is eating a veggie burger. We’re going to make you a Saint overnight
Andy Norman: [00:29:27] oppose
Clément: [00:29:27] as in, there are a lot of vegan people out there who think it will, but yeah, it’s a long journey and I think it’s different for everyone because the things that we’re talking about here. Very deep issues. If you’re trying to win an argument, like we talked about just in the previous conversation, if you’re trying to win an argument and you feel that energy, that very unique energy you feel when you’re ashamed, but you’re also driven that’s coming from somewhere.
That’s like a a deep seated belief. Of a need for validation perhaps of [00:30:00] something that stems from way back when you were treated like crap and you were made to feel embarrassed and you were told you weren’t good enough and that’s just stuck with you all those years.
And so there, there is an individual journey in here for everybody who’s listening to get to that final point where you are able to practice that kind of wisdom. And and like you said, your book isn’t, it’s not like a one-stop shop for curing your mental element, but it’s it’s from what I gather an amazing final destination and something we should all aspire to.
One thing I wanted to ask you
Andy Norman: [00:30:36] is
Clément: [00:30:37] when do you think, and you talked about the Stoics, do you think that was the last time modern civilization was safe?
Andy Norman: [00:30:46] Wow. Let’s see. So there, there was an ancient stoicism back in, in Rome when the Roman empire was at its height and the Stoics from that era had some [00:31:00] wonderfully practical philosophical methods for staying.
And I have great admiration for the Roman Stoics, who themselves were deeply influenced by Socrates and Plato and the other Greek philosophers that I admire. There was certainly a lot of wisdom at that time. There was an awful lot of foolishness at that time too. The Roman empire fell because I think because they couldn’t prevent foolishness from tearing it apart.
Clément: [00:31:25] Do you think it was maybe like a polar ism then? That’s why the Stoics were so influential and so dead set because they knew that there was this other side of humanity that was just destroying itself and they had to do something about it.
Andy Norman: [00:31:38] Yeah. So I tell a story in the book about how there’s been a constant struggle throughout history, between people who have overactive mental immune systems and people who have underactive mental immune systems.
So philosophers almost always have overactive mental immune systems were so hyped up to criticize ideas that a lot of times people go, oh man, get outta here. You’re just too critical for our own good. Yeah. [00:32:00] And sometimes they’re right. Cause we philosophers can overdo it. But then there are a lot of people who are made extremely uncomfortable by questioning and by doubt, and they just latch onto some certitudes that they feel ground to them.
And then they dig their heels in and they push back and they become closed. And those to me are signs of an underactive mental immune system. In fact, if you look at the way culture wars break out and propagate themselves, it’s often the case that the men overactive mental immune systems are on one in one camp.
Okay. Underactive ones are in another camp. I argue that if we can actually learn where the sweet spot is, the Goldilocks zone between overactive and underactive, that we can calm our culture wars down and get back to discoursing in a way that’s genuinely fruitful again and save our civilization from implosion.
Clément: [00:32:51] I am not sure if you’re very familiar with. The technological aspect of these culture wars in terms of the [00:33:00] platforms that we use to communicate and consume Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and all of the fake accounts that exists that are pumping out this information. That supports whatever narrative it is that the owners of those accounts want to push.
And we’ve seen time and time again with these kind of Cambridge Analytica, scandals, these other, agencies and groups that want to misinform the public using these platforms. In sometimes ways that just go completely unpunished.
Andy Norman: [00:33:36] Yes. And
Clément: [00:33:37] We’re so let’s, so I’ll just boil it down into something very simple to understand.
If you like Donald Trump, then you are going to be privy to a very different reality than someone who likes Joe blow. On these platforms, you’re going to see your feed. The news is going to come through and you’re going to, this is the world. This is the world I live in, [00:34:00] but it’s all going to be angled more towards, and to get more refined over time, the more you interact with the platform, the more knowledgeable it becomes of view and what your interests are, and it will feed you.
And you will end up in this really thin end of the fight. Where you’re literally believing these Q Anon spirits, conspiracies and things. So how do we tackle, do you, have you thought about that at all? And how would you how would you tackle the problem of this technological influence on us?
Andy Norman: [00:34:29] That’s a fantastic question. Clement and I have bits and pieces of an answer may be, but so there’s no question that. Social media and other information technologies are a huge part of what’s causing the dysfunction in our world today. There’s, it’s, there’s a wild west frontier out here of digital disinformation that we’re only learning how to regulate properly.
And by regulate, I don’t mean okay. Big brother or mark [00:35:00] Zuckerberg should decide who gets to speak. I’m not in favor of thought. Police I’ll say that right off the bat, but there are non authoritarian ways to regulate the flow of information. In fact, critical thinking is a non authoritarian information regulation mechanism, and we need to build something like.
W we need to build some of those features into the design of social media, into the design of the four of the fora online forum that we frequent. So there are some really fascinating work being done, trying to create healthy online communities that don’t just thrive on disinformation and flame wars, the way Twitter does, for example, but instead, try to create nurturing.
Social worlds online that where people actually walk of hate, walk away, feeling better about human nature, rather than a worst about human nature. In fact, I just had a phone call yesterday with some former Google engineers, [00:36:00] actually with a guy working with some form of Google engineers who are trying to tackle this problem by designing forms of social media and ways of interacting online to bring out the best in human nature.
So I think there’s a lot of room for growth there. I also like to put it this way either we have to regulate information at its source. Which kind of starts to sound big brother-ish or we have to develop our mental minds immune systems so that when we see dis information, we go bullshit, not paying attention to you or right.
And not being an authoritarian myself. I’m all in on developing our mental immunity to nonsense so that we don’t have to we don’t need a big brother to. The information space for us.
Clément: [00:36:45] Yeah. Yeah. I’m with you on that one completely. I’m a very big proponent of personal power and I’m not a big proponent of government care.
I think that there’s a an unfortunate, situation that has started to unravel where [00:37:00] we’re now victimized and tricked somehow into thinking that we need government to take care of us. We need government to. Keep us alive and feed us and tell us what to do and where to go. You know who to mix with?
I’m talking a little bit about COVID I’m talking a little bit about the stimulus. I’m talking a little bit about a few different things here, but big government is terrible for civilization. It’s a candidate. And it needs to be stemmed in my opinion, because I feel like giving the power back to the individual to make the right decisions, to give them the responsibility, just like they talk about with young men today, giving young men more responsibility is actually very productive because it keeps them out of violence.
It keeps them out of situations. They might become a menace or some kind of lost potential. And if we can, if we can come back to recognizing there’s a need for [00:38:00] individual responsibility, that they can make the right decisions, let’s say, for example, Okay, look, there’s a virus. It is dangerous, very dangerous.
I’m not going to, by the way. It’s I think it’s a very dangerous virus. I know of many people who’ve had it or have I’ve had it. People have died. I know it’s out there. You can get it, but we’re not going to tell you to stay at home. We’re not going to impose on you that you can’t go out and make living.
You can’t feed your kids. But if you do go out just. There’s a possibility you might get this and you might be in, you might be in trouble. And then we’ll try and help you. I think that’s a very responsible response from government. I don’t think that it’s a very transparent policy at the moment of just let’s keep you at home to keep you safe.
And we’re not going to tell you all the other reasons why we’re doing it. There’s a lot of other monetary reasons why we’re doing this power related reasons, why we’re doing this. I know I’m I’m going into a tangent [00:39:00] on political politics here but individual freedoms and responsibilities to a certain degree.
Yeah. I think that they need to be strengthened.
Andy Norman: [00:39:07] Yeah, individual responsibility, autonomy. A well lived life has huge amounts of autonomy to it. And there’s and I don’t consider myself a libertarian, but I do think libertarians have that piece of the truth. That and I don’t know, I guess I identify more as a progressive myself and the progressive left in America at least has been.
Typecast is for big government or enthusiastic about big government. I don’t know, a single progressive who thinks big government for its own sake is a good thing. When we do support government programs, it’s because we don’t see another age actor, we don’t see another institution available.
Address a pressing problem. And there do need to be yeah. Institutions to promote the common good. So if we did away with all [00:40:00] government, so Henry David Thoreau, the philosopher said that government is best, which governs least. Yes. And unless there is a powerful actor charged with promoting the common good, then private actors will take advantage of other private actors in ways that can harm us.
So you need a referee to maintain the ground rules. The, even well-functioning markets require boundary conditions. And unless you have say governments to help design well-functioning markets will devolve in such a way that you have powerful economic.
Actors taking advantage of less powerful beliefs, exploitative employers, lots of things. Or, extraction industries that just help themselves to what is arguably our common inheritance, enriching themselves and polluting the environment. All of these things are problems that require governmental.
So it sounds like we could have a really productive discussion where we [00:41:00] talk through the pros and cons of government. Cause, cause I, I think people have very different views on the appropriate role of government here. I think it can all learn a lot by listening to one another on
Clément: [00:41:12] it.
Yeah, definitely. I it’s something that I’m hugely interested in and I’m not I’m not. Interested in, in, in becoming a politician by any means, that’s just not the life I want to live. I would like to keep my hair and I would like to, I would like to, not get that into the thick of things with it.
I know it’s a very stressful environment to work in if you really care, if you really care, it’s stressful. If you don’t care, I don’t think it’s that stressful. And I do get upset when I see. When I see policies enacted that I don’t agree with and I think are against the greater good and the good of the civilization and the good of the citizen.
But yeah, by all means we can, is that what you’re saying? I want to dive into it a little bit and discuss maybe the good and the bad.
Andy Norman: [00:41:56] Sure. I think trying to settle the question about, [00:42:00] how big should government be or where does government have a role in our lives?
Where does that? That’s probably too big of a conversation to take on at this point. But and that’s the kind of issue that right now is certainly dividing Americans against each other. And the fact is slogans and simple formulations. Big government is bad. Big government is good, are, is not going to allow us to make any headway at all.
In that conversation. These are deep, tricky issues that require patients to work through. And to the extent that your audience contains fellow Americans I hope they’re. I hope they’re they’ll listen and take that to heart because the fact is no government is bad. Humongous government is bad and the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle and we actually need to actually listen and learn from one another.
If we’re going to find that.
Clément: [00:42:47] Yeah, I think that’s probably the biggest challenge. America faces right now is a uniform. On something other than sport.
But my [00:43:00] last question to you, before, I we beat each of the farewell it, and it’s been an amazing conversation by the way. It’s been really great and something a little bit different than what we’re used to doing on this show. So it’s very welcome. I think people are going to enjoy it. And my last question to you is, do you think that will always going to be plagued by things like this?
Meaning as humans, it seems to me like we just can’t seem to escape self destruction. Like we just can’t seem to escape that greediness, that selfishness, that I want to be the best. I want to have everything I want to, which kind of leads down that road towards, wars, whatever. Do you think there’s a way, are you are you an idealist and optimist or D w how do you feel about it?
Or are we always going to have these challenges and therefore we just need to get better at dealing with them when they happen?
Andy Norman: [00:43:54] Yeah I think the dark side of human nature will, is not going away in the [00:44:00] next 10,000 years. So we got to make our peace with that and create a work within the constraints that poses.
I actually led a conversation. About optimism, pessimism and realism among about two dozen scholars just a week ago. And one of the most important takeaways from that discussion is that. A steady diet of news can give you a very dark picture of human nature and make you really pessimistic and, or even fatalistic where you give up on humanity and just don’t even feel like getting out of bed in the morning.
That’s a trap and it’s best avoided here’s. Here’s how you can embrace a realistic view of the way the world is. And you can re still responsibly maintain a resolutely optimistic attitude about. Could can be realistic about what is be optimistic about what can be and there’s nothing irresponsible about combining those [00:45:00] in there’s nothing cognitively irresponsible about combining those things.
In fact, it can be cognitively irresponsible, not to we need optimism. To see us through difficult times. We need realism to see us through difficult times, and we need people who are willing to combine the two, even though it can be difficult. One way to do this is to realize that your beliefs should follow the facts, but your hopes can follow your ideals.
Clément: [00:45:30] You believe should follow the fact, but your hopes can follow your ideas. That’s very
Andy Norman: [00:45:35] or ideals. Yeah.
Clément: [00:45:36] Yes. These kinds of things, these kinds of ways of navigating
Andy Norman: [00:45:42] are so powerful.
Clément: [00:45:44] If someone’s listening to this now and they look at that and they think, all right it’s just some tribe that this guy’s saying.
It sounds great. Sounds romantic, but no, if you really dive into it and you apply. It changes your world. It changes the way that you [00:46:00] perceive things. It changes the way you consume information so that you can make better decisions. And that’s what we want. We want to make better decisions, right? We don’t want to end up in the same place as we’ve been where we know we’ve made a mistake and we want to be happier.
We want to help each other. We want to serve. That’s
Andy Norman: [00:46:14] right. And one of the most powerful things you can do here is to update your on, but so you can update your mental immune system. What are you going to say, LinkedIn, but, okay. Each of us carries around within our minds, a certain kind of set of virus definitions, what our concept of what’s reasonable and what isn’t represents the mines antivirus software.
And if you update that mind virus software and get better at spotting, the truly bad ideas and letting in the truly good ones, it’s enormously uplifting and optimism inducing, but it’ll also keep your feet squarely on realistic Terra firma. The other thing you can do, that’s really important I think is to update your picture of human nature.
It turns [00:47:00] out we’ve inherited a very depressing picture of human nature that isn’t even accurate. Replace it with a more evolutionarily informed and scientifically informed picture of human nature. And you actually find out that human beings are far kinder and more generous than we often give them credit for that.
A beautiful work of nonfiction called humankind, a hopeful history by the Dutch journalist Rutger Bregman is highly recommended. This is a marvelous book that will give you hope. And that will help you maintain your optimism over the long run. It’s it’s one of my favorite books of all time. Yeah,
Clément: [00:47:42] I think I think, getting back to reading books like that is going to be.
A huge push in the right direction. We consume too much instantaneous gratification, instant gratification content on these platforms and we’ve become so used to it. And so addicted [00:48:00] to it that picking up a book and reading words is just so difficult. But unfortunately that’s where most of the knowledge lies and that’s where most of the epiphany’s liars is in
Andy Norman: [00:48:10] those texts.
And I’m guessing climate that you’re following on this show appreciates a good long form discussion because then they know you can,
you can enter a modality where you deepen deep sensibilities in a long form discussion that you just can’t in a. Two minutes, how you doing fine. See you later kind of conversation. And if you’re find you’re spending hours every day, just scrolling through Facebook, getting a little of this, a little of that, set it aside and pick up a good book and give yourself a few hours to just immerse yourself.
In a long form conversation with a good book, it can change your outlook.
Clément: [00:48:50] Definitely. That’s what these conversations are all about. And thank you for coming on and telling us about how you see this current situation with our [00:49:00] mind parasites and how to inoculate our brains has been a really unique conversation actually.
And so I’m really grateful that you’ve given me some new. Concepts to really dive into and consume are check out those books too. If you have that I think it was something that you offered earlier.
Andy Norman: [00:49:16] Yes. I’m remembering what you’re referring to. It’s called the new Socratic method.
That’s it? And it’s a one page guide to having difficult conversations and to actually testing. Ticklish ideas in a mutually supportive way. I’ll make sure you have a link to the site where you can get this. This is a production of a new nonprofit that I think tanks that I’m PR that I’m spearheading.
It’s all about trying to take the lessons from the science of mental immunity. Getting them out there where they can help people have difficult conversations and actually bridge their differences in a constructive way. There’s so much work of this kind that needs to be done right now. And if your listeners can use this [00:50:00] one page guide to deepen and improve their Thanksgiving dinner table conversations or whatever, I wish you well.
Clément: [00:50:08] Thank you. Thank you so much. Andy, thank you for coming on and talking about mental immunity, infectious ideas, Mayan parasites, and the search for a better way to think. It’s an amazing project that you’re involved with, that you’ve been involved with and the project that you’re involved with now sounds amazing too.
And I hope to have you on the phone.
Andy Norman: [00:50:27] I’d like that very much Clement. This was a lot of fun. .