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The Michael Shermer Show

A series of conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, philosophers, historians, scholars, writers and thinkers about the most important issues of our time.

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Andy Norman — Mental Immunity: Infectious Ideas, Mind Parasites, and the Search for a Better Way to Think

Mental Immunity: Infectious Ideas, Mind Parasites, and the Search for a Better Way to Think (book cover)

Astonishingly irrational ideas are spreading. COVID-19 denial persists in the face of overwhelming evidence. Anti-vaxxers compromise public health. Conspiracy thinking hijacks minds and incites mob violence, and toxic partisanship is cleaving nations. Meanwhile, American Nazis march openly in the streets, and Flat Earth theory is back. What the heck is going on? Why is all this happening, and why now? More important, what can we do about it? In Mental Immunity, Andy Norman shows that these phenomena share a root cause. We live in a time when the so-called “right to your opinion” is thought to trump our responsibilities. The resulting ethos effectively compromises mental immune systems, allowing “mind parasites” to overrun them. Conspiracy theories, evidence-defying ideologies, garden-variety bad ideas: these are all species of mind parasite, and each of them employs clever strategies to circumvent mental immune systems. In fact, some of them compromise cultural immune systems — the things societies do to prevent bad ideas from spreading. Minds and cultures have immune systems, and they really can break down. Fortunately, they can also be built up: strengthened against ideological corruption. He calls for a rigorous science of mental immune health — what he calls “cognitive immunology” — and explains how it could revolutionize our capacity for critical thinking.

Andy Norman directs the Humanism Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University. He studies how ideologies short-circuit minds and corrupt moral understanding, and develops tools that help people think together in more fruitful ways. He’s done research on the evolutionary origins of human reasoning and the norms that make dialogue fruitful. He works to clarify the foundations of responsible thinking about what matters and likes to engage audiences on topics related to science and human values.

Shermer and Norman discuss:

  • the plague of ideologies (Tree of Life synagogue attack; Jews will not replace us),
  • memes and viruses (replicate),
  • bad ideas as parasites,
  • cognitive immunology,
  • cultural immune systems,
  • science and philosophy as ways of thinking (philosophical idea testing),
  • epistemology and how we know what is true: of course we should be immune to bad ideas, but how do we know which ideas are bad vs. good?
  • Are humans by nature gullible or skeptical?
  • why “some minds are comparatively susceptible to ideological fixation, and others are comparatively immune”,
  • personal identity and ideas important to it: Dan Kahan’s identity-protective cognition,
  • Rebecca Goldstein’s hypothesis that we have a deep need to matter, the “mattering instinct”,
  • God loves you; we are God’s chosen people, God sacrificed his only son for you…
  • Norman’s Law: It is difficult to reason well when you need to reason poorly to feel like a decent human being,
  • What would it take to change your mind?
  • six Immune-Disruptive Ideas:

    1. Beliefs are private and no one else’s concern.
    2. We have a right to believe what we like.
    3. Values are subjective.
    4. We have no standing to criticize other people’s values.
    5. Basic value commitments are not subject to rational assessment.
    6. Questioning a person’s core commitments is fundamentally intolerant.
  • NOMA: should religion be given an epistemological pass?
  • belief in belief, religious truths, religion for the “little people”,
  • William K. Clifford vs. William James: evidence, faith, & the will to believe,
  • Charles Sanders Peirce’s pragmatism and the method of tenacity,
  • how to regulate beliefs,
  • impediments to curiosity (conceit, lack of imagination, incomprehension, relativism, moral cowardice).
12-Step Program
  1. Play with ideas.
  2. Minds are not passive knowledge receptacles.
  3. We are not entitled to our opinions.
  4. Distinguish between good and bad faith.
  5. Learning is more than adding to the mind’s knowledge stockpile.
  6. New information is like a puzzle piece; you must find where it fits.
  7. Don’t use “who’s to say?”
  8. Let go of the idea that value judgments can’t be objective.
  9. Treat challenges to your beliefs as opportunities rather than threats.
  10. Satisfy your need for belonging with a community of inquiry rather than belief.
  11. Upgrade your understanding of reasonable belief.
  12. Don’t underestimate the value of ideas that have survived scrutiny.

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Skeptic cover art by Pat Linse

Art of the Skeptic

In celebration of Skeptic magazine’s 100th issue, we present sage graphic art advice for skeptical groups and a gallery of art reflecting more than 47 years of skeptical activism from Skeptic’s long time Art Director, Pat Linse

Detecting Baloney

Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic) by Deanna and Skylar (High Tech High Media Arts, San Diego, CA)

The Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic)

For a class project, a pair of 11th grade physics students created the infographic shown below, inspired by Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit: a 16-page booklet designed to hone your critical thinking skills.

FREE PDF Download

Wisdom of Harriet Hall

Top 10 Things to Know About Alternative Medicine

Harriet Hall M.D. discusses: alternative versus conventional medicine, flu fear mongering, chiropractic, vaccines and autism, placebo effect, diet, homeopathy, acupuncture, “natural remedies,” and detoxification.

FREE Video Series

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Understanding the difference could save your life! In this superb 10-part video lecture series, Harriet Hall M.D., contrasts science-based medicine with so-called “complementary and alternative” methods.

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths of Terrorism

Is Terrorism an Existential Threat?

This free booklet reveals 10 myths that explain why terrorism is not a threat to our way of life or our survival.

FREE PDF Download

The Top 10 Weirdest Things

The Top Ten Strangest Beliefs

Michael Shermer has compiled a list of the top 10 strangest beliefs that he has encountered in his quarter century as a professional skeptic.

FREE PDF Download

Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

Who believes them? Why? How can you tell if they’re true?

What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and can you tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

FREE PDF Download

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Mind altering experiences are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

FREE PDF Download

Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

FREE PDF Download

The Yeti or Abominable Snowman

5 Cryptid Cards

Download and print 5 Cryptid Cards created by Junior Skeptic Editor Daniel Loxton. Creatures include: The Yeti, Griffin, Sasquatch/Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, and the Cadborosaurus.

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