[00:00:00] Krati: Thank you so much for being here. Super excited about this conversation, but if you don’t mind, can we start with why you started, what got you interested in this subject?
[00:00:09] David: Well, I guess I consider myself a, I’m a science journalist and I have a beat, which is the psychology of reasoning and decision making and judgment.
Most often that’s motivated reasoning. Human reasoning is very powerful. We can use it to do all sorts of things. We can go to the moon. We can cure diseases. We can create incredible technologies. But that reasoning is always motivated by something. Oftentimes that’s going to be, I just want to make a lot of money.
A lot of the good things in our lives have come from people just trying to make a lot of money or improve their status or something else along those regards. It’s not always a pursuit of accuracy. It’s not always a pursuit of doing sort of like the most noble and, uh, least. Poison in the world sort of thing.
So that’s what I read about. What I talk about is what motivates our behavior and our thoughts and our feelings and so on. I got interested in this a long time ago. It was always something I was fascinated by. And, but the way it really came together was I was going to school to be a psychologist. And then at some point I switched over to be a journalist.
And that’s a, there’s a whole story behind that, but that’s not really what you’re asking. I was, uh, working for newspapers for a while, and then I started working for television stations for a while. And it was during that period of time where I was, uh, not really writing in the way that I wanted to.
I started a blog about this very topic. And it was just stuff that I loved in psychology about biases and fallacies and heuristics. My favourite part of psychology class was always that sort of stuff. But the way I, this became a beat. Was I was having an argument with two of my friends about what was better, the Xbox 360 or the PlayStation three.
And we got very angry with each other and like really angry. And it reminded me of the way people get angry when they discuss things like politics or sports or something. Which also seems weird to me. So I just wanted to go into the psychological literature and see, was there anything in there about brand loyalty and turns out there’s plenty of stuff and it goes back to identity and that sort of thing.
And I wrote a blog post about that explaining at the time while, why people were so easy, so easily entered into an argument about iPhone versus, you know, Android or Apple versus PC or Ford versus Chevy or stuff like that. And. I put it up, I posted it and went about my life. And then Gizmodo, which was a humongous blog at the time, they stole an iPhone prototype at a bar and they then put it up on their website and they got a gazillion hits from that.
And then. Steve Jobs famously emailed them and said, give me back my phone, which they posted the email. And so they were getting all these hits. I was unaware that this was really happening and they, they sent me an email out of nowhere that said, can we repost your blog post on our website? And I suppose they just had like a Google alert for like Apple stuff.
And they found me in there and I said, yeah, please. And I went from like. 800 readers to 250, 000 readers by the end of the week. And by the end of the month, it was more than a million. And I was like, Oh, wow. So let me write a bunch of stuff. And I was putting out stuff and I was trying to stay within the sort of brand identity of the thing I had created.
And. Uh, things just exploded for me and my, a person reached out to me, several people reached out to me, book agents who said like, would you like to turn your blog into a book? And I was just so happened to be that period of time when like a lot of blogs were being turned into books at that period of time.
And I got swept into all of that. And I was like, this is something I would love to do as a job is be a journalist who covers this particular aspect of psychology. And I wrote that book, the first book, you are not so smart, which that was the name of the blog. And then I started a, a podcast right after that to promote the second book, which is, you are now Less Dumb.
And I just so happened to be in the right place at the right time, two times in a row because I was like the fifth podcast . So like, ’cause I started at 12 years ago and I just made that the centerpiece of my work is the podcast is where I get to interview all sorts of interesting people. And then I’ve been making all sorts of other stuff ever since, including my most recent book, how minds change, which came out a year ago.
So that’s the, that’s the short version of it.
[00:04:24] Krati: Yeah. It’s a, it’s a refreshing change from always having guests. And every time I would ask them, okay, what brought you to this work? There’s always some tragic story behind it. Like, yeah, everything fell apart in our life and then we started doing this work.
So it’s nice to know that some people are so amazingly good at the work they do. And. It just so happens to be an intellectual progression and not something they’re doing for, for sheer survival. So I love that. And, um, yeah, I think it’s a massive simplification saying that the book blog posts were converted into a book because your books are astonishingly amazing, very informative.
I would recommend that too. Thank you. Anyone, especially people who are have like very strong convictions in their life because those are scary people And I think they should definitely read these books and your podcast is also really amazing And I would love to ask you for someone who does this work all the time for someone who so closely examines the way people think The way the world is operating right now.
We see like kids with no life experience having So much conviction and there’s obviously like there continues to be violence on the strength of conviction that has always been there But there’s a lot that’s happening in the world that you look at and I mean i’m 32 So I i’m not that old but I look at it and I think what the hell is up with the world So I would love to ask you What you observe of the world, what seems the most strange to you and what seems to be going in the right direction, but may seem strange on the
[00:06:02] David: surface of it?
Well, you know, it’s odd because I’ve been writing about this since about 2009 and Then in a strange way around 2016, 17, I was like, Oh, cool. The world caught up to what I’ve been talking about for a long time. So, but I’m not, you know, this, none of this stuff is new in psychology, much of the world of, of motivated reasoning and the psychology of decisions and judgments and all that stuff, and the exploration of.
Concepts like conspiracy theories and conspiratorial thinking and political polarization, all the stuff we’re very worried about right now has been studied and had been worried about by academics going back to like 1911 and, and the big work in psychology was all done in like the, uh, 60s and 70s and 80s that a lot of people pulled from for books like Mind and predictably a rational thinking fast and slow, which were all really big in the early two thousands.
So there’s already a huge foundation of work out there saying, Hey, this is how people operate in groups. This is how people operate in epistemic chaos. And then you have like people like Marshall McLuhan who are writing about what happens when you upend Institutions for delivering information back and forth.
So I think a lot of what’s happening right now are people are really freaking out because they’re, they’ve been introduced to something that it seems new. It seems like it’s destroying democracy in a way that we’ve never seen before when it’s just been part of the human drama for. Ever since there’s been people and the Romans and the Greeks were doing this sort of stuff, the ancient, ancient cultures, but in India and in China and the Middle East are, have all been acting like this.
It’s just now we have the internet and we can see we’re, we’re in each other’s pockets and we can see it constantly. And the sort of a lapel camera effect thing, you know, Police brutality is, is a big concern in the United States right now and, but a lot of what you’re seeing is just the fact that now it’s being recorded as it happens and live streamed, but it’s not necessarily new behavior, it’s just behavior that we’re able to witness and it is of the moment, you know, so it’s unique to the, to this period of time in history, but the problems are foundational to human behavior.
They’ve been around for, for millennia. And that’s true of all the things that I write about biases and heuristics and fallacies and, and, How people attempt to persuade each other and polarization. So there’s that what’s really weird right now is almost all that I see that I find like fascinating and troubling is that what the internet gave us was the ability to group up very quickly and no matter how you go into a group, no matter what motivations lead you into a group.
And oftentimes those motivations are prejudices or anxieties or ignorances. Once you’re in a group, those motivations are downgraded. And the motivation that becomes most important is I need to be a good member of this group. I don’t want to be ostracized. I don’t want to be shamed right and that Has become something of a problem here of late that is, uh, a function of how easy it is to form these groups and then get flipped over into that being the motivation for almost everything you think, feel, and do, and we have to navigate that.
That is something new. Uh, I, I’m, but I’m bizarrely optimistic. I, I find this as a very punk attitude these days. I think we’re going to be okay. Okay. I think that we have this three or four generational spread that is all experiencing this together because we’re mushed up online and we have to figure it out.
Um, I’ll sum up by, uh, this answer to this question by the great psychologist, Tom Stafford told me that germs were always a problem for human beings in groups, but then we got cities and it became an existential threat. And so we had to develop best practices at the institutional level, which was sanitation.
And then we had to develop best practices at the individual level, which is like washing your hands and boiling water. He said, Also, misinformation and the exchange of misinformation has always been a problem for human beings in groups, sometimes intentional, sometimes by accident. But once we got the internet, that became an existential crisis and we’re going to have to develop best practices at the level of institutions and individuals.
Something akin to sanitation and washing your hands when it comes to information exchange.
[00:10:26] Krati: Yeah. What you said, I think that’s very, very true. Like people get mobilized so quickly these days. I’ve always believed myself to be an extremely non violent person, especially where religion is concerned. Like, I believe religion is such a positive force that it should never be used to perpetuate violence.
But lately, like in the past few months, I would, I, religion has always been very personal to me, but I’ve been participating in discussions around it, and there have been things going on in our country where people are speaking up. Some of the groups, like people who are chasing an agenda perhaps, are speaking up against Hindus, and I would get…
I find myself getting outraged which Like there’s a part of my brain that’s getting outraged and formulating a response and then there’s this other part of my brain That’s like what is up with you? This is so not you but I think it’s it’s as you said you are in that group the room gets heated And you’re catching you know You’re it’s like passion is a is a contagious thing and you start getting worked up and you are yeah Caught up in
[00:11:25] David: the base.
We’re social primates like we are social primates the thing that gives human beings Such an advantage in the like evolutionary struggle on this planet has been, we’re very good at forming groups and we’re very good at aligning ourselves to group goals to group based goals and solving group based problems and exchanging information in that way.
And that manifests itself in all sorts of formats, sports, religion, politics, all. And then now that. We’re finding all these nice little communities, conspiratorial communities that it seems like they’re arguing for the earth being flat. It seems like they’re arguing for some Q and on thing, but what they’re really arguing for is I want my group to, to survive.
I want my group, I want to be a good member of that group and be taken care of by that group. And It’s just much, we have, we’re in, as you’re, as you’re describing, we’re in a very fragmented time in human history where we’re sort of dividing ourselves up and schisming in many little tiny ways. And we’re, we really haven’t sorted out what we’re going to do with that yet.
[00:12:22] Krati: Yeah, so true. But do you ever think that there are some people, like some small section of society, some people who are just. Sitting above it all, but they are manipulating everyone else’s minds and everyone else’s emotions and very human tendencies to create chaos. Do you ever wonder
[00:12:41] David: about that? I mean, there are people who attempt that, but nobody’s that’s that powerful.
Conspiracies do happen. You know, conspiracy, just the Latin root of it is to breathe together in a room and discuss something, but not tell other people what you’re doing. And yeah, there’s all sorts of people who want to. exert control and power and make money off of people. That’s always going to be part of the human drama, but at the level by which they could like some sort of Illuminati shadow government control the planet.
No, people aren’t smart enough or powerful enough or organized enough to do anything like that. And of course, no matter what it is that you’re worried about, whatever your anxieties are or your prejudice are, you will manifest them in the form of. Oh, I think that bad group is probably working against my interests, and I bet they’re doing it in secret behind the, you know, doors that I’m not allowed to pass through.
But yeah, the, the level of the mega conspiracy, there’s never been an instance where anyone’s pulled that off because people aren’t organ A, they’re not organ organized enough to do it, and B, we can’t keep secrets that, well, somebody somewhere says something . So yeah, I don’t think there’s anyone, no one’s pulling the strings of the planet.
That, that being said, there are all sorts of people, it’s much easier to just seed chaos. Like you’re saying, it’s much easier to create an army of bots to make Twitter suck. That’s that’s easy to do. It’s much easier to throw a bunch of misinformation of a bunch of different varieties out into the public discourse and just make it difficult for anybody to know who to trust.
That’s easier to do than it is to actually pull strings and get people to act in a certain way. It’s much easier just to make it hard for us to communicate with one another and organize based off of our Principles instead of the principle of I just need to vote against X. I just need to hate this group That’s a much easier way to manipulate people than it is to get them to do a certain thing Yeah, that makes
[00:14:30] Krati: sense.
But what advice would you give to people listening and if they have not read the book yet? What would you tell them how they can question? their convictions because I have to say this like for me this interview is more about me digging into your mind I mean I know the breadth of your knowledge is massive so I know and we’ll we’ll get to like some of the the concepts that you’ve introduced that I think my audience will benefit from but I want your opinion on this because conviction as I said like I see this in people who join the army journalists doctors and and it it Like not the journalist, but with most people it shows a very good side of it, but we’ve also seen what conviction when it’s also Coupled with violence, just how much destruction it can cause.
So I would love to explore with you how people can question their conviction because to make a leap from, I am convinced that this is the right of it, to, oh, I’m gonna blow people up now because this is how, you know, my, my side of things will be established. That is, that is huge. It’s, it’s a huge leap to, for you to, uh, for a human being who can, who has the capacity to feel pain, to be okay with killing someone.
So, that kind of conviction, how do we stop ourselves in our tracks, question ourselves, and make sure that we’re actually heading in the right direction? Because unless you’re a soldier, unless you’re a police officer, and you’re doing it to keep someone safe, violence is never okay, and yet it’s so commonplace now.
[00:16:06] David: Here’s where I would start the remedy for all of this, the vaccine against all of this is intellectual humility. And to even begin a conversation about intellectual humility, you have to start expressing it. And the easiest way to express it is this little two part thought experiment that my friend Will Storr created.
And we can do it here, but anyone listening, this is what I ask you to do. First, ask yourself, am I right about everything? And, or you can pick a very specific topic, something maybe that you are, you’ve argued about recently or something you’re passionate about. And let’s talk about that one topic and say, considering this, this topic, am I right about everything is everything I believe true is every attitude I hold sound are my hierarchy of values in place.
And you know, if that could be like Indiana Jones movies, like, do you think you’re right about everything? Like, do you, do you, is it, do you remember every actor’s name or every scene correctly? Hopefully your answer is no. If it’s, if it’s yes, please go into politics. They’re waiting for people like you.
But if the answer is no, I’m not right about everything. That’s silly. Then ask yourself, okay, sure. Then what are you wrong about? And, and I hope you go, cause it’s impossible to answer the question. If you knew you were wrong about it, you’d flip over to being right or you’d at least pursue the answer. So the, so this leads to a lot of tangential questions.
Like if, If you’ve agreed that you must be wrong about some things, how come you don’t know what those are yet? And are you doing anything about it? And how important is it to you to hold an accurate opinion about this? Like, how important is it for your beliefs to be based in truth and fact? How important is it to you that your attitudes be not just based off some limited experience you’ve had with the matter or limited information you’ve received, you know, a small sample size?
Uh, how important is it for you that your values, which I would define as like, where should your time, money, and effort be going right now? Hierarchically, how important is it to you that you’ve got those properly sorted out? If any of that’s important to you, then are you doing any work to try to sort these things out on a daily basis?
In other words, when you are approaching the issue, how important is it to you that if you are wrong about some things, You’ll figure that out before you proceed in some way. So that, that’s the essence of intellectual humility. The other side of the other experiment to do is that we can take anything whatsoever and run through some of the, uh, the motivated interviewing techniques created by psychologists over the last 50 years to sort of evoke cognitive dissonance, which sounds like a bad thing, but it’s, it’s essential to updating your priors and living a life where you like, don’t.
Do bad things. So here’s, here’s, here’s a way we can do it. I can, and I can do, I can, I can do it with you. It’ll be great. So, um, we’re going to do a little experiment with each other. So if you’re cool with it, here’s what I’d like to do. Uh, can you tell me what is the, uh, the last movie you remember watching?
[00:19:07] Krati: Oh God, the last movie. Oh, it’s a Bollywood film. Would that, is that going to be helpful or do you want me to pick an issue? Okay, so yeah, I saw Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani. That’s a Bollywood
[00:19:18] David: film. Okay. I will not destroy the pronunciation of that. So I’m just going to call it Rocky so we can talk about it back and forth.
All right. So this movie, Rocky, did you like it?
[00:19:30] Krati: It was okay. Very, very exaggerated narratives. It was okay. Like I could see the intention, but the ending did not please me.
[00:19:39] David: Right. Okay, cool. And if you were to like, uh, if it was like on Netflix and they have that little box where I’m browsing around trying to decide if I want to watch something.
Okay. What would be your very, like, short description of the movie?
[00:19:53] Krati: Um, it’s family oriented. It, uh, sheds light on how the society is changing and how we can disrupt traditional norms for the betterment of society and how this, today’s generation responds when the older generation doesn’t see things their way.
That’s how I would put it.
[00:20:12] David: Oh, that’s a good description. So, so that sounds like a really cool idea for a movie, but you’re telling me it was just kind of okay. So, let’s, let’s flip to this. Let’s assume, um, that you’re, you have a side gig as a movie reviewer, and you have a scale, which is 0 to 10. And you really reserve 0 and 10 for, like, extremes.
So 0 would be like, everybody involved in making that film needs to go to prison for the rest of their lives. And then, uh, 10, Ten is everyone involved in that film, uh, everyone in the country has to, over the course of the next year, kiss every one of their toes for being such incredible artists. So that’s zero and ten.
Where would you put this movie on that scale?
[00:20:55] Krati: Oh god, okay. Oh man, I would put it right in the middle. Yeah.
[00:21:02] David: Solid five. Right in the middle. Solid five. Okay. Solid five, yeah. And then I’ll ask a couple more questions and we’ll wrap up and I’ll explain why I’m doing it this way. But how come it gets a five and not say a six?
Like what keeps it from getting up that one more point into pretty good range?
[00:21:17] Krati: Because the zero and the 10 are such like extremes for me. So they definitely don’t need to go to prison and they definitely don’t need that kind of adoration from the watching audience. And as I said, Okay, it could have been so much better But yeah, it violated some of my values.
I think that that got to me So yeah,
[00:21:38] David: that’s that’s that’s where I’m headed like give me just a little taste of like something that it was like Yeah, that’s not going to give you, you’re going to stay in a five. You’re not going to get a six because it’s something that in you that you’re like, Okay.
[00:21:50] Krati: Okay.
So it’s a family oriented movie, which was one of the reasons why, like I went with my parents to watch it and it was good. It was all good. It was mostly very comedy based, but in the end, Everyone sees things. Uh, everyone agrees with the perspective of the younger generation, the guy and the, the hero. And the hero, except for the great grandmother.
She doesn’t see things their way. So she’s pushed aside, even though she’s the, she’s like the matriarch of the family. She’s the reason why they have the fortune. Why they, they have the position in society. Why this, the hero is able to live such a comfortable life. And I get that you have to live your life on your own terms, but just because you’re.
Parents or the older generation doesn’t see things your way does not mean you push them aside. That is not okay, especially when you’ve marketed the movie saying it’s a family oriented movie. You’ve like completely lost the plot in that last bit. So yeah, that was, that really upset me.
[00:22:49] David: That’s so good. All right, we’re going to do this.
That was perfect. Exactly what I’m talking about. And then we’re going to do just the other direction and then I’ll explain what I’m doing here. But you still give it a five. So that means it’s not, it didn’t slide down into the lower side of things. So I’m wondering what. What aspects of it that spoke to you bumped it above a three or a four?
[00:23:09] Krati: The actors, the two actors in it, they are two of my, like, I like them the best in Bollywood. I usually don’t watch Bollywood films unless, like, the actress is in it. And so they made me laugh. Their acting was nice. And it had, like, they talked about feminism, they talked about a culture, respecting all cultures, which I really, really liked.
I really like the fact that the guy is allowed to dance in a way that’s very feminine in itself. It’s traditionally considered very feminine. So those sorts of things I loved
[00:23:40] David: about it. This is great. So as we’re discussing this, I want you to notice that in the beginning when I said, did you like it? The answer came so quickly.
Yeah, it was okay. Right. It was okay. And if you want to get like a, just a plain description of the film, it was pretty easy to describe it as well. These, it’s almost like if you were to bump your knee against the table, and I said, did that hurt? And you say, yeah, because you’re just sampling your limbic system.
You’re just sampling the emotional state of your body. And, and when it comes to a movie, we’re discussing an attitude here, but it’s very easy to sample it. I just asked, did you like it? Yeah, I liked it. But then we started getting into metacognition. And I said, well, where would you put it on a scale from 0 to 10 with these parameters?
You did what every human being does. Whenever I ask a question like that, you look up, you look up into the sky for a second and go, ah, and then you actually say, this is, oh, that’s hard. That’s hard. And so now what I’ve asked you to do is get out of polarized thinking. I’ve asked you to get out of black and white thinking.
I’ve asked you to get out of yes and no thinking right and wrong thinking. I’ve asked you to get into this nuanced space. And then in that nuanced space, you start articulating all of these things that led to your emotional reaction and you start updating your emotional reaction a little bit in there because it becomes more complex and more nuanced, but all of that was already inside you like it just, you, somebody just needs to hold space for you to, to, to, to do that and we can do that for ourselves.
It’s just, it takes calories. It takes brain power. It takes energy to do so. And it’s, it’s, it’s taxing the. But also notice in this conversation, I had no point in talking about the film. Did I tell you how I felt about it or tell you that anything you said was silly or ridiculous? No, we’re just holding space for the other person to introspect.
I could have done that about a very polarized political issue. I don’t, I, in the United States, you know, gun control right now is a very strong political issue, but imagine we framed it the exact same way. Are you for or against gun control? The person says, I am totally against it. And so that’s no different than me asking, did you like the movie or I’m just, you’re just sampling your attitude.
And then I started going into that metacognition. I’m like, well, where’d you put yourself? Let’s say a zero on gun control is everybody in America gets a assault rifle in the mail once a month, no matter what their criminal record is. And a 10 is, uh, if you say the word gun out loud and a police officer hears it, you go to prison for the rest of your life.
Outside of those extremes, where would you put yourself? People often will respond with something like a five or a six or something. And then now we can start discussing, well, how come? And you’re talking about this film. You’re like, I don’t like the way the grandmother did this because of these value sets that I felt were being expressed.
However, I do love these actors very much. And we start going in those spaces. Oftentimes in a, in a introspective moment like that, you start discovering, Oh, this is what’s motivating me to feel this way. And. You get power over yourself when I, when you get an opportunity to express an opinion that isn’t just I’m for or against the thing and therefore I will argue with people until they see it my way.
But you don’t even know how you see it. You just want them to have the emotion you’re having, and you’re not aware of what’s evoking the emotion. And if that’s the kind of conversations you’re having, how can you ever expect another person to meet you? So what I’m advocating for here is you can do this with yourself and you can do this with another party is that you got to get out of this sort of debate, right, wrong place, and you got to get more into a shoulder to shoulder space where you notice there’s a lot of different opinions about this.
I might. Spend time with someone who disagrees with me. What I ought to do though, is team up with that person and say, Hey, isn’t it fascinating that we disagree on this topic? I wonder why. I wonder what’s the source of the disagreement. And then when you’re perusing news or reading a book or watching a movie and you have a strong emotional response to it, especially if it’s something that is threatening to the groups to which you find yourself aligned, whether that’s political or religious or otherwise, like investigate what’s.
Generating that strong emotional reaction. It can’t just be because it’s wrong. It there’s gotta be a reason why that’s taking place inside my body. I’ll give you one more little example. And we’ll move on. I will, I’ll stop. I’ll, I’ll never stop talking. If you don’t stop me is how this works, but there’s a great, there’s a great thing called moral dumbfounding, which offers insight into all of this.
And one of the questions from it is they’ll ask people, okay, let’s say I have, I have this, they’ve been, they’ve created this incredible medical device that perfectly sterilizes things. And to them at the molecular level. And so I’ve got a giant cockroach that I took out of the sewer and I put it in the machine and it perfectly has sterilized it.
I got this glass of orange juice. I’m going to take these tongs, which also have been perfectly sterilized. I’m going to dip it in there and then take it out. And then I’m going to offer it to you. How, how do you feel about drinking that glass of orange juice?
[00:28:35] Krati: Oh, I, I wouldn’t,
[00:28:37] David: I would, would you, would you drink it? No. No, right. So that came very fast, but now I’m going to ask you to, to justify or rationalize this no that you’ve given me, and I’m not going to make you sit here and do that cause I know we have so much time, but generally what happens, person says no, and then you ask them for their reasons why.
And as they demonstrate them, they’re so easy to knock down because I’m going to say, but it’s perfectly sterilized and eventually a person after about three or four minutes, people give up and they just say, I don’t know why I just don’t want to. And it’s beautiful to do that. There’s other examples.
Would you wear a sweater that had been worn by a serial killer? Would you open hand slap your mother if she said it was totally okay because it’s part of like a Stage play would you eat? Yeah, I know right so people that that’s the reaction that very very deep visceral Oh God, but if I and they’ve done plenty of research in this regard It’s called were you you eliminate every possible reason that a person might produce like there’s no logical reason that for you to say No to this or yes, it is.
However, the thing is framed People get into a corner psychologically and they just say, I don’t know why it’s just wrong or I don’t know why I wouldn’t do that. And it’s very important to say that out loud. I don’t know why. I have such a strong emotional reaction to this. And it clearly is something that I would never be able to defend rationally.
I could write 3000 essays about it and they’re all going to be weirdly written because I don’t actually know why I feel the way I feel about this. This is, these are all elements of this sort of intellectual humility I’m describing and they’re very, they sound as if they’re, they leave you in the desert of the real or adrift in some way, but they don’t, they empower you, tremendously empower you to form opinions and, and create behaviors that are rooted in.
The self knowledge that this comes from somewhere. I’m a complex being and I contain multitudes and I may be motivated by things that are totally outside my conscious awareness. And that means that so is everyone else. And it offers you as the type of empathy via humility that alters the landscape of how you operate.
In the world, especially how you operate politically or operate in situations, you might find yourself in an argumentator frame. So there’s some stuff. That
[00:31:00] Krati: was amazing. Thank you so much for being going into such depth with it, because this is super duper important and people are not doing enough work.
They’re not investing enough time in it. I believe. I honestly believe your books, thinking like that, exercises like that should be part of, like, primary school, primary, like, very early schooling, because, you know, in our household, like, because my father is someone who is so convinced of his viewpoint on literally everything.
Like I have never heard my father say that, Oh, I can be wrong about it. He’s a doctor. He is a lawyer. He is a, he can also be a police officer if necessary. So because of that, because we’ve been observing that since we were kids, we know just how dangerous that can be. So everyone else in our family always says We give our opinion and then we add on, but in my, this is my opinion.
I would recommend you do more research if you’re uncomfortable with what I’m saying. So, but we don’t see, honestly don’t see enough of that in the world. Like in U. S. when the whole thing about where miscarriage, abortion was declared illegal. I think that happened not too long ago. And people were like, are you pro life?
Are you, and I’m like, who’s anti life? Who’s anti life? Like, how is that even a, an appropriate question to ask? And that’s such a nuanced argument that you cannot say that there should be no abortions and there should, yes, there should definitely be abortions. That makes no sense. But, but now I have to ask you this, because I feel like,
[00:32:35] David: yes.
It’s because they’re not even like, because we’re not even having that, with your father. And, and by the way, it gives me great, uh, joy, strangely, to know that dads are like that everywhere. Yeah. Uh, the, but know that like. The, the, the, the actual thing you’re arguing, no matter what it is, is almost always irrelevant to what the person is, why the person’s holding such a strong position.
It’s because their identity is at stake. Because they want to be seen in a certain way. Yes, 100%. But they’re never going to say that because they have, they may not even be aware that’s what’s driving their, the strength of their attitude. And you have to address that if you want to give the person the freedom to update their priors in that situation.
And when it comes to the abortion debate, you’re talking about like the, the discussion is not over the definition of life. It almost never is. It’s over some other emotional or some, some other, a lot of times it’s just because this has become an issue that identifies me as a certain kind of person or I belong to a certain group than it does instead of identifying me as being part of another group.
Because if you get into a philosophical debate with any human being about what is the definition of life, No, neither party is going to come up with the answer because we don’t have such philosophical definitions It’s a very difficult. It has that we have to come down hard either as this is the scientific principle There’s a philosophical principle.
I rarely see people who are debating abortion debating that they’re debating Something else that feels like that’s what they’re discussing and that’s a big part of the stuff like this Yeah,
[00:33:58] Krati: everything you’ve said that’s it’s so true and I think it it we all need to like put it on a post it and carry it with us because The way things are shaping the world, because everyone has become so vocal now and everyone has an instrument through which they can express themselves.
Things are like, so violent all the time. Even when there’s no violence, it’s still violent. Like I see, but here’s the thing, now that, another part of it that bothers me is that there is this intellectual, Argument, there is an intellectual attachment to your side of the argument, but then there are all of these emotions in the room, like it could be a political debate, but you get so emotional, like if you’ve ever read the comments on a YouTube video, like on a 30 second, 45 second video, on a reel, on a YouTube short or whatever, there, there are like 130 comments and these people have started, like, saying mean things about the commentator’s parents.
And grandparents and they’ve completely lost any sense of dignity. And it’s so weird to me, why are people getting so emotional about it? That’s something else that bothers me. Because I wonder, like with the exercise that you recommended, people do the exercise and they realize that, Oh, you know what? I don’t know everything.
And there’s so much else that’s going on that I’ve not noticed. But then you are so emotionally invested in your side of things. That you almost maybe deliberately embrace a certain, uh, degree of like blindness, I guess.
[00:35:30] David: Yeah. Yeah. It’s just, it’s just how people work. Like the, the, these, uh, contexts in which we find ourselves arguing that you’re describing, they’re not.
They’re very alien. They’re very artificial to how we evolved to have discussions with one another like if you’ve ever Gone had a been around a campfire at a group you’re having dinner together or you’re at a bar with some friends It’s a lot easier to disagree because no one feels like their identity is at stake No one feels like their their group inclusion is at stake people don’t feel like it’s Like when you’re online and you’re doing these comments, let’s say you’re on Facebook, like you’re not actually having a conversation with the other person.
It feels more like you’re on stage and there’s a giant audience cause you know everyone’s paying attention to the way you’re talking and you’re, you’re trying to avoid status loss. You’re trying, you’re having a reputation game with the other person. But if you’ve ever, like I love using movie examples cause it’s nice and neutral, but like, like if you, if you’re watching a movie with someone, you have to stay quiet while you’re watching the movie cause you’re in a theater.
And you’re thinking, I love this movie. I can’t wait to get out of here and tell them how much I love this movie. And then you get out and your friend is like, ah, I hated that. And you’re like, ah, wow. Okay. Well, I, I loved it. What, what, why didn’t you like it? And they, they tell you, and then you say, well, I really liked it.
And you, you tell them like, you’ll find that your extreme position on the movie mood drifts a little more in their direction and their position drifts a little more than yours. And that’s how we’ve operated for millennia. It’s very difficult to have that kind of conversation in most online environments.
They’re not set up for it. They’re set up to, I put my argument up and it’s stuck, sticks there. You take your argument, it sticks up there and then instead of us talking, we end up defending our original position because we don’t want to seem stupid for having said that thing. And that is a very alien and artificial way of having any kind of discussion about anything.
[00:37:17] Krati: that is so true. I mean, I, uh, find it a little scary almost. There is this American, uh, Journalist, uh, um, Candace Owens, that’s her name, I think. And she’s, she’s a very intelligent woman. Very, very intelligent. And anytime she’s arguing something, sometimes when it’s related to a person and she’s criticizing the things that they do, she makes funny faces.
Like, she argues, she says things in a way a second grader would do. Like, she, she mocks them with her facial expressions. And I, I, that is, that, that’s, it was. observing that, like someone so highly educated, someone so successful and accomplished, and so like good at communication and so intelligent, resorts to tactics like that to demean another human being.
That is astonishing to me. That was what got me thinking that.
[00:38:08] David: It’s, it is just an indication that, that the person is, has, has lost, is what it comes down to. The person is no longer having a conversation. Like the, just an indication that they, they, they have, they have, they have, they’re like an airplane and they’ve ejected out of, we’re having an actual conversation.
They’re like, I’m going to go back to playground stuff with you because that’s the level at which I’m operating. I’m, I’ve, I’ve been reduced to a purely emotional social primate entity that is more concerned with things that are like. Sort of foundational. I don’t, my reputation, my status and my group in group out groups like regard That’s where they’re now operating from You can be empathetic toward that and you can kind of try to pull them out of this by assuring them that those things aren’t A threat but at some point they’ve said I’m no longer having a good faith discussion with you And you’re totally within your rights to say let’s let’s re let’s reconvene when you’re willing to talk about the issue That’s in your rights But there are also many techniques and I talk about them in my most recent book about how to pull a person back into the fray if they’ve gone that way or how to not to push them into that fray.
Now when it comes to like a conspiratorial thinking or if you’re discussing that sort of stuff, we’re about to launch a thing with a group of mine called the School of Thought. Uh, it’s going to be at the conspiracy test. org, where you can, um, just go there on your own and explore things. You might have a little bit of an opinion about everything from UFOs to vaccines.
I’m trying to create more and more stuff like that for people to buy yourself, play with the, with the ideas. You don’t feel so threatened by the regard of other people. You’ll notice almost all the stuff we’re discussing where it starts to the bottleneck, where it starts to become a problem is when we’re having a conversation with others.
And when you’re on your own, like the things you have to contend with are going to be your biases. So like confirmation bias being the one that. Yeah. You, we don’t, when we have a hunch, we understand what’s going on. We have a suspicion that we haven’t, that we understand something when we go looking for information to make sense of it.
We go looking for confirmation that we do understand it and you will cherry pick all the evidence available to you online for things that confirm either the validity of the truth statement or that the strength of the attitude or the, the, the, the positive or negative attitude. Yeah. Whereas the whole idea of science, we invented science itself as a framework for trying to disconfirm our assumptions.
It’s oddly enough, you can do this on your own. So it’s very, it’s very tricky to tell people, go do your own research because it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re actually going to do it the way a scientist would do it, which would be. Whatever it is you currently think, feel, or believe, go looking for evidence that would not support that.
In other words, try to prove yourself wrong. And that’s the essence of the null hypothesis. And just the essence of the scientific method is, how much evidence can I collect that does not support my hypothesis before I even get going in trying to understanding this thing? Because the easiest person to, you know, it’s a very old, Feynman, Vonnegut, many people have said this in different ways, the easiest person to fool is yourself.
And… You will do it quite readily for things that you’re really emotionally attached to. And in the conspiracy theory world, this is very dominant. So we created a thing called the conspiracy test. org. Just go there and you get to, you will, it’s self directed and you will slowly go through things and it’s really fun with animations of stuff where you’ll try to disconfirm your hypotheses, but it’s done in a way where you don’t.
I don’t really notice that you’re doing that, but yeah, be careful, be careful with that phrase. Do your own research. Oftentimes people say that because they feel like I’m right, you’re wrong. And I know that because I went ahead and looked up a bunch of stuff that shows how right I am. And I’m not, I’m not aware of the things that motivated my pursuit of that evidence, but sure does feel really like I’m right right now.
You may be right. You may have the evidence on your side, but the, the other person’s not going to go looking for information the way you did. And the things that landed for you emotionally are not going to land for them emotionally in the same way without having a critical thinking tool set. The internet becomes pretty dangerous because you can find someone somewhere who totally agrees with you and easy.
And, uh, you can find, you can find people that, that will tell you you’re right about whatever it is you’re wrong about. No problem. So make sure you do a disconfirmatory search before you do a confirmatory search,
[00:42:37] Krati: not just the internet. I have had, um, Like, there have been times when my friends and I would get into an argument.
I love buying books for everyone. So we would walk into a bookstore and I would tell them, Find books that discuss the subject. And it’s amazing and shocking how they’ll find books that are going to support exactly what they’ve already been saying. I’ve talked about it, like, very frequently. I tell people anytime they say, I’ve been working on self improvement for so long, but I’m still stuck in the same place.
And I always tell them it’s because you’re gravitating to resources that are probably telling you things that you already know and that you’re already doing and those things are not working for you. So that makes That that makes sense to you.
[00:43:15] David: We’ve all felt that. Right? But like you, when you want a piece of chocolate cake, you’ll find a reason to get the chocolate cake.
Oh. Of the, there’s a, one of my excellent example, , one of my, one of my favorite bits. Well motivated reasoning is the essence of it. Like you ever had someone who recently fell in love with someone and they’re telling you all about it. And you ask them, like, what do you like about that person? But so you’re really asking, what are your justifications and rationalizations for this person being a person you want to be around?
And they’ll say, Oh, I like the way they talk. I even like the way they walk. I like the way they cut their food. I like that they’re introducing me to all this awesome music. Then a little while later, maybe, maybe just a few months later, they’re breaking up with that exact same person. And you ask them, well, what reasons do you have to break up with them?
And they’ll say, well, honestly, just the way they talk, like it really great. It feels like they’re scraping my bones. And I mean, sometimes I don’t even like the way they walk. This is a janky little weird walk. And the other day they were like cutting up a candy bar with a fork and knife. So I can’t stand it.
And all the music they make me listen to. So reasons for become reasons against. When my emotional motivation to pursue justifications for the way I feel have changed. So the reasons remain inert. They just, it’s just, it’s just facts. The facts are still out there. And this is the essence of like, you know, being careful with what motivates your reasoning.
If you want a piece of chocolate cake, you’ll find a reason to eat it. And if you are, have a strong political opinion or opinion about anything in the world, you can always find reasons to support it. The thing is, you can also find reasons against it if you were looking hard enough and most people never read anything that.
Is it, is a naysayer to, to the actual position they’re in. And that’s why so much, so much happens in these random conversations that we have, because that’s, this person comes out of nowhere and feels differently than you. And you start comparing notes, self directed, you’ll, you’ll stay at the safe spaces.
[00:45:13] Krati: Yeah, I get it. Because anytime anybody’s like justifying abandonment of old parents, and anytime I have to argue about it, I’m someone who always says that, you know, don’t let ego get in the way always. Apologize if you’ve done, made a mistake, always be very quick to say, Oh, I, so I was wrong about this and I can do that always, I can always do that and I feel very smug about it, but anytime it’s an argument about parents and taking care of parents, I don’t care what the other person is saying, if I can’t convince them, I start getting hot in my face, I, my body temperature starts to rise and I can never abandon that argument with, I guess you’re right.
I see your perspective. I can never leave that argument. I get so emotional. So I get it.
[00:45:59] David: abandoning parents, I love it. I love that. Like, depending on the culture that we spend most of our time within. You have these different issues that become more, they’re a little more likely to get the emotionality of it.
Oh, yeah. Yeah, I there there are so many bizarre issues in the United States that people become emotional about that if you Take one plane flight to another country the people within that community We’ll have no problem discussing the issue and you have to step out of the water to know that you’re wet if you’re, you know, a fish, which is the, you know, that’s the essence of sociology is that we swim in social waters, but we’re fish.
So we don’t notice it. And the, these, these reframings are so powerful in that regard because you, you, you gain the objective frame and in the subjective frame, it’s very difficult to, to actually reason critically. Okay. So, yeah, I feel you totally on that. One thing
[00:46:49] Krati: I want to ask is, do you think people should still continue to, uh, make instinctive decisions?
Like, that’s something, you know, entrepreneurs really rely upon, is their instinct. Do you think we should still rely on our instinct, like, after reading your book? It wouldn’t be so easy to
[00:47:06] David: do that. I mean, it just, it depends on what we’re talking about and it depends on your level of expertise and experience with the issue.
So let’s say my house is on fire and I’ve got an instinct to do this or do that. I’m going to give you different advice based off of whether or not you’ve been a firefighter for 35 years. If you’ve been a firefighter for 35 years, then yeah, you probably should go with your first gut reaction because you’ve developed.
Enormously, uh, powerful heuristics for this situation. If not, then you might want to depend on someone who has more expertise on the matter before you go with your gut. This is also true for, let’s say people who got weird about COVID vaccinations. Maybe your gut instinct on this, you’re kind of like a person in a house epidemiologists, virologists.
And academics and scientists, they’re like firefighters who’ve got 35 years of experience with this thing. There’s a, their, your gut isn’t going to be as good as their gut is what I’m trying to tell you. That’s no different than if you’re trying to cross a bridge and somebody stops you before you cross it.
And they tell you, Hey, you shouldn’t go across that bridge. And you’re like, who are you? And you’re like, Oh, I, I just drove up and I think it kind of looks weird versus I’m an engineer. I helped design the bridge and I’m aware at like, like, I’m like, so this. So going with your gut, like, no, you generally speaking, no, don’t trust your gut, but it’s going to depend on your experience with the matter.
And it’s going to depend on your level of expertise. And if you don’t have experience or expertise, then that’s what you need to address before you start going with pure instinct on anything. That’s, that’s, that’s the general advice I would give. That being said, like if you. If you’re, don’t go into the abandoned hospital, but if your gut tells you, it seems creepy, that’s fine.
It may, there may be nothing in there that can harm you, but go with your creepy feeling. And if there’s, there are false positives and false negatives. We, we inherited all that from our long evolutionary history. If a rabbit hears a rustling in the leaves, the rabbit doesn’t go investigate. It just goes the other direction because might be a bad thing.
Also, there might be like berries in there. So it’s a risk reward scenario, but we, so we tend to default on, I don’t know what that is. So maybe I should like. , be careful. Mm-Hmm. . So we have, but the good news is we’re, we’re, we’re humans. We have amazing cognitive fac uh, faculties. Yeah. You can make it so it’s more likely that your gut is, is accurate by becoming more of an expert on the topic, but at all times still don’t initially trust it.
It’s, it’s, do your due diligence. Yeah.
[00:49:41] Krati: I always say, first of all, great advice, and you’ve picked like the perfect example. So thank you for that. Sure. And I always say that, you know, go with the feeling if you can afford the consequences. Ah, that
[00:49:52] David: is great advice. Yeah, I,
[00:49:54] Krati: I always, I always do that in my own life.
I love it. Yeah. But, uh, I, for me, I am never, anytime somebody would approach me for advice and I get approached for advice a lot because of the work that I do, but I always have a hard time giving Advice that’s very like categorical in nature like do this because i’m always this idea There’s always this idea that there’s another perspective to this that I I seriously cannot see right now and what if something goes wrong?
So, unless those are my consequences to take, I just do not want to give advice, that kind of advice to anyone. Which is why it’s so baffling to me when I see people pick up weapons to defend their side of things in this world. And now that makes me wonder, like these two ideas are very contradictory in nature.
On the one hand, we are being so argumentative about our own ideas and we’re like, these are our ideas. And yet, as soon as you find a leader, someone who’s mobilizing that group and directing their activities, they’re so quickly to get attached to that group. Like you see very often with celebrities, actors especially, like people like Kanye West and Beyonce.
Even if they say the things that are so clearly wrong, people are willing to defend them, even if it means like saying the most bizarre shit. So that, anything you can add to that? Sure. There’s a very contradictory ideas. On the one hand, it’s your side of things, your argument, but on the other hand, it’s, it’s, you’re
[00:51:20] David: following someone.
Yeah. We’re social primates and that in, in the West, it’s a big thing, especially where I grew up in the deep South of the United States, very individualistic culture. The idea is you have this assumption that everything I think, feel and believe is because I like. Went down in the bowels of my castle and pulled all these scrolls out and read them and thought hmm.
Yes This is how I feel about immigration. This is how I feel about gun control. It’s a very informed opinion and you there’s a a blind spot for how socially influenced we all are and If there’s anything we’ve learned in psychology, in social psychology, especially if there was a, I was told this by the great sociologist, Brooke Harrington, she said, if there was an e equals MC square of social psychology, it would be the fear of social death is greater than the fear of physical death.
And if you want to like, put that in some sort of metaphor or simile, it’s like, if the ship is going down, you’ll put your reputation in the lifeboat and you will gladly let your body go to the bottom of the ocean. And. We know this people ritual suicide, their suicide bombing, dying in war, dying for a cause, killing for a cause.
The root of all those things is I’m trying to uphold my position within my group. I will die, I would rather die with a reputation up here that I would live in shame and shame, ostracism, all the gossiping, all those aspects of how you are perceived, your character, your reputation, your status with others.
They simply are more important to us as organisms than anything else. Anything else, whether or not we can recognize that’s true, it’s part of, it’s, it’s, it drives an enormous amount of our behavior, even in good ways, like a lot of the scientific innovations, if not every single one of them came about because they’re playing a status game.
In which the more accurate you are and the more vetted your stuff and the more it holds up to replication, the more highly you will be regarded by your peers within that particular group. And that just simply results in some nice stuff. You can apply the same thing to other organizations where the way you elevate your status and reputation is by doing things that harm other people.
Especially people in groups that aren’t your group and it demonstrates how essential you are to the group that you’re within So knowing that that’s like the primary driver of most of you human behavior gives you some power over at least it allows you to notice when the game is afoot and To the worst thing you’d ever do is assume that you’re beyond it.
No, that’s like assuming you don’t need to breathe Oxygen like that’s that’s just not how we’re we are social privates Look, we are our closest kid are the chimpanzees and the bonobos and on down the line We just so happen to be able to like, you know, make art and fire and iPhones But the things that are foundational to our nature is still in there and boy Do you see that in the sort of situations that you were describing?
the the first way to mitigate it is to admit that it’s true and then the second thing is to Create systems that take that into account if you don’t want a kid to put a a coin in a light socket, you have to either put something on the light sockets to, to prevent it, or you have to show them that this is a thing that will cause you to harm.
No, like anytime when groups of people get together to make decisions or plan out actions or attack certain goals, if you’re not aware of these social forces that really push and pull us around, you may find yourself, uh, just subject to them instead of subject to your own will. When
[00:54:55] Krati: I, uh, read about, um, If I’m not wrong, it’s called de individuation in your book.
Yeah, when I read about it disindividuation. Yep. Yep. Yeah, my first reaction was this cannot be true This simply cannot be true people cannot be that Obviously evil, but if you observe the way society operates, that’s actually what is happening
[00:55:22] David: right now. It’s neither good nor evil. It just is. It’s a thing that people do.
And if you’ve ever been in a large group of people and you’re all dancing, or you’re swayed by a concert performance. Disindividuation is just something we, we, we, we, we meld into the collective and it’s for, there’s an adaptive purpose to this. It’s so that we can all work together to hunt or work together to defend our territory or work together to, to build a, you know, a standing structure or dig a trench.
It’s, that’s the adaptive function of it. It helps us work together very quickly, but it can, there’s all sorts of things that we have. As modern humans, we can create situations in which people dis individuate that leads to very bizarre outcomes that haven’t been part of our evolutionary history until just the last, you know, two or 300 years.
[00:56:12] Krati: true. So true. I love that all of your answers carry like a very pointed warning for certain behaviors. Uh, yeah, I love that. Uh, usually I have like a funny question in the end, but what I want to ask you is. If you could have a child that is kept completely in isolation, like, you’re controlling all the information the child gets, you are controlling when the child gets launched into society.
If it was possible for you to, like, completely condition that kid in a certain way so that they think right, and they take in information in the right way, and then formulate opinions in the right way, what would you do with that kid? Would you, like, yeah, what would you do? What would your methodology be?
[00:56:56] David: wow, for, for First, uh, I would stop that immediately and give them access to all the chaos of the world because any controlling, no good will come of that. But, but given the hypothetical framework, I think the easiest thing would be an example I got from Kevin Kelly, the founder of wired magazine. He said, you know, when a kid asks you why say, I don’t know, what do you think?
And start from that principle. And the, The, one of the worst things you can do as a parent is assume that you, you’re right about everything and try to like download yourself into a kid, but you need to do is create someone who’s a critical thinker and you create someone who is a curious and open to experience.
And that is more likely to result in a human being that can navigate whatever world you’re in now. If you find yourself listening to music from when you were a teenager. And that seems to be the best music in the world to you and all the new music is like, I can’t believe how crappy music is today.
That’s how you know, that’s also how you’re parenting. You’re suggesting that nothing of the world that that child will go into is of value to you in any, like not even close to the things that were in the world that you came up with that. And that’s because you’re acclimated to a different social environment.
You’re acclimated to a different technological environment, to a different intellectual environment, to different information ecosystem. What you should be doing is preparing the child to navigate any information ecosystem and then evolve beyond whatever you are and then also, you know, make them, keep them safe and give them good food.
[00:58:26] Krati: that. Uh, before we sign off, just, uh, I wanted to ask you about that, the website that you’re creating that can help you challenge your, uh, different theories. Is it like, can you, uh, put in mundane theories, everything from the mundane to totally utopian? Is that, can
[00:58:42] David: that be done? Yeah. I mean, like I.
So on my website, davidmcgrady. com, there’s all sorts of fun little things there related to how minds change. And then on this other website, the, the conspiracy test. org, you can go there and play around with about a dozen of the most popular conspiracy theories. And that just in a new or not so smart.
com is everything I’ve ever put on a podcast about all these things. So I’ve got plenty of resources for people that want to play in these spaces.