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

by 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

by Andy Norman


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Why do people reject science and believe online conspiracy theories? How are people radicalized online and go on to commit acts of violence? Why is our society so politically polarized?

Astonishingly irrational ideas are spreading. Covid denial persists in the face of overwhelming evidence. Anti-vaxxers compromise public health. Conspiracy thinking hijacks minds and incites mob violence. Toxic partisanship is cleaving nations, and climate denial has pushed our planet to the brink. 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. Norman shows why all of this is more than mere analogy: minds and cultures really do 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.

Hailed as “a feast for thought,” Mental Immunity melds cutting-edge work in science and philosophy into an “astonishingly enlightening and productive” solution to the signature problem of our age. A practical guide to spotting and removing bad ideas, a stirring call to transcend our petty tribalisms, and a serious bid to bring humanity to its senses.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780063002982
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/18/2021
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 671,107
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Andy Norman directs the Humanism Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University. He studies how ideologies short-circuit minds and corrupt moral understanding. Then he 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.

In Mental Immunity, Andy lays out the conceptual foundations of cognitive immunology—the emerging science of mental immune health. He’s currently testing a “mind vaccine”—a way to inoculate minds against the worst forms of ideological contagion.

Table of Contents

Foreword Steven Pinker xi

Introduction: Tree of Life, Seeds of Death 1

Part I Mental Immunity

Chapter 1 Beyond Critical Thinking 17

Why existing approaches are failing

Chapter 2 The Cognitive Immunology Toolbox 37

Naming the problem

Chapter 3 The Widening Gyre 51

Why mental immune systems collapse

Chapter 4 Six Immune-Disruptive Ideas 67

… and their antidotes

Chapter 5 Fighting Monsters 89

… without becoming one yourself

Part II Mind Parasites and Public Health

Chapter 6 The Ethics of Faith 111

What is responsible belief?

Chapter 7 Thought Police Need Not Apply 145

How (not) to regulate belief

Part III Antibodies and System Failures

Chapter 8 Reason's Fulcrum 173

The peculiar magic of reasons

Chapter 9 Reason Unhinged 207

How thinking becomes ideological

Part IV Inoculating Minds

Chapter 10 Mind Upgrade 241

Can we update the brain's operating system?

Chapter 11 Seductive Misconceptions 261

How rationalism lost its way

Chapter 12 The Mind Vaccine 303

Rethinking reason's requirements

Conclusion Propagating Enlightenment 343

How to bend the arc of history

Acknowledgments 353

Appendix: How to Play the Reason-Giving Game 357

Notes 363

Index 381

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