“We need to develop Mental Immunity against epidemics of nonsense” – Andy Norman – Sentientist Conversation

Find our conversation here on the Sentientism YouTube and here on our Podcast.

Andy Norman (andynorman.org & @DrAndyNo), PhD is the author of “Mental Immunity“. His work has appeared in Scientific American, Psychology Today, Skeptic, Free Inquiry & The Humanist. He has appeared on The Joe Rogan Experience, public radio, The BBC & The Young Turks. He champions the emerging science of mental immunity as the antidote to bad ideas, disinformation, propaganda, hate & division. Andy directs the Humanism Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University & is the founder of CIRCE, the Cognitive Immunology Research Collaborative.

In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?”

Sentientism is “evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” As well as the video above the audio of our conversation is on the Sentientism Podcast here on Apple and here on the other platforms too​​​​​​​​​​.

We discuss:
0:00 Welcome

  • Has philosophy neglected the most important questions?

2:02 Andy’s Intro – “Mental Immunity”

  • Philosophy & critical thinking
  • Boosting the mind’s immune system. Helping minds filter out bad ideas
  • Cognitive Immunology – the science of mental immune health
  • Combatting epidemics of nonsense

3:30 What’s Real?

  • Raised w/out religious affiliation. Quaker meetings
  • “Most Quakers are pretty chill with a naturalistic view of the world”
  • “Supernatural believing is unaccountable believing” – “Nature can hold us accountable”
  • If our beliefs aren’t held accountable they drift away from reality & from the beliefs of each other
  • Non-reality belief is spreading & causing social dislocation
  • Do rights exist or are they just a useful construct?
  • Being shy/sad at school & being told “just smile” as “spiritual” advice. “People just started smiling back”
  • The ancient roots of naturalism in philosophy
  • Supernaturalism, the dark ages & Enlightenment
  • “The germ theory of disease probably would have been discovered centuries earlier were it not for religious orthodoxy”
  • Hobbes, Locke & Mill
  • “Human welfare improved dramatically in the wake of the Enlightenment”
  • Pre-enlightenment roots of naturalism & sentiocentrism. Al Ma’arri.
  • Arab cultures preserved naturalism during the dark ages
  • Naturalism before humans & in other animals?
  • Naturalism is adaptive to the degree that it enables survival/reproduction
  • How correlated are the accuracy & usefulness of a belief?
  • The power of social norms, tribalism & belonging re: bad beliefs
  • Performative preference falsification & prevalence of latent/suppressed atheism even w/in religious communities
  • Dennett: Many believe it’s good to believe in god rather than actually believing in god
  • “Reality-based worldviews are destined to win out in the long run… because they better serve humanity… caring about other tribes as well”

27:07 What Matters?

  • “Most of us believe it’s not OK to kick puppies because puppies can suffer”
  • “I’ve long called myself a Humanist.” Mitigates tribalism. Care about all humans equally
  • “It’s not defensible to draw a sharp boundary between humans & other forms of conscious life”… like drawing lines between groups of humans (sex, gender, race). Arbitrary exclusions
  • “I suspect Sentientism may not catch on as a term… it doesn’t grab you… but I love the idea”
  • Teaching animal ethics “Animals can suffer too”
  • Sentience as central to Bentham/Mill’s naturalistic Utilitarianism. Value in a world of facts
  • JW: Naturalism implies sentiocentrism but we still need to specify sentiocentrism because most naturalists think “only humans matter”
  • JW: How is eating animals compatible with having moral consideration for all sentient beings?
  • “I’m a very flawed advocate of Sentientism”… “I don’t always pass up the hamburger”. Weakness of will – not rocking the boat
  • Reducing vs. cutting out animal products
  • Advocacy approaches. Shame, condemnation, normalisation
  • Non-human animal ethics as kryptonite to many in the rationalist/naturalist/atheist communities
  • Many have freed themselves from religious dogma yet struggle to do the same re: animal product norms
  • Identity as a blocker to changing beliefs
  • Defensiveness can be the mind’s immune system over-reacting to a perceived threat

43:14 The Future

  • The wisest people are the best at spotting & rejecting bad ideas
  • Kindness & honesty & justice are objectively more conducive to our collective flourishing than cruelty, dishonesty & injustice
  • We only need “well-being matters” as a value assumption to span the “Is-Ought” gulf
  • JW: “Until I’ve persuaded all Humanists to go vegan I’m going to keep being very clear about sentient beings”

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Thanks Graham for the post-production.

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