Mental Immunity: Infectious Ideas, Mind-Parasites, and the Search for a Better Way to Think (Hardcover)
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.
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.
— Angela Duckworth, New York Times bestselling author of Grit
“A splendid idea for a book: original, controversial, and timely."
— Steven Pinker, author of How the Mind Works and Enlightenment Now
“Gentle yet powerful, humble yet wise. . . .A feast for thought.”
— Patricia Churchland, author of Conscience and Touching a Nerve
“The most important book you will read this year.”
— Brian Hare, coauthor of Survival of the Friendliest
“Astonishingly enlightening and productive.”
— Michael Tomasello, author of Becoming Human and A Natural History of Human Thinking
“An exhilarating ride . . . destined to change the way we think about science and religion.”
— Lee McIntyre, author of Post-Truth and How to Talk to a Science Denier
“Norman’s tools for inoculating minds should be taught to everyone. . . .A masterful treatise.”
— Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic and author of The Moral Arc and Heavens on Earth
“Charming, simple, and intelligent narration carrying ideas that can change the world.”
— Eric Lotke, author of Making Manna and Union Made
“A fine example of philosophy at work to solve real social problems.”
— Peter Singer, Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics, Princeton University
“A thrilling expedition on an emerging scientific frontier.”
— Dennis Trumble, author of The Way of Science