David McRaney is a science journalist who is fascinated with brains, minds, and culture.
He’s the creator of the blog, book, and podcast You Are Not So Smart — which focuses on understanding self-delusion and motivated reasoning.
His second book, You Are Now Less Dumb, was released in 2013, and his third book, How Minds Change just came out this year.
I had so much fun with David. I love his new book and had a great time exploring the depths of his career and his expertise of how and why people change what they believe.
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In this episode you’ll learn:
- What David does
- How David found purpose
- How David transitioned from working as a journalist to a creating a successful blog
- How being vulnerable, open and transparent can help your growth
- David’s process for writing his books
- How our brains make sense of the world
- The difference between a debate and conversation
- Why it’s ok to feel different about your previous work and opinions
Software Generated Transcription:
Dan: David, thank you so much for joining me. Welcome to the meaning movement podcast.
David: Thank you so much for having me. I’m very, very happy to be here. I’m very happy to get into, uh, meaning, movement work, all the other stuff. Uh, it’s been fun to, uh, you’re meeting me at a very fascinating part point in my life where I’m thinking a lot about these topics. So, uh,
Dan: Perfect timing then. That’s great. We can always do a little bit of coaching. I can, uh, you know, uh, help you, help you figure out your out your life. I’m just joking. Uh, the question I, I like to begin with is how do you begin to talk about the work that you do in the world?
David: it’s it’s odd cuz I don’t have a really solid identity around what I do. I, I. I have found a way to chase down my obsessions and, uh, try to translate them into something that so I can convince other people, they should be as excited about it as I am. so it’s author writer, journalist. I was definitely trained as a journalism, went to school for that, but I, uh, did a lot of other stuff that wasn’t that until I finally found a way to do that.
And, uh, so these days when I put it on a CVS, a I’m a science journalist, but what I really do is I am deeply fascinated with brains and, and deeply fascinated with minds and, and culture and how all the stuff blends together. Cause I try to, I. Have a lot of questions about what it means to be a person and how hard it is to be a person and how strange it is.
And I’ll start going down a path where, okay, this, this seems like there’s something here. This seems important. This seems like something that has value. And then that’ll become an obsession that turns into a project and I’ll either make it into a podcast or a book or a article, or, I’ve worked at a couple documentaries.
Uh, so is that that’s, that’s what I do. It’s a strange thing to, that’s a strange answer, but this is the best I can do.
Dan: It’s a fantastic, a fantastic answer. And I love what you’re talking about. Um, being fascinated with, you know, what it not doesn’t exactly the words it used, but what it means to be, to be human, um, I think is, is, you know, it’s relevant to this, to the, to the topic, right? Everyone who’s hitting play on this podcast or thinking about meaning and, and purpose.
And those are, those are human human questions. Um, so you’re, you’re rest, you’re wrestling in the same. Uh, I don’t know. What’s the analogy here. We’re wrestling in the same arena.
David: we’re all stumbling and fumbling in the dark is the way I like to put it. And,
Dan: I like that.
David: every once in a while, somebody, uh, finds some sort of, uh, somebody becomes in Candescent for a moment and we’re like, oh, what’s over there. I love
Dan: I love it. That’s a great analogy. Let’s kind of rewind the clock here. So you said you went to school for, you know, school for journalism. He narrated for us, just maybe some of the major twists and turns along along the.
David: Sure. I, uh, I went to school later in life, went to school in my, uh, like in 27. So I, uh, I, I left high school and went to college for a minute. And then I, of all things, uh, decided to, I got into a horrible car wreck that, uh, uh, shattered my spine in a couple places. And I was, uh, in bed and did all sorts of therapy to, to be able to walk again.
And then I, um, got a very tiny settlement from that and not knowing what to do with that money because I, I grew up, uh, very, uh, I, I would not wouldn’t use the word. What’s the word that isn’t the bad word in this case? I, I, I grew up, uh, had to save, we had to save up to buy a VCR. It was that kind of family.
And, so with that money, I, uh, I had grown up, uh, on those in the summers working on my grandparents farm, and then I loved animals. And I, so I, uh, started a pet, bought a pet. I started a pet store and, uh, and it did so well. I, I started a second one in another city and, but then I quickly learned, I didn’t like doing that.
And cause if you love animals, that’s not a good, uh, career to get into. As far as I can concern I’m now I hate to disparage anyone. Who’s doing a great job at a, has being a pet store owner, but for it just wasn’t for me. So, I, left that and started, I did work construction for a while. Uh, Doug ditches pulled cable.
Uh, I was the strong man on the job that picked up the heavy things. And then I sold leather coats. Uh, I, I installed electrical control systems, all sorts of that kind of. And, but eventually, uh, I got married and then I, we agreed that we should get educated and we went back to school and I thought I was gonna be a psychologist, I guess what I really cause I was always had this obsession and fascination and I was all the way to, to the last classes to get the bachelor’s degree on my way to being a, a therapist when there was a little piece of paper I saw, well, that posted up on campus that said, opinionated question mark in big, bold letters, big hill VEA, big letters.
And I said, uh, and I was like, I have opinionated and I, and underneath it, it said, uh, come right for the, uh, school newspaper. So, uh, I walked in the office. Offices said, how do you do this? He was like, yeah, just email me something. And I was like, okay. So I So I emailed him a opinion piece. I had, I had found this in one of my psychology classes we had found there was this research about how, when I.
When a person’s favorite sports team loses, uh, the, their sperm count goes down. I don’t know if that, uh, research, I don’t know if that research has been replicated and has held up to scrutiny, but I remember at the time thinking that was funny in some weird way, because this, the, the team at our university has lost every single game that year so far. And I thought it would make for a fun title of a fun headline that said, uh, counts at record lows on campus, according to the latest research And then, and then of the know, the, the joke is that you read it and it’s like, well, the research suggests that in this situation, that would be the case. And then it was a fun. And I had sort had already found a little bit of my voice there, like writing about scientific topics in an approachable way with, with a, with, you know, being a little, uh, cheeky about the whole thing.
And it just, there’s an immense amount of response to that one little piece. And one of my professors, mentioned it in class without telling, without knowing that I was the one who wrote it. And he is like, have you seen this? It was my, it was the LA of all things was the Latin professor. He was like, have you see, have you seen this?
This is great. and, uh, that was it. I like, it didn’t take much for me to, to switch. I was like, I think I’m gonna go into that degree. So I switched to journalism and, uh, I quickly moved through that world. I had a lot of passion, so I, I, I had, uh, became the, the opinions editor than, than the news editor. And then eventually I was the executive editor of the newspaper and that, led to be when I graduated, went straight in the newspapers and in the newspaper world, I did cops and courts reporting higher education.
And that was a re that really gave me a strong work ethic. And, and unless, uh, one of the things that gave me the most it gave me was not being really. Not being so married to your words, not being so invested in, in something that you can’t finish. The thing, uh, it really like kills your procrastination instinct because, uh, you had to, you had to put out a 500 word piece every, every day and you had to have a, a 1500 piece every Sunday, or everybody had a different day of the week on our, our team.
And, and you’re just, you’re just constantly producing material and constantly getting ready to produce new material. Did that for, I did that for a while. And then eventually I, I went into television journalism where I did the backend stuff, web web stuff, and was on in front of the camera, uh, off and on.
Did voiceover work, all that kind of stuff. And that led to of all things, a, uh, I wanted, I just didn’t get to write anymore. And so I wanted to start a pod, a, uh, not a podcast. Those weren’t even invented yet. I wanted to start a, um, uh, I’m sure. Uh, I wanted to start a, uh, a blog cuz blogs were very popular at this period of time.
They were. What I liked was there were these blogs that were coming out the head on there were only about one thing, one very thin slice. Uh, one was like, uh, shit. My dad says and, uh, awkward family photos and, uh, stuff like that. And I thought it would be great to make one about there’s the Darren brown person swap experiment, which I love it’s.
Well, it’s actually, it’s a person swap experiment done in, in psychology, but Darren brown turned it into a show where someone walks in front, someone asks you for directions and he did it in like a college campus. And then as they’re talk, as you’re giving them directions, two people walk between you holding a big, uh, in this case it was a portrait of Darren brown, but in the real study, it was like a door, but one of the people holding it switches places with the person who was asking for directions, and then they measure how often people notice and they even ask them afterward.
Did you notice? And I was stunned to F to learn that in some runs the experiment, like, you know, more than half the people don’t notice and. Overall about 45% of people don’t notice. Right. And I, and I thought that that was probably true about so much in life that we have this, uh, deserved confidence that we see the world exactly as it is that our thoughts feelings are, are the best thoughts and feelings we could have.
All of our beliefs are true and so on. And I thought it would be a cool idea for a blog where I would just take that kind of material and throw it on there. But every once in a while I wrote pieces for it, the pieces started to gain momentum. And before I knew it, I had gone viral and had an audience.
And I wrote a piece about brand loyalty that went super mega viral, and that got the attention of the publishing world. And I was swept into that. The great, uh, Erin Malone, BBA, uh, who has still my agent, she extended her hand and said, you should come into this world. And so I did, and I wrote, you’re not so smart.
And that became an international bestseller very quickly. And then I wrote, you are now less dumb. And to promote new Ella stone. I started a podcast because that was a new thing. That wasn’t really a thing that people cared about. There were like two podcasts that people listened to Radiolab and this American life. But I, but I loved both of them. I loved them. And I was like, I could do stuff like that. And I wanted to, so I promoted the book with that and I just happened to be there at the right place at the right time when that exploded. And, but I stuck to it. I was like, I wanna make good stuff. And I brought in, although I don’t recommend anybody listening to my first 20 episodes, if you like, what I make today, cuz all my first episodes, it it’s like this.
Hello there. Welcome the, my count, blah. I’m like talking like I’m gonna give you like a drive time traffic report.
Dan: Yeah, yeah. Revolves
David: that exploded too. And now that’s, that’s become sort of the center piece. I think of it more like it’s like the sun in my, in my, uh, stellar system. It’s my, it’s the, it’s the thing that everything else sort of, Revolves around because I can, I can constantly be making shows about things I’m interested in, in this sort of, uh, beat that I’ve created.
And those, when those things have promise, they can spin off to become other things or bigger projects, or I can take my bigger projects and pull them into the podcast. It’s a great place to do that and that’s become the centerpiece. So all this together has led to, at some point I was, I got deeply fascinated with how people do and do not change their minds.
And how do you reach out to people? Is there a, is there a science to persuasion? Is there a science to all this weird stuff that’s going out on in our partisan strange polarized world? I made a bunch of shows about it, and I just, it was very clear that I should be a book. And that became a, a, a little bit more than five year project that just finally concluded in a book called how mines change, which came out of all things yesterday.
Dan: Yes. I didn’t even realize that it was just released yesterday, which is so exciting to be just talking to you. So, so close to the release date. love, love the book, um, and want to definitely want to, want to dig into it a little bit. Um, I, I feel like it’s like, I don’t know, it feels mind blowing to me.
And this is really my first exposure to your, to your work is through, through this book. And so I, I’ve got a lot of catch up. I’ve got a lot of catch work to do, so I hope you’ll, you’ll forgive me, forgive me for, uh, for not, you know, not being a super fan as of, you know, until this moment. Right. but I wanna, I think maybe just kind of just break, break that down just a little bit, just kind of the, the construction of your, of your universe or, or solar system is using that analogy.
Like at what point did, did you leave, leave newspaper and, and really focus on the blog and podcast and, and, and books, or, you know, was it kind of like a gradual fade or was it like this decisive moment where like, I’m just taking this leap? What was that transition like for
David: yeah. Um, I. Was I was doing, I remember very clearly how this took place. Uh, I hadn’t thought about this in years. I was, you know, I would, I would work on the blog all the time while also doing my, you know, eight hour a day plus commute job. And at that job, I had moved up into a management position where I was the head of a department and I had a lot of responsibilities and had to go to those meetings where everybody sits around and looks at each other and wonders why we’re doing this every week. And like, it, wasn’t the kind of, it, wasn’t the kind, it’s a news operation. So it was a TV full TV station operation. So the news was one part of it. But you would also have the people who were the heads of engineering, the head of, like, uh, sales, like everybody would be there, but it was just, it was the news operation also had its meetings.
So it was just strange. It was a lot of like, why you, you had it felt like, uh, So like something on the enterprise, like on star Trek, like, like we’re the, we’re all the heads of different departments, but y’all have no idea what we’re doing in our department. So let’s just kind of hang out and drink coffee and joke about stuff.
And then we realized, oh wait, we didn’t do anything. And well, follow up emails that’ll handle it. That was what it was like. So I was doing that and I was loving. I had his whole second life where I was working on, uh, my blog and then the blog became a podcast and I was still working there during that period of time for a little while.
But I started getting speaking engagements and speak engagements are the best for me. First. I love going out and doing, making, doing lectures and meeting people. And I was burning through all of my holiday time. And then all of my sick time, I, I make no apologies for saying I’m sick when I’m not, I don’t, uh, we don’t get enough.
We don’t get enough leave in the United States. So, uh, I I’m totally okay with it. And, they started not liking that. And, uh, corporate, uh, started to take more of an interest. In my news. I was at a place that had been independent and they were bought by a giant media conglomerate. And then, so the corporate people started coming in pretty regularly and wanting to make changes.
And they, what the, what the, the deciding moment of all of this was, the, there was a shake up in, in management. We had a new news director and he asked for a meeting with me and he, and at it was just, just me and this one guy on two ends of a conference table, like, like that, like when Vicky Vail met Batman, not Vicki mill, Vicki VA had dinner with, uh, Bruce May.
David: and he said, David, I just wanted, I just wanted to know, do you work for, do you work Chris or do you work for yourself? And, and I, I didn’t hesitate. I was like, I work for myself.
David: here is working for myself, but also making myself is working for myself. Are you asking me to, for about my loyalty of the company?
And it was like, yeah, I was like, I don’t have any loyalty to this company. Like, like I don’t like what kind of you’re you’re demonstrating you’re disloyalty to me in this moment. And I got, it was one of those things and, I said, I’ve been, I have been able to do this job. And the other thing for all this time, if you’re to ask me to make a choice between the two, I’m going to choose the other thing.
And he says, I’m asking you to make that choice. And I put it in my notice and, and that’s what I was like, oh, I better really do a good job at my thing from going
Dan: Jam on
David: But that’s, that’s, that’s seriously how I left, uh, that
Dan: Wow. Wow. That’s incredible. What a, um, yeah, poignant poignant moment. It just kind of made me sweat, like imagining, imagine, just being asked that so point blank. Um,
David: and I had no indication that was coming. Like there was no. there was not like I was building up to it. I wasn’t taking a shower that morning and putting on my, my clothes, thinking, what am I gonna say in that meeting? Uh, the meeting came out of nowhere.
Dan: yeah. Wow. Wow. Looking back. I mean, did it feel like it was time? Did it feel like it was a stretch? Like how did it, how did it go after, after you left that meeting?
David: I think, I mean, you know, this is, I actually write about this, not this, this moment in the book, but I do write about, post-traumatic growth in the book. Um, oftentimes people, no matter what’s happened to ’em, they say it was the best thing that ha that it could have ever happened to them. But, whether or not that’s always entirely true.
You could never know because we can’t run this whole thing a couple times and see what different realities would’ve done. But, uh, I can say it in my case, it, it incentivized me to do something I should have done a little earlier.
Dan: Yeah. Yeah. And that’s often how it goes, right? Like we need, we need a little bump to, to get outta the nest usually. And most, most of the time when we, we are at those transition points, transitions are hard and scary and, it’s, it’s really takes a lot of, of guts and ego to be able to say like, yeah, I’m leaving, I’m leaving the safe thing to go out on my own without some extra prodding from the outside.
David: Oh yeah. I mean, cuz it was, it was immediately no healthcare immediately. Uh, no dental, no, no vision. It was immediately, not a steady paycheck. It was immediately all these things and I would never recommend anyone do make that shift until you have built up your other thing to a certain place where you can feel like you can jump into it.
But it, I was like, I have all this time that I, I was not use using on this. Now I can apply it to this. It’s like that old, uh, whenever you pay off a bill, uh, don’t just start spending that money, like apply that money to the other bills.
David: That was, that’s what I was doing, doing my time and effort and it, and it paid off because, the podcast went from being a okay audience to a pretty big audience.
So they bit big for like, well, the kind of material I was putting out. And, uh, the, I was, had the freedom to do lectures after that. And that opening up that space gave me the ability to do, to be a lecturer, to go on circuits and things. So, uh, I, but it, but what it did also require is, oh, now you have to hustle like this.
If you do what you, if you do what you love for a living, you will then do what you love for a living all day long. I had, that is something that’s worth noting. I had to develop. I was overworking myself to the point of ruining my life for sure, for a couple years there. And I got advice from Corey, uh, Dr.
RO and, mark, uh, Felder over at Boeing, Boeing, cuz they were, they were very helpful. B Boeing was one of the first places to. You are not so smart in like a front page sort of way on their website. it was featured there. They had a little podcast network for a couple years and I was like, I, I, I don’t know how to stop working.
And they were like, oh, you just keep hours. Like, like you, you, you work. I know you’re working for yourself now, but you need to get up, take a shower, put on your clothes, like, or, or whatever you, whatever your routine is, but do the routine you did for work, then go into your office and you work for eight hours a day or six hours, four hours, whatever is your optimum flow.
And then when you’re done, you’re done like don’t work all day. And the other great vows was keep, uh, leave a ragged edge. So if you’re a writer or you make podcast, if you’re do anything creative, Like make yourself get to the end of the thing. If you, when it’s time for you to get up and leave, just stop mid paragraph, stop mid-sentence and come back.
Cuz the greatest thing that gives you is when you come back to it, you know exactly what to do. Like you, you could just start right back in. And oftentimes when I’ve been frustrated with something just I walked away through the rest of my day, slept, woke up. And when I sat down, it was immediate, what I was supposed to do.
I, I do exactly how to finish the thing that that beforehand was I felt like I might be getting to some kind of writer’s block. So those two pieces of advice really changed things for me.
Dan: Fantastic. Fantastic advice. It feels like the newspaper world really helped you cut your teeth in like developing a, a work ethic, a a, not just a work ethic, but like, um, I think like you, you said like being, just saying, saying what you have to say and letting, I don’t know exactly the words you put to it, but like calling the piece done and, and hitting publish, right?
Like that you got, got so used to used to that. And then it feels like at least from the outside, you know, that you’re able to take that same work ethic, that same, um, just routine, I guess, of just publishing. and then apply that outside of, you know, you just have to add on your own schedule and you’re doing that same work within that own, your, your own schedule.
It seems like it, it really, you know, I think benefited you in a lot of ways that like, if you hadn’t done that newspaper work, I don’t know that you, I mean, I don’t know. Would, would you, would you have been able to arrive here?
David: No cuz podcasting in particular requires that mindset. Like you can’t be too precious with it. The way you get away from being too precious with it is be very transparent and open with your audience. Like just say out loud, like what you’re thinking and feeling and talk about. Get, let them see the back, you know, how the thing was made, be who you are, be authentic and transparent and be vulnerable to your audience.
And your audience will be okay with you putting out content on a schedule that you put yourself to. And then as you keep doing that, the content keeps better. Keeps getting better. Each iteration. I, when it, when it comes to writing books, I still give, I try not to be precious with my words, but I mean, I have spent two or three weeks on an opening paragraph, but not on, but not like in the beginning.
Like, cause what I learned from newspaper world, at least when it came to making the longer form pieces. You write crap, you, you don’t even use proper punctuation. It’s, it’s a garbley mess. And then you start, you shape it up over a little bit, but a little bit. And then you, I have a method that I use where I have a, I have a line that I draw across the page or like a horizontal line.
And, uh, I put all of my, uh, thoughts and notes and material beneath the line. And the piece as it’s forming is above the line. And the piece above the line is still like terrible, but the everything that’s, not every err thought has a place to go and that, and that way, uh, and every time, a little piece, I should research that I’ll take a note research that, and then when I research it, I, I pull it down below the line and then I just keep pulling stuff up and shaping it.
And then eventually there’s, what’s left underneath the line. Is total garbage or is it doesn’t fit? It doesn’t, it
Dan: Goes somewhere else at least. Yeah.
David: Yeah. Yeah. Or it doesn’t seem to be fit in this piece. It doesn’t serve a purpose anymore. So you can take all that, save it into a separate file and then shape up what you’ve got that helps you not be precious with your words.
Cause when you, once, if you were writing long with, you know, if you were writing with a pen and paper pencil, or on a typewriter, you would, uh, it’s difficult to sit there. You can’t just, re-edit the same sentence in paragraph 10,000 times, but on a computer you can get into a loop where you will never finish the thing.
So you need to create some sort of practice for yourself.
Dan: Yeah. That’s so good. That’s so good. I know, especially when I was starting out with the podcast, uh, was so meticulous. I mean, similar to you was like, so inspired by. Radiolab. And this American life was like trying to like, produce that, that kind of quality. And you basically would spend, you know, 16, 18 hours editing a editing an episode because it’s just me.
Right. They have whole production teams. They have, they have people whose job is, is to score, just to do the music, you know? and so all, all of that just really re really resonates, um, with me. And I think even, even what you’re saying about vulnerability, I feel like that’s, um, a place I have to grow and just sharing more like being just more open and transparent.
so that’s a, that’s a good, good note and good challenge to me that
David: I, yeah, I get it man. Like audiences, you know, I don’t, there’s all sorts of ways that you’ll form this bizarre feeling that you have to be perfect in front of your audience, but, um, we’re on a three sort of a three generational spread right now of people who have, watched enough YouTube videos played around with enough social media.
And now we have things like TikTok, where the audience is totally understands how stuff is made and, your desire to look perfect. Is feels inauthentic and the, what people want is insight. They want awe, they want connection. They want good stuff. And if you make good stuff, it’s totally okay to, be open and transparent, even to the point that one of the first sort of things I noticed in the space that helped people, uh, I think reach that was, um, showing people, your edits in video, where it’s like, like you’re trying to clean up your, your presentation and instead of retaking it, you just chop it, you and then just let people see you did that.
That was a, an, an example of like, oh yeah, it’s cool. I know what’s going on here. They’re just trying to make something for me because if they’re gonna, they wanna make something for me tomorrow. So today. Yeah. Get it, get it done. Get it done.
Dan: That’s great. That’s a great, um, the way you narrate the viewer, I think is a really, really helpful, a helpful voice, right? Like it just feels like, like a generous, a generous voice. And it’s, I feel like that’s, that’s more of the voice that I need in my head rather than like a critical, like, oh, I see what you did there trying to, trying to trick me, or like, I see you, you, you, you know, I see you did this in multiple takes didn’t you, you know?
David: Yeah, I,
Dan: so, yeah, I, I just appreciate that a lot. That’s really
David: I felt I, and I noticed this in podcasting when I started being more, who I really was and started having conversations, stopped, editing out the parts of the conversations where we just got off topic or, uh, leaving in with the weirdness of this whole thing, instead of trying to make some sort of glossy perfect thing.
That was the kind of podcast that we were listening to when we got excited about this. We’re actually radio shows and that’s why they were like that. And I don’t think any of us wants to be making radio from the 1990s. We wanna be making something completely of our time.
Dan: Yeah. Oh, that’s such a good point. That’s such a good point. And I feel like this moment, this moment right here in this conversation is one of those moments, you know, in, in this show, right? Like where it’d be like, oh, I could, I could, I could edit this out, cuz this would just be, uh, just for me. But also I think it’s, you know, I
David: no, don’t please. Don’t this is the, that’s what
Dan: we won’t. We won’t, we won’t we’ll keep it in. I promise
David: that’s that’s what we offer that you can’t, that’s what you get. If, if it was, if, if you want the other thing, you know, go watch a, a Netflix doc, but this is, this is this thing
Dan: yeah. I love it. I love it. well I wanna, I wanna move towards the book, but one more question just about your process before we, before we get there, which is how do you decide what to, what the projects are? And so I know that you mentioned that you had, I’m looking at, at my, my notes. I know I, I put a, I put something in, in my notes here.
just about. measuring what has promise is what I is, what
David: Oh, yeah, that’s
Dan: yeah. And I, I’m
David: I like that
Dan: yeah. I’m curious about that. Like, how do you, how do you think about, you know, the, the ideas that are, that are sticking like, and, and which ones to invest more in. And, and I just wanna hear you talk about, about that piece of your process.
David: It it’s either. I think it, for me, it’s either something that I, that I really want to understand. And in the, in the, or I want to know more about it. And after a first, when I do a little bit of research and I’m not talking like just Wikipedia research, I mean, going into the, the academic literature or asking an expert, but also doing some of the Wikipedia, YouTube what’s what have other people said about that?
Does anybody know what I’m looking into here? I like, I like just the other day I was, uh, I, I, I heard some, I, I was watching, um, Our flag means death. And they had somebody swab, swabbed the decks. And I was like, did they really swab the decks? And I
David: and it started looking into swabbing the decks, and then like 45 minutes later, I had learned more than I’d ever thought I’d ever know about that thing.
And it turned out that it was, uh, it was because of the Mya, the, the, my asthma theory of, of disease, which I, where people thought that there, if something stinks, that’s how you get sick, but they that’s. But it was because they didn’t, it was correlation, not causation. They didn’t realize that the bacteria and molds and bad things that, you know, infections smell bad, but that’s, that’s not the thing that’s making you the smells and that was making you sick.
David: So there was this whole, like hundreds of hundred years stretch where people were like, perfume. That’s how you not get that’s how you don’t get sick or, uh, and, and, uh, sanitation for the sake of it, smelling better, became a big deal. Then they would swab the decks of ships relentlessly all the time.
Uh, just for the sake of it, it needs to, we need to get rid of any of the, any bad smell that may have arrived on this deck. Turns out it did nothing at all, and it even caused the ships to break down faster over time. And it took up precious, uh, uh, hours that could be put on doing other stuff on the ship.
So that’s 45 minutes of, of my life that I love that, that, so, but I didn’t, I, and then I took a note. I was like, there’s something in here maybe that I might use for something later. so if, if I, if anything excites me in that way, it’s not, it’s not the, that I’m curious about it. It’s that when I looked into it, it, it, it gave me that feeling of, oh, what do you know?
And, oh, wait, that actually kind of synthesizes, some other ideas floating around that goes into the bucket of, Hmm. That could be material that has promise, as you said, um, And the other thing is some stuff won’t leave just will not leave me alone. Like it’s, it, it feels like it insists upon itself. Like it’s, it’s, it’s an, I, it’s an idea that you, or that, that it didn’t come and go that one day or that one afternoon it keeps coming back to you.
And those are the things that have always resulted in the best stuff I’ve ever made. Um, my agents today says if I have a, cause I’m always pitching concepts and uh, first, like what maybe the next book could be about this. And she just doesn’t, uh, suffer anything that, doesn’t get mentioned 10 times.
Like if it’s, if it’s mentioned one mentioned a one meeting, one conversation, one email like goes in the dump pile. But, but the, if I, if something I can’t stop talking about, or I can’t stop, the mentioning is like, you’re you should that, that fee, that’s the thing you’re gonna be doing. Cause if you wanna, if you’re going to commit to 2, 3, 4 years on something, it has to be the kind of thing that.
Can’t let go that you, you must see through. And I did a, of all things something has, has that stuck with me for years is I just don’t I, the, the fact that we throw around the word genius was is something that blew my mind that I couldn’t get rid of it. I, I was like, what do you mean Steve jobs is a genius and Elon Musk is a genius.
You mean like Beethoven genius. And, and then you mean like, Michelangelo genius, or what do you mean? What do you mean genius? You mean genius, like Einstein genius. What does genius even mean? And I couldn’t get it outta my head because a lot of my work is about, uh, it’s called you are not so smart ed, but I also am fascinated with people who seem very smart.
And then I was like, well, what does that even mean? What does smart mean? And I started having this, like, what does that mean thing?
David: at the same time, a lot of my research for the latest book was about articulating the ineffable. The idea that you, um, When by just giving something some sort of definition, we can all agree upon it.
It’ll it shrinks big ideas into little blocks and those little blocks can then be made, can become the building blocks of bigger ideas. And once the idea gets big, you can shrink that down. And eventually you have these very complex concepts that, but it’s language itself is part of it. So as the idea, idea, spaces and language spaces, and then this a concept like genius that, that you can play in that world for both, which also connects to all the other stuff I’m interested in it, it was one of those rolling thunder.
Oh, I can’t stop thinking about it things. So the second I turned in how mine changed. I was looking for a copy of the second. I turned that booked the manuscript. I just started emailing people in the world of, uh, intelligence research. And then I, uh, reached out to Mesa and was like, Hey, do you know people with high IQs?
That’ll talk to me. And then within a month I was on the road and I was I’m the first, I’m the first journalist that got to go to MITSA headquarters because of this bizarre thing that I, this email, this email blast that I put out and they became this, that you would think that I would like take a bunch of naps after finishing a book.
But instead I went on the road and made a seven hour audio documentary about the nature of genius and the, both the word and the concept. And that’ll be my next book. That’ll be my next
Dan: I love it. I love it. That’s
David: that’s things have promise in two ways to like give a short answer. It’s if you were curious about something and in the course of like trying to learn more about it, you got that feeling, that awe feeling that oh, that, and you, you, you knew you were going tell somebody about it.
You’re gonna tell somebody at the next party, you’re gonna tell somebody, you know, over coffee, Hey, the other day I was looking at this thing, could you know that blah, blah, blah, blah. That’s got promise. Cuz you’re gonna do that for you could do that for a big audience. The other thing is an idea that that just won’t leave you alone.
It insists upon itself.
Dan: just haunts you. I love it. I love it. Yeah. I, that makes a ton of sense. And especially in the context of like, like you said, like it takes, takes years to write a book. I think, as I was reading, um, I feel like at some point in the book you said something about writing, writing this book in 2016, I was like, wait, I thought this, I thought this just came out.
You know? And like that’s a long, that’s a long haul. That’s a long haul.
David: There’s it was, it was delayed because of COVID, but,
Dan: sure. Yeah,
David: but it’s not like it just sat there. Like I worked on it all over through COVID in fact, in fact that there’s a lot of material about COVID in there. So, um,
Dan: It’s very timely.
David: yeah, it, so it ended up being mega timely because of all that. But, uh, but yeah, I I’ve, this is a project I’ve been thinking about forever and over and over again.
Dan: yeah. Yeah. Well, so the book, you know, for listeners, um, how, how minds change the subtitles, the surprising science of belief, opinion and persuasion. Just, I mean, I feel, I, I wouldn’t know what I expected when I opened, when I opened this. Um, but you know, just my first, just to give me my first reaction, one is like, I love just how story based it is.
It’s like takes these concepts that are very heady, but like puts them in, in context of, of just great narrative. and so it’s just, it’s just a fun, it’s really a fun, fun book to read. so just, well, well done, I guess is.
David: that’s great feedback. Thank you so much. I, I didn’t know how people would react to that. And at some point I started wondering, I started getting that sense that I think people won’t like might not like this, but I like this. And, my love. Prose came from literary journalism. It came from things like, Frank Sinatra has a cold, the electric Koolaid acid test, the work of John Jeriah Sullivan.
Like these were all people who wrote hard core journalism pieces in the style of fiction. And, and then John Ronson came into the world with the, he sort of blended the Gonzo style with that style, which instead of, but where you, you tell the reader what you’re thinking and feeling, but you don’t make, but only, but you still do it in a object.
You make subjectivity objective by just reporting on your own thoughts without saying that without expressing opinions.
David: I just Al it always bothered me or has bothered me for years that I had never gotten a chance to produce something like that for a big audience. And, and I, this felt like the, the place to do it.
Dan: cool. And so, so that’s one of my, I, I just assumed that was just your style. And, um, since I have less exposure to your other, your other material, this is, this is kind of a new, you know, a new format or new, um, style for you.
David: It’s the way I’ve written stuff for myself. And it’s the way I’ve written things. Uh, when I was on print journalist, but when I became, uh, the person who makes you are not so smart stuff, it was all written more in that blog, in a blog style, in a, in a Ted talk essay style. So I got, this is a chance to go to the thing that started the whole thing for me.
Dan: I love it. I love it. Well, it’s, it’s super, super fun. what are the things that as I was, as you know, just reading, I feel like my kind of my takeaway is like, I feel like this book is dangerous. and I’m curious what your thoughts are about, about that idea.
How do you feel? Like, what do you feel like people? Yeah. I mean, I don’t know, cause like the stuff in here on one hand, I’m like this could be used, I don’t know. Maybe, maybe to, to, for ill intent, it’ be one thing. And then the other direction I go with it is like, I feel like I don’t even know what I, I don’t even know what I believe anymore. after, after reading this
David: Well, uh, your sec, your second point makes me feel good. The first point is, is a, is a criticism I’ve received several times or not, not a criticism of a fear. Uh, it’s a point people bring up. Um, I also ask that same question of every of anyone in the book who I would consider an expert on persuasion. Uh, I even as a, a bonus, for people who pre-ordered, I did a, a round table interview with some of the persuasion experts in the book.
And that was one of the questions I put out in the interview and that round table thing. Um, one of the answers I’ve gotten back is, there’s persuasion, there’s all sorts of roots to persuasion, uh, propaganda fear. there, we know throughout all of history that those things can be very successful.
the persuasion techniques that I’m advocating in the book are, are the ones that, they challenge. Either yourself or the person you’re, you’re, you’re speaking with to understand their reasoning and how they arrived at certain justifications and explanations for what they think, feel and believe.
And is it, have they done their diligence in the, in this? So it’s a, it’s, it’s an attempt to ask people. What do you truly believe? it’s putting your own thoughts, feelings and beliefs, uh, on, on trial in a way, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s asking you, are you using a methodology in a epistemology that, or helps you arrive at the truth or, or a more accurate view of the world?
Is it help? Do, are you taking a look at your attitude than seeing if they cause harm or reduce harm in the world? Are your values something that could be, um, sorted differently to get what you want out of life to make the, to make, to make the world the way you would see it. So in that sense, there, there, I see all that as, um, Not bad, but the, uh, the, at the same time, yeah, there are, there are ways of using these techniques, whether in marketing propaganda politics or, or some other, uh, thing that would, might be considered heinous.
I could see the idea, see people seeing it though, like, oh, what if somebody tried to use this on me?
David: The suggestion there is in one way. if you want to be, if you want to believe things that are true and you want to hold attitudes that are just, then there should be no fear
because then that’s one of it.
But I think the other thing is could somebody use somebody use these techniques to make me feel, believe something that isn’t true? Could they use these techniques to make me. Hold an attitude that is harmful. I don’t think so. That’s not, that’s not the, that’s not the techniques I’m talking about the book.
And also I I’m very straight up in the, in the introduction, like nothing here is about coercion and manipulation. Like it’s transparent, it’s open. Uh, the other person agrees to do it. Their agency is never under threat. You actually say out loud, I would like to explore this with you and, and possibly change your mind about it.
And if they agree to that, you know, there’s no coercion at Bob. So that’s where I’m at with it. Uh, I feel pretty good about it, although I’m sure that there are bad people in the world that could grab this book day one, or like, ah, this is gonna be great for my, uh, red pill account or
Dan: I think that was a great, a great response. And I, yeah, I, I feel like the process, that, I guess you discover and you kind of uncover that, leads yeah. Of this, having a conversation about beliefs, if would I maybe to just articulate some of it, of my understanding of it to, to listeners and maybe then you can correct me is like helping people connect the dots between what they believe and the experiences, in their lives that. that have led them to, to hold those beliefs and then question whether or not those are beliefs like that. That’s the belief that they want to hold in, in the current reality, knowing that, you know, those things often are in the past, those things often experiences and, and things have happened a long time ago and a lot has happened since, and that they might be different people now than they were when they had those experiences or initially, you know, um, chose to have those beliefs.
how how’d I do?
David: You did good. You’re describing one of several techniques, uh, that’s deep canvasing, in the book, one of the weirdest things, one of the most amazing things. This is a great example of, of all of our, we’re talking about our previous conversation. I had this idea for a book and I did, and the book that I wrote had is almost only 4% of the ideas in there.
Like it’s, it is it’s own thing that I, that I had did not expect to write. And I decided to also just, just put that in the book, like in the book, I just tell you, like, here we go. And then by the end of it, you’re like, oh wow, you went places. You didn’t think you were going. And, and one of those things was when I went out and talked to persuasion experts, uh, sometimes they’re activist groups, sometimes they’re scientists, sometimes they’re therapists.
Sometimes they’re people who are not activists, but they’re in a, they have this thing that they’ve discovered and they do on, uh, out there in the public, in the AB test. I was astonished to find that of all, all these groups. They didn’t know each other, they hadn’t met each other. They weren’t aware of each other.
And they, most of them weren’t aware of the underlying science
David: They all arrive at the same techniques and the same. And the technique is not just the same technique if it’s in an, if they have it in a step by step order, it’s the same order, which indicates that it’s something that, uh, merges or plays well with just how, how brains make sense of the world.
And so that’s why a lot of the book is about that. That’s why I don’t even go into the persuasion techniques till about two page 200. Cause I need, I want you to, to know what’s under, underneath all this. one of them is deep canvasing. One is street of cosmology, one’s smart politics. There’s also things like motivational interviewing and cognitive behavioral therapy and all sorts of stuff.
Uh, elaboration, likelihood model, all these things are in the book. deep canvassing was developed by the, uh, LGBT center of Los Angeles going door to door. Trying to see why people voted against prop eight and, uh, or was, was it against a Ford? They voted to make same sex marriage, not legal. And they went door to door trying to see why people did that.
And they stumbled into a conversation technique that tended to cause get people to change their views. On that matter. By now, they’ve had like 17,000 conversations all recorded on video, AB tested to see what works, what doesn’t, and then they’ve, it’s it’s to the point now where scientists are studying what they’ve figured out, because you could never do that kind of gigantic research, uh, otherwise, and their technique is similar to I’ll talk about that.
And I’ll talk about, uh, street epistemology and how they’re the compare and contrast in their technique. You knock on the door, it open, open up. You, you tell the person what you’re there for. You’re very open. You’re honest. And they would agree that they’re biased. They have a viewpoint, they would like the other person to come closer toward in this case, they want people to be, they want to be more supportive of LGBT issues in general and law and, and vote for laws that, that go in that way.
and then they, whatever the thing is, they’re talking about, that’s just one thing. That’s, this has been expanded to everything at this point, they talk about climate change. They talk about immigration, they talk about gun control. Any wedge issue can fall, you’d be put here. So they say, this is what we’re gonna talk about.
And they say, I wanna, uh, I’m wondering, like if you were to put yourself on a scale from like one to 10 or zero to 10 or one to 100, where you put yourself on a, a, this is a way to get a person to sort of express their attitude in a number, and then they will actually show them the other side’s argument and then ask them what their number is again.
And if it moves, they’ll like they wanted to move. And if they. And when you, when you first ask the question of where your number is, you’ll ask, like, why is that the right number for you and what this is, is asking a person to enter into active processing. And once you’re in active processing, you can do, they can do this sort of guided metacognition where, uh, and I ask anyone listening, uh, like you can do this on yourself and you’ll notice it’s a, it’s a thing that it’s, it’s a different way of thinking about things.
If I were say, um, something like, uh, the finale of game of Thrones on a scale from, uh, zero to 10, uh, 10 being, it was the best thing you’ve ever seen of the highest form of art ever created by humans. And then like zero is, uh, I would wish I had cut off one of my feet instead of watching that, uh, like, like where would you, where would you put yourself?
And, and when you answer that question, like, uh, let’s say, you say, well, I mean, It wasn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened, but it sure wasn’t as good as the rest of it. I don’t know, five, like in like, oh, a five. Now. Why, why would, why a five and not a, a four? Why, why a five and not a well, like, well, you know, there were things that like, they start, they start, uh, elaborating.
They started, they start unfolding the idea, and it’s no longer this, like, yes, no black white. It, it, it, it starts, you start understanding that you have these complexities and multitudes of inputs that are what are fueling you having a end result, conclusion or end result attitude. And in this particular technique, when you show them a attack ad or something that causes the, the move, you’ll say, well, wonder, I wonder why it moved.
And then now you’re starting to see, well, oh, these things have influences on certain aspects of my, uh, psyche that I didn’t know if I ever had noticed until this. And you start giving a person power over their own, Conclusions, instead of just arriving at it, like, like, like bumping your knee against the table and getting some pain and like there’s a, you start having a, you’re offering up the person an opportunity to actually form a true opinion instead of just having a reactionary opinion, based off of all of the inputs they received through, uh, received wisdom or, uh, maybe some, some unique experience they had that they didn’t, that didn’t get folded into it properly, all this stuff.
And there’s no, there’s no magic to it. After that, like you’re simply holding space for a person to think about something in a, in a way that’s safe and non-judgmental. and then clearly you’re a trusted, nice person who wasn’t there to do anything weird, and you seem to have a different way of looking at it.
They become curious and open to it, and they have an incredible success rate with this. Just opening up that kind of conversation tends to get people when a person elaborates, how they feel about something for the first time, they pretty much always move. Like the attitude goes a little bit more, one way than the other, often more in the direction that you would, that that matches the attitudes that they’re looking for for that’s Steve K I was saying, uh, street of epistomology is more about fact based things.
And that’s more about hardcore is the earth round or flat kind of things. Um, our vaccines, are they full of microchips and were they created by the deep state or is this something that will help us not get COVID like facts now? Of course, these beliefs that people hold are attitudes influence whether or not you.
Consider something true or false, or they also influence how you cherry pick evidence and say, this is, this is a fact, and this is not, but that’s not part of the conversation up front. What, what you do is at first, same thing, you build rapport, you’re open, you’re honest. You ask. If you’d like to work together to maybe talk about it, something that you believe and where those beliefs come from.
When you get all this agreement, then do the same. It’s a scale thing. I was, they, they use a scale too. They say, okay, on a scale, like if you, the earth is flat, as on, uh, your lets talk about your certainty and people will then say where they are on the scale. And then the question will be, you know, why this number, like if you said, do you think there’s round or flat and the person’s like, ah, I’m not sure.
I’d say it’s like somewhere flat is one and round is a ti I don’t know. I’m like. Or you might just say, how certain are you that they’re this flat on scale one to 10? I think that’s the best. That’s how, that’s the better way to, to, to explain it. Cause they ask for a claim and then they ask for your confidence in the claim.
So the earth is flat. Okay. Scale one to 10. How, how certain are you that that’s true. I’m sort of a seven on that. Well, oh a seven’s not a 10. So I’m wondering how come you aren’t all the way up to a 10 and then the person starts telling you reasons why they aren’t all already a 10, which means they already have counter arguments inside them that they haven’t rejected.
And then you ask for what, what reasons do you have to hold that level of confidence and they’ll give you the reasons. And then you ask, what method did you use to arrive at at the conclusion that those are good reasons to hold that level of confidence. And of course you don’t ask it the way I just, this is me telling you from a bird’s eye view, you ask it in a more natural, conversational way.
And what people will do is they’ll investigate usually to the point where they they’ll get this, Sort of, uh, this free fall uncanny sensation. And I think we’ve all experienced it before, uh, is something Jonathan H writes about called his research is called moral dumbfounding where, uh, he’ll have things like, he’ll talk to a very conservative, very, very, uh, right wing person.
And, and he’ll have a question on, on like a questionnaire that says why, would you, uh, clean a toilet with an American flag? And the person will very, very, very strongly be like, no, of course not. That’s terrible. And then you ask. Like, basically you Socratic method them into in asking why, and then they’ll say have all the, what they’ll have already prepared ahead of time.
Thanks to previous questionnaires where every single thing that a person might say, but they have all they can throw. They can knock ’em all down. And so they’ll, they’ll say this, this and this, and they’ll say, well, you know, if you this though, this though, this though, they’re like, well, yeah, but this, this, this, and a person starts drilling deeper and deeper down into their processing chain until they finally get to the point where like they realize, I don’t actually know why I feel so strongly about this.
And, and they can’t articulate it cuz often it’s something that’s really deep something in the level of, uh, social, primate, neurological network stuff. And the people will say, I don’t know why it’s just wrong. That’s the kind of
Dan: Mm. Uhhuh,
Dan: sounds familiar. I’ve I’ve heard, I’ve heard that kind of thing before
David: Which means I, I don’t know why I feel the way I feel, but people, when we don’t know why we feel the way we feel that doesn’t stop us from coming up with what we think are reasons for why we think the way we feel, who feels the way we feel a person who’s against a person who’s not who’s against vaccines.
Uh who’s anti-vax right now for, well, they will often tell you I’m Antix because, and they’ll list all these reasons why, but if you do a certain type of investigation with them, they’ll that you’ll, they’ll discover on their own. That those are just justifications for something that I can’t articulate and street epistomology gets a person to that place, but they do it in a way that’s so safe.
And so, conversational that it affords the other person, the opportunity to save face and to, feel that desire to, I should have a good reason for this. Like, I should have a good, better way of arriving at reasons for this. And it’s, there’s a very high success rate for that moving people as well.
Dan: Yeah. Interesting. so many, so many things, uh, directions to go from there that, that I, I, I think are really fascinating. One, one is, um, The I guess, crossover, that was fascinating to me about, about all of this, especially with the, the, the, um, the deep canvasing process is related to the meaning movement.
I’ve started this whole project to help people answer these existential questions of why do we exist? What do I, you know, do with my life? And a lot of people enter these conversations, feeling like, find me, find my work, find, you know, my materials, cuz they feel really stuck in some way. And the process that they use to get back to, you know, those experiences and connecting some of those dots, Is like a direct parallel to, to what I do with people who feel like they, they don’t know what to do with their lives.
And it’s usually about choices that they’ve made beliefs, that they held voices, you know, institutions, cultures, whatever it might be that have that they have these beliefs about who they are or what they should and should not do. so it’s a little bit different cuz it’s really about identity and how they’re, how they’re viewing themselves, but it’s still really about that same core belief.
so I, I just thought it was found it to just be so fascinating just that, that parallel, um, parallel there. And it’s honestly also really validating like, okay, this, this method that I’ve been using, , isn’t just something that I, you know, stumbled, stumbled on or at least not totally in isolation. Other people are finding similar similar processes for, you know, questioning, questioning beliefs and,
David: Well, yeah, it’s the
David: it’s the difference between entering a debate frame, entering a conversation frame, like in a debate frame, we want to, uh, be right or wrong. We want to win or lose. Uh, but there there’s almost, I can’t think of many topics where there is a win or lose way of looking at it. I mean, maybe the earth is round or flat.
That’s that, that one we can get that one I can go with. But if you enter into a debate frame to have a conversation about that, with someone who strongly believes that the earth is flat, you will not get them to budge. You will not offer anything to them of value because they’re in the debate frame. And the only way you win a debate is not changing your mind.
If. instead go into something like a conversation space. Like, you know, when you, you ever watch a movie with one of your friends and you love it, you just, you’re just loving this movie and then you leave. And then they say, oh, this hate that movie. I, that was the worst movie I’ve ever seen. And then you, and you’re like, what?
Like I loved it. And then you feel defensive. And, but then you hear them out because they’re your friend and you trust them. And there are other things that they share your values and, and then they express themselves in a such a way that you do move a little bit toward them, but you express yourself in such a way.
They move a little bit towards you because the truth was somewhere between already. And when it, I used the dress in the book to illustrate this, that the, that you see, you could, you can’t help, but the way you, you see the dress as black and blue or white and gold, there’s nothing you can do about that.
That’s happening to you because of this very, complicated neurological thing that’s taking place. Thanks to how much sunlight you’ve been looking at the whole, your whole life. But if you got into a debate with somebody about that, where like, I need you to see things my way, they literally can’t do that.
But if you were to instead enter into this conversation space where I wonder why we disagree, I wonder what’s the nature of our disagreement. That is the only path you could ever go down the way you would get anything close to the truth of what’s going on with the dress. That’s the only path you’ll ever go.
Be able to go down to get the truth of what’s going on in any political or moral or ethical dilemma. And when it comes to things that are fact based, oddly enough, that’s the only path you can use to get someone to move their certainty. Even though that’s, we’re talking about something that like, it, it definitely is one way or the other , but if you go to debate frame, you’re never gonna get as somebody to open themselves up to that possibility.
Dan: Yeah, yeah. I love it. I, I think that as I was imagining, when I think that’s a question I want to come back to for, for you is like, like, what do you, what do you do with this material? But one of the things that I’ve I’ve, as I’ve been thinking about, like, so how do, how, how could I implement this more in my, how could I use this in my life, to help, you know, I help in relationships.
Like I, I have friends and family who have, especially political
David: Oh, yeah, we all do
Dan: sometimes post conspiratorial, like, beliefs that like, mostly I just. Don’t engage with them around them because it feel I get anxious about it. I I’m afraid of I’m afraid of the conflict. and I, I think that that’s something that’s really interesting, and great about the, this process of this, that it is very open and it’s just a conversation like you’re saying, like you’re not going to debate.
You’re just being curious. And I think that that’s a, a helpful, yeah.
David: I I’m taking a note cuz I like the way you said that I’m taking a note, like yeah, we’re afraid of the conflict and that’s why we avoid it, but we’re why are we afraid of the conflict? Because we’ve had experiences in the past where we, where we, we anticipate the conflict because of our experiences in the past, we can change that.
We can have a, we can create new experiences that give us the, a different way of feeling in, in motivational interviewing. They call this pre contemplation versus contemplation. When you have a client who is unwilling to engage in introspection, who’s unwilling to engage in metacognition, unwilling to engage in the therapeutic dynamic.
It’s called preconlation in psychology. And there one of the reasons that in a family dynamic, why a person wouldn’t be willing to have a conversation like this with you is often because, uh, you’ve built a poor relationship. , you’ve built you’ve, you’ve created, you’ve had enough bad experiences that you’re both on edge about it.
So you can’t start with you. Can’t just jump in with this. Hey, I wanna talk to you and get, and get your number scale. You’re gonna have to rebuild the relationship a bit. You’re gonna have to build rebuild rapport with the person, and you’re gonna have to show them that you are. And I mean, I, I use this word in a bizarre way, but you’re an ally in the sense that you’re, um, In the way that psychologists would describe that term ally versus enemy versus, there’s a whole psychological framework.
Or when we first see a person we think is this person a potential ally enemy or mate, which is as problematic and weird as that frame is, that’s an old thing. And that’s a weird thing in psychology, but your family members are thinking I’m your family. And, uh, these genes that are inside me, built, emotions and triggers that won’t allow me to completely never talk to you again.
But if it wasn’t for those, I probably never talked to you again, because I have identified you have entered into a different social, uh, identity tribal thing, and you’re now them and I’m an us and that’s no good. You have to bypass that before you can start these kind of conversations. You’re gonna have to get into a place where you can share.
There are some values here that we. Align on, and there are problems in the world. We both agree are problems. And the thing that we’re only the only thing we’re disagreeing on really is how do we approach those things? How do we solve those things? How do we interpret those things? And I’m, I consider you somebody I love.
And, uh, I want you in my life. And I would rather, you be valuable to me than, than not. How can we, I wanna know more about how you see things. Cause maybe there’s something in there and in return I’d like to share how I see it as well. And now you’re going instead, you’re face to face, you’re going shoulder to shoulder into the topic and that is that’s where you can rebuild the relationship and incrementally.
Move each other a little bit. Cause you might be surprised to learn. Maybe the reason they feel the way they feel it’s it’s led them to cherry pick evidence and find some weird stuff that just ain’t true. But the thing that led them to it, there might be some value in their attitude. There might be some reason why they feel that way.
That is worth thinking about on your own. They might have certain fears and anxieties that aren’t completely unjust. And they also, and that’s something that is worth investigating with someone who’s close enough to you that you’re gonna have Thanksgiving with them.
Dan: Yes. That is so, so well said. And I love the, the, the posture, like instead of face to face side by side, it, it is a really helpful reframing. And I think, yeah, I think like the, the, the biggest thing for me is like, it’s so much easier to. Just shy away from those issues in order to avoid the conflict. But I think what I hear you inviting me to is, um, and listeners as well, like to know that like, okay, that probably means that there was conflict.
There’s been conflict that hasn’t gone well. Right. Like, and, and there’s, there’s story behind that that needs to be, you know, reimagined and, and revisited and also then rebuilt and out of, out of that.
David: I had this with my dad, uh, and I bought a truck and wanted to, uh, modify it, rebuild parts of it, fix it up. He was a car dude way back in the day, uh, like he had like muscle cars and I was like, I’m gonna come over with this. We’re gonna work on it weekend after weekend. And that, we did that.
We didn’t have one single argument did that entire process cuz we were working on this thing together. And then at the end of. I started to use some of these things that I talk about in the book to talk about some of the conspiracies that it entered into his politics and those conversations for the first time in my life went well.
David: And, but you have to put in a certain kind of work that I know. I, I fault no one for saying like, Hey, uh, the people you’re talking about in my life, I ain’t doing that kind of work with them. I totally understand. I totally understand. Some people have done things for which it is okay to walk away from them.
But the, uh, if there’s anybody that you would want that you think is worth doing this way, somebody who you would like to be able to pull back away from some of these really strange conspiratorial circles or someone who you just wish could see things a little bit more from your perspective, or at least value your perspective.
Um, there are ways with doing that.
Dan: Yeah, I love that. I love that one. That that’s the, the other question I wanted to ask you is just what have you, how, how has this material impacted you and where, where has it taken you? And I think that’s a, that’s a great, great example. And with, with your, with your father, um, I’m curious if there’s other, other places, like, has it changed the way you have conversations with friends, with family?
Um, what are, what, where else has it, has it taken you?
David: it’s everywhere. Like relationship stuff, totally different way of approaching conflict. Uh, when, even in my interviews now, like, uh, I’m a much better interviewer thanks to having being far more open and co and being empathetic to the other, like want wanting to enter that, that shoulder to shoulder frame earlier in the conversation.
and. It also has helped me to the will store. My friend will, who writes some book somewhere to mine. He gave me this beautiful thought experiment that I almost try to repeat it like a mantra before meditating, like, uh, he said, uh, ask yourself if you’re right about everything. And, uh, at some, there are people in this world who will say yes, uh, that’s a different type of, person uh, let’s hope they don’t, uh, go into politics, but we know they will because that’s the kind of people that do that.
Um, but ask yourself, do you think you’re right about everything and the word right. Can mean a lot of stuff, right, right. And wrong can mean factual can mean moral. It could be ethical. It could mean political. It could mean all sorts of stuff, but let it mean whatever it means. if the answer is no, then ask yourself, well then what are you wrong about? And. Pretty much, all of us are going to go. I don’t know. cause if I knew I was wrong about something, I would stop being wrong about it. Uh, the
Dan: you know,
David: knowing. Yeah. And so if the answer is no and you, and the answer is you don’t know what it is. You’re wrong about ask yourself why don’t, you know, and then ask yourself, how would you go about learning?
What you’re wrong about that puts you into that scientific method. Disformation framing that we’re not really innately, set up to go for. And it’s, that is the bane of journalism, right? Is, is thinking you have the answers or thinking you have the angle and then going into the piece and making the piece look the way you thought it was going to look instead of being open for it.
It telling you what is going on without, without being open, to changing completely the whole concept. Thanks to what you’re learning. That’s something I feel like could be applied just about anything people do.
Dan: Mm, mm. How much has like, as a, as a journalist, as someone who’s created a lot of content, this is maybe a different direction, but it feels related is like, how often do you feel like, oh, I, I feel differently. I believe differently about.
David: all the time, all the time. There’s there’s big parts of you are not so smart. The book, uh, that have either failed replication, thanks to the fact that science marches on or so, which, which either means that it’s a more complicated nuance than when I wrote about it or that it’s just not. So that science has come to a different conclusion and there are things that were written from the perspective of, of the person I was then that I would never take that same cynical, like, uh, angle or I would never. Tell you how to live your life in the way that I was living my life in that way back then. So, uh, I’m a big advocate for you. If you look back at an old piece of writing and you think, damn I’m, I was sure was good. That’s that’s, that’s something that should bother you. That means you have not grown since you last produced that work work of art.
Dan: I love it. I mean, that’s such, that’s such a good perspective, cuz I think as a, as a creator, that’s one of my, you know, one of my big fears, that’s where I often get into writer’s block is like, oh, like what if I’m, what if I don’t actually feel, you know, what, if this isn’t right or like, am I gonna regret this?
Like playing, like trying to envision, you know, where, where I go, but like if you just go with the, as assumption that like yeah, in five years, this isn’t gonna be good content anyway. So just like make it, um,
David: I won’t even be the same who, who knows who I’ll be in five years, but I know for certain that I’ll look back at this and go, yeah, that’s fine. yeah.
Dan: it’s a great baseline to start at.
David: This every, like, have you ever, how many. How many haircuts have we looked back on a bit? What am I doing? what
Dan: Oh, that’s so good. That’s so good. I love it. I love it. Well, this has just been such a, such a fun conversation. I know I’m going to continue to revisit, revisit the book and definitely like it, it really is, was, and is like one of the most fun and surprising, journeys as far as a, a book that I’ve, that I’ve been on recently and I read a lot of books, so, so like, again, just, it’s just fun.
So thanks for, thanks for making it. Thanks for writing it. Um, it, it’s a real, it’s a real joy and, um, I, I hope listeners will, uh, will, uh, you know, pick up, pick up a copy, check it out, um, themselves, but for,
David: This, this has been, this has been one of the best interviews, as I told, as I told you, we’ve done been doing a few of these. This has been, uh, up there in the top, you know, two or three. Thank you so much for, uh, you, this is a, I like, I love your approach and I love what you’re putting together here.
Dan: Yeah, thank you. That means a lot. Um, just for folks that wanna connect with you, follow along with your work, do you have anything specific you’d like to invite them to?
David: Sure. If you want, the, you are not so smart side of things is all sort of under that umbrella, uh, or it is, that is the solar system we mentioned earlier. The, um, you are not so smart.com and, uh, you’ll find everything there. It’s a podcast called you are not so smart. Make a lot of stuff there. That’s sort of where you can find me messing around and talking to experts about stuff, figuring out what’s going on.
The, my website, David mccraney.com has all the other stuff on it. And this book, how mines change is out there. Uh, at the time of this recording, it came out yesterday and I have never wanted I’ve. I was, I’m very proud of it and I really want people to read it and I’m eager to hear people’s feedback and how it may affect them.
So go get that please. And tell me what you think of it. Find me on Twitter and tell me just at David McCraney.
Dan: I love it. I love it. And, um, yeah, I’m, I’m, I’m pumped for people to, to, to, to go through it, to read it and, um, see, see where this takes you. It takes us all really? So, um, yeah, this has been really fun. Thank you so much for, for coming on.
David: Thank you Dan. It’s best.