What’s it take to change a mind? It turns out there is a science to it. That’s at least according to David McRaney, a journalist, author, and host of the You Are Not So Smart podcast. The first step, he says, is don’t overtly try to win. In any argument, an attempt to defeat the opposing party is not nearly as effective as leading the person along in stages, which eventually align with your own thinking. In fact, mere exposure to different ideas, according a recent Pew study, does not generally change most Americans’ perspectives on a given issue. Understanding techniques to communicate successfully and proactively active listen, is ultimately thought to be a more effective approach. Open to Debate since 2026, has made fostering intellectual openness in dialogue a core part of its mission. In that context, and to get a sense of what other methods are out there, John Donvan sat down with David McRaney on the science of changing minds. 

  • 00:00:05

    John Donvan:

    Hi, everybody, and welcome to Intelligence Squared. I'm John Donvan. And as you all know, we do debates on this program, but sometimes we also just have conversations where we step back and examine the art of debate itself, and how we can do it better, and where it fits into the culture. We've always looked at debate as an exercise in persuasion. An effort undertaken not just to shed some light but also to change minds.

  • 00:00:28

    So when we heard about the book, How Minds Change: The Surprising Science of Belief, Opinion, and Persuasion, we knew we had to bring in science journalist David McRaney, its author. So here he is. David, thanks so much for joining us.

  • 00:00:41

    David McRaney:

    I'm very happy to be here. I'm looking forward... this is one of those places where I'm like, "Oh, these will be good questions." Uh, and (laughs) because you already have a familiarity with the topic that, uh, I did not have when I first jumped into it, so this is great.

  • 00:00:54

    John Donvan:

    Well, well, (laughs) speaking that, I have read almost all of the book. But the- the part that really, really caught me was when I was actually still in the introduction.

  • 00:01:03

    David McRaney:

    Mm-hmm.

  • 00:01:03

    John Donvan:

    And you were talking about... I'm gonna quote from this. "The ability to change minds... is one of our greatest strengths."

  • 00:01:12

    David McRaney:

    Mm-hmm.

  • 00:01:12

    John Donvan:

    "You'll see why to leverage that strength, we must avoid debate."

  • 00:01:16

    David McRaney:

    Mm-hmm.

  • 00:01:17

    John Donvan:

    "... Debates of winners and losers. And no one wants to be a loser." And my heart stopped because-

  • 00:01:21

    David McRaney:

    Sure.

  • 00:01:21

    John Donvan:

    ... because that's our thing. That's-

  • 00:01:22

    David McRaney:

    (laughs)

  • 00:01:23

    John Donvan:

    That's what we do here. And then further on in the second to last chapter, uh, you're quoting, um, I believe your friend, Nisha. Uh, paraphrasing, saying, "Debate seems like a civil way to manage disagreements because of instead of attacking each other with clubs or attacking each other with words. But this is a dangerous concept because the only way to win a debate is to avoid changing one's own mind."

  • 00:01:45

    David McRaney:

    Mm-hmm.

  • 00:01:45

    John Donvan:

    "Only the loser of a debate learns anything new, and no one wants to be a lower." So I want to save my- my- my defense of what we do for a little bit later in the conversation.

  • 00:01:55

    David McRaney:

    Sure.

  • 00:01:55

    John Donvan:

    But look more at the- the thought process and the research process that got to you where- to where you had that view of what happens when two people sit down to- to have an argument with other typically, and-

  • 00:02:08

    David McRaney:

    Mm-hmm.

  • 00:02:10

    John Donvan:

    ... and- and how- and ways to push through that with the framework that- that kind of motivates us and certainly motivates you, is the recognition that we're so polarized as a society, there must be a better way for us to be talking to each other. So let's start out with how you got into the- into this, um, line of- of inquiry.

  • 00:02:27

    David McRaney:

    Sure, sure. And- and- a sub- sub-spoiler. I'll- I'll let you know, I- I don't think debate is dumb. I don't think debate has no value. Uh, it's- it's-

  • 00:02:35

    John Donvan:

    Uh, that's a relief. (laughs)

  • 00:02:37

    David McRaney:

    When- when and where we should employ the the sort of... what we should do the sort of debating that involves lecterns, except we're doing it in our living rooms-

  • 00:02:44

    John Donvan:

    Mm-hmm.

  • 00:02:44

    David McRaney:

    ... is kinda what I'm talking about. But how did I get into this? Oh, wow. Well, I've been covering, uh, this as a beat kinda. Uh, my beast has been, I like to say it's motivated reasoning or the psychology of, um, self-delusion. Um, it's the psychology, the neuroscience behind, uh, reasoning, decision-making, and judgment. I've been covering that under, you are not so smart is sort of my personal brand. The, I've been doing that for a while, for about 13 years.

  • 00:03:10

    Um, I was- I've been putting out a podcast every other week of, where I bring in scientists to talk about those sort of things. And we often talk about motivated reasoning. If you've never heard of the term motivated reasoning, eh, you definitely experienced it. It's, um, my go-to example is these days is if you ever, uh, have you ever had a friend who just recently, uh, fell in love with someone? And you asked them, uh, "Well, what do you like about them?" Which is, you're basically asking them, "Please present your reasons for falling in love."

  • 00:03:38

    John Donvan:

    Mm-hmm.

  • 00:03:39

    David McRaney:

    And they'll say something like, eh, "Well, I mean, what- what isn't there to like about them? But I- I like- I just like the way they walk. I- I like the way they- they talk. I like the way they... I even like the way they cut their food. I- I- I love the music they're introducing me to." And you hear all these things, and it's great. They're head over heels.

  • 00:03:55

    And then later on, if that same friend is, um, breaking up with that person, uh, you ask them, "Wha- well, why are you breaking up with them?" And they'll say things like, "Well, the way they walk is, like, all janky, jiggly. Uh, and the way they talk is- is- it grates on my nerves. Uh, oh, the way they cut their food. Like, they cut Sn- Snicker bars with a knife and fork. It drives me crazy. And the- the music they make me listen to all the time. I hate their music."

  • 00:04:19

    So, like, you may notice here, this- these facts remain the exact same facts about the world. Uh, but reasons for can become reasons against when the motivation to search for reasons has changed. And the- that is sort of the essence of motivated reasoning here. You- you're rationalizing and justifying your emotional state or your intentions. And you're cherry picking from all the evidence in the world something that you think could justify or rationalize that.

  • 00:04:48

    And often times, when people, uh, argue with one another, what they're doing is, they're just presenting rationalizations and justifications and letting those do battle, but they're never actually talking about the thing that encouraged them to search for these things. And those may not actually be the justifications. That's just sort of the just so stories, the post hoc things they've come up with.

  • 00:05:09

    So this is something that I've talked about a lot. And I... the way this book became an idea was I ha- was I was giving a lecture, and afterwards one came up to me and asked how they could help their dad get out of a conspiracy theory that the- that their father had fallen into. And, um, I remember telling them, "You can't." Uh, 'cause I was telling them, this is, that- what's actually happening is blah- blah- all the stuff I was just talking to you about, this right...

  • 00:05:35

    And I- I didn't agree with that exactly as it was coming out of my mouth. It was like locking your keys in your car. I was- I felt like, "Do I know enough about this to say something like that?" And I didn't want to be this pessimistic entity. I- I didn't like that worldview. And I- I wondered if I can... it was their way to reach out to people. And at the same time I was saying this, the norms and values and attitudes and opinions around same-sex marriage in United States had drastically changed. And so I went looking to end of that to see had anyone charted it. And sure enough, I brought someone on the podcast, a political scientist, said it was the fastest recorded social change.

  • 00:06:17

    John Donvan:

    So- so- just- so what I hear you were presented with was on the one hand, you found yourself saying, "It's impossible to change somebody's... it's very, very, very difficult to change somebody's mind." And then on the other hand, you're looking about how the whole culture had changed its mind-

  • 00:06:26

    David McRaney:

    Right.

  • 00:06:27

    John Donvan:

    ... in a very short period of time. And- and so there- that was the conundrum that you wanted to go out and understand.

  • 00:06:32

    David McRaney:

    Yeah, 'cause a- 'cause a thought experiment immediately just, like, popped in my mind as, 'cause it was around, uh, 10 years or so, was the rapid shift from 60 or s- percent or so of people being opposed to 60% of people being in favor. And I was imagining all of these millions people in the United States. If you put them in a time machine and sent them back a decade, what would they do if they discussed this issue with their- with their own selves from the past? Would they argue about it the way we do today over we- over wedge issues?

  • 00:06:59

    Either way, what happened over the course of that decade that changed their mind? And I didn't- I don't- I didn't mean it in a sort of a sociological sense. I want to know, what happened in their brains? And then I want- that to me became this question. How do we change our minds? And why do we resist? And how would you break through that? And are there people who know these things? And that's how I jumped into the topic.

  • 00:07:17

    John Donvan:

    Can we start a little bit with one of the points you made? That you just brought up, which is, why do we resist changing our minds?

  • 00:07:23

    David McRaney:

    There are many, many reasons why we change our minds. Uh, the, uh, why we resist changing our minds. The first would be s- simple reactance. Uh, reactance is, uh, if you have, like, uh, if you have... if you've ever been a teenager or you have teenagers, or you had a teenager at some point in your life, um, and, like, their- their room very much does need to be cleaned. And, uh, and they know that. The sentence, "I should clean my room," is in their head because they know their room looks like- like something out of an episode of Hoarders.

  • 00:07:54

    Uh, and then you say, "Hey." And they're, you know, a mom or a dad says, "Hey, you need to clean up your room." Like, and then that- the reactance is when you go, "Oh, really?" And you, like, immediately go throw a candy wrapper on the- on the pile. So you can Scrooge McDive into it to go to sleep. Like, you're... it's a... reactance is the feeling we get whenever our agency has been put (inaudible

  • 00:08:17

    ) into some sort of, uh, the suggestion of threat. And so that's one of the reasons we resist. If- if- if at first blush, the conversation seems like the other person is attempting to push into our, um, agency. That's going to cause some pushback.

  • 00:08:31

    The, um, the other- re- reasons we resist, there's- there's one that comes from schemas, and there's one that would... the two bigger ones. Or comes ones from schemas, and the other would be coming from our, um, our- our sort of, uh, tribal orientations. The- the simplest one would be something related to, uh, how we change our minds at all, which is assimilation and accommodation. Um, that's the principles first port forth by John Piaget. And it's really sort of a description of how we learn anything. Um.

  • 00:09:02

    John Donvan:

    Can you remind folks who Piaget was and how long ago he was?

  • 00:09:05

    David McRaney:

    Oh, yeah, Piaget. I love- I think of Piaget every time I get a- a- a mixed drink in a tall glass 'cause I'm like, "Oh, you're not fooling me. I- I know what's going on here." (laughs) (inaudible

  • 00:09:14

    ) Piaget, you may remember from psych 101 classes is, he's always usually described as the- the ex- the famous experiment with, um, you- you put some- some liquid in a short glass, and then you pour it into a tall glass, and you ask children, "Do you now magically have more, like, liquid?"

  • 00:09:30

    And at a certain age, children seem to in- intuit, "No, no, no, I know what's happening here." But before that age, the intuition is, "Yeah, there's magically more." And he did that work for, uh, the study of the, of, like, I think he called it genetic epistemology. Or it was, the idea was, how does knowledge build and form? And, you know, the- there are stages to that. Or is there an arc to it? And in, so in doing that, he developed this amazing model of, uh, assimilation, accommodation. And the way it- to make it make sense without having to jump into a lot of psychological gobbledy gook is, um, like, when a kid first sees a, I- a dog first the first time. And you- you do, a- adults all around will do that thing and go, "Yeah, dog. Dog. Dog." You're, like, explaining what we call this thing.

  • 00:10:16

    Something categorical happens in the mind of- of a child. It's non-human. It walks on four legs. It's, uh, covered in fur. It's not wearing any clothes. Has a tail. Dog. And then later on, they may see a, uh, a horse. And when they see it, they point to it and say, "Dog." Or if they're a little bit more advanced, they'll say, "Big dog." Um, 'cause it seems to fit the category. It's non-human, and it's got- it's walking on four legs. Not wearing any clothes. Got waggy tail. So there's an attempt at assimilation, to fit it into your existing model. But-

  • 00:10:49

    John Donvan:

    Which- which- which represents-

  • 00:10:50

    David McRaney:

    Yeah.

  • 00:10:50

    John Donvan:

    ... a kind of changing of the mind. That-

  • 00:10:52

    David McRaney:

    Mm-hmm.

  • 00:10:52

    John Donvan:

    (inaudible

  • 00:10:53

    ) - Changing

  • 00:10:52

    David McRaney:

    (inaudible

  • 00:10:53

    )

    mind change, right.

  • 00:10:53

    John Donvan:

    That is a mind change.

  • 00:10:54

    David McRaney:

    Absolutely, right.

  • 00:10:57

    John Donvan:

    To go from, uh, from- from big dog to, oh, no, that's a horse.

  • 00:10:58

    David McRaney:

    Right. And so when you- when you sit- when you accept that, okay, this is a horse, you have to develop another category, which- in which both horse and dog will fit. And they may not have a name for it yet, but it's, like, animal or creature. Which is expanding your mind. Accommodating the new information. And we're doing this all the time. This conversation, we're doing that. Anyone listening is doing that. All throughout the day, you're learning and expanding. Some things, though, seem to fit into what you already understand. Some things require some accommodation.

  • 00:11:28

    At some level, though, your model of reality is so robust and complex, you've had so many experiences, it's just way easier to assimilate and way more dangerous to accommodate because you might become dangerously incorrect. So we

  • 00:11:40

    John Donvan:

    Can- can you define assimilation? Uh, what- how that's different from accommodation?

  • 00:11:44

    David McRaney:

    Assimilation is the- is- would be try- would be saying, "That's a dog." Whereas accommodation would be, uh, going, "Oh, it's a horse." And you, to accommodate, you have to create a new category of which both would fit. Uh, but this is also true of, like, if you were, uh, (laughs) if you walked through your kitchen this afternoon, and there was a- a- a marching band of frogs in there playing jazz. Your first reaction wouldn't be, "Oh, I didn't know frogs could do that." And you would attempt to assimilate it into what you already understand about the world. You would think, "Maybe I took some psychedelics. Maybe this is a hologram. Maybe I have a friend playing a trick on me. Maybe I need to see a doctor."

  • 00:12:24

    John Donvan:

    More from Intelligence Squared US when we return.

  • 00:12:33

    Welcome back. I'm John Donvan. And this is Intelligence Squared US. Let's jump right back into our discussion.

  • 00:12:41

    David McRaney:

    When people are trying to change our minds, um, often times if- what they're presenting to us is something that would require us to accommodate, we will resist because we walk a sort of tightrope, which is not changing your mind when you should is dangerous, but changing your mind when you shouldn't is also dangerous. And it's better to err on the side of assimilation because our models have gotten to where we're at today.

  • 00:13:03

    So that's- those are the base levels of resistance. But the strongest resistance is gonna be anything that threatens to, uh, shame you or ostracize you. It's anything that threatens your social identity is- is where the strongest resistance will come from.

  • 00:13:18

    John Donvan:

    It's interesting you say shame you because I- I- I understand you're saying that a- that the- that- that the change in position, the change of a point of view could actually threaten one whole- one's whole existence in a sort of public way and a sense of identity. But might there also just be embarrassment that you are wrong? Not wanting to admit that you are wrong because that means that maybe you spent a long, long time being wrong?

  • 00:13:39

    David McRaney:

    (laughs) There is. And there's a great variation in this. You know, they call, uh, some domains would just refer to this simply as intellectual humility. And we- we seem to be pretty nuanced in those regard. There's a spectrum. There are people who are readily, uh, accept and are okay with being wrong. And even find it pleasurable, uh, and seek it out. And there's terms for this. There's all sorts of things. Scientific curiosity. Depends on who you're talking to what sort of label they put on top of it. Need for cognition sometimes is, uh, it falls into this category.

  • 00:14:11

    But there are also people who for, and there's just... there are a 1,000 different reasons why someone would feel the way you just described, where fee- being wrong hurts me. It could be the culture with which they grew up, uh, really and deeply emphasized that, um, being a dumb-dumb or being wrong makes you a bad person. Or there's also the sense that, I think there's something along the narcism spectrum that, you know, which this will, uh, make me seem untrustworthy to my peers.

  • 00:14:42

    But in the end the day, almost all of those things, all those feelings are emanating from a sense that my place within my trusted peer group is a threat if I admit to the fact that I was wrong all this time. And it may feel like it's... you in isolation feeling that-

  • 00:14:56

    John Donvan:

    Yeah.

  • 00:14:56

    David McRaney:

    ... but you're feeling the audience is what's really taking place.

  • 00:15:00

    John Donvan:

    It- but sometimes the audience is actually harsh in its judgment of somebody who changes its mind- his- his or her mind.

  • 00:15:04

    David McRaney:

    (laughs) Yeah.

  • 00:15:05

    John Donvan:

    I'm thinking particularly of- of a politician who- who switches a position, is not accused of growth or evolution or insight, new insight. But merely of being a flip flopper.

  • 00:15:14

    David McRaney:

    Mm-hmm.

  • 00:15:15

    John Donvan:

    And is attacked for having a different position.

  • 00:15:16

    David McRaney:

    Yeah. And- and you notice it's in- it's- this isn't something that, we don't- we don't lob those, like, like, we don't lob those insults at people in other positions in the society, right? We don't do that at a- at a professor or an academic necessarily. We won't do that maybe, unless someone who we've invested a lot of group identity into, uh, or especially if it's something who, we feel like the stakes are, this is someone who could win or lose an election based off what just happened. Like, the- that- that desire for consistency also emanates from these feelings of- of groupishness.

  • 00:15:54

    And, uh, I think that we as- as a... if you're... the more Western you are, the more, uh, 21st century you are, from my home culture, like in the deep South of the United States. Like, there's this real cultural value of individualism that assumes that you aren't influenced by other people. Like, you, all of your thoughts and- all of your beliefs and attitudes and values are the result of going down into some sort of, like, castle and looking at all your scrolls by candlelight and saying, "This is what I feel about gun control."

  • 00:16:23

    And the idea that you're being deeply influenced by norms or being deeply influenced by the possibility of sanction from the people who you live around or you grew up with is kind of, uh, it's- it's- it's not salient, most the time. And it- it's a odd feeling to think, "I'm not- may- maybe I'm less individualistic than I thought I was." And it's because we have such a strong cultural value for it.

  • 00:16:46

    John Donvan:

    So talk a little bit about the- the framework in which you say debate is not a hopeful- a helpful model.

  • 00:16:52

    David McRaney:

    Well, I mean, I used to thing it was. I- I used to definitely be on the- on- in the- in that, uh, I- I would say there's a, there's sort of a peanut butter and chocolate of comeuppance in this book for me as a- as a science writer and just as a person. Um, and this framing of debate is one of those things.

  • 00:17:08

    The- the idea that you need to- the idea that, um, once you have- you're in a disagreement with someone. That the best outcome is for you to win the argument and for them to lose it, for you to assert that you're right and they're wrong, is a way to absolutely limit the pos- is to really reduce the possibility that e- that you're going to arrive at the truth, if that matters to you in some way or another.

  • 00:17:33

    I think as an odd way of, um, defending my thesis here, uh, do you mind if we talk about the dress for a second? (laughs)

  • 00:17:41

    John Donvan:

    Yeah. Um, and I- I wanna mention that you tell this story in the book. And I wanna take a very brief time-out to say how much I liked the significant portions of the book that I read. And I started with a great deal of skepticism because there are a lot of writers out there who are telling stories by cherry picking science and studies that are... give the impression that- that, uh, I've learned something new about humanity, and it's very, very often relying on neuroscience and imaging things like that that I just find tedious to read.

  • 00:18:09

    And what you did was something very different. You- you found- you went out and found people who are successfully changing people's minds.

  • 00:18:15

    David McRaney:

    Mm-hmm.

  • 00:18:16

    John Donvan:

    With overlapping techniques, um, by which I mean, they're all- they all kind of develop your own techniques, but you found overlap. And it's very enlightening. And also very entertaining. And your story about the dress fits right into that.

  • 00:18:28

    David McRaney:

    (laughs) Well, a- as a brief tangent, I thank you so much for- for what you just said because that's not how the book fir- first started. Like, I- I knew I didn't want to write a book that was gonna just be Wikipedia with jokes, where I had a i- I was like, "Here's something I want to tell the world about, let me make- let me get all the research that supports my, uh, you know, assumptions, and then present that to you." I don't like those science books either. Um, so I didn't want to do that.

  • 00:18:53

    But when I first ven- ventured out to try to understand this topic, the- like, I remember one of the first people I spoke with was Jim Alcar, and he's been studying belief, at the time I interviewed him, for about 40 years. And one of my first questions was just, uh, "Hey, tell me what belie- what a belief is. Like, tell me, pretend I'm five years old, and tell me what a belief is."

  • 00:19:11

    And he just blew... he just- he just went, "Oh." (laughs) And- and I felt the- my stomach flip over five times. And, uh, he's like, "That is a tough one." And I- and I said, "You've been studying belief for 40 years. You can't just give me a definition?" He's like, "That's why I can't give you a definition." And I remembered thinking, "Oh, no. Um, I'm gonna have to go back and tell my editors that I don't know if I can actually do this."

  • 00:19:38

    And that's happened more and more often in the beginning. And I realized, "I am going to have to kind of... I'm gonna have to go out in the world and talk to people who've changed their minds in drastic ways and then start there instead." And that's how I ended up going to places like Westboro and to conspir- conspiracy theory conventions. And hang out- hanging out with flat earthers and stuff like that. People who'd left those groups.

  • 00:19:58

    And then I took that and went back to scientists and say, "Hey, I saw this, this, and this. Could you help me understand what I was seeing?" And that's when it started to, think, to build some momentum. And e- eventually, by the end of the book, as you said, I spent time with people who change minds professionally or they have experiment in this world or they studied it. My editors, who were- were brilliant in saying, um, "Here's how you fen- how you make this work. The story of the book should just be you say- you starting with, 'I would like to explore this. Would you like to come with me? Let's go on that journey together.' And the authoritative voice will arrive by the end of the book if you get there." And it works much better that way, and-

  • 00:20:35

    John Donvan:

    It really works.

  • 00:20:36

    David McRaney:

    Thank you. It was, and I- and I- and I love it being on the ground and in person. And you're hearing me, the questions be asked and answered in the same... and one of those things was what you're talking about. I- I needed to tell the- this story. I had to tell you how minds are made. And how they change at the level or neurons. We could work up to, what's going on, persuasion is being resi- is resisted or it- it works. And I was very worried about. 'Cause I was like, this is gonna- we're gonna lose a momentum in this story, but I have to pull back and go, "Okay, let's talk about dopamine."

  • 00:21:07

    But I had this wonderful gift of, I was talking about this with someone at NYU, and they told me, "Actually, there's- there's somebody here who's researching something I think could play into this that you would en- enjoy meeting them. They're- they're the researchers who figured out why we see- why people see the dress differently." And if- if you- I hope- I'm sure everybody remembers this. I haven't met anyone who doesn't.

  • 00:21:28

    John Donvan:

    Yeah, we've got to remind 'em. (laughs)

  • 00:21:29

    David McRaney:

    But, uh, (laughs) I have never met a single person on this planet or any- any country that doesn't remember this. But in case you-

  • 00:21:35

    John Donvan:

    It was 2015, I think. Right?

  • 00:21:36

    David McRaney:

    But it was in 2015.

  • 00:21:37

    John Donvan:

    Yeah.

  • 00:21:38

    David McRaney:

    So in case you don't remember, was a dress that hit the internet. The very short version of what happened of what- for people to know the backstory of it, I didn't know the backstory of it. Was a, uh, a woman who's daughter was getting married went to a- a dress shot in London. She took a picture of a dress on a cloudy day with a very crappy phone, and, uh, sent it to her family and said, "Do you think this would look nice?" And people in the family, were, some of them were saying, "I don't know if you should wear a gold dress to the- to the wedding." And some were saying, "I don't know if you should wear a blue dress to the wedding." And she was like, "What are you talking about?"

  • 00:22:12

    And then other people was like, "What are you talking about?" And there was this confusion because no one could agree on what color this dress was. And it seems pretty distant. Like, it's not, like, brown, black. It's- it's gold or blue. Uh, golden, uh, white or blue and- uh, blue and brown. And just so happened that the- this came a funny story they told. And their- the musician at the wedding, uh, was much more plugged into social media than everybody else and spread it to social media. And eventually, it made its way to Buzzfeed and Wired and all these other places.

  • 00:22:41

    And eventually broke the internet for a little while. It was trending so much on Twitter that Twitter stopped working for a little while because of the hashtags and super celebrities were chiming in. And then it was on local news on the end of every broadcast. It really spanned the planet. So you probably seen it by now. If now, you can just type in, and this is a pretty amazing... you can just type the dress. That's all you need to type into Google, and you'll see a picture of it. So, yeah. Roughly half of the people who look at it see it as black and blue, and the other half see it as white and gold.

  • 00:23:10

    Well, I met the researchers who figured this out, and the answer to why thi- how- how they figured this out and what the answer was is also the answer to your question as to why debate isn't always the right way to deal with disagreement. Which is, the long story short of what they figured out was, um, they had a lot of... these are neuroscientists. They had a lot of experience with vision. Was that, uh, we- whenever- we don't know we're doing this. It's happening outside of our awareness. But it's happening before we experience something subjectfully. And it's something is overexposed, if we have experience with that kind of overexposure, we will do a thing, it's called subtract the lumenin. And I say we, I mean, the brain is doing this on beha- on our behalf before it reaches subjective experience.

  • 00:23:53

    And the i- and in moments of ambiguity, where we don't know whether or not this has been overex- what sort of nature of the light of the overexposure is, we'll lean on our prior. So let me- let me reduce that to something that's easier to make sense of. Um, when it came to the dress, the more time a person had spent around sunlight or around windows, or the more... if they were early riser, then it meant the more time they had spent, uh, around things being overexposed in sunlight.

  • 00:24:24

    And since it was ambiguous as to what sort of light was overexposing that dress, based off of their experiences, they would subtract the overexposure of sunlight or skylight, which is mostly in the blue side of the spectrum. Now, they end up with a white and gold dress. People who spent more time working at night, that it, maybe there's a not of windows around them. They're- they're just, uh, they're- they're night owls, they seen more things overexposed in artificial light, which are incandescent light, which is in the yellow side of the spectrum. So they subtract the yellow, and they get a blue dress.

  • 00:25:00

    The thing is, uh, what happened here was something was novel and ambiguous, and they disambiguated it using their previous experiences. And all of that happened outside of awareness. It never registered as any (inaudible

  • 00:25:12

    )-

  • 00:25:12

    John Donvan:

    Outside, so it was- it was an automatic- it was an automatic process was happening at some (inaudible

  • 00:25:16

    ) level-

  • 00:25:15

    David McRaney:

    Yeah, for me the big, like-

  • 00:25:17

    John Donvan:

    Mm-hmm.

  • 00:25:17

    David McRaney:

    ... the ex- the firework, like, thing here i- the- the thing that makes fireworks go off in my mind is the ambiguity never registered. But that still resulted in a disagreement. Like, "No, I cannot deny the truth of my own perception, the truth of my own eyes. I see this dress as blue." And the other person feels the same way.

  • 00:25:36

    So there's a word for this, disambiguation. There's a term for this. It's called surf pad, uh, substantial uncertainty in the presence of ramified or a forked prior assumptions will yield disagreement. Long story short is, what it means is, all of your life experiences leading up to a moment of du- of ambiguity will be employed to disambiguate it on your behalf. And you will have no idea it's happened, and you'll just experience it as the truth.

  • 00:26:00

    John Donvan:

    The truth. Mm-hmm.

  • 00:26:00

    David McRaney:

    So we have people with two very different life experiences. When they are both in the presence of something ambiguous, they will both disambiguate differently and get two different subjective truths out of it. And that will yield a big disagreement. And we are experiencing that all the time these days. You may noticed.

  • 00:26:17

    Here's where it plays into the debate, as far as I'm concerned. And imagine, and this is some of the- this- the neuroscientists mentioned this to me. Um, they- they talked about wanting a sur- a surfpad-ified discourse (inaudible

  • 00:26:28

    ) that, instead of a debate discourse.

  • 00:26:30

    Imagine two people who see the dress, decide they want to get into a debate as to what color it is. And you know, the function of the debate is, I want to prove that I'm right and you're wrong. That you're- your misperceiving it, and I'm correctly perceiving it. Uh, the winner of that debate loses everything because the- they're- they get- they don't get close to the truth. Because they're trying to face off against each other and settle on- on one sort of, uh, reality.

  • 00:26:55

    If they were to go shoulder to shoulder instead and say, "I find you a rationable- rational, reasonable, intelligent person. I wonder why we would disagree over something like this." And it's only the exploration of, "Why do we disagree?" That you have any possibility of getting to this deeper truth of, "Oh, wow, it- there's mu- there's something, like, neurological taking place." Which is outside the domain of, it is this color, it's not this color. And so that is the- that's the framing I use to get into the later portions of the book.

  • 00:27:24

    John Donvan:

    Yeah, it's a- that- that- that particular, um, e- example is so interesting to me 'cause I- I definitely saw, um, gold and white.

  • 00:27:31

    David McRaney:

    (laughs)

    John Donvan:

  • 00:27:32

    And members of my family saw blue and black. And I understand the dress actually is blue and black. I tried to see blue and black. I try- you know, with- with the, uh, those- those optical illusions where you see the young woman who's a witch at the same time.

  • 00:27:44

    David McRaney:

    Mm-hmm.

  • 00:27:45

    John Donvan:

    Your mind can flip back and forth. That I can do. I can see both sides of that one.

  • 00:27:48

    David McRaney:

    Right.

  • 00:27:49

    John Donvan:

    But I could- I could not do that with the- with the blue and black dress. I could not find blue and black, and then I just-

  • 00:27:54

    David McRaney:

    I hear you. But there's terms (inaudible

  • 00:27:56

    ) by the way, the- the- the images that we can see as, like, the rabbit and the duck-

  • 00:27:59

    John Donvan:

    Yeah, mm-hmm.

  • 00:27:59

    David McRaney:

    ... and the vase and- and the faces. Those are called interpersonal bistable illusions. But the dress is example of something called an intrapersonal bistable illusion. So interpersonal, every brain i- sees this as ambiguous, and it flips between two different interpretations. But intrapersonal, it's ambiguous, but no- no one is privy to the fact that it is because your brain settles on only one of those too. And then yeah, that becomes the- the subjective reality for that thing.

  • 00:28:25

    And I know- I hope through your- I hope you're seeing where you can, like, extend this into, uh, a person's opinion on something like immigration or gun control.

  • 00:28:35

    John Donvan:

    The priors, you're talking about.

  • 00:28:36

    David McRaney:

    Mm-hmm.

  • 00:28:36

    John Donvan:

    In other words, what their assumptions in going in, what their experiences have been going in.

  • 00:28:39

    David McRaney:

    Assu- yeah, assumptions that don't feel like assumptions.

  • 00:28:41

    John Donvan:

    Mm-hmm.

  • 00:28:42

    David McRaney:

    Uh, and a- ambiguities that never register. And that's sort of what the persuasion techniques that I outline in- in my- my book help people discover those things betwee- in a big, open conversation with another human being.

  • 00:28:55

    John Donvan:

    I want to talk about those techniques, but I wanna- I wanna just circle back to-

  • 00:28:59

    David McRaney:

    Sure.

  • 00:29:00

    John Donvan:

    ... to the- to the challenge to debate. Uh, I understand you're now- what you're saying is that very often, when two people disagree, the effort of each to persuade the other that they're wrong kinda gets you nowhere. That that kind of debate doesn't really, really work.

  • 00:29:14

    David McRaney:

    Mm-hmm. Dead-end debate, yeah.

  • 00:29:15

    John Donvan:

    But what- what we've been doing in our program now since 2006 is putting on one side of a- of an issue, talking with another side of an issue. But there's a third party there, and that's the audience.

  • 00:29:29

    David McRaney:

    Yeah.

  • 00:29:29

    John Donvan:

    And each side is trying to persuade the audience as opposed to each other. They're in fact, not trying to persuade each other.

  • 00:29:35

    David McRaney:

    Mm-hmm.

  • 00:29:36

    John Donvan:

    There was no expectation that our debaters would ever change each other's mind. But in that format, we not only feel that light was shed, but the people actually- actually changed their minds. And so to that degree, I'm standing solidly in defense of- of the kind of debate that we do and- and the role that that can play.

  • 00:29:56

    David McRaney:

    Again, like, I love debate, I love watching debates. I love the framing of it and the academic sort of history of it. And- and it's not in the book, 'cause I- I went there, but I- I never had to put it in there. But for the sake of researching it, I- I went to the Dionysium in Austin, Texas, where they have formal old- old school, like, Greek debates over really strange issues sometimes.

  • 00:30:18

    And I'd- I would do the same thing. I would go to the audience say, "Did anybody- did you change your mind? Did you change your mind?" And it was fascinating from both sides. People who did or did not change their mind always had, uh, interesting, uh, stories as to what it was that- that, like, clicked them over or didn't click them over.

  • 00:30:33

    The- but I do like, but I'm obviously as you see, like, as you hear what I'm saying, like, I'm arguing against a certain kind of framing with where one person meets another person as attempting to obliterate them. So what you're up to is, uh, a little different than that. Uh, and we can... there are plenty of studies into this too, about people who, uh, go to the debate and, uh, lots of confirmation bias and lots of other biases, uh, jump in to the picture. And they only pay attention-

  • 00:31:01

    I- I would do a bunch of debates in Texas too about, um, atheists versus theologians, uh, and- and to- just to notice how people would pick and choose who they were listening to and discount good arguments. But most the time, the modulating factor there was group identity. If group identity is part of the debate, that's when people will really resist saying, "Oh, you changed my mind." But-

  • 00:31:23

    John Donvan:

    The stuff you do is fantastic. I hope that- I hope I'm being- hope I'm being clear here.

  • 00:31:26

    More from Intelligence Squared US when we return.

  • 00:31:41

    Welcome back to Intelligence Squared US. I'm John Donvan. Let's get back to our debate.

  • 00:31:49

    We still love hearing you talk about how minds are changed because of course, uh, our debaters may not be trying to change their opponents' mind, but they're trying to get the audience to think differently. And you, in the book, um, you go through several examples of situations where there was an individual or a party or an organization motivated to change somebody else's mind. And you found that they had discovered, in some ways studied up for, or stumbled upon techniques for being more successful at that. What's your favorite example from the book about that?

  • 00:32:21

    David McRaney:

    Um, it's hard to pick. Uh, I have- I have two. Uh, they're- there are several examples. So I can reduce it to. But, and it's- and the reason it's- there are two is because they- one is it- is focused on sort of fact-based persuasion, and the other is focused on attitude and value-based.

  • 00:32:36

    Um, this is the great magic of- of- of writing- of writing a book like this and researching it. I could have never expected this was going to be a thing. I, when I went out looking for people who- who professionally or- or sometimes through therapeutic models and they have scientific, uh, endeavors involved, are trying to figure out how to properly persuade people. Many of these groups had never heard of each other, nor were they aware of the, uh, scientific literature that- that- that upon which their- their work was- was based. Or- or the therapeutic practices that had been doing something similar for years.

  • 00:33:15

    So unaware of each other, they had gone through a very long period of AB testing. Uh, the deep canvassing people that I met had- had done 17,000 conversations by the time I met them, recorded conversations. Uh, the street epistemology group, same thing. They had more than 10,000 conversations recorded. So thousands and thousands of conversations, throwing away what didn't work, keeping what did.

  • 00:33:40

    They had independently arrived at techniques that on paper looked pretty much the same. And if they were in steps, the steps were pretty much the same, and they were in the same order. And I- I think I say this in the book. It- it seems like no matter who invented the first airplane, like, someone today could look- would look at it and go, "That looks like an airplane." Because the- they're all dealing with the same challenges, uh, when you're trying to build an airplane. You're trying to deal with physics, and the physics of planet Earth, and the materials we have on hand. So you're going to build something that, we all agree, that looks like an airplane.

  • 00:34:15

    When it comes to these techniques, something similar was at play. The- they're all dealing with the same challenges of how brains make sense of the world and how we deal with, uh, incoming information that is counter attitudinal or counter factual that is surprising in some way. And how do you approach that where you don't get massive pushback?

  • 00:34:34

    And so I don't know if you'd like me to go through both of them, but we can through a time.

  • 00:34:38

    John Donvan:

    Well, no, let's just do- let's do- let's do deep canvassing.

  • 00:34:40

    David McRaney :

    Okay.

  • 00:34:41

    John Donvan:

    Uh, we may not have time for- for everything. So let's, uh, let's make deep canvassing the-

  • 00:34:44

    David McRaney:

    Okay, well, deep-

  • 00:34:45

    John Donvan:

    ... the case.

  • 00:34:45

    David McRaney:

    Say, street epistemology's for fact-based things, like do you think the Earth is flat or round? Um, and if the person says it's flat, then you go from there. Uh, deep canvassing is more for issues that are politically charged. Uh, they have group identity in them. They're attitude-based or value-based. Though the person you're spending time with may not know that, or they not be consciously aware of it. It may feel like raw facts to them.

  • 00:35:09

    They all- all these- all these techniques start out with step one, which may be the most important step, which is to build rapport. With deep canvassing, they go door-to-door. They meet with strangers. They just knock on someone's door one day and say, "Would you like to talk about abortion rights? Would you like to talk about transgender bathroom rights?" Things like that.

  • 00:35:26

    The reason building rapport is so important is because we're all social primates. And the first thing you're concerned about is, is this person going to put me in a position of shame with my trusted peers? Is this person going to get- could it be a threat of ostracism? Or is this person trying to take my, uh, steal my agency in some way or threaten that? Is this person going to be hostile? And is it going to end up being something where I might have to defend myself, even bodily?

  • 00:35:53

    So rapport building's very important to set the stage to get all that off the table. And often times, they'll just say, "I'm not here to change your mind." 'Cause they're really not. They're- thus- the goal is to get you to explore your- your reasoning. And they say, "I would just love to hear your thoughts on this, your opinions on this. Where- where they come from." And you go from there.

  • 00:36:14

    Um, the next thing that they do, and this was just introduced because when they were studied by scientists, they needed a, um, a way to quantify it, but it turns out this is vital to the process. Um, you can think of it, you can ask somebody, well, the next step is adding a scale from one to 10 or zero to 100. And you can think of it like this. And I often like demonstrating it like this. We can do it right now. I'll- I'll- how- how about we do it right now just for a very something, very neutral?

  • 00:36:41

    John, uh, if you don't mind, I'd like to talk to you about your- about, uh, your most recent- the ro- most recent movie you watched. What- what was it- what was the last movie you remember watching?

  • 00:36:50

    John Donvan:

    I watched the prequel to the Sopranos-

  • 00:36:52

    David McRaney:

    Okay.

  • 00:36:53

    John Donvan:

    ... called All the Saints in Newark.

  • 00:36:55

    David McRaney:

    Oh, yeah, All the Saints in Newark. Uh, did you like it? What'd you think of it?

  • 00:36:59

    John Donvan:

    I liked it.

  • 00:36:59

    David McRaney:

    You liked it. Yeah. I'm wondering, like, if you were a movie reviewer, you had to give it, like, one to 10. Like, what would you give it on a scale from one to 10?

  • 00:37:07

    John Donvan:

    I'd give it an eight.

  • 00:37:09

    David McRaney:

    An eight. So you said you liked it. I hear- I hear you. And you gave it an eight.

  • 00:37:13

    John Donvan:

    Mm-hmm.

  • 00:37:13

    David McRaney:

    I'm wondering how come, what didn't- how come it didn't get up to a nine.

  • 00:37:16

    John Donvan:

    Fo- a nine or a 10 would have meant that there was nothing that I would have made- I would have liked to have seen improved in it.

  • 00:37:23

    David McRaney:

    Yeah.

  • 00:37:23

    John Donvan:

    So it wasn't- those nine and 10 would have been the- I couldn't recommend any changes to make this better.

  • 00:37:31

    David McRaney:

    And- and all I ask- I'll ask this last thing, and then we'll get back to the- what we're talking about. But what- what in particular keeps it from getting up to being a nine or a 10.

  • 00:37:38

    John Donvan:

    Some of the casting.

  • 00:37:39

    David McRaney:

    (inaudible

  • 00:37:40

    ) one little thing. Yeah, casting.

  • 00:37:41

    John Donvan:

    Some of the- some of the casting seemed, um, a little bit off.

  • 00:37:44

    David McRaney:

    Yeah.

  • 00:37:44

    John Donvan:

    Not- not co- not fully convincing to me.

  • 00:37:47

    David McRaney:

    Mm-hmm. So you see, John, this is a very easy demonstration of what we're talking about here. Like, it is so easy to say, "I liked it." In- in a way, it's like, it's almost like bumping your knee on- on a table, and- and you ask, "Did that hurt?" And all you do is just sample your body and say, "Body says hurt. Yeah, it hurt."

  • 00:38:04

    John Donvan:

    Mm-hmm.

  • 00:38:05

    David McRaney:

    And then when it comes to an attitude, uh, or- or position on an issue, you can say, uh, "Did you like it? Are you for or against it? Is that good or bad?" And all you have to do is sample your body for a second. Okay, yeah, I liked it.

  • 00:38:18

    But the next step, when I ask you to put it on a scale, now we have to enter into metacognition and often times, people will go, "Um, hm. Well." The um, hm, well, is that moment of, oh, they have entered into active processing. They are meta- then you're gonna do a guided metacognition with them moving forward. They may have never considered this before.

  • 00:38:41

    John Donvan:

    Yeah, I just said that. Yeah.

  • 00:38:41

    David McRaney:

    So, yeah, so after the- after they're on the scale, you find where they're on the scale. And, uh, deep canvassing in particular, um, they will ask, "Why does that number feel right to you?" Which is a much more open ended way of doing what I was just doing. And they're offering him an opportunity to may- introspect maybe for the first time. Then they a- then they all share a story about someone, uh, who has been affected by the issue. The canvasser will. The person who's asking the questions will share a story about someone who's affected by the issue.

  • 00:39:10

    Sometimes if it's a, uh, if it's a current, like, political issue, they will show, like, the- the attack ads from the other side and stuff to try to really get the conversation going. And they'll re-ask the question to see if the attack ads move the person. And after that- after they- if the number is moved a little bit, they'll ask, "Well, what do you think it moved?"

  • 00:39:30

    And once they get the reasons out there in the open, um, you start trying to make their argument for them. Like, like, "If I'm hearing you correctly," like, they'll say, "What reasons are you- do you have to hold this position?" They'll try to re- repeat back so that you have done an incredible job of presenting their argument for them, so they have a really solid, debate-worthy argument, proposition almost.

  • 00:39:53

    And they'll ask things like, "Was there a time whe- in your life before you felt that way?" Um, and what- what led to this current attitude? In- in a way what they're asking is, what methods are you using to, uh, to judge the, uh, quality of your reasoning here?

  • 00:40:09

    John Donvan:

    Mm-hmm.

  • 00:40:09

    David McRaney:

    And-

  • 00:40:10

    John Donvan:

    How go- how good a scientist are you.

  • 00:40:12

    David McRaney:

    Yeah, what is your- what is your epistemology? Without having to say, you know, those things. 'Cause we so naturally can explain ourselves in that way. And you just listen, and you summarize, and you repeat. And you reflect. And I know this sounds impossible, but that it pretty much all there is to it, is being a nonjudgmental listener in a way that allows a person to explore their reasoning process in a way that they have never done before.

  • 00:40:37

    And it's almost impossible for a person not to move a little bit in some way or another. And a- for some issues, they'll share their- their personal story. If they're personally affected by it. And then they offer them an opportunity to have more conversations.

  • 00:40:51

    And surprising as this is, this has had such strong impact that, uh, while I was visiting them in, uh, Los Angeles, when they were doing this, they had scientists from around the world, you know, like, researching how this works and why it is so powerful. And it was- it's- it's been employed since then, um, in phone banks for, uh, uh, people running for office. It's been employed for all sorts of prop- uh, propositions going forth before, uh, votes. And it's very powerful.

  • 00:41:19

    John Donvan:

    So how- I understand completely. It sounds very powerful. How is it not a bad faith manipulation? In other words, um-

  • 00:41:26

    David McRaney:

    (laughs)

  • 00:41:27

    John Donvan:

    ... you know, you're- you're talking to somebody, and you- you're pulling these levers. You're not necessarily sharing that you're pulling this levers. You may be a very, very nice guy about it. You ma- one may be a very nice guy about it, may be very gentle. Maybe sounding nonjudgmental. But you have an agenda, to get-

  • 00:41:42

    David McRaney:

    Mm-hmm.

  • 00:41:42

    John Donvan:

    ... the other person... it- it's not a two-way street. There's sort of somebody pulling the levers, and the other person's levers are being pulled, and it's not in both directions. And I just wonder ethically about that. At least in our (inaudible

  • 00:41:55

    )-

  • 00:41:54

    David McRaney:

    I hear you.

  • 00:41:55

    John Donvan:

    It's up front that both sides are out there to sort of try to take each other- each other's arguments down.

  • 00:42:00

    David McRaney:

    Yeah, I hear you completely on this. Uh, and I've asked them those same questions. Uh, when it comes to deep canvassing, it's up to the organization using it how mu- how open they wanna be. Um, some of the people I've spent time with, they preferred not to divulge that they're using a technique they've learned. Others are much more in favor of, "I will be completely open at every point of the process and tell you what's going on here. And I will get your consent or else I'm not going to go forward," which I prefer that approach. And street epistemology would use a very similar steps, they outright say you may no- you cannot do this without getting a full consent and telling them what's- what you're doing and asking if it's okay with them.

  • 00:42:40

    Um, at the end of the day, for it to remain ethical in my mind is, uh, it- it just can't be coercion. The other person has have- come- they have to have- you have to have total buy-in. And you're not attempting to... you're- the goal should be, are you helping this person introspect deeply on something they may never have been afforded an opportunity to do? Uh, and if so, where they arrive is whether they end up being for or against the thing that we're talking about. That's fine. The- the idea is that you want them to have an actual opinion they may never had before, and-

  • 00:43:15

    John Donvan:

    Yeah. I mean, you- you- you-

  • 00:43:16

    David McRaney:

    We want them-

  • 00:43:16

    John Donvan:

    You- you- you yourself actually referred to the- the potential that this could be a dark art. That's the phrase you use.

  • 00:43:21

    David McRaney:

    Mm-hmm.

  • 00:43:22

    John Donvan:

    And you put it in quotation marks. And that's kind of what I'm getting at also. I found when you- you- you- you write a lot about and have referred to street epistemology a lot and-

  • 00:43:31

    David McRaney:

    Mm-hmm.

  • 00:43:31

    John Donvan:

    ... I'm drawing a blank. I apologize right now.

  • 00:43:33

    David McRaney:

    No, it's okay.

  • 00:43:34

    John Donvan:

    I thought I had it in my notes. The- the guy who does this, and he's been, um- Anthony-

  • 00:43:37

    David McRaney:

    Anthony Magnabosco, yeah.

  • 00:43:39

    John Donvan:

    Yeah. So he goes out, um, and makes videos, and- and this has grown into a huge movement.

  • 00:43:45

    David McRaney:

    Mm-hmm.

  • 00:43:45

    John Donvan:

    But he's been doing it for 15 or 16 years. He'll go, started out going to college campuses. He went there as an atheist, as I understand.

  • 00:43:51

    David McRaney:

    Mm-hmm.

  • 00:43:52

    John Donvan:

    And in the early days, he would stop students at random, and he would have a very, very civil, open conversations with them. In the course of which, usually in under five or six minutes, by asking the kinds of questions that you're asking me, would turn an individual from announcing earlier that he or she was a strong Christian, to talking about, "Maybe I have doubts." And he would, and the conversation would end with Anthony more or less saying, you know, "It's interesting to me that you had those doubts and you didn't think that you did."

  • 00:44:23

    And- and as I understand, and I haven't looked at Anthony's more recent work, but he- he's bra- he's not so much focused on debunking-

  • 00:44:32

    David McRaney:

    Mm-hmm.

  • 00:44:32

    John Donvan:

    ... Christian faith anymore. But in the early days, he was out there trying to debunk Christian faith-

  • 00:44:36

    David McRaney:

    Absolutely.

  • 00:44:36

    John Donvan:

    ... and walked away with people's kinds of worlds rocked. And I found that ethically quite dubious.

  • 00:44:41

    David McRaney:

    I hear you. And he- he looks back on that time, uh, with regret and remorse. He... Anthony, who's... there's plenty of people doing this, but Anthony's sort of the... was the- the- the major figure who proteolyzed it. Um, and brought to- to where it's at today.

  • 00:44:57

    The... it was all based off of a book back in the day called, uh, A Manuel for Creating Atheists. And the- the- the street epistemology community has in a lot of ways schismed from that because by using this process, they couldn't help but, like, notice what you're noticing now, right? Like, I'm- I'm- I'm not giving, eh, what- I have a goal in mind. I have a bias where I want a particular outcome.

  • 00:45:26

    And over time, they developed a rejection of this, and a desire instead to, "All I want is for a person to be a better critical thinker, and if they've never given that a shot, um, I would hope that I helped them do that. And wherever they go with it is still okay with me. I just don't want them to be, um, landing on conclusions without giving it its due process within, you know, either their- their own heart and mind."

  • 00:45:52

    The... if you're talking about something that's purely fact-based, then the goal at the end of the day is, how close are we getting to the truth? Are we using methods that'll get us closer to the truth? If you're not aware of those methods, this ca- this will help you under- help you, like, develop them?

  • 00:46:06

    And if it's outside of purely fact-based issues, then are you aware of what's motivating your opinion? Is sort of the end goal.

  • 00:46:14

    John Donvan:

    Yeah. So I- I- I guess existence of God may be challenging to put in the- into a fact ba- we- we've actually done debates on that issue, and one of our earliest debates, the question was, the world would be better off without religion? Um, and- and again, the debaters failed to persuade one another. But the audience was very, very stirred up, and- and-

  • 00:46:34

    David McRaney:

    Mm-hmm.

  • 00:46:34

    John Donvan:

    And I don't think the audience felt that one side was being more manipulative than the other there. I think they felt both sides were trying to be persuasive. But on fact-based, you have a scene, uh, near the back end of the book, where you're in conversation with the flat earther. You know, people, flat earthers are people who believe that the earth is flat, and that there's a conspiracy to hide this fact from- from the larger population, that it's a very, very complex, sophisticated, uh, coverup job.

  • 00:47:00

    I'm not clear what the reason is given for why there would be a motivation to do that. But nevertheless, you were in conversation with an individual, and at least at the beginning of the conversation, you were, as I read, you were trying to explore an un- to- and trying to understand why this actually quite articulate fellow who- who holds these beliefs and is kind of a star in this world, um, why he holds this belief and this cons- that there's- that it's the- the earth is flat, and that there's a conspiracy to cover it up.

  • 00:47:31

    And you applied some of these techniques, uh, in the conversation. Which served mostly to kind of expose where he was in his thinking about this.

  • 00:47:39

    David McRaney:

    Mm-hmm.

  • 00:47:40

    John Donvan:

    But what I was wondering as I was reading it is what... you- you start that conversation absolutely believing that he's wrong, right?

  • 00:47:49

    David McRaney:

    Mm-hmm.

  • 00:47:49

    John Donvan:

    He- could he have persuaded you that the Earth is flat in that conversation? Was there any... was there a two-way street on there?

  • 00:47:55

    David McRaney:

    (laughs) When I put on my intellectual humility hat, I would- I would a- I would answer you saying, "Of course, I'm open to any evidence if you can present..."

  • 00:48:03

    John Donvan:

    Yeah. (laughs)

  • 00:48:03

    David McRaney:

    I can go on and on and on, like, it's a hypothesis that the Earth is round. It's a hypothesis that it's flat. Let's- let's present our evidence to each- to one another, and where the evidence lies, let the chips fall where they may. I would love to say that to you, but I have to admit that of course, I'm extremely biased on this.

  • 00:48:17

    But I also, as soon as I start trying to explain it in that way, I can feel it coming inside me right now talking to you. Like, I- have I seen the Earth from space? No. Have I- have I... where have I- what- then how do I know this is true? Well, I- I've seen these pictures and astronauts and documentaries. And I went to school, where they showed me stuff. And there's math, but I don't understand the math. But I think the people who do seem to know what it's all about. I have a whole lot of trust is what I'm really expressing.

  • 00:48:45

    John Donvan:

    Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

  • 00:48:45

    David McRaney:

    I trust certain sources. He does not trust those sources. In fact, what we end up discussing is that that's the nature of our disagreement. The nature of our disagreement is actually that he believes that the sources I trust are untrustworthy. And I believe the sources he trusts are untrustworthy, so the actual conversation that we get to is, how do we determine who to trust?

  • 00:49:08

    Which is a- a separate conversation that it- than it seemed like we were getting into, but that actually is where it lands because neither one of us are the- have enough expertise in the topic to actually debate if the Earth is flat or round.

  • 00:49:20

    John Donvan:

    David, thank you so much for joining us. It's really, really, really been a pleasure. And I've learned a lot by listening to you. And, um, thanks once again, David, for being on the program.

  • 00:49:28

    David McRaney:

    Thank you so much for having me. It's an immense pleasure to spend time with you.

  • 00:49:31

    John Donvan:

    I want to thank all of you for tuning into this episode of Intelligence Squared. You know, as a nonprofit, our work to combat extreme polarization through civil and respectful debate is generously funded by listeners like you, by the Rosenkranz Foundation, and by friends of Intelligence Squared.

  • 00:49:51

    Intelligence Squared is also made possible by a generous grant from the Laura and Gary Lauder Venture Philanthropy Fund. Robert Rosenkranz is our chairman. Clea Connor is CEO. Lia Matthow is our chief content officer. Julia Melfi and Marlette Sandoval are our producers. Andrew Lipson is head of production. Damon Whitamore, our radio producer. Raven Baker is events and operation manager. Gabrielle Yanacelli is our social media and digital platforms coordinator. And I'm your host, John Donvan. We'll see you next time.

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