May 6, 2021
Socrates used direct questioning to make ancient Athenians reflect critically on their views, which often made people look foolish. The New Socratic Method is a kinder, gentler version that can actually change people’s minds without resentment. Clarifying questions can reveal why ideas are bad without antagonism. The New Socratic Method can be used to strengthen mental immunity and root out bad ideas.
Reason’s Fulcrum is a key part of the mind’s mental immunity. It states that if two people have differing points of view, the one with the best reasons supporting their argument will “win” and the loser must reflect and change their mind. When Reason’s Fulcrum is used, good reasons can change people’s minds. When it isn’t working, people lose the sense that speech and actions have accountability, and it becomes very difficult to change minds.
One of the best ways to strengthen mental immunity in yourself and others is to have the difficult conversations you might otherwise shy away from. Asking hard and often philosophical questions like “What is a bad idea?” or engaging with family and friends who hold bad ideas can actually boost your mental immunity. Collaborative reasoning and exchanging honest dialogue is the best way to spread good ideas and build mental immunity.
Andy Norman, Ph.D., directs the Humanism Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University. A public philosopher and award-winning author, he is developing the conceptual foundations of cognitive immunology—the emerging science of mental immunity. He thinks this science explains how demagogues short-circuit minds and how ideologies corrupt moral understanding. In his book Mental Immunity: Infectious Ideas, Mind-Parasites, and the Search for a Better Way to Think, he identifies several mental immune disorders and develops the kind of mind-vaccine that could inoculate future generations against the worst outbreaks of viral nonsense.
You can follow him on Twitter @DrAndyNo.