Hidden Brain - Useful Delusions

Podcast hosts are used to being the ones asking the questions. This week, though, we’re going to flip that script, and put Shankar in the guest seat. We’ll hear a recent interview he did with Krys Boyd of the public radio show Think from KERA in Dallas. The discussion revolves around Shankar's latest book, Useful Delusions, and how self-deceptions can bind together marriages, communities, and even entire nations.

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This is hidden brain Shankar vedantam.

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It's one of the most common tropes in Hollywood. It seems the tables have turned. Mr. Powers the classic turning off the tables where the person at the bottom of the Heap suddenly has all the power guy with glasses ends up being the superhero. You mean you think I'm Superman

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Willing to bet my life up. There's a reason to storytelling technique is so popular. It allows character to break out of the box. We put them in it allows us to see them in a new light.

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Today we decided to turn the tables on me.

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We're going to bring you a conversation. I had with Chris Boyd host of the public radio show think at Kera in Dallas. She will be interviewing me about my most recent book useful delusion.

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This week on hidden brain the delusions that keep couples happily married the rituals that help patients heal and the self-deceptions that hold Nations together.

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Lots of bad things can come from our failure to accept reality you find ourselves in denial of our bad habits. We fall for Conn's we make choices based on facts than on what we wish to be true. It seems like Evolution might have done away with our tendency for self-deception a long time ago since that hasn't happened. It's worth asking are there benefits to our sometimes slippery grasp on the truth from KERA in Dallas? This is think I'm Chris Boyd journalist. Shankar vedantam is host of The Hidden brain podcast as a guy who prides himself on seeking truth through the objective and rational assessment of facts Anthony curious about the ways, we all sidestep reality from time to time seeing what we wish to see as individual actors and as members of groups, so he said I understand why we do it and discovered that sometimes fooling ourselves can be good for us. He explains all this in his book useful delusions the power and Paradox of the self-deceiving brain.

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Welcome back to thank thank you so much Chris. I'm delighted to be here. The Genesis of this reporting was actually a True Crime Story that seemed to make no sense to you. Tell us about Donald Lowery and how he managed to have his victims showing up to defend him. It's a fascinating story of Donna Lowery was a balding middle-aged man living in a very small town in Illinois and over a period of a couple of decades. He invented various characters are young women whom he called Angels he invented a personas and then wrote Love Letters in their voices to thousands of men and across the United States. Some of these love letters were sent to these men over. Of your sometimes decades the members of the men received these letters were sent to be part of a group that the dawn Lowery call the church of love and over the course of many years these men who often rode back to the women who get off with writing to them sometimes.

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Love with that correspondence and believe they have found their soulmate the most remarkable part of the story is not the con itself. But when the Khan was on Mast and Don Lowry was brought to trial on charges of mail fraud some of the members of the Church of Love were so upset that the operation was going to be shot down that it showed up at a courtroom in Peoria to defend on loud to keep the con going and I found the such an amazing story that when the con is revealed amox show up to defend the con mat that it prompted me to look deeper at the nature of self-deception possible viscon had done something beneficial for the people who got scammed exactly know what a variety of people who reacted in different ways. They were people who reacted in the very predictable way of being upset that they had gotten Condon. They were outraged. Larry, but at his trial they were numerous people who testified for both the defense and the prosecution who said that the letters from these angels had kept them from Dubai.

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A couple of people said the letter said save them from suicide and so it prompted me to rethink my views about this very strange story and ask myself at least for some members. Is it possible that some elements of the Church of Love did play a solitary roll we should talk about a bias many of us hold against people. We see as having engaged in self-deception or having been conned you say the ability to not be self-deceiving it is not necessarily a sign of great intelligence It's The Sign of privilege. That's right. So when I first thought about the story of the Church of love, I looked at it. I think the way most of us would look at that story from the outside, which is we think about the people who fell for this Con is being deluded fools gullible people simpletons, perhaps a tendineae. I certainly had those views about the members of the Church of love, but I got to know some of them and interview them and greater depth. I started to have more compassion for them. I started to understand the life circumstances that prompted them.

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To turn to such a con and to believe in it and then I started to ask myself the question. This is true of my own life when I experienced vulnerabilities when I experience anxiety is if there are things that greatly worried me things that I have no control over do I start to reach her beliefs in some ways that Soothe My Own anxieties that in some ways relieve me from my my fears in my worries. And I found that I do this do when there's a wide variety of psychological research that shows that when we are in the grip of Fear or Terror or anxiety or loneliness with far more likely to reach who believes that allow us to call viz The Oldham in a proverb. There are no atheist in the Foxhole and I think that sums up the idea that in some ways when you're outside the Foxhole when you don't have bullets whizzing over your head it's easy to look down with contempt at the beliefs that people come up with in those situations, but were you and I to actually be in that situation ourselves many of us might turn to very similar delusions.

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I think a lot of people might be listening and still thinking well that happens to other people but I have a firm grasp on reality. But you remind us at every second. Our eyes are opening are open at we're experienced experiencing some kind of self-deception. Yeah, you know about delusion and self-deception. I think we think about it at the level of these large Konza or the level of conspiracy theories and you know, we certainly can talk about self deception and delusion of the level of conspiracy theories, but in some ways that helps you actually take a step back and look at much more everyday examples of how our brain operates. I I mentioned the example in the book that in any given moment, you know our eyes taken about a billion bits of information but if all this information was actually transmitted to the brain, we actually would very quickly get overwhelmed by the amount of information coming in and so our brains engaged in a significant amount of filtering by the time the information actually gets to the brain. It's been reduced a thousandfold only.

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In bits of information actually get to the brain and then the brain actually processes only about 40 bits of this of this million bits of information. So I billion you began with the brain basically is processing about 40 and this is how all of us look out and see the world now an engineer might say what has happened is in fact a profound illusion because what you see what you owe your experience of sight is in fact so far distant from the reality that's coming flooding into your eyes, but from a from a functionalist perspective. This is exactly how the brain needs to operate. The brain has learned through many many millions of years of evolution that in some ways all this filtering while it might not show us reality is actually quite functional. Let me give you another example, you know, I I just finished eating some food that was really delicious and I realized that was chewing Senpai food that the experience of deliciousness is itself a delusion because of course food itself does not have taste sugar does not taste sweet dusar.

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Experiences and perceptions that are layered on to the sensations coming from our tongue by the brain. So you could argue that the brain in some ways is inventing the experience of sweetness when we eat something sweet or we eat something delicious, but you can see again how this can be very functional the delusions we have about what you're eating can prompt Us in the direction of certain kinds of foods, which of course is why our brains are designed to perceive taste in the first place. I've been endlessly fascinated by the research that finds that the people who are most accurately understanding reality tend to be people who are clinically depressed. What does that suggest about the value of self-deception at least in some cases to Mental Health?

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This is peanut a long-standing debate in the field of Mental Health crisis. I think for many years people believed that when you're suffering from an illness, you're seeing the world should have delusional day that you're seeing the world. If you have depression, for example of anxiety that you're seeing the world with a delusional pessimism, for example, but but studies over the last twenty or thirty years have challenged and if anything they find almost the opposite that people with depression and anxiety and some other mental disorders might in fact be seeing the world more accurately than people who are quote-unquote mentally healthy part of what it means to be mentally healthy. In other words might be that you're able to take in your distressing information information about threats or dangerous that you don't ignore that information, but you don't let yourself get overwhelmed by that information part of being mentally healthy might involve looking at the world through rose-tinted glasses. And of course this this go inside with a lot of other resource that is found that in many ways.

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People cope with various setbacks. Are they have in life that say someone loses a family member or suffers a grievous illness over the what follows over the next several months is not necessarily an accurate perception of all that they have lost but a process of grieving a process of coping that in some ways sets aside the tragedy that's happened sets aside the drama that's happened puts it back into a corner of your mind to allow you to go on with the rest of your life. And when that doesn't happen when the drama continues in some ways to occupy much of our minds we call those mental illnesses. Will you say this person is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder this person can't let go of the traumatic memories that have happened to them and we think of being mentally healthy now as helping this person in some ways put the traumas behind them put them out of sight from the from the regular perception profile a high-end Hotel manager here guy named Jose Trevino who is great at his job in part because he's a master at Deception.

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House of deception require the buy-in from customers. Well, I think you should look at the these concentric circles of self-deception. I started again, which of these very basic ideas of how the brain operates but then you start to go up in these concentric circles and you see that something like customer service often involves vast activeboard deception and self-deception meaning of assertive expect at your service when we are, you know, sitting as passengers in a plane or we are pulling up at a drive-thru window or you're showing up at a resort somewhere or you go to a restaurant we expect courteous service. And of course that's that's that's not unreasonable for us to expect coaches service, but the people providing us those courtesies are being asked to provide Korea service not just to us but to multiple people for many many hours of the day and I don't know when the last time you tried to be courteous to everyone kind to everyone interested in what they had to say for 8 hours at a time you noticed.

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I let everyone you meet for 8 hours at a time to be polite to be deferential to everyone you meet for many hours on stretch and anyone who's tried to do this understand that this is actually very difficult to do it's not what comes naturally and customer service in some ways involves suppressing. The natural urges. We might have to do, you know, a customer comes up and makes a bizarre request, you know, we might be inclined to tell the customer that's a ridiculous request and you are an idiot for making it but of course, we would lose our jobs if we did that and so we come up with deceptions and we come up with ways to hide how we might truly feel now. There's also self-deception volume because when you go to a restaurant part of what you're paying for is, in fact the courteous service you're paying for these currencies, but there's a fiction that what is being transacted is not some wants deception in exchange for your money. What's been Transit. Will you believe that what's being transacted is Justice Act of courtesy between two people and so this book self perception and deception and I would argue that from

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Much of the time this is actually a good thing because if you look at workplaces that remark by rudeness where people simply say what's up what's on that mind be signed off work places that are healthy or workplaces or happy hour places. In fact, we all are better off when we mind our manners which is of course exactly what I mother Stardust many many years ago deception be good for our relationships. So this might be yet another concentric circle around the idea of self deception. And so when it comes to our intimate relationships, for example crazy imagine for a second that you could visit every single couple getting married in the United States this year and you asked each couple on their wedding day. What are the odds you think you're going to get divorced now if they were purely rational creatures logical creatures, if we expected people to give logical and rational answers to everything people would look at the statistics and say about half of all marriages end in divorce. There's no reason to think that I'm particularly special and so there's about a fifty-fifty chance that I'm going to get divorce.

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Very few people on their wedding day are going to say that I suspect that in many ways. If they said that they probably are not the kind of people who would get married because in some ways getting married involves the leap of faith that believes that you're in this relationship forever. And I think in many ways that self-deception that we have about our partners the beliefs that we have about our own feelings towards our partners in many many cases. This is functional if we actually saw our partners and friends and colleagues were exactly who they are all the time. We might judge them somewhat harshly. We made it back to side in the risk-benefit or the cost-benefit analysis that the costs outweigh the benefits and many of us might decide that you know, we don't want to be in those relationships anymore. So allowing these relationships to function for long periods of time off and require some acts of self-deception where you preferentially focus on the things that are good in the relationship and preferentially ignore the things that are bad in a relationship. This is especially true when it comes to friendships. I mean imagine the last time

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Talk with a friend where you simply told your friend everything that was on your mind good and bad. Most of us would recognize when it comes to our friends. We preferentially focus on the good say encouraging things hopeful things positive things and we expect the same in return. I'm coming up after the break I talked about one of the most useful delusions in my own life and listen to Hidden brain Shankar vedantam.

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This is hidden brain Shankar vedantam this week. We decided to share an interview. I did with Kera program think you're supposed to that show, Chris Boyd. We're about to hear one of the most popular recurring sketches of a comedy duo Key & Peele from the Obama era Jordan Peele place at 3 straight and Obama just saying the kinds of things the president might have said Keegan-Michael Key is his anger translator who is telling us all what a bummer really thinks.

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First off concerning the recent developments in the Middle Eastern region. I just want to reiterate our unflinching support for all people and their right to a democratic process keep messing around and see what happens. Just see what happened.

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Sugar do we all suppress our true feelings most of the time. So I think it's interesting when the people who don't suppress that true feelings. Most of the time we don't actually have very positive things to say about that. I mean, it's interesting most of us say that we greatly value truth-tellers and we value the truth, but ask yourself what it's like to be around someone who simply tells you what's on their mind all the time most of us. Would I find that to be an unpleasant experience? And so yes, I do think that in quote-unquote civilized society, you know, most of us find ways to to present what we say in a way that our audiences able to hear it now. So can we expect that from people who are our presidents and managers and leaders. We expect people who are in positions of authority not simply to spout off on whatever thought they have in their head, but you actually consider carefully two-way what it is that they saying to think about what the consequences of their words might be now. We don't think of those necessarily as delusions, but these are in some ways perverse.

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When did the truth web be a good changing the truth with shading the truth in order to present it in a way that people will be able to hear us properly. And as I said a second ago organizations that don't do this leaders that don't do this to Simply voice. Whatever is in their heads. These are not people who we applaud as truth-tellers Lisa people who often come across as rude or crew up there often people who do not get support in workplaces years ago. I called a friend and it sounded like at awaken her and I said, I'm so sorry that I wake you up and she just said yes, which was true and somehow I got my feelings hurt by this and all the fuss. What's interesting your Chris is that your friend might have been too sleepy to have actually Mass the truth since I said what was on her mind, but in some ways all of us expect this of our friends, you know, when you go to a friend and basically say, you know, my life is terrible, you know, you don't expect your friend to tell you. Yes, your life is terrible because in fact you've met a terrible Life Choices it you expect your friend to so to say I am really sorry.

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Yeah. How can I help but what can what can we do to make things better? If you have a friend who's going through a divorce, you know, you don't go and tell your friend, you know, the truth is your life is probably over as you know, it. Things are going to be miserable for you for a long time. No, you tell your friend. I'm sure everything's going to be okay and I'm sure you going to get back on your feet pretty soon. We expect this of the people who are our friends. In fact people who don't do this simply stop being a friends look at self-deception in service to optimism as an Adaptive response. We need to consider why it's adaptive. It turns out evolutionary mechanisms care a lot less about us seeing the world accurately than they care about us being alive and able to procreate that's exactly right. I mean when you think about it, you know, the average human lifespan, you know, what used to be whatever 25 or 30 years, you know a few centuries ago. I'm put even now even though it's it's it's extended quite a bit. Let's say it's 75 or 80 years in the larger story of the human presence on planet Earth.

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75 or 80 years is almost nothing right humans have been around for tens of thousands of years. And you know, what individual lives are puny. Each of us is just one individual among seven or eight billion people on the planet and this planet of ours is just one tiny, you know planet in the solar system and that sun the sun that we have in our solar system is one of millions of off of solar systems in our galaxy and Galaxy is one maybe two trillion galaxies in the known universe. And so our individual lives are actually very very very puny open almost entirely and easily forgotten in forgettable. Now, this is not a useful attitude to be able to clearly see how insignificant we are is not a useful attitude when it comes to wake me up in the morning and putting on our clothes and getting on our Zoom calls and doing all the things we have to do and so only with the world in every culture people have come up with ways to make their lives more palatable to give their lives a sense of purpose to give their life.

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The sense of meaning this is especially true. I think when it comes to our relationship without children Unite with the relationships between parents and children all relationships that I usually marked by great heaps of delusional thinking I know that when my own daughter was born. I thought of her as being the most special child in the entire universe, you know. The most the ultimate Miracle Beyond on Miracles and I think many parents experience this when when when a child is born to them, they think that this child has to be the most special child in the history of the entire universe now logically that can't possibly be truly can't possibly be true that millions of people can simultaneously think that their children are the most special children of all the of all the other children out there, but this is a very useful dilution to have because parent thing turns out to be costly time-consuming difficult frustrating of an irritating and are delusional beliefs about our children before us against the challenges of parenting they allow us in some ways to deal with a body blow.

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Step-parenting often delivers to us here is another example of why it is in our evolutionary history, you know evolution of stock fit in some ways to implant in our minds delusions powerful delusion set up children are extraordinary and special to the fact that we really fear kidnapping to an extent that is not at all borne out by the rates at which it happens. I would I would take nothing away from the tragedy that it does happen at all. But but most children are really not at risk of this at any point in their lives, but we all think this kid is so perfect who wouldn't want this child. Yes, and I think many of us go overboard in order to protect our children understand sometimes harm our children, it can harm us and he can how much older than Factor examples down history of people's love for the children not notice leading dentistry and leaving their families are straight but leading entire nations Estrella, you can see how this delusional Love Can can produce sometimes things that are that are problems, but but

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Underlying reason that you have the delusional belief in the first place. Is it performs a certain functional role one of the central messages if my book is that when we think about delusions we're often so focused and so intent on the content of the delusions are often so upset by the content of the delusion that we don't stop to ask the deeper psychological question. What purpose is it serving? What is the function of the dilution now understanding the purpose in the function of something doesn't mean that you have to agree with it. You can still think that does it's a delusion. You can still think that something is a dangerous delusion, but understanding it gives you tools and avenues to potentially dismantle dangerous delusions and potentially also to embrace the useful ones to the question of placebos in medicine. They see unethical and yet if patients improve. I mean, that's the ultimate goal, right?

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So this is how it really really tricky thorny ethical question because I think a variety of studies find that people do respond to placebos and Placebo sort of broadly defined not just sort of sugar pills, but you know the entire practice of going to see a doctor in visiting a metal the medical facility and seeing people in these impressive gowns and you know, they're all of that the hoopla. That surrounds a medical facility are partly why as we get treated we improve that we believe that they're going to get help and so in fact we are held now the dilemma here is that medicine is known for a long time that the placebo effect works that the effect the doctors have a very powerful effect on that patient. The question is should you reach for that as a cure in other words instead of actually prescribing a treatment to the doctor take advantage of her power over the patient in order to help the patient feel better. There's not a simple answer to this question. I think it's a very complicated question question and I think their arguments to be made on both sides it clearly have doctor.

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Begin lying to patients all the time just in order to you know, a list of the placebo effect. You can see in all kinds of ways how this could damage doctor-patient trust and potentially even reduce the power of the placebo effect going forward, but you can also see that doctors who merely tell us when we go and see a doctor and here's what the last three. Studies said that I read. Here's what I think we should do here is a medication go home and let's see what happens and let's see if your results fall in line with the clinical trial. This is not certain what we often want to hear when we go to a doctor because part of why we go to a doctor or physician or return to anyone for help. When was suffering from an illness is returning to another human being. We're basically saying I'm frightened. I'm lonely. I'm afraid help me reach out your hand to me and this is why in medical schools all over the world increasing emphasis is being paid on what happens at the patient bedside. The relationship between doctor and patient is not incidental to the outcomes of medicine. It's essential.

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three outcomes of Medicine

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Something like the placebo effect influence how well our cars work for us?

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Yes. The placebo effect, of course is based on the idea that if you believe that your doctor is going to do well and you've gone to a very good doctor and the doctor is giving you the latest medicine you're going to get better if that's the premise of the placebo effect of the rituals and practices around the practice of medicine at party what make us better. The question arises can this actually affect us and all kinds of other ways and otherwise when we go to a fancy restaurant, for example, I'll be partly influenced by how fancy the restaurant is As we judge whether the meal is tasty or not researchers have conducted studies on this, you know, when you give people wine to drink and you give you know, you have a bottle of wine that cost $10 but you pour the wine into a bottle that is marked at and priced at $90 and otherwise you're drinking $10 wine, but it's poured out of a $90 bottle people will sometimes perceive that wine as being superior to the original $10 wine and other ones knowing that this is a $90. Why not believing it's a $90 wine tells you that

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The better wine than wine. That's $10, but it's not just a logical inference. You're making your actually subjectively experiencing. The wine is better. Maybe you take more time to savor it because you're spending so much money on your why it don't have the same thing affects a variety of other consumer and customer products. There have been instances. For example of different cars that have been manufactured in the very same your manufacturing plant, but they're marketed and branded by companies and sold and a different brand names. Sometimes we're very different prices. But you know, one of them being sold for thousands of dollars more than the other and some Studies have found that the more expensive cars with a better brand names. In fact perform better over their lifetimes, which is really mysterious because these are the same cars as the less expensive cars that are sold under the last fancy brand name. And the reason that has been Advanced is that the reason this happens is that when you spend more money to buy a more expensive car when you buy a brand name car with a very fancy title or fancy name, you're going to take better care of that car you go.

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Drive it more carefully. Maybe your pocket more carefully. Maybe you find your Sheltering or garage where you can park your car because you don't want to be affected by the elements you change the oil more regularly you maintain the car much better and over the course of several years your beliefs your actions on the car in some way. It's me that the car is actually going to last longer. So two identical cars that are manufactured in exactly the same way but one of them in some ways has more of the placebo effect attached to it the car with the benefit of sibo effect might in fact turn out to be the most reliable car and it's very much like what we said a second ago in terms of relationships the fact that I believe that I'm in a good relationship that I have a delusional belief about the relationship that might be one of the ingredients that makes my relationship good. I think we usually imagine that we just looking at the world and reacting to the world. The premise of my book is at the ways. We respond to the world shape how we interact with the world and then shape the outcomes we see in the world.

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Eve realism and how does that play into the ways we judge the actions and perceptions of other people.

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Naive realism is a phenomenon that affects all of us Chris went when we look at it at others that other people. We imagine that we consider put ourselves in their shoes and very quickly asked what would we do in that situation? So now otherwise when I when I look at you or actions, I believe I have a very good understanding of why it is that you are doing what it is you're doing we read failed to see all the ways and in some ways in which we ourselves are constrained by our own subjectivity around the limits of being your creatures that are embodied inside inside a single mind as a result of this we often fail to exercise the kind of empathy that we might otherwise exercise when we see people, you know, pursue delusional beliefs or engage and self-deception. It's easy to sit in Judgment of those people because when you look at them from the outside through the through the lens of naive realism, you tell yourself I would never do that stupid thing if I was in their shoes you imagine that you are outside of that experience.

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Of course this goes back to the idea we talked about about and there be no atheist in the Foxhole when you're outside the Foxhole it's easy to imagine the people who turn to beliefs about supernatural powers are being foolish because you imagine I am too rational. I'm too logical my mind works so much better than these simpletons. I would never do that. And now you realize I'm convinced us that we would not fall prey to the same biases. Of course menu fast realize that when we ourselves are in positions of Great Value nobility return to such beliefs are cells. I should just mention one personal story here because there's something something happened to me a few months ago that I think it's very germane to this. I was traveling a few hours for my home in Washington DC and I suffered a retina Detachment. I suffered an impact right below my eye and over the course of the next 24-hours the retina, which is the film that allows you to see you at 6 at Century the photographic film behind your eye that allows you to to see the redness out of coming off its hinges.

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At a certain point if it detaches completely you will lose sight in the eye or together and I have a I have a family history of retinal problems. So I knew what was happening and I could see in some ways my vision disappearing literally before my eyes. I was very far from home. I didn't know how to find a doctor. I was really frightened when I finally managed to find an an eye surgeon. He very kindly open his practice with me at 9 on a Tuesday night. He diagnosed me with the retina Detachment and said, you know, we need to wheel you into get surgery within the next couple of minutes. You're going to lose your eye. Otherwise at that point. I didn't have time to weigh the pros and cons. I didn't have time to look up reviews and see if this person was a good doctor or bad doctor and I did what all of us do in positions of grade vulnerability. I put all my faith and trust in the doctor now as it turned out he was a brilliant surgeon and he ended up saving my eye for which I'm profoundly grateful, but imagine for a second that he had not being a brilliant doctor. Let's imagine that he had being a shot at then. Would it be any less?

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Play for me to put my faith in him and I would argue the answer is no because my faith did not arise because of what he did my faith arose because of what I was going through. I was going through a period of great vulnerability a. Of great fear of trusting him made me feel better, which is why I reached out to him expand this in all kinds of different ways and you can see why people sometimes gravitate to believe that are false the demagogues in false prophets. It's not so much because of the demagogues in false prophets. It's because of their own, you know vulnerabilities.

00:32:14
My guest journalists chunk reviews on thumb is host of The Hidden brain podcast for talking about his latest book useful delusions the power and Paradox of the self-deceiving brain.

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Coming up why it's so hard for us to let go of our self-deceptions. You're listening to Hidden brain. I'm Shankar vedantam.

00:32:44
This is hidden brain Shankar vedantam this week. We're bringing you an interview. I did with Chris Boyd for Kera has program think it sent it around the things I learned while researching my latest book useful delusions be filled with Rich psychological inside the 1998 film The Truman Show.

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you movie

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major super to watch

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listen to me. There's no more truth out there.

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And there is in the world I created for you single.

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but in my world

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you have nothing to see here.

00:33:36
Heijunka in that scene. I mean we watch the whole movie and realize lots of people actively contributed to the deception that Truman Jim Carrey's character fell for it. And we feel like I'll maybe he should have suspected earlier except that would have forced him to give up on believing in a lot of good things in his life, right? That's right. So the premise of The Truman Show is that the Truman is part of a reality show except. He's the only one in the reality show who doesn't realize he's part of a reality show. So his wife and his best friend and his colleagues and co-workers and everyone who lives in this town. They're all actors. And he's the only one who doesn't understand or know that he is part of this reality show what makes the deception very difficult to pierce is that in order to pierce the deception Truman not only has to see through the deception but he has to give up his emotional relationships with all the people in his life. She has to recognize that the wife he loves is in fact not know somebody who she should love that.

00:34:36
Best friend is not his best friend that his co-workers and colleagues and neighbors are in fact actors. And this is very painful and Truman in some ways It's a Wonderful The Truman Show in some ways It's a Wonderful account for why it is that even when deceptions are on masked many of us sometimes are unwilling to let them go the reason is not because we're foolish it's not because we're stupid or the great. It's because that those believes those delusions do self-deceptions are now tied up with things that have become very emotionally important to us and to challenge those self-deceptions means also challenging the relationships that have become vitally important to us. Now in the little clip that you played that Chris I would argue that the creator of The Truman Show was in fact being not just deceptive bad, but you know that they call in enter the argument that he was making the Truman. I am not suggesting that we should deceive one another really nearly and say that it's a good thing that you're deceiving one another. That's not it

00:35:36
The point of the book but I am saying that in some ways he's in some way self-deception is truly intended for the benefit of the person whom you are intending to deceive or for your own good. There's an argument to be made to the Doctor Who basically with holes from the terminal patient the fact that she is going to die in two weeks time and basically says, you know things look pretty Grim but let's see how it goes. I would argue that doctor is doing the Humane thing. The doctor is not doing the unethical thing outside the people might disagree and say even there the doctor's obligation is just to tell the truth, you know, the Brooklyn the brutal truth, but certainly it is the case that when the doctor deceives the patient you noted for the doctor to gain there is no question of that is unethical of the doctor lies to the patient says I think you're going to live for another two years. So let's enter into a business venture together while you're forking over a bunch of money to me that's not deception or self-deception with the patient's good in mind. That's so too straightforward. You know, that that's that's that's that's being a con.

00:36:36
And it's being that's being a scumbag and that's that's not the kind of deception that I'm talking about in the book at all until the deception that we might want to honor all potentially protect personal self-deception could potentially hurt other people but it also our tendency for self-deception explains that as a white person who really wants to live my life in anti-racist ways. I've been convinced by the research into unconscious bias that says, you know, I may have I have thoughts that don't reflect my values but they still exist within me on the other hand. It's always so hard to to think of yourself as as belonging to this system that is abusive and really hurts people of color in this country. Can you talk about why it's so hard for us to self-deception play into our denial of racism. Absolutely Pleasant of all manners of different kinds of biases and prejudices no question about it. And and and the reason is almost straight forward to the reason is it Spain?

00:37:36
To think of ourselves as being people who are biases people who have in a racial bias or whatever. The thing that we have severe sexist people is is painful or homophobic people. It's it's painful to think of ourselves back and it's also easy to imagine that we are outside of that world when in fact, we're not an end in many ways, you know that this particular idea is a central idea of my first book The Hidden brain, it's all about the power of the unconscious mind in the role of unconscious bias in shaping our daily lives in a many years ago the psychologist Leon festinger infiltrated a group that believed the world was going to come to an end on a certain day and festinger infiltrated the group because he wanted to see what happened when the world did not come to an end and he fully expected that people would tell themselves. Okay, I was wrong. I made a mistake. This was a delusional belief and they would let it go but not inside Italy is not what happened where the day of judgment came in the world did not come to an end. The people in this group came up with rationalization.

00:38:36
What's up, Wyatt was the world did not end. And in fact, they said the various steps that we took because we anticipated the world was going to end. These are the steps that headed off the world from actually ending, you know, writ large the same phenomenon effects of large groups of people that allows people to keep their head stuck in the sand to close her eyes to reality, you know, it allows political delusions to surface and all kinds of ways and and the reason the underlying reason in all these cases the same sometimes seeing the truth can be deeply painful. My book is not at all making the the argument that all self-deceptions are good in many cases. It's really the why is it important and valuable thing to do to open our eyes in to see the role that we're playing and the role of the ways in which we might harm and hurt one another one another but it's also really important. I think when we look at the delusions and self-acceptance of other people to look at them with compassion to look at them with empathy. I would argue that in many ways. We're going to be more effective dismantling dangerous delusions when we bring empathy and sympathy and compassion.

00:39:36
Dubai rather than judgment. Let's speak with Danny in Fort Worth, Texas High Danny.

00:39:47
I'm hearing you know, if I've heard that an LG about wine and expensive wine tasting better, but the car wouldn't stood out to me and made me curious. If you have a higher socioeconomic class kind of enable self-deception in a way that might not be you know, that that might be a privilege over folks who are financially struggling who who don't have the same resources to engagement theme for a self-deception. Thanks for calling.

00:40:15
Yeah, I think that's a that's a really interesting question Daddy. I wouldn't argue. It's not so much that I think self-deceptions are more likely or less likely I would just say the Forum the do self-deceptions take I like you to be different. And again, if you think about self-deception is being fundamentally designed to be functional self-deceptions of filling gaps in our lives things that we think I'm missing we're feeling it in with self-deceptions or somebody for example, who's very poor might come up with self-deceptions that reassure them that maybe the future is not going to be so grammar. They come up with believes that give them cause for Hope and optimism because that present loves lives are a difficult at present circumstances are so challenging somebody who's well-off might not have concerns about their Economic Security the next week, but they may have concerns about how they perceived about how I'd the People by perceive them and their self-deceptions might indeed take the form of being blind to the ways that they might cause harm to others. So, you know, you could argue or supposed maybe some of these self-deceptions have more impact in

00:41:15
Pokemon in pokken all the people that's entirely possible. But I'm more inclined to think of yourself deception does being functional things that brains are designed to do regardless of where you put us through goddess of our circumstances. There are things that all of us find difficult to countenance and those are precisely the areas with self-deception is likely to flourish call in people's lives, but there may still be some aspects of self-deception in that. What was the miracle of the Sun?

00:41:47
So the miracle of the sun like many other religious Miracles involve large numbers of people believing that they have seen a supernatural event to take place at this event took place about a hundred years ago. What's striking about this is that this was not an A couple of people who had this experience. They were many many a large number of people who collectively witness something that they thought was the hand of the supernatural the hand of God at play. But of course when you look a little bit deeper or what you find is that this this happened at a time when large numbers of people arrived at a place believing that they were going to see America called America has been foretold at an earlier time. It's over they showed up, you know, many people had come great distances many many many miles to see something remarkable. And so they were predisposed in some ways to see something remarkable. We see this in all kinds of different ways in all over the world right now in different setting of people believing that they can see certain things you do after the 9/11 attacks, for example, there was

00:42:47
Memorial that was held where to very bright blue lights were shining to the sky and in some ways as a in as a stand-in for the twin towers that came down and when those lights were shining in the sky many people believe that at the peak of the lights they could see what look like an angel or a cross and of course, it might have been an optical illusion. But but the reason that we see this optical illusion is because there is an underlying grief. There's an underlying vulnerability they were trying to find a way to to respond to you. If you're outside of that grief, if you don't share in that grave it's easy to look down at people who are able to see those things you able to see who deserve come up with these self-deceptions when you're in these things when you experience the suffering in a setback yourself you realize how easy it is to turn to such beliefs about self-deceptions that affect us on an individual level. How does the process work when entire groups of people delude themselves into believing something that's not accurate.

00:43:46
So like all self-acceptance and delusions, you know, this can happen not just an individual level of the intrapersonal level that they can happen to the level of groups drives even even Nations and countries and and like all of these the other self-deceptions and delusions we talked about there are clearly ways in which these delusions can cause great harm, but they're also ways in which these delusions can cause great good. Let me give you a simp the simplest example, you know, it's hard for most of us to think about Nations as delusions. But of course nations are human inventions human beings have come up with the concept of Nations and says, here's where the United States ends. And here's why Canada begin. So here's why the United States and said he was going to Mexico begin. These are human inventions human convention agreed upon by the people who live within a country and by the people who live outside of that country now, you can think of if you think about the nation as a delusion the way that I'm describing the word allusion not at the negative, but you said something that was invented by the human male.

00:44:46
You can see all kinds of good things that Nations. Do you know when 20 you have a natural disaster in one state? For example people in another state will step forward to help someone in Maryland May say that when there's a natural disaster in Texas. I feel obliged to help because we're all part of the same big country, you know the resources if one part of the country is doing well. We might and resources from another part of the country that's doing better to help the part of the country that's not doing so well so we know the words we stand together. We help one another we lift one another up in difficult times. These are all the ways in which nations can be very very functional very very powerful make an easy. Ask the question can these delusions spill over into harm and you only have to look at the very brief history of the 20th century to see all the ways in which nationalism can cause immense harm including and up to the point of genocide of groups believing so deeply so fervently in the delusions that they have come up with that they're willing to fight and kill and destroy large numbers of other people.

00:45:46
You know the service of those Traditions sometimes wonder if you know what you did. This is the proverbial Anthropologist that comes to us from another planet. Let's do you have to be out in out the projects come to us from another galaxy 9 travels across this vast Realms of of space to to come to this tiny little planet and they would find something astonishing they would find that this one species human being which is one species of 8 million species on the planet somehow believes that we have the right to divide up this planet into 190 different territories, and we believe in these territories so deeply that were willing to destroy one another over the Integrity of these territories every bomb the cells with nuclear weapons and are willing to destroy the entire planet because we believe so powerfully in the reality of these invention surely this Anthropologist from another galaxy would think of this as being a dilution many of us of course still in because when you're inside of dilution, that's usually the hardest place to recognize that you're experiencing a deduction.

00:46:46
Briefly if we know someone else is deceiving themselves, but in a way that might be helpful for them. Do we have any obligation to correct that I think the question is do truly off the question. Who is this deception Adolph? Who is the self-deception harming and who is it helping? I've been there are certain self-deception as you know, in the course of the last 12 months. I've come up with self-deceptions that tell me every month that the end is near the panda make us near that they're in a Liberation is is a month away or a few weeks away. I know many family members that have turn to religious beliefs because they found the pandemic to be so difficult to bear and cell and its produce so much grief and suffering. I don't believe it's in my place to disabuse people of those self-deceptions deceptions and in some ways help us get through the day allow us in some ways to be kind and gentle people suck and I think windows deceptions harmas and especially when they harm other people that is the time to intervene. That's why I asked when of these delusions tipped over to being dangerous, how can we dismantle them?

00:47:45
Journalist Shankar vedantam is host of The Hidden brain podcast. His most recent book is useful delusions the power and Paradox of the self-deceiving brain shocker. It's always a pleasure to speak with you. Thank you for making time for us. Thank you, Chris.

00:48:03
That was my interview with Chris Boyd for the show think I'm really grateful to Chris and the whole team at Kera for the wonderful conversation. Learn more about that show. I think. Kera.org.

00:48:17
Hidden brain is produced by hidden brain media are audio production team includes Bridget McCarthy, Austin Barnes Ryan cats Andrew Chadwick, Kristen Wong and Laura Corral. Terrible is our executive producer. I'm hidden brains executive editor.

00:48:35
Around San Pedro today is Bill Mesler bill is my co-author on useful delusions. In fact, he's the one who suggested we write this book over the course of several years of collaboration and Webbie what closer together? I got to know Bill very well. He's not just a terrific science journalist and writer but one of the kindest and most upright people I know and I'm not just saying that because it's a useful delusion. Thank you Bill.

00:49:03
Will be back next week with another episode of hidden brain. I'll be back in the house seat to learn to read an excerpt of the book go to Hidden brain. Org books by Shankar vedantam. See you next week.
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