Chaired by Andrew Franklin
Will started the session by introducing the audience to his book, The Heretics. He introduced us to the idea of the fact that our brains reorder our minds so that we are always the hero of our own story. Our beliefs are shaped by the fact that we are the hero. So it is very hard to change the mind of people who have such strong beliefs, Will found through doing the research for the book, that the worse way to do this was to go up to the people aggressively and tell them that their beliefs were wrong. This was just going to push them further into believing what they believe and reinforce the position of themselves as the hero of the story. As belief ultimately trumps fact.
The first part of the puzzle is genetics, there is 1,000 genes that have a role in predicting whether a person is going to be right wing or left wing in their views. Second part of the puzzle is that you are born into a certain family which already have certain beliefs that will be passed onto you. Third part of the puzzle is life experience, what we go through in life can ultimately change our course of beliefs. However we are all vulnerable to stories and use scientific process to get rid of these stories and this can ultimately be the best way of identifying if what you believe in is actually true.
The floor was then opened for an audience discussion.
First question was to do the with the heroic narrative theory
that Will had introduced us to in his introduction. Everyone has a heroic narrative theory and we are all the hero’s in our own stories. It goes back to David and Goliath, and this can be used in the modern world with Goliath symbolising the enemy of our stories. Will mention Richard Bentall and how he had the idea of depression being when the vision, we have of ourselves being a long way from where we actually see ourselves and when you can no longer cast yourself as the hero in the story this is when depression sets in. Through this narrative when people challenge other people’s beliefs they think that person is ultimately wrong and the same goes for the challenger as from there prospects the roles are reverse.
The more fearful and paranoid a person is the more likely they are going to be right wing. All right wing/left wing brain theories come down to fear.
An audience member brought up the point that all people with extreme beliefs seem willing to destroy their own lives for these beliefs. Will totally agrees as all the people mentioned in his book are so convinced of the bigger picture they dismiss everything else as minor details. He mentioned how it is an extraordinary thing to see how far these people are willing to go for these beliefs even if it means completely destroying their lives, for example through bankruptcy or facing time in jail. Beliefs ultimately come first and then the person finds a story in which they can frame their beliefs in their own head. There is no better example of this than the bible, everyone takes something different from it to suit their own beliefs.
The only way to get to someone’s true thinking is through their emotions. The brain thinks unsubconsciously and then evokes these thought as emotions. Our emotions are just our unconscious thought, so this is the only way you can truly tell what a person believes in.
Scientific orthodox is always changing, however all the people studied in Will’s book seem fearful of change even when they have scientific beliefs to back up their ideas. Will stated that this goes back to the theory of right wing people being fearful and left wing people being more open to change. To the right wing mind, change can be seen as disruption to our sense of mission and our own meaning in life and this is the ultimate context of the book.
With that final thought a very thought-provoking hour was brought to an end.