How Minds Change Book Summary - How Minds Change Book explained in key points
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How Minds Change summary

David McRaney

The Surprising Science of Belief, Opinion, and Persuasion

4.6 (460 ratings)
21 mins
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    How Minds Change
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    Even the most stubborn of believers can ultimately change their minds.

    In June 2011, five British conspiracy theorists boarded a flight in London bound for New York City. They were accompanied by a TV crew responsible for creating the BBC series Conspiracy Road Trip. In each episode of the show, a different part of the conspiracy community travels somewhere in the world. There, they meet experts and eyewitnesses who challenge their beliefs with facts and evidence. The goal is to get them to have changed their minds by the end of the episode.

    This particular episode focused on five “truthers” –⁠ people who believe that the official narrative of what happened on 9/11 is a lie. They traveled to New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, where they met experts in explosives, demolition, air travel, and construction, in addition to family members of victims, government officials, and architects. They also trained in a commercial airline simulator and took flying lessons that let them soar over New York City. 

    How many of them do you think ultimately changed their minds? On every other episode of Conspiracy Road Trip, the number was exactly zero. But this time, it was one.

    The person in question was Charlie Veitch, a prominent thought leader within the truther community. At the time, Charlie was famous for his YouTube conspiracy videos – some with over a million views – and for his regular practice of hitting the streets with a megaphone, trying to recruit people into the movement. He had befriended and collaborated with well-known conspiracy theorists Alex Jones and David Icke.

    However, something changed for Charlie during the filming of the episode. His certainty in his beliefs began to be eroded by his encounters with demolition experts, seeing the blueprints of the Twin Towers, and attending the flight school. His final epiphany occurred when meeting two people, Alice Hoagland and Tom Heidenberger, who had lost family members during the attacks. As he described it, the change in his opinion was like a sudden “bang!”

    When the truthers reconvened later in the episode, none of them were on the same page as Charlie. They argued that Hoagland –⁠ one of the family members that Charlie had met –⁠ had either been brainwashed by the FBI or was a paid actress. They were firmly caught in the conspiratorial loop –⁠ a kind of logical prison in which people claim that any contradictory evidence is purposely designed and planted by the conspirators to mask the truth.

    How, then, was Charlie able to break free of the loop? Was it the strength of the evidence alone that convinced him? It couldn’t have been –⁠ otherwise the other truthers on the trip would have been equally convinced. In fact, there was something else going on in Charlie’s life that set the stage for him to change his mind. To understand why, we’ll need to talk about why people begin to hold tightly to a set of beliefs in the first place.

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    What is How Minds Change about?

    How Minds Change (2022) is a deep dive into why we believe, why we keep believing, and why, sometimes, we stop believing. More than that, it’s a guide to changing minds –⁠ not through manipulation or coercion, but through empathy and open-mindedness.

    Who should read How Minds Change?

    • Psychology and neuroscience geeks
    • Friends and family members of conspiracy theorists or dogmatic political activists
    • Anyone who knows a person whose mind they’d like to change

    About the Author

    David McRaney is a science journalist and creator of the blog, book, and podcast You Are Not So Smart. He is also the author of You Are Now Less Dumb, and he gives lectures all around the world on the topics of reasoning, belief, and decision-making.

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