In this episode we want to understand how easy it is to change our beliefs when we receive new information, a process that can be really uncomfortable and lead to great resistance in the psyche. The scientific community, whilst educated to update their world view based on new information and theory, are by no means immune to this resistance; today we’ll find out to what extent it is just a human trait we have to accept.


Seeing the natural democracy of science, where experts argue over the implications of data and the appropriate course of actions until they reach a consensus has, for me, always been one of the most beautiful aspects of the progress of science. Now that the scientific method has become more water-tight from our biases than ever, and data collection is more sophisticated than ever, the difference between hard data and the opinion we draw from that data should also be more clear. However, the introduction of the internet and the separation of the population by social media algorithms into tribal bubbles of like-minded people, has mixed together data and opinion, confusing the scientific community and the lay population alike.


So understanding the biology of belief, our discomfort and resistance to new information, and how beliefs play a part in our sense of self can really help us stay open to new data and to update our world view to match it with the necessary flexibility demanded by the sheer speed of change of our current era’s technological revolution; in my opinion this awareness offers essential tools for navigating the next few decades.


So who better to help us navigate this mine-field of human behaviour than cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Jonas Kaplan. His research focuses on the neural basis of consciousness, self, empathy, social relationships, action perception and creativity. Using a combination of fMRI neuro-imaging and behavioural studies he aims to examine the neural mechanisms that underlie our experience of resonating with other people and being aware of ourselves. He is the assistant Research Professor of Psychology at University of South California’s ‘Brain and Creativity Institut’e and Co-Director of the Dana and David Dornslife Cognitive Neuroimaging centre. 

Today’s chat will begin discussing his research with Sarah Gimbel and Sam Harris into a possible Backfire Effect when faced with new data.


What we discuss in this episode

00:00 Split brains and 2 separate consciousness’ in one head

06:34 The story of ourselves VS sense of self

07:10 The Backfire Effect explained 

09:00 Why do we find it so difficult to change our minds about things that we care about?

11:00 Differences in brain activity when we are resisting vs flexible to changing our mind

12:40 Less flexibility to changing mind associated with activated Amygdala and Insular cortices

16:00 Avoidance of situations that will challenge us to change our minds

17:00 Balancing skepticism with openness

18:15 The evolutionary intertwining between emotion and cognition 

20:00 Can techniques for separating from emotional response allow us to be more flexible cognitively?

23:30 The difference between Cognitive Dissonance and The Backfire effect

25:30 Reason is coloured by underlying motivation

29:00 Sam Harris and the neural basis of belief 

31:45 The algorithmic belief bubbles of a post internet world

34:30 Is awareness of confirmation bias enough? Other tools we need too

37:20 The Default Mode Network’s narrative about self, is less active in meditators

40:00 Utilitarian values VS idealogical/sacred values

45:00 The Left Brain interpreter and making up narratives to keep our world view consistent

52:00 Science is designed so scientists can update their beliefs; it may be ‘painful, difficult and take longer than it should but it happens’ 



58:00 What is self and is it an illusion?

1:01:30 Demasio’s ‘Core’ and ‘Autobiographical’ self

1:04:00 Mental concepts are useful provisional illusions in some sense 

1:08:00 The blur between ‘self’ and ‘other’

1:09:30 Altered states changing sense of self

1:11:50 Belonging and social group membership and it’s influence on beliefs 

1:13:00 The motive of safety and empathy from our social group 

1:15:30 Mirror neurones simulating what other people do

1:17:00 Narrative as a world explaining mechanism

1:21:00 Self is a narrative about ourselves

1:22:00 Exceptional experience revealing the illusion of self and the fear of ego death

1:26:45 The biology of belief: the mind body connection

1:30:45 The need for inter-disciplinary research

1:32:00 Jonas’ new podcast 'FLOAT'


The left Brain Interpreter

Antonio Demasio ‘Descartes Error’

Jonas' new Podcast FLOAT