Further Reflections are instructor-led, multi-session virtual courses held on Zoom for small discussion groups.
Recent events have highlighted the power of dogmatic delusions and conspiracy theories. How do people become entangled in such beliefs? This question has long been the province of novelists, but more recently psychologists and other social scientists have applied the tools of their disciplines to this vexing question.
This four session course will survey their findings so far about the psychological and social factors that lead people to double down on dogmas and delusions. We will discuss the personality characteristics and life history that incline people to rigid beliefs. We’ll consider the everyday personal delusions that most of us hold. We’ll discuss the social process of converting and committing to a shared delusion. Finally, we’ll consider the psychology of reasoning and what makes people amenable to changing their minds.
Dr. Mark Reimers works as a computational neuroscientist: he studies brain function by applying statistical methods to look for patterns in large-scale recordings of brain activity and behavior. He applies these methods to understand normal memory function and shed light on mental illness. Dr. Reimers has worked at the US National Institutes of Health, the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, and at the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics in Richmond, and now does research and teaches at Michigan State University. His broader aim is to ground our understanding of the mind in the facts of biology.
Dr. Reimers was the leader of the Richmond Humanists in Virginia for five years, and now leads the UU Forum in Lansing, and speaks frequently at humanist and science outreach events in Michigan.
Class One – Introduction: Why we care about understanding dogma and delusions
Topics: Dogmatic personalities, Dogmatism and social performances, Dogmatism and the brain, and Indicators of dogmatic thinking.
Class Two – Psychology of personal delusions
Topics: Definition of delusion, Delusions and psychiatric or brain disorders, Delusions about personal experience, Delusions about the world, Brain mechanisms of personal delusions.
Class Three – Dogmatic shared delusions and social movements
Topics: Brain mechanisms of social delusions, Psychological mechanisms of shared social rigid thinking and delusions, Indicators of shared delusions.
Topics: Prospects for change, What is reason?, The history of rational argument, The psychology of rational argument, How to engage deluded and dogmatic people.