Ignoring the politics of it for the moment, check out this video of Sam Harris debating Ben Affleck on Bill Maher’s Real Time show. I’ll teach you how to spot cognitive dissonance in the clip.
Watch for the moment Ben has to hallucinate Sam’s opinion from the reasonable position that many Muslims worldwide have non-liberal views to an hallucination about “All Muslims are bad.” Sam and Bill both clarify their viewpoints, with data, but Ben is struck deaf to it. All he can hear is the absurd absolute “all.” He is literally hallucinating.
I mean that literally. If you asked him after the show what happened, his memory would be sketchy. Ben is both smart and well-informed, relative to the general population and Hollywood in particular. If you think he’s being dumb here, you’re wrong. It just looks that way. This is a literal hallucination.
The tells for cognitive dissonance in this case:
1. Smart person (Affleck) unexpectedly encounters a far smarter person (Harris). Apparently Ben didn’t read Harris’ bio before engaging. Oops.
2. Harris uses data to make Ben’s argument fall apart. Ben is smart, and knowledgeable, and his ego does not recognize that he could be annihilated on television in this way. This is the trigger for cognitive dissonance. His ego spontaneously generates a literal hallucination to protect his self-image.
3. The hallucination involves turning Harris’ reasonable statement that is backed with data into an absurd absolute about “all Muslims.” Nothing can talk Affleck out of this misinterpretation. He is in full hallucination mode.
4. Look for the outsized emotional reaction. You see lots of people arguing the same side that Ben argues, but rarely do you see that level of anger except in street protests where the average energy is higher. The exaggerated emotional outburst in the wrong context is a clear tell.
When you see that reaction in your debate opponent, you won the debate – hard – but you didn’t change anyone’s mind. Cognitive dissonance swooped in to to derail any actual mind-changing.
This is one of the best examples you will ever find. Recognize the pattern. You usually notice the “absurd absolute” tell first. Then look backwards for the trigger. It means someone lost a debate on the chessboard of reason, so they overturned the board.
My opinion on their topic of debate (Islam) is not included in this post. If you think you saw it…
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