Parsing Part 2 of the Scott Adams – Sam Harris Podcast

Richard Bandler, who was one of the original codifiers of Milton Erickson’s techniques, still teaches seminars. At one seminar, a student asked him a question. “These hypnosis and persuasion techniques are powerful. What is a good way to make sure you don’t cause damage to other people when using them? How do we know we are using them ethically?” Bandler then told a story about a young hypnotherapist he taught. When this young therapist first started out, a client came to him with an issue. He knew he could solve it but the technique would be invasive and a difficult experience for the client. He asked the client if the approach would be acceptable to him. “Well,” said the client, “if you would do this to a family member or loved one in a similar situation, then that’s good enough for me. But if not, you need to take a different approach.” Once the young therapist took that attitude he felt much better about use cases, and he kept that guideline in place until he had much more experience with persuasion and hypnosis. Bandler ended his story by reassuring us that the young therapist successfully solved the client’s issue. And as the student at the seminar who had asked the question said, “Thank you for the answer” and sat down, I realized I might have just learned something useful.


Read my intro here and some background on belief structures here.

The podcast itself is called “Triggered!

Previous sections: Part 1. You might notice some techniques I pointed out in that post that I don’t point out below. That’s deliberate.

My notes in blue.

Note that there may be a difference between my own opinion and my parsing of what the persuasion is communicating.


Part 2: minutes 20 – 35.

Adams: So you see that process in a number of ways.[ Visual ] [20:20]You saw that when he talked about fighting ISIS. He said we’re going to go back to waterboarding and maybe kill the families of the terrorists, and a lot of people said “Oh my god, you can’t do that, that’s going too far,”[ PACE ]and there’s lots of, plenty of good, practical reasons why you don’t do those things.[ Beautiful pace. We don’t know what people’s reasons are; and we don’t care. Yet this still paces them all. ]Then he became president,[ PACE ]and what did he do? He got pretty tough on ISIS,[ Pace. Plus “Hey I like that.” ]and I would argue that civilian casualties probably have gone up, as a result of that extra toughness, but we’re not, you know we’re not seeing the big outcry, because he’s been successful apparently, against ISIS on the battlefield.[ Pacing the civilian casualties objection ahead of time, framing it as a necessary part of being tough on ISIS, and giving instruction to not object to it. Also giving a plausible “Cialdini because”: because we are winning. ] So we see this pattern which he has broadcasted for decades.[ Presenting a pattern with a long history that we can verify visually. ]He actually wrote a book on it, The Art of the Deal, in which he talks explicitly about using hyperbole – in other words things that don’t pass the fact checking – and making big first offers to give him lots of room to negotiate toward the middle.[ Reframing “lies” as “negotiating hyperbole.” Weakening the chaos and crazy narratives by showing how it’s part of a pattern. Weakening the fact-checking objection. ]So that the thing that his supporters believe that his critics do not, is that he is emotionally and intellectually on their side, and that he will work out the details when he needs to. So that’s what his supporters believe, [ Presenting a plausible, reasonable perspective of a Trump supporter. They are not racists, or insane, or monsters. This both weakens the hatred of Trump supporters and provides a possible path for listeners to agree and change sides. We will see more of this. ]and I think we’ve seen a pretty unbroken pattern of exactly that happening.[ More visual, to reach the majority of people. Most people are highly visual. Note that Harris is NOT primary visual – Harris is mostly auditory and kinesthetic. But Adams isn’t talking to just Harris. ]And I predicted this pattern long before he even got nominated because he has that skill set, he repeated that pattern often, and it was the was the only rational thing that I could see, unless he was, you know, unless you imagined he was actually, literally insane, [ Presenting the “Trump is insane” narrative as unreasonable.] it was the only thing I could imagine happening.[ In other words, inevitable. Working on breaking through the shock and denial here. ]And sure enough, it’s happening just as I predicted.[ Keep on building the master predictor narrative. We will see later why this is critical. ]

Harris: OK well there’s a lot in there that strikes me as fairly strange ethically. For instance, this idea that he’s making this first offer that is extreme, that then he walks back to something more reasonable, and that this is a technique for which he pays no penalty, is just an unambiguously good technique that his fans recognize[ Harris starts reasonably, then ends with absurd absolutes before Adams cuts him off. ]

Adams: Let me interrupt you. I would never say he doesn’t pay a penalty.[ Calling out Harris on a complexly worded absurd absolute here. ]This is a technique that absolutely by design has a penalty. So in other words he’s saying “This is going to cost me because the fact checkers are going to be over me, and blah blah blah, I’m going to do it anyway.”

Harris: I guess I’m emphasizing something else here.[ Switches the argument. Classic tell for belief change. ]It’s not so much the lying part, or the failing the reality testing part, it’s more like: if I’m going to say to you, “You know what I think we should do?” – let’s just say this on the podcast – “You know I think we should round up those 12 million people and deport them.” If I commit to that position that’s my position.[ Harris frames the stating of hyperbolic statements as committing to a position, which is in contrast to Adams framing them as an opening offer in a negotiation. Harris’ ethics argument right here depends on them being committed positions. Remember, he hasn’t been given time to process everything, given the live format, so he’s working from an internal model that now has contradictions still needing to be resolved. ]Well, when you unpack that position, that commits me to some things which I really must have thought about or at least am pretending to have thought about, which are fairly unethical. It gets much worse than what you describe. It’s not just the fellow gang member or very close to being a gang member who gets deported along with the convicted killer. It’s the mom of you know an 8 year old kid who is an American citizen, right, so you have these just, just families broken apart.[ Powerful visual –> kinesthetic persuasion here by Harris. Great reframe, elicits a lot of feelings. His best persuasive moment so far. ]And so if I’m going to pretend to be so callous as to happily absorb[ kino ]those facts like, “Yeah send them all back. You know, they don’t belong here in the first place” or if I’m going to take the ISIS case I’m going to say “Yeah we’ll torture their kids we’ll kill their kids. Doesn’t matter, right? Whatever works.” If that’s going to be my opening negotiation I am advertising, I’m going to advertise a level of callousness and a level of unconcern for the reality of human suffering all around me that will follow upon[ kino ]my actions that should I get what I ostensibly want it’s like in these 2 cases a nearly psychopathic ethics that I’m advertising as my strong suit, right? So how this becomes attractive to people, how thisresonates[ Auditory ]with their values… I mean I get[ kino ]what you said about people are worried about immigration, they’re worried about jihadism. I share those concerns. But when you cross the line with this opening overture that has these extreme consequences on its face – I mean you don’t have to think deeply on this, right, these are the things that get pointed out in 30 seconds when he, whenever he opens his mouth on a topic like this – I don’t understand how that works for him with anyone.[ Presenting anyone who agrees with Trump as someone who likes breaking up families with kids, someone who must also have psychopathic ethics. Conflation. Very effective with Harris’ supporters. ]

Adams: Let me give you a little thought experiment here. Uh we’ve got people who are on the far right, we’ve got people on the left. In your perfect world would it be better to move the people who are on the far right toward the middle, or the people on the far left toward the middle? Which would be a preferred world for you?

Harris: Oh I don’t know. Now things have gotten so crazy on the left that that is actually is a genuinely hard question to answer. But I think moving everyone toward the middle certainly on most points would be a very good thing.

Adams: So what you’ve observed [ Visual evidence in the past. Hard to object to. Also a pace. ] with President Trump through his pacing and emotional compatibility with his base, is that prior to inauguration day there were a lot of people in this country who were saying, “Yeah yeah round them all up! Send all 12 million back tomorrow.” When was the last time you heard anyone on the right complaining about that? Because what happened was, immigration went down 50-70 percent, whatever the number is[ Not letting anyone object on pedantic number grounds ], just based on the fact that we would get tough on immigration. And the right says, “Oh ok, we’re, you know, we didn’t get nearly what we asked for but our leader, who we trust, whom we love, has backed off of that and we’re going to kind of go with that because he’s kind of doing some good things that we like. And we don’t like the alternative either.” [ Now the audience has experienced what it’s like to be a Trump supporter. Harder to hate or despise someone once you’ve been in their shoes for a moment. Powerful neutralization of the “righteous, intelligent, educated us vs. racist, stupid, ignorant them. Note that the description makes sense and includes positive words like “love,” “trust,” “good things.” ] So this monster we elected – this Hitler/dictator/crazy guy – he managed to be the only person who could have – and I would argue always intended to – move the far right towards them middle. You saw it, right? [ You might have seen it in the news. But more important, you just saw it in your mind as I just described it. ] You know we can observe it with our own eyes. We don’t see the right saying, “No no I hate President Trump. He’s got to round up those undocumented people like he said in the early campaign or else I’m bailing on him.” None of that happened. He paced them and then he led them towards a reasonable situation, which I would say we’re in.

Harris: Well, I don’t know that I would notice if they were complaining about it. I got to think I’m in kind of an echo chamber. You might notice more than I would. [ This is the exact point where Harris’ concept of Trump is broken. 1) This is completely new to Harris – the first plausible explanation of a new concept of Trump – and this caught him off guard. He and the audience are trying to reconcile this plausible explanation of an incredibly brilliant technique and strategy with their notions of Trump as Hitler/crazy/unethical/psychopath. 2) Harris (and the audience) are afraid of the idea that Trump is actually competent, and even more afraid that the man they had thought was a buffoon has fooled them. It contradicts their “I am smart” self-concept. 3) Harris is also trying to object to Adams telling Harris he saw it with his own eyes. Note that Harris uses mostly auditory and kinesthetic language, while Adams uses visual, so Harris has to translate highly visual language into his preferred auditory/kino terms to fully understand. He might be objecting more because he doesn’t “see” things so well in his mind – he feels and hears them – and is objecting to the literal description because it doesn’t match what is going on in his head. Or, he could be objecting to this new concept of Trump as brilliant communicator and strategist. Or both. He begs off rather weakly here to mentally regroup. Watch in the next section as Harris jumps from subject to subject.

Adams of course knows Harris’ sensory language preference, but remember, Adams is not talking to Harris, he’s talking to the audience, the majority of which will be primarily visual, which is the most common.]

Adams: I promise you I would notice it because I am totally, I’ve got one foot in both sides and the number of people who are talking about that – even just talking about rounding up everybody and just sending them back, just stopped. It’s completely done.[ Commands for each listener to stop talking about mass deportation (internally and externally) and put that argument to rest permanently. Note how “…just stopped – it’s completely done” sounds suspiciously like “just STOP! It’s completely done!” And, on another level, these are also commands for people to stop fighting the change in their concept of Trump and accept it. ] And by the way, that’s a big deal. He brought a lot of people to his positions.[ People like you, the listener. Cialdini social proof. Lots of people are now thinking of Trump this way, so it’s ok for you to do so too. When you break their beliefs, people often get scared and angry. This gives them a sense of safety. ]

[ Harris is now internally flustered. Note the retreat into exclusively kinesthetic thinking and how his words could plausibly line up with his own internal objections to the new Trump concept: chaos, giving up one’s own values, Putin. ]

Harris: Again, whether that was his intent or in fact the effect his actions I don’t know. I mean, there’s so much other chaos for people to be complaining about and worrying about [ literal description of Harris’ internal experience at that moment ] but I take [ kino ] a related point here which you could be making which is that there is something else going on there is the fact that people will follow onto terrain [ kino ] that is quite different from the terrain they claim to want to occupy [ kino ] and so they will kind of run roughshod over [ kino ] their own stated principles and I’m noticing this with establishment Republicans who once they grab[ kino ] his coattails it seems they are willing to follow him anywhere even into something that looks like treasonous level of fandom of Vladimir Putin. I’m sure we’ll talk about that. Before we continue down this line I want you to describe this analogy which you’ve made [ kino ] which I think is very useful. You have this “two different movies” analogy and I just want to put that in play [ kino ] for listeners because I think it’s a good framing.

Adams: Yeah there are 2 concepts that people need to understand to have any idea what is happening in the past 2 years. One is confirmation bias – I’m sure you’ve talked about this a number of times on your podcasts and your books – which is the tendency for humans to see all evidence as supporting their side even if it doesn’t. We’re all in confirmation bias pretty much all the time. Nobody’s immune from it. Nobody’s smart enough to see past it. It’s just the human condition. [ Even the smartest people can be wrong due to this. Including the audience. ] The other part that people have to understand is this thing called cognitive dissonance, which I’m sure you’ve also talked about, and that’s the idea that if our mind is set towards a specific reality, especially if it involves ourselves, you know, some self-image, and then we find ourselves doing something or learning something that violates what we’re sure had to be true, we just reinterpret what we saw and spontaneously create essentially an illusion, an imaginary world that explains all the things that wouldn’t have been explained without that hallucination. So what happened was, on Nov 8, 2016 there were a handful of people, including me, who saw things going just the way they imagined they would go. Now, that creates no trigger for cognitive dissonance, because everything was consistent: I thought I was pretty smart, I thought I could predict what was going to happen, I did predict what was going to happen. But for a lot of the country, they thought this was an impossible outcome. They’ve been in their echo chambers and they saw that there was just no way that this could happen. There are people who have never even met a Trump supporter, much less imagined that he could be elected. They looked at the polls. They saw that it was 98% likely that Hillary Clinton would win and then the results didn’t go that way. That’s a perfect trigger for cognitive dissonance. And I described that election as a cognitive dissonance cluster bomb and what it did was it split the United States and some extent the rest of the world into what I call two movies that are running simultaneously on one screen. So if you imagine we’re all in the audience, but half of the audience is looking at the same screen that you and I are and half of them are seeing one movie, and the other half are watching an entirely different movie. And one of the movies we had just elected Hitler or something like it and people were taking to the streets to day, “Oh my god!” you know, “The world is going to be on fire” and the other half of the country were going “Hey we got a guy who’s probably going to be pretty good on jobs and maybe he’ll tighten up the borders and, you know, do some business like systems in government that we like” and that’s all they saw.[ Another “Trump supporters are reasonable people” example. Same points as before: pace and lead to a Trump supporter point of view, not appropriate to hate them, now you see their side and possibly agree with some of it. More of Adams the predictor. ]And the other side saw something completely different, an entirely different movie. Now I had predicted prior to the inauguration that because of that setup, which I could see coming from a mile away, that we would experience the following arc. We would the first of all there would be huge protests because people thought that some Hitler character got elected but after a few months of President Trump acting like a normal president who was using the normal mechanisms of power and is getting some stuff done, and moderating his positions as presidents do, that the Hitler illusion would start to dissipate and that it would eventually give way by Summer. That was my prediction. And it has, largely. The Hitler stuff is largely dissipated for a lack of confirming evidence and it was replaced with, “Well he’s not a Hitler but he’s definitely incompetent. He’s so incompetent. There’s chaos in the White House that he can’t get anything done.” And I predicted that by the end of the summer he would in fact get things done. But the criticisms don’t stop because that’s just not the way it works. People don’t change positions like that. They simply change the reasons that they oppose them. And I predicted that the reasons would change from, you know, “he’s Hitler” to “he’s incompetent” to “alright, he did get a lot of things done and they were the things he said he was going to get done, and they do match, you know, Republican positions, but we don’t like it,” alright. “He is competent, he does get things done, he’s effective, but we don’t like what he’s doing.” So I think that’s where he, where it’s going to be by year end. And it seems to be heading that way. [ This whole section was a giant pace and lead. Adams as predictor extraordinaire. And here we see one of the most valuable aspects of this narrative: now he’s telling the audience what to think next, and they believe him because they accept that he was right about so many other predictions. ]

Harris: One thing I want to point out that strikes me as a strange emphasis that I’ve heard from you here, but I’ve also heard this just quite frequently from other Trump supporters so I just want to flag it.[ kino ]I don’t know what, if much turns on it.[ kino ]But for instance in your description of what created the cognitive dissonance, you talk about the failure of people who don’t like Trump to predict that he would win the election, so that everyone was just blindsided by the fact that he won and this put them into this “the other movie theater” where they are seeing just civilization unravel. I mean, for me it was never a matter of being sure that Hillary Clinton was going to win. In fact, the last poll I looked at that I thought was actually informative, Trump had a 20 or 25 % chance of winning and I, you know, I’m statistically educated. I know how often a 20% chance of winning comes up. It’s not a tiny probability, so it’s not the surprise that is worth emphasizing here, it’s the horror at the fact that we have elected someone so obviously wrong for the job. This two movies analysis still works whether you predicted anything or whether anyone else predicted anything. Even if everyone thought it was a horse race until the last second and there was a 50% chance of either candidate winning, I think you would have the exact same outcome in terms of a repudiation of this choice that our nation made.[ Another good argument by Harris against the argument as stated. He tries to undermine the cognitive dissonance explanation by saying it wasn’t the surprise but the horror. The way Adams explained it here, the surprise was the big factor with the “unwanted” aspect implied, but in practice horror is an equally effective trigger for cognitive dissonance. You generally don’t go into cognitive dissonance when you get surprised with a very positive situation. ]

Parsing the Scott Adams – Sam Harris Podcast for Persuasion, Part 1

Read my intro here and some background on belief structures here.

The podcast itself is called “Triggered!

Note that there may be a difference between my own opinion and my parsing of what the persuasion is communicating.

My notes are in blue. Thanks to @RolyPolyIsTaken for transcribing this section.


Harris: I am here with Scott Adams, Scott thanks for coming on the podcast.

Adams: Thanks for having me.

Harris: You are an interesting guy who has written a very interesting book that I will have properly described in the intro and I will link to it on my website. We aren’t going to get into your life or other work unless it becomes relevant to the political discussion we’re planning to have. I’ll just tell my listeners that I’ve been reading your book, the title is “How to fail at almost everything and still win big” and it’s very interesting, very useful, surprising, and our conversation will not do it justice at all today […] you give a lot of good advice on how to get what you want out of life. I haven’t finished it yet but it’s thus far advice that I agree with. I just wanna heap some praise on you before we move on to other topics.

Scott: Thank you. Let me just put some context on that. The book you’re talking about is essentially how to program yourself to become more successful in whatever way you want. But the new one that’s already available for preorder is about how to persuade other people, and it’s available in October.

Harris: That… is a book I’m sure we will be getting some preview of in this conversation. Cause it obviously related to what we will be talking about. I’ll put a link to that on my blog.

So let me just set up the conversation so that everyone understands the context. [ Pre-suasion: Harris says he’s open minded and not a partisan. ] As our listeners are aware, I’ve been attacking Trump since before the election, so it’s safe to say I am not a fan. I am sure I’ll have some more impertinent things to say about El Presidente over the course of the next hour. But I’ve encountered a fair amount of criticism from people in my audience who like Trump or at least feel that he was the best choice for president in 2016. Many of these people complain that I’ve created a bit of an echo chamber here on the podcast because I’ve only been talking to Trump’s detractors, and I certainly can see how they might think that, although I’ve pointed out that the people I’ve been speaking with who criticize Trump have been Republicans, for the most part. So the idea that these conversations have been an expression of political partisanship really makes zero sense. There’s zero partisanship coming from someone like David Frum or Ann Applebaum, or me, for that matter on this topic, because for instance none of what I’ve said about Trump would apply to Mitt Romney, and I’ve also never been shy to point out all the terrible things about Hillary Clinton.

So if it’s been an echo chamber, it hasn’t been a left wing one, but in the meantime I’ve been asking Trump supporters for months who I should bring on the podcast to represent the other side of the story, and to help me recover from this much diagnosed “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” which many people say I have. And I appear to have a whopping case of it. And you [Scott] are the one who has been most often recommended to me. So I’d congratulate you on that.

Scott: Well thank you. It’s a lot of pressure on me, but ok.

[ Setting the frame of low expectations and some sympathy ] 

Harris: I want to say just one other thing at the outset to set the table here. Having seen a few crazy comments online from, obviously, Trump supporters anticipating this podcast and wondering whether or not I would be fair to you, I just wanna tell you how I view conversations like this, and also tell our listeners, and I’m telling you now something that I tell most of our guests. And I don’t think I’ve ever left it in an interview. And this is certainly something that I tell any guest with whom I am likely to disagree. I don’t do gotcha interviews. My goal is never to get you to say something that makes you look bad. In fact, if at any point in this conversation you put your foot in your mouth, or I put my foot in there, you should feel free to take it out, and we’ll cut that part out, and this could apply to a whole section of the conversation. SO if we get to a topic for five minutes and you say at the end, “you know that whole bit we just did on racism” or whatever, “I’m worried about how that will make me look,” well then we’ll just cut it. So we can edit as we go, if need be, because my goal is – and this doesn’t just apply to you – my goal is always to be dealing with the best version of the other person’s case. I want you to be happy with what you’ve said on the podcast. So this is the opposite of a gotcha interview. And I don’t think that many people understand that and, having been on the other side of literally hundreds of interviews at this point as I know you have, I think we both can say that almost no one operates this way. Journalists deliberately don’t because they want to reserve the right to catch you saying something embarrassing. This completely perverse ethic that seems to have been enshrined in journalism where, if you say something is off the record before you say it, well then they’ll generally keep it off the record but if you say that about something you regret saying just two seconds ago, something that didn’t come out right, well then they won’t let you take it off the record after the fact. This has always struck me as a less than ethical way to deal with people, and their ideas. [ This is excellent framing by Harris. Fair and conciliatory, claiming ethical high ground, and also eliminating post hoc excuses ahead of time. Harris is not new at this. ] 

Scott: Yeah I agree. Um, but, I wouldn’t worry about me because like you, I’ve done a few of these. [ Don’t treat me with kid gloves. Also, in a clever move, claiming for himself some of the ethics/fairness halo that Harris just elicited in the audience ] 

Harris: Yeah. I just want you to know that, I want our listeners to know that. I guess that the other thing I should say as setup is that, while I think you and I will disagree about a lot here, I don’t view this as a debate. I consider myself genuinely persuadable on certain points and genuinely ignorant of other points. Now it’s true that there are some things where I don’t see how you could conceivably change my mind. I mean if you’re going to argue that Trump doesn’t lie, for instance, that’s going to be a very difficult thing to sell to me. But, I genuinely count myself ignorant of how people find him appealing, so I view part of your job in this conversation as really educating me on how that is possible. I guess to start, what I’d like to do is have you clearly state what your view is of trump, because it hasn’t been entirely clear to me beyond just admiring his talent as a persuader. Much of what I’ve seen you say is more in the vein of explaining how Trump got elected, and it’s not really an argument that his election was a good thing or that he’s a good person or that he’s likely to be a good president. So just what is your view of Trump at this point? [ I really didn’t appreciate Harris’ framing enough on this the first time around. Harris already won the crowd on Trump lying. That belief is now unassailable. Also saved his own reputation – Harris doesn’t “lose” in any way if he changes his mind now. He’s not being inconsistent, he’s being open-minded. He’s preventing his fans from turning on him in the event that he changes an opinion. ]


[ Now for Scott’s framing and pre-suasion. This is stacked with persuasion, so I’m going to list the whole paragraph in black and then copy it below with interpretation so we can read the whole thing at once and then open it up piece by piece. ] 

Scott: Well I should tell your listeners first of all that I have a background as a trained hypnotist, and I’ve been studying the field of persuasion all of my adult life as part of my job, it’s part of what a writer does, it’s part of a cartoonist needs. SO, when I saw trump enter the race, I noticed fairly quickly that he had the strongest set of persuasion skills I’ve ever seen. He has what I call a skill stack, a complementary set of skills that, if you looked at any one of those skills you’d say, “well that’s good, that’s better than most people, but that’s not any world class particular special skill.” But when you put them together, they’re insanely effective. You know, as we can see, because he’s president. He made it against all odds. And, my view on the politics of it is that my political preferences didn’t align with either side in the election. I consider myself an ultra-liberal on social stuff, meaning that even liberals don’t recognize me, because I’m more liberal than liberals. I can give you some examples to fill that in if you want. And then on the big stuff, you know the international stuff, the “how do you beat ISIS?” and, what’s the best thing to do with North Korea? My view is that none of us really know the answer to that. Because we don’t have the information the government would have, and we don’t have the full context that they would have. SO generally I don’t have a firm position on the big international stuff, and on the smaller local stuff, the domestic stuff, I am in favor of people doing whatever they want as long as it doesn’t affect me.

[ Restating the paragraph ]

Scott: Well I should tell your listeners first of all that I have a background as a trained hypnotist, and I’ve been studying the field of persuasion all of my adult life as part of my job, it’s part of what a writer does, it’s part of a cartoonist needs. [ 1) Establishes Adams as being an expert and authority (“trained”) in a skill set that ALMOST NO LISTENERS have, and certainly Harris doesn’t have. The typical listener does not have any basis from which to evaluate the claim, so it is provisionally accepted. 2) Here Scott is eliciting a variety of responses that he can use. a) Attention 1: An unexpected development forces the listener to pay more attention. b) Attention 2: “A hypnotist and persuasion master? He can’t hypnotize me, I’m too smart! Watch – I’ll check for all the signs to prove to myself he’s not doing it to me.”  c) Uncertainty: they thought they knew the whole story, but this elicits uncertainty, as in “Hmm I don’t know about hypnosis. Does that change things?” d) Curiosity: “Hypnosis? There’s something to it, because I’ve heard it does some neat things with stopping smoking, weight loss, and hilarious stage hypnotist shows.”  And thus the audience attention gets directed inwards, which is a trance phenomenon, and takes up some of the mind’s working memory, which makes the person more suggestible. This continues for the entire discussion. ] So, when I saw trump enter the race, I noticed fairly quickly that he had the strongest set of persuasion skills I’ve ever seen. [ The persuasion expert, whose expertise nearly all of the audience lacks the knowledge to evaluate, evaluated Trump as having a skill set they hadn’t considered. Another new idea. More confusion, more attention. And because he says “I noticed…,” instead of “Trump has…,” he leaves no room for someone to contradict him. Nobody can say that Adams (the expert) DIDN’T notice it. If a listener didn’t, that’s understandable because the listener is probably not an expert. By being unable to argue against Adams having noticed, most also don’t argue against Trump having the persuasion skills. They conflate the irrefutable nature of the “I noticed” statement with irrefutable nature of WHAT Adams noticed. Also note the use of “so” here. It connects the previous assertion of Scott having persuasion skills with Trump having persuasion skills. In order to understand how the two ideas are connected by cause and effect from the word “so,” you HAVE to assume the first part is true. And as most people have no ideas with which to dispute Scott as persuasion master, when they “provisionally” accept it, it never gets revisited. At this point Scott is the undisputed persuasion master. ] He has what I call a skill stack, a complementary set of skills that, if you looked at any one of those skills you’d say, “well that’s good, that’s better than most people, but that’s not any world class particular special skill.” But when you put them together, they’re insanely effective. [ A third new idea. More curiosity, a mild trance as people try to comprehend it. People’s conscious minds are starting to get overloaded with processing. More trance. ] You know, as we can see, because he’s president. He made it against all odds. [ This is a “because” persuasion a la Cialdini. He has a skill stack (“what? Unproven”) BECAUSE he is president. (“Oh, yes I do know that he is president, as I can visually verify, against long odds, so ok he does.”) Plus, the way Adams phrased the statement as “You know,” in order to disagree with it, the person must say, “No I don’t know” which Harris’ audience of people who enjoy thinking they are smart are highly averse to saying. So Adams uses what he knows about his audience to double bind them into accepting it as true. Also frames Trump as underdog and somewhat heroic. And it taps into the widespread belief amongst anti-Trumpers of “How could this happen?” They’ve been looking for an answer for months and here it is. It has the immense psychological convenience of ending the angst, so in the absence of any conscious objection it gets accepted for its utility in that regard. And that isn’t going away because for it to go away, they would have to face the pain and angst of the how could this happen thing again, which they won’t do. And the new idea further cements people’s vision of Adams as an expert. ]   And, my view on the politics of it is that my political preferences didn’t align with either side in the election. I consider myself an ultra-liberal on social stuff, meaning that even liberals don’t recognize me, because I’m more liberal than liberals. I can give you some examples to fill that in if you want. [ Adams immunizes himself from becoming a proxy target for people’s Trump hate (which he knows will soon be unleashed as he destroys people’s anti-Trump beliefs). He doesn’t give any examples here, but commands the audience to fill that in on their own with the embedded command “Fill that in if you want.” Pay attention to the tonality he uses for that phrase. Does it change from the rest of the sentence? He is now relatively immune from the audience attacking him personally. Also, more confusion: “Wait — how can that be? Isn’t he defending Trump? Who is this guy?” ] And then on the big stuff, you know the international stuff, the “how do you beat ISIS?” and, what’s the best thing to do with North Korea? My view is that none of us really know the answer to that. Because we don’t have the information the government would have, and we don’t have the full context that they would have. So generally I don’t have a firm position on the big international stuff, and on the smaller local stuff, the domestic stuff, I am in favor of people doing whatever they want as long as it doesn’t affect me. [ We are not going to talk about international affairs or local affairs today in this debate. Irrefutable because/so reasons given. ] 

Harris: So again I should say, I haven’t seen or read everything you’ve said on this topic. I’ve read some of your blog posts and I’ve seen some of your periscope videos, which you’ve been doing quite regularly about Trump. It seems to me that you are sort of having it both ways here because you seem to delight in his ability to get away with doing… at least questionable things. I would say bad things. But certainly dishonest things. Because you admire his talent as a persuader, but, to my eye it very quickly begins to seem like a defense of the bad things he’s doing or at least a denial that they are bad, or a denial that he’s doing any harm to our civil discourse or to our politics by lying to the degree that he does. So where does your appreciation of the artistry grade into actually thinking he is good and liable to do good things?

Adams: The way I like to frame it… is that I’m helping people see him clearly without the filter that the opposition is putting on him. [ Telling you his frame, then framing it. Hard to consider it bad to help people see clearly. ] Cause he has a set of skills and a talent that we’ve never seen before, meaning that nothing like this has been in the political realm that we’ve seen. So what he can do is probably different from what a regular politician can do, both on the upside and the downside I would think. [ 1) Reframes from “Trump does bad things” to “Trump’s high persuasion skill includes some risk.” Also, in order to understand this, one has to provisionally accept, for a second time, that Trump is a master persuader. Repetition eventually means truth to the subconscious mind. 2) This is new this is new this is new! So, therefore, old filters and systems of measurements don’t apply. This leaves a void of “well, how DO we evaluate him?” Next, he tells them how. ] And so I’m not discounting that there’s greater risk under a president Trump than under a vanilla president. [ Reframe: Trump isn’t bad; he’s risky. Risky bad or risky good? The second part reframes Trump as exciting and interesting, rather than a boring predictable safe “vanilla” president. Also uses the Cialdini comparison principle. ] Uh, but I think his supporters have said explicitly and often, “we’ll take the risk, we’ll take the chaos, that’s the price of change.” So there’s a lot of that that his supporters accept, and I see my role in this as clarifying, and if they like that choice, if that’s a risk profile that they appreciate, then at least they can see it a little more clearly. * [ Trump isn’t scary because he does bad things; he’s risky, and risk is the price of change. Hard to disagree with if you want the current system to change. And Scott reinforces that he is not a Trump cheerleader; he is crucially outside of the picture showing other people what’s going on inside the picture. If you show someone something more clearly, you are not in the picture. ] 

So let me, let me speak about the lying part. Because I think that’s probably central to your problem, would you say that’s true?

Harris: Yeah.

Adams: So here’s now I frame that. It is unambiguously true, and it is clear to both his supporters and his critics, that he says things fairly frequently that do not pass the fact checks, and you would agree with that right? So I think we’re starting from the same factual starting point. [ Pace on what he has correctly calibrated from Harris’ intro as Harris’ biggest objection. Again, keep your target off me because I agree with you! Major pace of both Harris and the audience. ] 

Harris: It understates it for me, but yes, I’m with ya. [ Adams secured a public acknowledgement of agreement. ] 

Adams: Now obviously, his supporters would say “Well, that one thing he said wasn’t so wrong,” you know, so there would be a lot of disagreement in the grey areas. [ Acknowledging there is room for disagreement. Pushing the audience away from absolute yes/no evaluations of true/false, because they might be in the frame of “if anything about it is false, the whole thing was a lie.” But rarely is anything that cut and dry.] But there’s no question that there are a lot of things that he said that don’t pass the fact checking, and everybody agrees with that. [ PACE ] Here’s the part that I put on top of this that I think is helpful. [ Now the lead ] When you understand persuasion at the level that he does, and at the level that I’ve come to understand it through my own work over the years, the truth is not as useful as it should be, because it doesn’t change people’s minds, and the job of politics is often to change peoples’ minds, their hearts, their emotions, what they care about, what their priorities are. So if you were to look at the types of things that the president said that didn’t pass the fact checking—and that’s the way that I’m going to prefer to say it – is, that they are almost always emotionally true. Or they are emotionally compatible with what his supporters are already thinking. So there is an emotional and directional truth to what he does that’s independent from the facts being completely wrong. So for example when he said “there were Muslims dancing on the rooftops or in the streets after 9/11,” that does not pass the fact checking. But it is unambiguously true that his supporters, and even his critics, would say, “I’m a little concerned that there are some people in the Muslim faith who are not as unhappy about 9/11 as they should’ve been.” So in other words, what he said was technically, specifically, factually incorrect – as far as we can tell, you know, unless something new comes around. But it still fit what we were thinking, it fit the general truth that we all accepted as probably true, and I would think that you probably accept that as well, and, what you see in persuasion is something called Pacing and Leading. [ Adams is doing this to Harris and the entire audience as he describes it, yet they don’t realize it. Then moving on to the second point without allowing a break between sentences for Harris to interrupt or object ] It’s a very important concept in persuasion. The pacing part is where you become compatible with the other person that you’re trying to influence. You’re trying to match them in some way that’s important. And if you match them long enough, called “pacing”, eventually they will let you “lead”, because you are one of them, they’re comfortable with you, they agree with you, they feel the same way you feel, they trust you emotionally. And that’s the way people need to trust you. Because trusting somebody factually is sort of a non-starter. It doesn’t help that much. But trusting somebody emotionally says, “Yeah, I can let you do things that I don’t think are right, but I know that you’re heading in the right direction, I know that you have more information than I do, I trust that if you have to pivot because it doesn’t work out that you’ll do that, because you and I are emotionally on the same page. We want generally the same thing.” [ This paragraph is a great lesson in persuasion in and of itself. Harris has different epistemology that his identity as a super smart rational is tied into. He can’t understand this. ] 

Similarly with, take immigration. One of the things that President Trump, and before that Candidate Trump, was saying that was emotionally compatible with a lot of people was that, “Hey there is an immigration issue, it brings with it some amount of crime that we wish we didn’t have, and it brings with it some risk of terrorists slipping in which we wish we didn’t have, and those things scare us, and we would like to have less of it.” Now that’s the emotional truth that is common to both sides of the conversation right? Everybody would like less of those things. [ pace pace pace ] Now the way he does it, of course, is with his typical hyperbole of coming in with the biggest first offer we’ve ever seen, which is of course that “I’m gonna ship back 12 million people who are undocumented in this country.” Now when you heard it, and when people on the other side heard it, they quite reasonably said, “holy hell, there’s no way you can do that first of all. It would be cruel second of all. It would cause riots in the streets, it would cause civil war practically. I mean it’s such a big, hard-to-do bad thing.” [ Pace pace pace. Pacing people’s irrational fear about societal upheaval that underlies a great many of their conciliatory positions. Also shows the strategy and thus weakens the Trump is crazy narrative. ] But when I heard it, I said to myself – and I said publicly a lot of times – he doesn’t mean that. [ Here’s the LEAD. The word “but” counters the previous section about upheaval. This is also process instruction for the listener to say to himself “he doesn’t mean that” a lot of times when faced with a provocative statement Trump makes. The new process is: 1) hear a “crazy” Trump statement 2) say to yourself and to others multiple times “he doesn’t mean that” 3) (implied) feel less fear or discomfiture about the outlandish Trump statements ] He’s making a big first offer that gives him lots of room to negotiate back. So now as we watch him as president, and what he’s doing is I guess ICE is rounding up a lot of people who have committed crimes while in the country, after coming into the country they committed additional crimes. And probably there are some cases I think almost surely, some cases where ICE breaks down a door and there are a room full of people and 3 of them have been in a serious gang violence situation, so of course you wanna deport those guys, but then there’s guys who are just members of the gang, who, you know, you don’t have any proof that they did anything that was an additional crime, but what are they doing in the room? So let’s say those two guys get shipped back too because they’re sort of in the grey area, they’re so far into the grey that they’re dark grey – [ Everybody agrees on deporting criminals. This section gets people to see non-criminals who also get deported as grey or dark grey in their mind. It’s hard to care much about anything you see internally as grey or dark grey, so this is instruction to not care about the issue of non-criminals also getting deported along with criminals. Brilliant. ]  well you don’t have any proof. Now when you see that story, [ Read this as “Well you don’t have any proof now when you read that story.” ] and I’m sure that story is going to be trickling out in different ways, [ Future pacing. Look for this in the news. ] and people compare that, they contrast it to what they imagined could have happened, which is 12 million people rounded up and shipped home, they say to themselves “Well, I wish we wouldn’t deport people who we haven’t seen for sure committed additional crime, but that’s not so bad compared to what I thought was gonna happen.” [ When you do see a news story about non-criminals getting deported, make the comparison to all 12 million getting deported so it doesn’t seem bad at all. Cialdini’s comparison principle again. ]  

So you see that process in a number of ways. [20:20]


That’s the end of the first section. Questions welcome. If this is helpful let me know in the comments so I know if I should keep going!


Beliefs: What They Are (and Aren’t)

As I mentioned before, the Scott Adams – Sam Harris podcast is a masterclass on belief change. So before we dig into it, some useful ideas about beliefs themselves.

Beliefs, concisely stated, are generalizations of our experiences that save us mental processing time. They also serve a behavioral purpose in addition to serving as a processing shortcut.

Beliefs can be considered feed-forward mechanisms. A feedback mechanism tells you what results you have received, usually so you can make adjustments. A feed-forward mechanism is you communicating what you want to happen so things can adjust to you. More on this in a moment.

Remember, BELIEFS ARE NOT REAL. They delete, distort, and generalize information we take in. They are essentially hallucinations created to approximate the lessons from prior experiences. Consider this: are your most strongly held beliefs the ones that you had the most rational support for, or the ones that had the strongest emotions tied into them?

Also, BELIEFS DO EXIST. Beliefs filter out that which contradicts our beliefs so effectively that they define the realities that we experience. When faced with evidence that contradicts our beliefs, the mind tends to reject the new information rather than update the beliefs. This can be unsettling until we learn to use it to our advantage.

So how can one evaluate beliefs? Most of the world thinks beliefs are true or false. They engage in endless debates talking past each other, occasionally stumbling into a shared reality. Beliefs are NOT true or false; that dimension doesn’t apply to beliefs. Some say beliefs are accurate or inaccurate, but that’s not quite right either. A very good way to evaluate beliefs is if they are USEFUL or not.

So how can we use what we now know about beliefs to our advantage? As we can discover, when you set up your beliefs in ways that support you, not only will your experience change, but your reality will change as well. This means removing limiting or destructive beliefs and adopting helpful and empowering ones. For example, does a belief make you more resourceful, resilient, etc. or the opposite?

Be somewhat careful when adjusting beliefs. Only remove limiting beliefs, not supportive, expansive ones, until you know what you are doing, because removing beliefs without providing proper support can cause unpredictable effects. Confusion and anger are common.

In general, if you aren’t highly trained or experienced enough:

  • leave other people’s religious and sexuality-related beliefs alone. Feel free to alter your own.
  • Don’t alter other people’s identity beliefs, but you can do a lot of good addressing beliefs of capability
  • Political beliefs are generally fair game.
  • Ethics and morality are fair game.

Finally for now: if beliefs determine one’s reality, and all beliefs are in effect hallucinations, how can one find accuracy and avoid being in a bubble built by a set of beliefs that filter out opposing experiences? Great question! When you can try on different belief sets temporarily to evaluate a situation, and take them off at will, you can develop a powerful set of perspectives that you can use to “triangulate” a pretty good idea of what’s really going on. I counted one time and I have at least 17 different “filters” I can evaluate things from. One way to do this is in my FAQ post.

Next up: the first 20 minutes of the Scott Adams – San Harris debate, with my notes of the “level 1” techniques employed.