Without doubt—one topic that I find more fascinating than virtually any other, is the field of neuroscience. And this week, I was excited to be joined by Kris De Meyer, Neuroscientist and Research Fellow at King’s College London. One of Kris’s interests lies in the area of belief. By that he means, how our brain decides that certain ideas are ‘true’ while rejecting others as ‘false’.
Kris also studies how entrenched belief systems invariably lead to polarisation in society, from such crucial topics and Climate Change & Brexit. Kris is also a documentary maker and co-produced with Sheila Marshall the film ‘Right Between Your Ears’ a study of Harold Camping and his followers whose interpretation of the Bible led them to the certainty the world would end on May 21 2011.
I loved this conversation and think you will too. This is Your London Legacy
“One of the things that interests me most is studying and looking at how people form beliefs and how we come to think our view of the world is the right view, and other people’s view is wrong.”
Kris came from an electrical engineering background initially, definitely not poking around in brains to start off. However, the brain is an electrical organ and the tools used to study the brain rely on clever physics and high-functioning electronics. Neuroscience takes engineers, psychologist, and biologists—and none of them fully understood each other when Kris started out. His studies coupled with seeing how people started sharing and arguing their opinions at the advent of the internet helped push him headlong into the neuroscience field.
On one hand, Kris is interested in the mechanisms people use to formulate and defend their beliefs, and his study and research helps him divorce himself from those issues. On the other hand, he is still human. He has opinions about climate change, society, Brexit (he is originally from Belgium) and so he has to wear two hats at once in his studies.
“The only messages that go viral are the ones that fit with your group, the beliefs of your group—or the ones that outrage your group.”
Kris’s documentary started out in 2011 and is called “Right Between Your Ears” and follows a guy who head of a radio station that believed the world would end on a specific date: 21st of May 2011. Kris took this to be an interesting case study of a polarizing belief, with followers, that would have to face the consequences of being wrong and how the belief evolves.
He learned through this that you could never find a killer argument to sway someone from one side to the other. In fact, in his own research, he finds that both sides of an argument or belief use the same language to describe the other side while making their argument and finding rational points of debate.
His program The Justice Syndicate is set as a playable theatre that puts its “players” or audience into a jury role with a tablet and they have to vote and form opinions that highlight preconceptions, power, privilege, and how being a part of a group affects the whole experience.
This was such a fascinating conversation, and one I help hope you identify what “pyramids” of belief and opinion you stand on, and where you stand upon them. I hope along with Kris that further study into our beliefs help us to come to find more common ground where we are able to have discussions about society and life at large to help foster a safe and prosperous life for all, regardless of some opinions and ideologies.
You can find more of Kris’s work with this helpful intro of a TEDX talk he gave that is titled “How Not to Be Ignorant About the World”.