Can we develop free will and consciousness through training?

This is a video of a talk I gave at a mad but wonderful event last night, run by a friend of mine, called the Oliphant Street 6X9 talks – where six speakers talk for nine minutes on various things (I went slightly over my allotted nine minutes…) Last night we had talks on Cardinal Newman, contradiction, Renaissance parties, the Lord’s Prayer, and I gave a talk on how experimental psychology has undermined the idea, from Greek philosophy, of the rational autonomous self, but perhaps we could still develop such a self through philosophical training.

The video is about 15 mins long, in two parts.

Part 1:


Part 2:



  • toadhall says:

    Interesting talk you gave, and liked the idea of putting 'speed humps' in your thinking. I definitely can relate to that in my own personal investigations. So as you might expect I agree with the general picture of how emotions are kind of 'fast and dirty' heuristics for dealing with life more suited to a previous era. We need conscious thought to improve them.

    One idea I am playing with at the moment though is I am interested in the types of discourse we have with emotions and what the side effects are of dealing with emotions in different ways.

    For example I seem do a lot of very quick and automatic 'simulation' of worst case scenarios, but these often seem to just scare me, or I then ignore them. For example, I might momentarily think 'What if this guy thinks I'm a wanker'? What I could do is follow these up and think the simulation through or even try to identify the beliefs underlying them and address them. But what I've noticed is that even if this all works, the main side effect is that I've done a lot of work. So I suspect that one of the main side effects of dealing with irrational emotions is really just opportunity cost through work done.

    (I noticed that you touch on this when you talk about the necessity of rehearsal to make your responses automatic as use of conscious attention is eventually exhausting.)

    An obvious idea then is that you try to minimise the amount of work that you do as you recognise work done as a side effect. I am interested in acknowledging the original intention. For example it might be enough just to acknowledge the original intention of the above thought as 'protective', mentally note that I feel a bit 'exposed' and resolve to do something constructive about it if I can the next time I feel that way. All this implies much less effort, so the side effect of work done is minimised.

    All I would say in the end, then is don't forget that 'work done' in dealing with the emotion is a side effect. However I guess in your line of work, where you are writing a book, effort in investigation of all this is required and that complicates the picture.

  • undermined says:

    think there is a natural dichotomy between private emotional life and public emotional life. in your private life you tend to indulge your emotions in order to form fulfilling relationships. ie you talk about how you feel with people. However, in 'public' it is not really appropriate to express deep personal emotions as colleagues consider that such emotions get in the way of doing the work. It's OK to just mention quite deep emotions, but not appropriate to go on and on about them for the whole day. At least, you could, but a) people may think you were sciving or a bit odd and b) you may regret it the next day, having bared your soul to people whose main aim is their work.

    Thus, in order to not get into such murky waters, I suppose the best thing is to put on an invisible emotional shield when you go to work, which, as well as protecting you from any particularly upsetting remarks (to you, that is) also somehow has the property of not allowing your own personal emotional reactions to things get in any way extreme – like a kind of buffer, if you will. Thus you can maintain suitable emotional stability at work. However, this constant monitoring can have a side effect: sheer mental exhaustion. Therefore, it may not be the best strategy to adopt long-term.

    im becoming increasingly convinced that were very reluctant to let go of our most deeply held beliefs, in order to deal with a problem. Eg: it may be that you are having a problem with someone's behaviour – but you do not want re-evaluate your deeply held belief that people are basically good – so you make excuses for that person which are not really based on the evidence. such denial can have a deleterious effect – not least in your social standing. before you know it – that evil person has bad-mouthed you very successfully to your significant others. you have to act in order to prevent yourself and even your family being victimised – but you still can't give up that comforting belief that people are intrinsically good, in spite of the glaring evidence, and you do nothing.

    BTW – not quite sure what you mean by "rehearsal to make responses automatic" – responses to what?

  • Jules Evans says:

    Thanks Toadhall, interesting comments.

    Undermined – I mean responses to situations. So that you respond in the right way with the appropriate emotion and action.

    all best


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