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Mind: Personal Identity (The True Self)

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(intro music) Hi! I'm Josh Knobe. I'm a professor at Yale University, and I'm going to be talking about the notion of a true self. So let's begin with a classic case of a conflict between belief and emotion. Imagine a man named Mark, who has a belief that homosexuality is a sin, so he thinks that it's morally wrong for people to be with others of the same sex. And in fact, he travels the world preaching this message and teaching people techniques they can use to resist same-sex attraction. But now imagine that Mark has a problem. Mark's problem is that he himself is actually gay. So on a kind of emotional, visceral level, he's drawn to be with other men. As a result, Mark is feeling a conflict between his beliefs and his emotions. And the question I want to ask now is: which of those two aspects of him is his true self? Which is the part that really reveals who he himself most truly is, deep down inside? So here, different people might have different views. Some people might say, "Ultimately, your true self is constituted by your beliefs, by your reasoning, "by your abstract thinking." So they might say, "Mark's true self is the part of him that says that homosexuality is a sin." But then, other people might have exactly the opposite view. They might say, "Your true self is constituted by your emotions, "by your visceral desires, by your passions." And then they might say, "Mark's true self "is the part of him that's drawn toward being with another man." So I was talking about this question with two of my colleagues, George Newman and Paul Bloom, and we began thinking "Maybe people's ordinary notion of the truth self "doesn't really fit with either of these two conceptions. "Instead, maybe people's ordinary notion of the truth self is shaped, "in a really fundamental, way by their value judgments. "So maybe, when people are thinking about your true self, what they do is "to think about which aspect of yourself is the valuable one, "the good one, the one worth preserving." So to see whether this was right, we conducted an experimental study. One group of participants was just given the exact case of Mark that I just gave to you. But then, we wanted to know whether people's value judgments affected people's answers to this question. So we recruited two different groups of participants: liberal participants, and conservative participants. And what we found was a striking difference. So the conservative participants tended to say that Mark's belief was part of his true self, that his belief that homosexuality was morally wrong was in some sense the voice of his true self speaking to him. The liberals tended to say exactly the opposite. They said that that belief was not part of his true self, and that his true self was actually constituted by his emotions, or his desires, or his passions, the part of him that was drawing him to be with another man. So looking just at that first result, you get at least some evidence that people's judgments about the true self are in some way shaped by their value judgments. But to see whether this is really true, we recruited a separate group of participants, who received the reverse of that first case. So these group of participants were told about a person who believes that people of all sexual orientations should be treated equally. So he thinks that it's morally wrong to in any way discriminate against gay people. And in fact, he travels the world preaching this message and teaching people techniques they can use to resist their prejudice against homosexuals. However, this person has a problem. His problem is that he himself has these negative emotions toward gay people. So himself finds himself feeling disgust toward homosexuals. And as a result, he also is faced with an inner conflict, a conflict between his beliefs and his emotions. Here, too, we find a difference, but this time it's in the opposite direction, as it were. So, the liberal participants tend to say, "His belief that people of all sexual "orientations should be treated equally, "that is the voice of his true self speaking to him." By contrast, the conservative participants say, "That belief isn't his true self at all. His true self "is revealed by this emotion he has, this disgust toward gay people." So looking now at the whole pattern of results, what we see is it's not that people always think that your beliefs are your true self and it's not that people always think that your emotion is your true self. Rather, what seems to happen is that people pick out whichever part of you they regard as the good part, the valuable part, the part worth preserving. They think that that is your true self. But now, these experimental results leave us with a question at a more philosophical level. The question is: should we think of this fact about people's judgments as just showing a bias, a distortion, a mistake they're making, or should we think that it's actually revealing something fundamental about the very concept of a true self? Subtitles by the Amara.org community