Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy
Showing posts with label Self. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Self. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

We're good people: Moral conviction as social identity

Ekstrom, P. D. (2022, April 27).


Moral convictions—attitudes that people construe as matters of right and wrong—have unique effects on behavior, from activism to intolerance. Less is known, though, about the psychological underpinnings of moral convictions themselves. I propose that moral convictions are social identities. Consistent with the idea that moral convictions are identities, I find in two studies that attitude-level moral conviction predicts (1) attitudes’ self-reported identity centrality and (2) reaction time to attitude-related stimuli in a me/not me task. Consistent with the idea that moral convictions are social identities, I find evidence that participants used their moral convictions to perceive, categorize, and remember information about other individuals’ positions on political issues, and that they did so more strongly when their convictions were more identity-central. In short, the identities that participants’ moral convictions defined were also meaningful social categories, providing a basis to distinguish “us” from “them.” However, I also find that non-moral attitudes can serve as meaningful social categories. Although moral convictions were more identity-central than non-moral attitudes, moral and non-moral attitudes may both define social identities that are more or less salient in certain situations. Regardless, social identity may help explain intolerance for moral disagreement, and identity-based interventions may help reduce that intolerance.

Here is my summary:

Main Hypothesis:
  • Moral convictions (beliefs about right and wrong) are seen as fundamental and universally true, distinct from other attitudes.
  • The research proposes that they shape how people view themselves and others, acting as social identities.
Key Points:
  • Moral convictions define group belonging: People use them to categorize themselves and others as "good" or "bad," similar to how we might use group affiliations like race or religion.
  • They influence our relationships: We tend to be more accepting and trusting of those who share our moral convictions.
  • They can lead to conflict: When morals clash, it can create animosity and division between groups with different convictions.
  • The research cites studies showing how people judge others based on their moral stances, similar to how they judge based on group membership.
  • It also shows how moral convictions predict behavior like activism and intolerance towards opposing views.
  • Understanding how moral convictions function as social identities can help explain conflict, prejudice, and social movements.
  • It may also offer insights into promoting understanding and cooperation between groups with differing moral beliefs.

This research suggests that moral convictions are more than just strong opinions; they act as powerful social identities shaping how we see ourselves and interact with others. Understanding this dynamic can offer valuable insights into social behavior and potential avenues for promoting tolerance and cooperation.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Consciousness does not require a self

James Coook
Originally published 14 DEC 23

Here is an excerpt:

Beyond the neuroscientific study of consciousness, phenomenological analysis also reveals the self to not be the possessor of experience. In mystical experiences induced by meditation or psychedelics, individuals typically enter a mode of experience in which the psychological self is absent, yet consciousness remains. While this is not the default state of the mind, the presence of consciousness in the absence of a self shows that consciousness is not dependent on an experiencing subject. What is consciousness if not a capacity of an experiencing subject? Such an experience reveals consciousness to consist of a formless awareness at its core, an empty space in which experience arises, including the experience of being a self. The self does not possess consciousness, consciousness is the experiential space in which the image of a psychological self can appear. This mode of experience can be challenging to conceptualise but is very simple when experienced – it is a state of simple appearances arising without the extra add-on of a psychological self inspecting them.

We can think of a conscious system as a system that is capable of holding beliefs about the qualitative character of the world. We should not think of belief here as referring to complex conceptual beliefs, such as believing that Paris is the capital of France, but as the simple ability to hold that the world is a certain way. You do this when you visually perceive a red apple in front of you, the experience is one of believing the apple to exist with all of its qualities such as roundness and redness. This way of thinking is in line with the work of Immanuel Kant, who argued that we never come to know reality as it is but instead only experience phenomenal representations of reality [9]. We are not conscious of the world as it is, but as we believe it to be.

Here is my take:

For centuries, we've assumed consciousness and the sense of self are one and the same. This article throws a wrench in that assumption, proposing that consciousness can exist without a self. Imagine experiencing sights, sounds, and sensations without the constant "me" narrating it all. That's what "selfless consciousness" means – raw awareness untouched by self-reflection.

The article then posits that our familiar sense of self, complete with its stories and memories, isn't some fundamental truth but rather a clever prediction concocted by our brains. This "predicted self" helps us navigate the world and interact with others, but it's not necessarily who we truly are.

Decoupling consciousness from the self opens a Pandora's box of possibilities. We might find consciousness in unexpected places, like animals or even artificial intelligence. Understanding brain function could shift dramatically, and our very notions of identity, free will, and reality might need a serious rethink. This is a bold new perspective on what it means to be conscious, and its implications are quite dramatic.

Friday, September 2, 2022

Disintegrating and Reintegrating the Self – (In)Flexible Self-Models in Depersonalisation and Psychedelic Experiences

Ciaunica, A., & Safron, A. (2022, March 13).


Across times and cultures, humans constantly and intentionally tried to ‘lose’ or to ‘escape’ their familiar, ordinary self, to ‘self-detach’ and to radically change the ways of perceiving oneself and the world. In this paper we explore the contrast between the feeling of ‘losing’ the sense of familiarity with one’s self and body in Depersonalisation experiences (DP) and psychedelics (with some consideration of meditative experiences). We explore these radical changes in self-experiences through the lens of Active Inference Framework (AIF). AIF is a process theory aiming to capture the capacity of biological organisms (e.g. living human bodies) to survive and thrive in volatile and uncertain environments. In line with previous work on depersonalisation and psychedelic mechanisms, we suggest that such experiences can involve a stance with radically altered prior expectations, so providing opportunities for flexibly modulating self- and world models. Specifically, we suggest that controlled acquisition of new self- and world models may enhance the plasticity of one’s perceptual and sensorimotor experiences. This new gained flexibility, we claim, may allow the individual to ‘leave behind’ certain habits, perceptual rigidities that holds him/her ‘stuck’ in certain behavioural patterns. And to open to new ways of perceiving and integrating self- and world-related information. By contrast, depersonalisation experiences point to a uncontrolled phenomenon of non-flexible (rigid) (dis)integration of ordinary/habitual self-models, and a consequent feeling of being ‘stuck’ in one’s mind. While controlled (dis)integration of habitual self-experiences and consequent re-integration may have positive effect, uncontrolled (dis)integration of habitual self-experiences triggered by unpredictable life events may be overwhelming and lead to self-detachment and potentially adverse clinical outcomes. Contrasting these two modes of alteration will allow us to outline the importance of the controlled ability to flexibly integrate, disintegrate and reintegrate multisensory bodily signals, and its impact on the human sense of self and agency.


In these explorations we have considered the experience of ‘losing’ one’s familiar sense of self in Depersonalisation (DP) and psychedelic experiences through the (perhaps often overly opaque) lens of Active Inference. Depersonalisation is characterized by feelings of being detached from one’s self, body, and world.We suggested that acquisition of new self-and world models may enhance the plasticity of one’s perceptual and sensorimotor experiences. This new gained flexibility, we posited, may allow the individual to ‘leave behind’ certain habits, perceptual rigidities that holds him/her ‘stuck’ in certain behavioural patterns, and open to new ways of perceiving and integrating self-and world-related information. This adaptive modelling may be achieved during psychedelic (and potentially meditative) experiences via a flexibly controllable(dis)integration of ordinary/habitual self-models, and a consequent re-integration or re-organisation of the latter via modulatory multisensory information.

By contrast, depersonalisation experiences point to a phenomenon of non-flexible (rigid) (dis)integration of ordinary/habitual self-models, and a consequent feeling of being ‘stuck’ in one’s mind. While controlled (dis)integration of habitual self-experiences and consequent re-integration may have positive effects, uncontrolled (dis)integration of habitual self-experiences triggered by unpredictable life events may be overwhelming and lead to self-detachment and potentially adverse clinical outcomes such as depersonalisation disorder. 

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Prosocial correlates of transformative experiences at secular multi-day mass gatherings

Yudkin, D.A., Prosser, A.M.B., Heller, S.M. et al. 
Nat Commun 13, 2600 (2022).


Humans have long sought experiences that transcend or change their sense of self. By weakening boundaries between the self and others, such transformative experiences may lead to enduring changes in moral orientation. Here we investigated the psychological nature and prosocial correlates of transformative experiences by studying participants before (n = 600), during (n = 1217), 0–4 weeks after (n = 1866), and 6 months after (n = 710) they attended a variety of secular, multi-day mass gatherings in the US and UK. Observations at 6 field studies and 22 online followup studies spanning 5 years showed that self-reported transformative experiences at mass gatherings were common, increased over time, and were characterized by feelings of universal connectedness and new perceptions of others. Participants’ circle of moral regard expanded with every passing day onsite—an effect partially mediated by transformative experience and feelings of universal connectedness. Generosity was remarkably high across sites but did not change over time. Immediately and 6 months following event attendance, self-reported transformative experience persisted and predicted both generosity (directly) and moral expansion (indirectly). These findings highlight the prosocial qualities of transformative experiences at secular mass gatherings and suggest such experiences may be associated with lasting changes in moral orientation.


Stories of profound personal transformation have long captured the human imagination, yet such experiences are difficult to recreate in the laboratory. Here, we adopted a lab-in-the-field approach to study transformative experiences as they were occurring at several secular multiday mass gatherings in the US and UK. Self-reports of such experiences at these events were common, increased over time, and endured at least six months following attendance. The most prevalent qualities of transformative experience were prosocial in nature and were correlated with increased feelings of connectedness between the self and all human beings. Consistent with these reports, participants showed an expanded moral circle with every passing day, an effect partially mediated by feelings of universal connectedness and transformative experience. Meanwhile, we observed high levels of generosity at mass gatherings, but generosity onsite did not increase over time and was unrelated to the transformative experience. These effects were robust to controlling for expectations and desires for transformative experience as well as substance use, and were consistent across mass gatherings with market economies as well as gift economies. In the weeks and months following event attendance, transformative experience directly predicted generosity and indirectly predicted moral expansion via universal connectedness.

Our results build upon and extend past work on collective effervescence and prosocial behavior, which suggests that mass gatherings played a functional role in human evolution by increasing people’s willingness to make personal sacrifices on behalf of the group. Some research suggests such prosocial behavior is psychologically mediated by experiences of personal transformation, yet thus far research on the prosocial correlates of transformative experiences has mainly relied upon retrospective approaches, which are subject to the limitations of autobiographical memory. Here, in order to better understand how such experiences may be associated with prosocial change, we examined the qualities of transformative experiences as they occurred, and measured their association with prosocial behavior. We found that reports of such experiences did indeed increase over time, and were correlated with an expanded circle of moral regard. This shows not only that such experiences are associated with changes in moral orientation, but also that, in certain contexts at least, such changes may be characterized by feelings of universal moral inclusion.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Do Obligations Follow the Mind or Body?

Protzko, J., Tobia, K., Strohminger, N.,
& Schooler, J.  (2022, February 7). 
Retrieved from psyarxiv.com/m5a6g


Do you persist as the same person over time because you keep the same mind or because you keep the same body? Philosophers have long investigated this question of personal identity with thought experiments. Cognitive scientists have joined this tradition by assessing lay intuitions about those cases. Much of this work has focused on judgments of identity continuity. But identity also has practical significance: obligations are tagged to one’s identity over time. Understanding how someone persists as the same person over time could provide insight into how and why moral and legal obligations persist. In this paper, we investigate judgments of obligations in hypothetical cases where a person’s mind and body diverge (e.g., brain transplant cases). We find a striking pattern of results: In assigning obligations in these identity test cases, people are divided among three groups: “body-followers”, “mind-followers”, and “splitters”—people who say that the obligation is split between the mind and the body. Across studies, responses are predicted by a variety of factors, including mind/body dualism, essentialism, education, and professional training. When we give this task to professional lawyers, accountants, and bankers, we find they are more inclined to rely on bodily continuity in tracking obligations. These findings reveal not only the heterogeneity of intuitions about identity, but how these intuitions relate to the legal standing of an individual’s obligations.

From the General Discussion

Whether one is a mind-follower, body-follower, or splitter was predicted by several psychological traits, suggesting that participants’ decisions were not arbitrary. Furthermore, the use of comprehension checks did not moderate the results, so the variety of assigning obligations were not due to participants not understanding the scenarios. We found physical essentialism and mind/body dualism predict body-following; while the best educated participants are more likely mind-followers and the least educated are more likely splitters. The professional experts were more likely to be body-followers.

Essentialism predicted the belief that obligations track the body. This may seem mysterious, until we consider that much of essentialism has to do with tracking a physical (if invisible) properties. Here is a sample item from the Beliefs in Essentialism Scale: Trying on a sweater that Hitler wore, even if it was washed thoroughly beforehand, would make me very uncomfortable (Horne & Cimpian, 2019). If someone believes that essences are physically real in this way, it makes sense that they would also believe that obligations and identity go with the body. 

Consideration of specific items in the Mind/body Dualism Scale (Nadelhoffer et al., 2014) similarly offer insight into its relationship with the continuity of obligation in this study. Items like Human action can only be understood in terms of our souls and minds and not just in terms of our brains, indicate that for mind/body dualists, a person is not reducible to their brain. Accordingly, for mind/body dualists, though the brain may change, something else remains in the body that maintains both identity and obligations.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Social threat indirectly increases moral condemnation via thwarting fundamental social needs

Henderson, R.K., Schnall, S. 
Sci Rep 11, 21709 (2021).


Individuals who experience threats to their social needs may attempt to avert further harm by condemning wrongdoers more severely. Three pre-registered studies tested whether threatened social esteem is associated with increased moral condemnation. In Study 1 (N = 381) participants played a game in which they were socially included or excluded and then evaluated the actions of moral wrongdoers. We observed an indirect effect: Exclusion increased social needs-threat, which in turn increased moral condemnation. Study 2 (N = 428) was a direct replication, and also showed this indirect effect. Both studies demonstrated the effect across five moral foundations, and was most pronounced for harm violations. Study 3 (N = 102) examined dispositional concerns about social needs threat, namely social anxiety, and showed a positive correlation between this trait and moral judgments. Overall, results suggest threatened social standing is linked to moral condemnation, presumably because moral wrongdoers pose a further threat when one’s ability to cope is already compromised.

From the General Discussion

These findings indicating that social threat is associated with harsher moral judgments suggest that various threats to survival can influence assessments of moral wrongdoing. Indeed, it has been proposed that the reason social exclusion reliably results in negative emotions is because social disconnectedness has been detrimental throughout human societies. As we found in Studies 1 and 2 and consistent with prior research even brief exclusion via a simulated computer game can thwart fundamental social needs. Taken together, these experimental and correlational findings suggest that an elevated sense of danger appears to fortify moral judgment, because when safety is compromised, wrongdoers represent yet another source of potential danger. As a consequence, vulnerable individuals may be motivated to condemn moral violations more harshly. Interestingly, the null finding for loneliness suggests that amplified moral condemnation is not associated with having no social connections in the first place, but rather, with the existence or prospect of social threat. Relatedly, prior research has shown that greater cortisol release is associated with social anxiety but not with loneliness indicating that the body’s stress response does not react to loneliness in the same way as it does to social threat.

Monday, June 28, 2021

You are a network

Kathleen Wallace
Originally published

Here is an excerpt:

Social identities are traits of selves in virtue of membership in communities (local, professional, ethnic, religious, political), or in virtue of social categories (such as race, gender, class, political affiliation) or interpersonal relations (such as being a spouse, sibling, parent, friend, neighbour). These views imply that it’s not only embodiment and not only memory or consciousness of social relations but the relations themselves that also matter to who the self is. What philosophers call ‘4E views’ of cognition – for embodied, embedded, enactive and extended cognition – are also a move in the direction of a more relational, less ‘container’, view of the self. Relational views signal a paradigm shift from a reductive approach to one that seeks to recognise the complexity of the self. The network self view further develops this line of thought and says that the self is relational through and through, consisting not only of social but also physical, genetic, psychological, emotional and biological relations that together form a network self. The self also changes over time, acquiring and losing traits in virtue of new social locations and relations, even as it continues as that one self.

How do you self-identify? You probably have many aspects to yourself and would resist being reduced to or stereotyped as any one of them. But you might still identify yourself in terms of your heritage, ethnicity, race, religion: identities that are often prominent in identity politics. You might identify yourself in terms of other social and personal relationships and characteristics – ‘I’m Mary’s sister.’ ‘I’m a music-lover.’ ‘I’m Emily’s thesis advisor.’ ‘I’m a Chicagoan.’ Or you might identify personality characteristics: ‘I’m an extrovert’; or commitments: ‘I care about the environment.’ ‘I’m honest.’ You might identify yourself comparatively: ‘I’m the tallest person in my family’; or in terms of one’s political beliefs or affiliations: ‘I’m an independent’; or temporally: ‘I’m the person who lived down the hall from you in college,’ or ‘I’m getting married next year.’ Some of these are more important than others, some are fleeting. The point is that who you are is more complex than any one of your identities. Thinking of the self as a network is a way to conceptualise this complexity and fluidity.

Let’s take a concrete example. Consider Lindsey: she is spouse, mother, novelist, English speaker, Irish Catholic, feminist, professor of philosophy, automobile driver, psychobiological organism, introverted, fearful of heights, left-handed, carrier of Huntington’s disease (HD), resident of New York City. This is not an exhaustive set, just a selection of traits or identities. Traits are related to one another to form a network of traits. Lindsey is an inclusive network, a plurality of traits related to one another. The overall character – the integrity – of a self is constituted by the unique interrelatedness of its particular relational traits, psychobiological, social, political, cultural, linguistic and physical.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Comparisons Inform Me Who I Am: A General Comparative-Processing Model of Self-Perception

Morina N.
Perspectives on Psychological Science. 
February 2021. 

People’s self-concept contributes to their sense of identity over time. Yet self-perception is motivated and serves survival and thus does not reflect stable inner states or accurate biographical accounts. Research indicates that different types of comparison standards act as reference frames in evaluating attributes that constitute the self. However, the role of comparisons in self-perception has been underestimated, arguably because of lack of a guiding framework that takes into account relevant aspects of comparison processes and their interdependence. I propose a general comparative model of self-perception that consists of a basic comparison process involving the individual’s prior mental representation of the target dimension, the construal of the comparison standard, and the comparison outcome representing the posterior representation of the target dimension. The generated dimensional construal is then appraised with respect to one’s motives and controllability and goes on to shape emotional, cognitive, and behavioral responses. Contextual and personal factors influence the comparison process. This model may be informative in better understanding comparison processes in people’s everyday lives and their role in shaping self-perception and in designing interventions to assist people overcome undesirable consequences of comparative behavior.

Concluding Remarks

Comparisons inform people about their current selves and their progress toward end goals. Comparative evaluations are omnipresent in everyday life, appear both unintentionally and intentionally, and are context sensitive. The current framework defines comparison as a dynamic process consisting of several subcomponents. The segmentation of the subcomponent processes into activation of comparison, basic comparison process, valuation, as well as emotional, cognitive, and behavioral responses is not rigid; however, the taxonomy should prove conceptually useful because it breaks down the comparison process into testable constituent subprocesses. A better understanding of comparative behavior processes will enhance the knowledge of self-perception and help identify effective strategies that promote more adaptive comparisons.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Do Brain Implants Change Your Identity?

Christine Kenneally
The New Yorker
Originally posted 19 Apr 21

Here are two excerpts:

Today, at least two hundred thousand people worldwide, suffering from a wide range of conditions, live with a neural implant of some kind. In recent years, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and Bryan Johnson, the founder of the payment-processing company Braintree, all announced neurotechnology projects for restoring or even enhancing human abilities. As we enter this new era of extra-human intelligence, it’s becoming apparent that many people develop an intense relationship with their device, often with profound effects on their sense of identity. These effects, though still little studied, are emerging as crucial to a treatment’s success.

The human brain is a small electrical device of super-galactic complexity. It contains an estimated hundred billion neurons, with many more links between them than there are stars in the Milky Way. Each neuron works by passing an electrical charge along its length, causing neurotransmitters to leap to the next neuron, which ignites in turn, usually in concert with many thousands of others. Somehow, human intelligence emerges from this constant, thrilling choreography. How it happens remains an almost total mystery, but it has become clear that neural technologies will be able to synch with the brain only if they learn the steps of this dance.


For the great majority of patients, deep-brain stimulation was beneficial and life-changing, but there were occasional reports of strange behavioral reactions, such as hypomania and hypersexuality. Then, in 2006, a French team published a study about the unexpected consequences of otherwise successful implantations. Two years after a brain implant, sixty-five per cent of patients had a breakdown in their marriages or relationships, and sixty-four per cent wanted to leave their careers. Their intellect and their levels of anxiety and depression were the same as before, or, in the case of anxiety, had even improved, but they seemed to experience a fundamental estrangement from themselves. One felt like an electronic doll. Another said he felt like RoboCop, under remote control.

Gilbert describes himself as “an applied eliminativist.” He doesn’t believe in a soul, or a mind, at least as we normally think of them, and he strongly questions whether there is a thing you could call a self. He suspected that people whose marriages broke down had built their identities and their relationships around their pathologies. When those were removed, the relationships no longer worked. Gilbert began to interview patients. He used standardized questionnaires, a procedure that is methodologically vital for making dependable comparisons, but soon he came to feel that something about this unprecedented human experience was lost when individual stories were left out. The effects he was studying were inextricable from his subjects’ identities, even though those identities changed.

Many people reported that the person they were after treatment was entirely different from the one they’d been when they had only dreamed of relief from their symptoms. Some experienced an uncharacteristic buoyancy and confidence. One woman felt fifteen years younger and tried to lift a pool table, rupturing a disk in her back. One man noticed that his newfound confidence was making life hard for his wife; he was too “full-on.” Another woman became impulsive, walking ten kilometres to a psychologist’s appointment nine days after her surgery. She was unrecognizable to her family. They told her that they grieved for the old her.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

A chip off the (im)moral block? Lay beliefs about genetic heritability predicts whether family members’ actions affect self-judgments

Peetz, J., Wohl, M. J. A., Wilson, A. E., 
& Dawson, A. 
(2021, March 18).


The idea of heritability may have consequences for individuals’ sense of self by connecting identity to the actions of others who happen to share genetic ties. Across seven experimental studies (total N=2,628), recalling morally bad or good actions by family members influenced individuals’ moral self among those who endorse a lay belief that moral character is genetically heritable, but not among those who did not endorse this belief (Study 1-5). In contrast, recalling actions by unrelated individuals had no effect, regardless of lay beliefs (Study 2, 5), the endorsement of other relevant lay beliefs did not moderate the effect of parent’s actions on self-judgments (Study 3). Individuals who endorsed heritability beliefs also chose less helpful responses to hypothetical helping scenarios if they had recalled unhelpful (vs. helpful) acts by a genetically-related family member (Study 5). Taken together, these studies suggest that lay beliefs in the role of genetics are important for self-perceptions.

General Discussion 

In the present research, we examined whether a person’s convictions about their own moral character might be shaped, in part, by the actions of others. Across seven studies, we found evidence that past actions by genetically related family members, and specifically parents, can influence an individual’s sense of moral self –but only if that individual believes that the critical aspect of the self (in our studies, moral character) is genetically inherited (Study 1-5). Past actions by genetically unrelated individuals such as friends or strangers (Study 2), and unrelated family members (Study 5) did not affect participants’ moral self-judgment in the same way, and other lay beliefs(i.e., socialization and the malleability of morality) did not moderate the influence of parents’ actions in the same way (Study 3).

Theoretical Contributions

Self and Identity

This research helps disentangle some of the questions about whether and when other people’s action may influence individuals’ self-concept.  Although the existing literature has demonstrated that the actions of others can indeed have an impact on the self (e.g., people may feel threatened, embarrassed, proud or guilty when reminded of the actions of others and may sometimes believe they will be judged on the basis of others’ actions), past work has not focused on how actions of others might affect self-concept. Further, prior research in this vein has not typically systematically considered whether the effects of others’ actions on the self is the result of that relation being chosen (i.e., friendship), being due to group membership, or being due to genetics(i.e., family). We extend past knowledge in this field by examining whether people’s beliefs about genetic heritability can determine the degree to which family members’ actions predict one’s own self-judgments.   

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

When your authenticity is an act, something’s gone wrong

Joseph E. Davis
Originally published 31 Mar 21

Here is an excerpt:

But, as an ethical ideal – as a standard of what it is good to be, both in the way that we relate to ourselves and others – authenticity means more than self-consistency or a lack of pretentiousness. It also concerns features of the inner life that define us. While there is no one ‘essence’ of authenticity, as Marino observes, the ideal has often been expressed as a commitment to being true to yourself, and ordering your soul and living your life so as to give faithful expression to your individuality, cherished projects and deepest convictions.

Authenticity in this ethical sense also had a critical edge, standing against and challenging the utilitarian practices and conformist tendencies of the conventional social and economic order. Society erects barriers that the authentic person must break through. Finding your true self means self-reflection, engaging in candid self-appraisal and seeking ‘genuine self-knowledge’, in the words of the American philosopher Charles Guignon. It means making your own those truths that matter crucially to you, as the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor stresses, the truths that it’s right and necessary to be true to. In this understanding, the inward turn is not an end in itself. It’s a means to personal wholeness and access to shared horizons of meaning that transcend the self and contribute to a richer, more human world.

The meanings of authenticity that concern the inner life are now fading away. They are not, as Marino suggests, and as I too have argued, consistent with how life is generally lived today. But there is an alternative meaning – an authenticity that is harmonious with our times. Here is a mode of authenticity that we might say ‘everyone wants to be’, because here is the mode that everyone is expected to be.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Training for Wisdom: The Distanced-Self-Reflection Diary Method

Grossmann, I., et al.  (2019, May 8). 
Psychological Science. 2021;32(3):381-394. 


Two pre-registered longitudinal experiments (Study 1: Canadians/Study 2: Americans and Canadians; N=555) tested the utility of illeism—a practice of referring to oneself in the third person—during diary-reflection for the trainability of wisdom-related characteristics in everyday life: emotional complexity (Study 1) and wise reasoning (intellectual humility, open-mindedness about how situations could unfold, consideration of and attempts to integrate diverse viewpoints; Studies 1-2). In a month-long experiment, instruction to engage in third- (vs. first-) person diary-reflections on most significant daily experiences resulted in growth in wise reasoning and emotional complexity assessed in laboratory sessions after vs. before the intervention. Additionally, third- (vs. first-) person participants showed alignment between forecasted and month-later experienced feelings toward close others in challenging situations. Study 2 replicated the third-person self-reflections effect on wise reasoning (vs. first-person- and no-pronoun-controls) in a week-long intervention. The present research demonstrates a path to evidence-based training of wisdom-related processes.

General Discussion

Two interventions demonstrated the effectiveness of distanced self-reflection for promoting wiser reasoning about interpersonal challenges, relative to control conditions. The effect of using distanced self-reflection on wise reasoning was in part statistically accounted for by a corresponding broadening of people’s habitually narrow self-focus into a more expansive sense of self (Aron & Aron, 1997). Distanced self-reflection effects were particularly pronounced for intellectual humility and social-cognitive aspects of wise reasoning (i.e., acknowledgement of others’ perspectives, search for conflict resolution). This project provides the first evidence that wisdom-related cognitive processes can be fostered in daily life. The results suggest that distanced self-reflections in daily diaries may cultivate wiser reasoning about challenging social interactions by promoting spontaneous self-distancing (Ayduk & Kross, 2010).

Friday, January 22, 2021

Brain Scans Confirm There's a Part of You That Remains 'You' Throughout Your Life

Mike McRae
Science Alert
Originally published 27 Nov 20

At the very core of your identity a kernel of self awareness combines memories of the past with the fleeting sensations of the present, and adds a touch of anticipation for the future.

The question of whether this ongoing sense of 'you' is as robust as it feels has intrigued philosophers and psychologists throughout the ages. A new, small psychobiological study weighs in, looking at brain scans to conclude that at least some part of you is indeed consistent as you grow and age.

"In our study, we tried to answer the question of whether we are the same person throughout our lives," says Miguel Rubianes, a neuroscientist from the Complutense University of Madrid.

"In conjunction with the previous literature, our results indicate that there is a component that remains stable while another part is more susceptible to change over time."

Self-continuity forms the very basis of identity. Every time you use the word 'I', you're referring to a thread that stitches a series of experiences into a tapestry of a lifetime, representing a relationship between the self of your youth with one yet to emerge.

Yet identity is more than the sum of its parts. Consider the allegory of Theseus's ship, or the grandfather's axe paradox – a tool that's had its shaft replaced, as well as its head, but is still somehow the same axe that belonged to grandfather.

If our experiences change us, swapping out components of our identity with every heart break and every promotion, every illness and every windfall, can we truly still say we see ourself as the same person today as we were when we were four years old?

You can be forgiven for thinking this sounds more like philosophical navel-gazing than something science can address. But there are perspectives which psychology – and even the wiring of our neurological programming – can flesh out.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

The Moral Self and Moral Duties

Everett, J. A. C., Skorburg, J. A., & Savulescu, J.
(2020, January 6).


Recent research has begun treating the perennial philosophical question, “what makes a person the same over time?” as an empirical question. A long tradition in philosophy holds that psychological continuity and connectedness of memories are at the heart of personal identity. More recent experimental work, following Strohminger & Nichols (2014), has suggested that persistence of moral character, more than memories, is perceived as essential for personal identity. While there is a growing body of evidence supporting these findings, a critique by Starmans & Bloom (2018) suggests that this research program conflates personal identity with mere similarity. To address this criticism, we explore how loss of someone’s morality or memories influence perceptions of identity change, and perceptions of moral duties towards the target of the change. We present participants with a classic ‘body switch’ thought experiment and after assessing perceptions of identity persistence, we present a moral dilemma, asking participants to imagine that one of the patients must die (Study 1) or be left alone in a care home for the rest of their life (Study 2). Our results highlight the importance of the continuity of moral character, suggesting lay intuitions are tracking (something like) personal identity, not just mere similarity.

The ending:

Finally, it is important to reiterate that our work here seeks to shed light on  ordinary  people’s intuitions  about personal  identity and  moral duties and  not  to  draw  metaphysical  conclusions  about  the  nature  of  personal identity per se. We show that ordinary people think that morality is important for psychological  continuity  and  that this judgment  is  related  to  sub-sequent perceptions of moral duties. It is possible that people are mistaken about  the  nature  of  personal  identity  or  their  moral  duties,  but  that  is a debate for another paper.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Why Do Social Identities Matter?

Linda Martín Alcoff
Originally published

Here is an excerpt:

What has come to be known as identity politics gives a negative answer to these questions. If social identities continue to structure social interactions in debilitating ways, progress on this front requires showing varied identities in leadership, among other things, so that prejudices can be reformed. But the use of identities in this way can of course be manipulated. Certain experiences and interests might be implied when in reality there are no good grounds for either. For example, when President Donald Trump chose Ben Carson, an African American, to head up the federal department overseeing low-income, public housing, it appeared to be a choice of someone with an inside experience who would know first-hand the effects of government policies. Carson was not a housing expert, nor did he have any experience in housing administration, but his identity seemed like it might be helpful. When the appointment was announced, many applauded it, assuming that Carson must have lived in public housing, and neglected to investigate any further. Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee claimed that Carson was the first Housing and Urban Development Secretary to have lived in public housing, and called Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi a racist for criticizing Carson’s credentials. Carson’s appointment helped to make President Trump appear to be making appointments with an eye toward an insider’s perspective, unless one checked the subsequent news outlets that explained Carson’s actual background. In fact, Carson never lived in public housing. As a neurosurgeon, it is far from clear what in Carson’s background prepared him for a role leading the federal housing department other than the superficial feature of his racial background.

Clearly, social identities are not always misleading in this way, but they can be purposefully used to misdirect. They can also be used to manufacture or heighten conflict. Allowing housing discrimination to continue to flourish has created significant differences in real estate values across neighbourhoods with different ethnic and racial constitutions, causing the most substantial part of the differences in wealth between groups. These differences, and the related differences of interest that result, are not a natural outcome of racial differences, but the product of real estate policies and practices that segregated neighbourhoods and orchestrated economic disparities that would cross multiple generations. It is important to understand the conflicts of interest that result from such differences as produced by political policy, rather than being reflective of natural or pre-political conflicts. While our shared identities can signal true commonalities, we need to ask: what is the true source of these commonalities?

The info is here.

Friday, February 14, 2020

The Moral Self and Moral Duties

J. Everett, J. Skorburg, and J. Savulescu
Created on 6 Jan 20


Recent research has begun treating the perennial philosophical question, “what makes a person the same over time?” as an empirical question. A long tradition in philosophy holds that psychological continuity and connectedness of memories are at the heart of personal identity. More recent experimental work, following Strohminger & Nichols (2014), has suggested that persistence of moral character, more than memories, is perceived as essential for personal identity. While there is a growing body of evidence supporting these findings, a critique by Starmans & Bloom (2018) suggests that this research program conflates personal identity with mere similarity. To address this criticism, we explore how loss of someone’s morality or memories influence perceptions of identity change, and perceptions of moral duties towards the target of the change. We present participants with a classic ‘body switch’ thought experiment and after assessing perceptions of identity persistence, we present a moral dilemma, asking participants to imagine that one of the patients must die (Study 1) or be left alone in a care home for the rest of their life (Study 2). Our results highlight the importance of the continuity of moral character, suggesting lay intuitions are tracking (something like) personal identity, not just mere similarity.

The research is here.

Monday, February 10, 2020

The medications that change who we are

Zaria Gorvett
Originally published 8 Jan 20

Here are two excerpts:

According to Golomb, this is typical – in her experience, most patients struggle to recognise their own behavioural changes, let alone connect them to their medication. In some instances, the realisation comes too late: the researcher was contacted by the families of a number of people, including an internationally renowned scientist and a former editor of a legal publication, who took their own lives.

We’re all familiar with the mind-bending properties of psychedelic drugs – but it turns out ordinary medications can be just as potent. From paracetamol (known as acetaminophen in the US) to antihistamines, statins, asthma medications and antidepressants, there’s emerging evidence that they can make us impulsive, angry, or restless, diminish our empathy for strangers, and even manipulate fundamental aspects of our personalities, such as how neurotic we are.


Research into these effects couldn’t come at a better time. The world is in the midst of a crisis of over-medication, with the US alone buying up 49,000 tonnes of paracetamol every year – equivalent to about 298 paracetamol tablets per person – and the average American consuming $1,200 worth of prescription medications over the same period. And as the global population ages, our drug-lust is set to spiral even further out of control; in the UK, one in 10 people over the age of 65 already takes eight medications every week.

How are all these medications affecting our brains? And should there be warnings on packets?

The info is here.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

A Successful Artificial Memory Has Been Created

Robert Martone
A Successful Artificial Memory Has Been CreatedScientific American
Originally posted August27, 2019

Here is the conclusion:

There are legitimate motives underlying these efforts. Memory has been called “the scribe of the soul,” and it is the source of one’s personal history. Some people may seek to recover lost or partially lost memories. Others, such as those afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder or chronic pain, might seek relief from traumatic memories by trying to erase them.

The methods used here to create artificial memories will not be employed in humans anytime soon: none of us are transgenic like the animals used in the experiment, nor are we likely to accept multiple implanted fiber-optic cables and viral injections. Nevertheless, as technologies and strategies evolve, the possibility of manipulating human memories becomes all the more real. And the involvement of military agencies such as DARPA invariably renders the motivations behind these efforts suspect. Are there things we all need to be afraid of or that we must or must not do? The dystopian possibilities are obvious.

Creating artificial memories brings us closer to learning how memories form and could ultimately help us understand and treat dreadful diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Memories, however, cut to the core of our humanity, and we need to be vigilant that any manipulations are approached ethically.

The info is here.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Elon Musk unveils Neuralink’s plans for brain-reading ‘threads’ and a robot to insert them

Elizabeth Lopatto
Originally published July 16, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

“It’s not going to be suddenly Neuralink will have this neural lace and start taking over people’s brains,” Musk said. “Ultimately” he wants “to achieve a symbiosis with artificial intelligence.” And that even in a “benign scenario,” humans would be “left behind.” Hence, he wants to create technology that allows a “merging with AI.” He later added “we are a brain in a vat, and that vat is our skull,” and so the goal is to read neural spikes from that brain.

The first paralyzed person to receive a brain implant that allowed him to control a computer cursor was Matthew Nagle. In 2006, Nagle, who had a spinal cord injury, played Pong using only his mind; the basic movement required took him only four days to master, he told The New York Times. Since then, paralyzed people with brain implants have also brought objects into focus and moved robotic arms in labs, as part of scientific research. The system Nagle and others have used is called BrainGate and was developed initially at Brown University.

“Neuralink didn’t come out of nowhere, there’s a long history of academic research here,” Hodak said at the presentation on Tuesday. “We’re, in the greatest sense, building on the shoulders of giants.” However, none of the existing technologies fit Neuralink’s goal of directly reading neural spikes in a minimally invasive way.

The system presented today, if it’s functional, may be a substantial advance over older technology. BrainGate relied on the Utah Array, a series of stiff needles that allows for up to 128 electrode channels. Not only is that fewer channels than Neuralink is promising — meaning less data from the brain is being picked up — it’s also stiffer than Neuralink’s threads. That’s a problem for long-term functionality: the brain shifts in the skull but the needles of the array don’t, leading to damage. The thin polymers Neuralink is using may solve that problem.

The info is here.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Moral character: What it is and what it does

Cohen, T. R., & Morse, L. (2014).
In A. P. Brief & B. M. Staw (Eds.), Research in Organizational Behavior.


Moral character can be conceptualized as an individual’s disposition to think, feel, and behave in an ethical versus unethical manner, or as the subset of individual differences relevant to morality. This essay provides an organizing framework for understanding moral character and its relationship to ethical and unethical work behaviors. We present a tripartite model for understanding moral character, with the idea that there are motivational, ability, and identity elements. The motivational element is consideration of others—referring to a disposition toward considering the needs and interests of others, and how one’s own actions affect other people. The ability element is self-regulation—referring to a disposition toward regulating one’s behavior effectively, specifically with reference to behaviors that have positive short-term consequences but negative long-term consequences for oneself or others. The identity element is moral identity—referring to a disposition toward valuing morality and wanting to view oneself as a moral person. After unpacking what moral character is, we turn our attention to what moral character does, with a focus on how it influences unethical behavior, situation selection, and situation creation. Our research indicates that the impact of moral character on work outcomes is significant and consequential, with important implications for research and practice in organizational behavior.

A copy can be downloaded here.