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Talking Point and Summary: Week 4

Stories are a bulwark against such chaos.

We started this course by thinking about individual thoughts and decisions and how unstable and inconsistent these can be. One reason that stories are so important, when we think about other people, and ourselves, is that they help us organise some of this instability and tie it together. If each of my thoughts and decisions were entirely new, I would be utterly lost; and the instability of my choices would mean that my thoughts and actions would be appallingly and unpredictably chaotic.

Stories are a bulwark against such chaos. Once I realise what ’story’ I am in, I know what my character should do next. And the linear, step-by-step nature of stories also matches rather nicely the serial, step-by-step nature of our thinking (remember, we can only really think about, or remember, one thing at a time).

So narratives are a way of holding together the behaviour of a single individual over time. But, next time, we will turn to the question of how we are able to coordinate behaviour across people.

In this video I talk with Jess about the common themes of the fourth week. Jess has also summarised the week’s themes here.

Week 4 Experiment

This week’s experiment allows you to test your 2013 general knowledge and, in doing so, perhaps find out something about yourself!

Week 4 experiment

This experiment ran in 2013 and, now that the results have been processed, the website is no longer maintained, so may not be fully accessible or current and technical support is not available. Participants are encouraged to try the experiment in order to test this week’s theories in practice and see how their results compare with the overall findings. However, participation in the experiments is not essential to the learning outcomes of the course.

Talking Point

Before we move to Week 5 we’d be really interested to know how you’re finding the course this week, so please leave a comment or share some part of your experience so far in the discussion below:

  • Do you find yourself answering questionnaires honestly or in a way to make your answers fit the purpose of the questionnaire, or make yourself sound ‘better’?
  • Are you conscious of how or why you make certain decisions?

On a scale of 1 to 10 (where 10 is a ‘believer’ and 1 is not) how much do you now subscribe to the idea of a ‘flat’ mind? It’ll be interesting to compare your answer here your previous weeks and see if anything has changed in either your understanding or appreciation of the idea or concept of a flat mind.

Don’t forget to contribute to the discussion by reviewing comments made by other learners, making sure you provide constructive feedback and commentary. You can also ‘like’ comments or follow other learners throughout the course.

Next Week

Next week we will see how the fact that we can only compare and do not really know the absolute value of any quantity (size, money, risk, pain) can help explain some of the puzzling, and apparently irrational, peculiarities of human decision making.


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The Mind is Flat: The Shocking Shallowness of Human Psychology

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