DEC Colloquium

The conscious mind as marionette

Practical information
21 March 2017

We tend to think that our conscious minds that are in control, much of the time; or at any rate, that our conscious minds are capable of taking control. When we pause to reflect, and act on our reflections, it is our conscious thoughts -- our conscious beliefs, goals, and decisions -- that get to control what we do. Or so we think. But this sense of self-control is an illusion. In reality our conscious minds are controlled and manipulated by unconscious processes. We decide what to pay attention to, what to remember, what to think of, what to imagine, and what sentences to rehearse in inner speech, thereby determining the conscious contents of working memory. There is control, of course, and it is a form of self-control. But is not control by a conscious self. Rather, what we take to be the conscious self is a puppet manipulated by our unconscious goals, beliefs, and decisions. This account is supported by a raft of evidence from across cognitive science.