Annual CIFE Lecture “The Self Illusion: Why there is no ‘you’ inside your head” by Prof Hood

Annual Cife Lecture 2018

Last night, 11 MPW Cambridge students were delighted to have the opportunity to join our Principal Markus Bernhardt and our Director of Studies Emma Smith in attending the annual CIFE lecture in London.

Taking the train to King’s Cross station just before 5pm, our group of 13 made their way into London and emerged from the Victoria line at Victoria, having successfully manoeuvred their way through London’s famous rush hour (sometimes referred to as the ‘rat race’) and a very busy tube.

The lecture was attended by a number of colleges and their Principals, including our sister college, MPW London, with their Principal John Southworth and a team of 20 students. Following a Champagne Reception with canapés, a chance to relax, mingle and find a good seat in the auditorium, Prof Hood took to the stage.

Professor Bruce Hood is an experimental psychologist who “studies kids, looking for clues to adults”. Currently Professor of Developmental Psychology in Society in the School of Experimental Psychology at the University of Bristol, Professor Hood has been a research fellow at Cambridge University and University College London, a visiting scientist at MIT and a faculty professor at Harvard.

Annual Cife Lecture 2018 2

Professor Hood is passionate about sharing science with the public and ever since very early in his career has engaged in outreach projects. He has appeared on BBC Radio 4’s “The Infinite Monkey Cage” and in 2011 he gave the prestigious Royal Institution Christmas Lectures entitled 'Meet Your Brain'. These lectures explored the structure of the brain, how the brain controls behaviours and thoughts and how brains allow humans to function in a social context.

The lecture Prof Hood gave on the night, “The Self Illusion: Why there is no 'you' inside your head”, was based on Prof Hood’s 2102 popular science book, in which he argues that the human sense of self is a construct of the brain which facilitates experiencing and interacting with the world. “Who we are," Hood writes, "is a story of our self − a constructed narrative that our brain creates".

It was not difficult for us to realise why Prof Hood had been chosen to give this year’s CIFE lecture.  The lecture was extremely well presented and captivated the audience throughout, discussing various aspects of the ‘self’, the development of the brain and how the brain creates the ‘picture’ in our heads. Prof Hood referred to a number of very interesting experiments, some of them famous and ones which most of us were already acquainted with, but accompanied by others which most of us had never even heard of. In order to make the topics accessible, he presented experiment results and setups with little films, to explain vividly and grippingly how the experiments are set up to test certain aspects of the self, its development over time and how some very simple experiments were even very good predictors for development over the next 20 (!) years. It was just fantastic!!

The Self Illusion Bruce Hood Thumb

Did you know for example that in your peripheral vision you cannot see colour but only black and white? Amazing, isn’t it?! The brain just fills in the gaps with what it knows. Or did you know that your eyes cannot see while you move them? Again, the brain fills in the gaps. Try it out for yourself – no matter how hard you try, you will not be able to see your eyes move in front of a mirror.

The talk ended with questions from the floor, and many students had interesting questions for Prof Hood. The evening could have gone on for another two hours easily, with Prof Hood enthusiastically and patiently answering one after the other. One of our students, Lordie, also asked one of the questions, and while others rushed for more canapés and drinks after the lecture, he as well as another one of our students, Yoonji, had long chats with Prof Hood, curiously asking further questions.

In addition to this great talk, the venue was another highlight of the trip for our students. 111 Buckingham Palace Road is the home of the Telegraph news centre. Following a number of security checks, the students were positively caught out by surprise when realising that the reception and the talk took place in a room overlooking the buzzing Telegraph newsroom, full of journalists, monitors and huge displays showing for example the stock market movements. You can get a glimpse of the newsroom in the background of our group photo!

All in all, it was a great evening, and one that students as well as Emma and Markus thoroughly enjoyed. Inspiring stuff!