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Coursera Know Thyself - The Value and Limits of Self-Knowledge: The Unconscious

University of Edinburgh via Coursera

  • Overview
  1. Coursera
    University of Edinburgh
    4 weeks
    Paid Certificate Available
    According to legend, inscribed on walls of the temple on the sacred site of Delphi in Ancient Greece were two premier injunctions: NOTHING IN EXCESS, and KNOW THYSELF. This course will be an examination of the latter injunction in an effort to discover what self-knowledge is, why it might be valuable, and what, if any, limitations it might face. What is missing from a person lacking in self-knowledge that makes her less wise, virtuous, or competent in certain areas than others who have this capacity, and what if anything might she do to fill that gap? Historical sources as well as recent research in philosophy, experimental social psychology, and neuroscience will inform our investigation, in the course of which we will become students of our own dreams, and cultivate some meditative practices.

    Learning Outcomes:
    Learners will gain familiarity with prominent themes from Western, classical Chinese, and Buddhist approaches to our knowledge of ourselves. In the course of doing so, they will gain an appreciation of the relation of self-knowledge to wisdom, of the value of intellectual humility, as well as of methods of learning about oneself that do not depend on introspection.

    Learners will also become familiar with contemporary research in experimental social psychology, philosophy, and neuroscience into the emotions, the unconscious, the role of affect in decision making, and self-deception. They will also gain an appreciation of a challenge to the assumption of a coherent, unified self that derives from the Buddhist tradition.

    This course was created by a partnership between The University of Edinburgh and Humility & Conviction and Public Life Project, an engaged research project based at the University of Connecticut and funded by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

    • Gain an appreciation of the relation of methods of learning about oneself that do not depend on introspection.
    • Become familiar with contemporary research in experimental social psychology, philosophy, and neuroscience into the emotions and the unconscious.
    • Understand the role of affect in decision making, and self-deception.
    • Be able to identify and analyse unconscious mechanisms motivating own and other people's actions.
    Getting started
    Here you will get an overview of this course, including the topics covered and questions addressed, as well as what you need complete the course.

    The Freudian Unconscious
    In this first week of the course we will acquaint ourselves with the ideas of Sigmund Freud, who is probably the most famous advocate and practitioner of psychoanalysis. Shockingly for his time, Freud proposed that many facts of human behavior, including the mistakes we make, what we dream, as well as much behavior that seems on the surface to be irrational, are to be explained as being due to forces in our minds of which we are not conscious. We will look at Freud's reasons for this hypothesis and consider whether those reasons are compelling.

    Freud's legacy
    In this second week of the course we explore some developments in psychoanalytic theory that were dominant in the middle of the 20th Century. Focusing on the work of Anna Freud (Sigmund Freud's youngest daughter) and Melanie Klein, we will consider some psychoanalytic themes that emerged after Sigmund's death. Both of A. Freud and Klein were intensely interested in the psychological development of children, and we will learn about some of their ideas on this topic. Also, we will consider some phenomena that have potential resonance for our daily lives such as transference, reaction-formation, and what is now termed "gaslighting".

    The Adaptive Unconscious
    Much of the last three decades of research related to the unconscious mind has focused on its automatic character, and draws attention to the vast extent of cognitive and affective processing that occur with little or no conscious effort. Such processing is thought to have been evolutionarily adaptive in the past, as well as to simplify our daily lives even now. But these processes can also be hard to modify if they are not working for us, and may account for certain biases that seem to perpetuate some current forms of injustice in many of the world's societies. In this third week of the course we will learn about the "adaptive unconscious", paying attention both to the benefits it confers and the challenges it raises.

    Rationality and Emotions
    In this final module we will consider the relation between emotions and rationality. These are popularly thought to be at odds with one another, and many people hold that to be rational, one must keep emotions at bay. With a focus on the work of neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, we will consider reasons for thinking that one important kind of rationality could not function properly without emotions.

    Final assessment

    Taught by
    Mitchell Green

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