Category Archives: Psychology

Robert Blakey – “Will criminal behaviour be treated one day like a brain-based cancer, rather than punished like evil?”

Monday the 4th of December marked the last Williams Project of 2018, as well as the last Williams Project with Mr Lord at the helm. With this in mind and with so many wonderful and insightful talks preceding him, Mr Robert Blakey, criminology doctoral candidate at the University of Oxford, had a hard task ahead of him. I’m sure it’s no surprise to hear that he did so with pure charisma and flawless knowledge with regard to his subject. Mr Blakey began his presentation by outlining the big question he would be attempting to answer: ‘Will criminal behaviour be one day treated like a brain-based cancer, rather than punished like evil?’ He began by giving us four concepts that contribute to a person’s offending: genes, social environment, brain activity and free will, and asked us to decide in what order they run in when contributing to a criminal committing a crime. We then proceeded to have an interactive discussion as a group in an attempt to order these notions, culminating in our successful ordering of the ideas. Mr Blakey then read us two scenarios about free will: one where, from a psychological point of view, our decisions were all caused by factors outside our control, and another similar but described in terms of chemical activity in our brains. He then invited us to stand on the left side of the room if we still believed the person in the example had free will or the right side if we believed they didn’t. It was interesting to see how many people moved to the side of no free will, particularly in the chemical scenario. This activity was thoroughly engaging and gave us a real opportunity to think things through for ourselves. Mr Blakey continued his fascinating talk by presenting the idea of rehabilitating criminals, especially young offenders, in good social environments instead of prisons as he noted that prisons are poor repairing facilities, as well as being detrimental to the mind of a youth offender. We spent the final minutes of the presentation trying to decide how to rehabilitate offenders, and whether there would ever be a perfect way to help lawbreakers. It was a captivating and highly perceptive talk that challenged us to think laterally with regards to many issues. Many thanks must go to Mr Blakey who we are sure would be very welcome to return to Chigwell in the near future.

Rory Hankins and Julie Vytrisalova

robert blakey at the williams project

robert blakey at the williams project

robert blakey at the williams project

robert blakey at the williams project

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Mr Ennis – The Wisdom of Crowds: are the many really smarter than the few?

On Tuesday 5th June, the Williams project welcomed Chigwell School’s very own Mr Ennis. Mr Ennis spoke to us on the subject of ‘The Wisdom of Crowds- are the many really smarter than the few?’. The audience was captivated by the mélange of statistics and psychology that was on offer.

The talk started off with Mr Ennis educating us about various economic crises such as the Sub-Prime crisis which affected the mortgage industry due to borrowers being approved for loans they could not afford and as a result leading to the collapse of leading institutions and big hedge funds globally.

Then, we were shown various quotes on the subject of crowds which were very interesting to read such as “Madness is the exception in individuals but the rule in groups” (Nietzsche) and “I do not believe in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance” (Carlyle).

Mr Ennis organised an intriguing experiment which allowed us to understand whether the many really were smarter than the few. First, we individually filled out a question sheet of a selection of random questions, then, we were put into groups to come up with an answer to the same questions. Some very interesting discussions arose whilst we were trying to figure out suitable answers for questions such as ‘What age are you most likely to die?’.

Whilst we were in our groups, Mr Ennis was working very hard in order to calculate various statistics from our individual questionnaires to then compare with our group questionnaires. And so, after some very quick calculations, on this occasion, it seemed as though the few were smarter than the many!

On behalf of all who attended, we would like to thank Mr Ennis for all of his great efforts. The talk was enthralling and certainly brought our attention to the wisdom of crowds- a key principle underlying modern day democracy and economics. Thank you Mr Ennis!

Amarah Udat

Matthew Slocombe – ‘Telepathic Animals: How we use language to programme each other’s minds’

On 15th May, Matthew Slocombe, who once taught Design and Technology at the school, returned to participate in the Williams Project, talking about his current PhD research in the field of psychology. The talk was extremely interesting and eye-opening, with its details as to how easily the mind can be tricked and what the human brain is truly capable of.

Mr Slocombe began by explaining how there are two types of language: the language that we are taught as we grow and develop from birth; and the language that we are born with, almost as a reflex. One example he gave was that babies do not know how to form the sentence “I find this funny”, or how to communicate that feeling in words whatsoever; however, they are able to laugh in order to convey this. Laughter is a natural reaction to stimuli that we find humorous, and therefore no one needs to teach us to laugh when we find something funny.

Interestingly, this use of language can also occur in some mammals – one video of a gorilla in a zoo illustrated his ability to communicate with a human outside his enclosure through the use of gestures – for example, pointing – to convey what he wanted.

He further went on to explain that, as we develop our stores of language and words, we generalise thoughts instinctively. For example, we may learn that a colourful creature with wings in our garden is a ‘bird’. However, the next creature we see in our garden with wings may be black and significantly larger – we still understand that this is a bird. This is because we develop what is known as ‘schemas’ within our brain, in order to sort information into categories in terms of their relation to something else.

Finally, Mr Slocombe explained how the brain can be tricked to see what is not really there or generalise a piece of information to something that is not entirely linked to it. He demonstrated this through various optical illusions and explained how our brains expect for an image to look one way, and yet it can end up looking entirely different; for example, he showed a video of a rotating statue of Albert Einstein. Everyone expected the statue to be 3D and yet, as the statue continued its rotation, it turned out that it was actually hollow and we were seeing the face from the back, despite the fact that our brains made the image look normal.

In all, Matthew Slocombe’s talk on “How we use language to programme each other’s minds” was hugely intriguing and thought-provoking, proved by the amount of questions his audience had for him afterwards, which were equally as stimulating as the talk itself.

Film Night: The Truman Show

Star of the TV show named carrying his name, the whole world has watched him grow from infant to adult. But he doesn’t know this, living as he does in a giant studio, an entire town peopled by actors. One morning things start to click…

A profound modern myth, Truman is an everyman, both for his fictitious viewers and for us.

Edgar Jones: The Psychology of War: from shell shock to post-traumatic stress disorder.

edgar jones2018’s Williams Project programme began with a visit from Professor Edgar Jones (Professor of the History of Medicine and Psychiatry at King’s College London) to talk to the students about “The Psychology of War: from shell shock to post-traumatic stress disorder.” Professor Jones currently works at the Institute of Psychiatry Psychology & Neuroscience and is based in the Maudsley Hospital, which initially opened as a military hospital and then eventually as a psychiatric hospital. His talk covered mental health from both the past and today; firstly, soldiers during the First World War, with many cases reported after battles such as the Somme and the 3rd Ypres. Pictures were shown to the WP cohort of the shell-shocked soldiers of the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers, showing how war often had a deeper psychological impact after seeing physical trauma. He explained how after analysing data, he and his team found how psychological injury was closely linked to physical injury and that it spiked much higher after large amounts of fatalities/injuries (often higher than the number of deaths). Professor Jones then went on to discuss how many of those impacted by the Blitz bombings suffered from PTSD; despite shell shock having similar symptoms, PTSD is distinguished by the sufferer experiencing a deeply traumatising experience. He then went on to compare these with more modern-day events, such as terrorist attacks like the 7/7 bombings, and more recently the Manchester arena attack. Professor Jones explained how the media often misuse the term ‘panic’ when describing rational behaviour in the face of real threats, and in this way distort the responses of the public. ‘Panic’ is defined as irrational behaviour, rather than just being scared and running for safety.

After a detailed Q&A with some excellent questions, the talk came to a close and several students joined the professor at dinner for continued discussion about both the talk as well as life at university. This was definitely a profound and thought-provoking talk for all, and it really showed what an impact mental health can have in times of war and distress. Thank you Professor Jones for a great start to WP 2018!

Further reading:

http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/a-traumatic-history/20267#.WlciySN0fZp

Ken Gemes and Andrew Huddlestone: Nietzsche

Nietzsche in full swing

Nietzsche in full swing

Our speakers

Our speakers

On the 12th September, the first Williams Project of this academic year was held in which Professor Ken Gemes and Dr Andrew Huddlestone of Birkbeck, University of London, came to talk about Nietzsche, a prominent German philosopher of the 19th century. Being the Bernard Williams Philosophy Lecture, we welcomed Patricia Williams, his widow, yet it was also special as it was the first of many more interactive seminars in which the audience were constantly questioning and participating in a discussion which was constantly interpreting what the philosopher means.

The talk began with a reading from ‘The Gay Science’ on the madman and whether ‘God is dead’ – with ‘God’ referring to the idea of god, religion and morality and whether we have some morals and human values left in this westernized modern world. This encouraged further questions of “How does the madman react to the death of God?” and “How did the marketplace folk, the non-believers, react to the madman’s whimsical nonsense?”. More importantly, the passage describes us as the murderers of God, which invites us to ask “What do we do now if there are no more Christian values? Do we create our own or is the madman merely a madman and we should ignore him? Do we need these old values in such a new society?” The discussion only developed further into ideas and many questions regarding nihilism and also the personal and political beliefs of Nietzsche – an atheist!

Overall, this talk was incredibly engaging – allowing the audience to question what the ‘death of God’ means to them, and serves as a great introduction to a year of Williams Project sessions.

Adam Goriparthi

Stacie Friend: “Why Do We Care about Fictional Characters?”

Dr Stacie Friend, from Birkbeck College, University of London, spoke to both branches of the Williams Project. She asked us why, when we know they don’t exist, do we still care for characters in stories and films? In particular, she asked if emotional responses to fiction are the same kind of emotions which we experience in real life, and, secondly, whether such emotions are irrational?

She set out these problems in the form of the ‘Paradox of Fiction’:

  1. We experience emotions toward fictional characters, situations and events.
  2. We do not experience emotions when we do not believe in the existence of the objects of emotion.
  3. We do not believe in the existence of fictional characters, situations and events.

It was a very interactive afternoon, with some very stimulating contributions. Stacie continued the discussion into the evening, and we are very grateful to her for her time and expertise.

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