Brain to Society: Decision and Behavior Seminar Series with Dr. Kennon Sheldon

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Sailing the ghost ship: The case for radical free will

Dr. Kennon Sheldon

Dr. Kennon Sheldon is a professor of Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri, USA. He received his B.S. in psychology from Duke University in 1981 and his Ph.D. in social/personality psychology from the University of California, Davis in 1992. He is known for his research on well-being, motivation, and goals. His prominent research questions include “Can happiness go up, and then stay up?”, “Can people be helped to pick life-goals that better express their developmental potentials?” and “how can the concept of personal agency be reconciled with the concept of a deterministic universe?” He is the prolific author of more than 200 academic articles and book chapters. He is also the author of Optimal Human Being: An Integrated Multi-level Perspective, and Self-determination Theory in the Clinic: Motivating physical and mental health, and he has written and edited several other academic books such as Stability of Happiness: Theories and Evidence on Whether Happiness can Change, and Designing Positive Psychology: Taking Stock and Moving Forward. He has been the recipient of several prestigious prizes and awards in psychology, and was named one of the 20 most cited social psychologists in 2010 (controlling for career stage; Nozek et al., PSPB).

About the presentation

I will summarize my forthcoming book (Basic Books). The argument for free will depends on the irreducible top-down effects of successively higher levels of organization within the universe, including mental in-tentions, operating at the personality level. Selection among intentions is made by the symbolic self, which is the highest-level control process in the brain, and which is observable as Default Mode Network functioning. The symbolic self, located in system 2, partially directs its own mind and is a complex momentary synthesis of narrative, biological, and situational information. This moving synthesis is highly creative and its choices can never be fully predicted in advance by any scientific model (another argument for free will). Nevertheless, appropriate multi-level models might come clos-er and closer, especially with the future help of artificial intelligence models that have access to peoples’ thoughts and feelings as well as their bodily condition. I will argue that the real question is not “are we free?” but rather, “can we use our radical freedom wisely, i.e. in service of our own and others’ thriving? ”

Panel Discussion

A panel will follow the presentation to advance precision convergence science in discussing how integra-tive multi-systems models of the self and decision making can be combined with computational approaches to studying human biology, brain and society to both (1) develop a deep and end-to-end understanding of all multiscale mechanism involved and (2) inform better targeted and more impactful self-management/professional practice/innovation/interventions/policy within and across sectors and jurisdictions underlying adaptive real world behavior and context. What we have called precision con-vergence for lifelong wellness and resilience in both health and disease conditions (concept paper here). The webinar is chaired by Prof. Laurette Dube, Chair and Scientific Director, McGill Centre for the Convergence of Health and Economic (MCCHE), and co-chaired by Dr. Gillian Bartlett, Associate Dean for Population Health and Outcomes Research at the School of Medicine at the University of Missouri.

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