This lecture investigates changing attitudes and beliefs about the persistence of the self.
Many revolutionary positions in philosophy – skepticism, materialism, hard determinism – have disturbing implications. By contrast, the revolutionary idea that there is no persisting self is supposed to have generally beneficial consequences. Insofar as the self does not persist, one should be more generous to others, less punitive, and have less fear of death. This talk will report recent experiments indicating that changing beliefs about the persistence of self does affect generosity and punitiveness. For attitudes about the self and death, we examined responses from Hindus, Tibetan Buddhists and Westerners; the results are complex and surprising.