A couple of my colleagues and I went to an interesting talk on Friday by the excellent Anil Seth from the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex.
The event was hosted by the Headstrong Club, which has been debating the hot topics of the day since at least the 18th century, although it only more recently relaunched – in 1987.
Anil gave a very lively run through eight key areas that he and his colleagues are researching. I really liked the way his team are integrating recent technological advances such as virtual reality into their research – as with their VR version of the rubber hand illusion (here’s the background).
I am a sucker for this kind of thing, and also like the perceptual illusions which are often used to illustrate some of the surprising ways the brain works; I especially enjoyed Anil’s version of the amazing colour changing card trick.
But I don’t know if it was this talk or something else that meant I woke up this morning deeply aware that everyone is always selling something.
I respectfully include Anil, because actually one of the bits of his talk that most stuck in my mind was his answer to a question about which other key aspects of consciousness are worthy of research.
His perhaps only partly flippant answer was something like “those that attract funding”.
I liked this answer because it seemed to me to be an honest acknowledgement of that need that I also share – to be always selling.
There’s a probably apocryphal story of an academic and a salesman meeting at a party.
Quickly they engage in a debate around the value of each others’ profession. The story ends with the academic unconsciously proving the salesman’s point, by saying “Just give me 5 minutes and I’ll tell you why my profession is worth so much…”.
At its worst selling is a intrusion, a subtle form of violence. An attempt to manipulate someone into doing what they don’t want to do.
At its best it is a form of helping – a way of gently discovering what another person really needs and helping them gain it for themselves.
And I am not just talking about buying a physical product. I am also talking about ‘buying’ ideas. Selling is just as relevant to politicians and therapists.
So I suppose what I am really noticing this morning, and objecting to a little, is that desire in me to manipulate another.
And I am recognising the difficulty of staying in a place where I seek to get my own needs met, without having to persuade others to adopt my point of view.
And perhaps I am making a little plea? Could we all take a day off from trying to persuade others that we are right? Or that we have something that the other needs?
Let’s all just stop selling for the day, and see what happens.