Chris studied physics as an undergraduate and evolutionary biology for his doctorate at Cambridge. Both of these subjects had their most glorious days before he was born, and he wondered where the revolutionary work was being done in his generation. In what field are the Newtons and Darwins of today?
Having attended lectures on everything from anthropology to chemistry and maths, he found them in social psychology. What we know about who we are and how we think is dramatically different to what we thought we knew even fifteen years ago.
After working at BP and Barclays Capital, he gave up his job to find out what scientists knew about us. He spent three years sitting in a little room in the countryside reading about the brilliant, fascinating and often discomfiting experiments that have been performed on how we make decisions versus how we think we make decisions, and how our experience is formed versus how we imagine it is formed.
He found that many of these experiments have a common theme. They suggest that what subjects report as consciousness is inferred from the outside in. In the same way that we infer minds in other people to work out what they will do, we infer a mind in ourselves. We use this inferred model of ourselves to work out what other people are inferring about us. What we experience as our internal states aren’t for understanding ourselves at all: they’re for understanding and changing the behaviour of other people. We evolved consciousness to help us succeed as social animals.
Chris was interviewed as one of the twelve ‘movers and shakers’ of his year as an undergraduate because he ran a debating society. He thinks that how you tell a story is important.