85 | L.A. Paul on Transformative Experiences and Your Future Selves

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It’s hard to make decisions that will change your life. It’s even harder to make a decision if you know that the outcome could change who you are. Our preferences are determined by who we are, and they might be quite different after a decision is made — and there’s no rational way of taking that into account. Philosopher L.A. Paul has been investigating these transformative experiences — from getting married, to having a child, to going to graduate school — with an eye to deciding how to live in the face of such choices. Of course we can ask people who have made such a choice what they think, but that doesn’t tell us whether the choice is a good one from the standpoint of our current selves, those who haven’t taken the plunge. We talk about what this philosophical conundrum means for real-world decisions, attitudes towards religious faith, and the tricky issue of what it means to be authentic to yourself when your “self” keeps changing over time.

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L.A. (Laurie) Paul received her Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University. She is currently professor of philosophy and cognitive science at Yale University. She has worked extensively on causation, the philosophy of time, mereology, and transformative experience. She has won fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Humanities Center, and the Australian National University. Among her books are the monograph Transformative Experience; she is currently working on a popular-level book on this theme.

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