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I am philosopher L.A. Paul, working on transformative experience, rationality and authenticity. AMA.
  • LAPaulAMA ,
  • r/Science AMAs

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r/Science AMAs
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I’ll return at 11AM to answer questions live! I’m a philosopher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Professorial Fellow of the Arche Research Centre at the University of St Andrews, whose main interests are in metaphysics, phenomenology, and cognitive science. If you want to know more about me, here’s my website, an interview about my research interests with 3am magazine, and an interview with more personal sorts of questions at NewAPPS. Much of my recent work focuses on the nature of experience and its role in constructing the self. I’m especially interested in exploring the way that some experiences can be transformative. Transformative experiences are momentous, life-changing experiences that shape who we are and what we care about. Going to war, winning the lottery, having a baby, losing your faith, or being spiritually reborn are all experiences that transform us epistemically, and through the epistemic transformations they bring, such experiences change us personally. Massive epistemic change can restructure who you are and what you care about. When you have a transformative experience, something new is revealed to you—what’s like to be in that situation or what it’s like to have that experience. Once you discover this, you discover how you’ll respond, and in particular, who you’ll become as the result of the transformation. In this sense, an exploration of transformative experience is also an exploration of the self, since we are exploring the way that experience allows us to discover who we are and what we care about. We discover new features of reality through experience, and this discovery turns us back into a new understanding of our own selves. I prefer to work on these philosophical questions using somewhat technical and formal tools from contemporary philosophy drawn from metaphysics, epistemology, decision theory, and the philosophy of mind. I’m also interested in empirical work in cognitive science, statistics, and psychology, and I try to bring relevant empirical research to bear on my conceptual work. I see myself as a defender of the importance of phenomenology and lived experience, but within a context that emphasizes the use of formal tools and empirically informed research combined with analytical metaphysics to frame and tackle philosophical problems. I’ve done a lot of work in the past on the nature of time and the metaphysics of causation and counterfactuals, and that work also informs the project of transformative experience in some obvious and some not-so-obvious ways. Recent Links: There have been a number of good discussions in the media of transformative experience. Here are a few, and there are more links on my website. In the New Yorker, Joshua Rothman discusses impossible decisions and the transformative experience of seeing color for the first time In the Wall Street Journal, Alison Gopnik discusses my original argument about the transformative nature of becoming a parent here In The New York Times, David Brooks discusses my book The Philosopher’s Zone has a fun podcast about transformative experience here Transformative Experience (OUP 2014), now available 30% off with promocode AAFLYG6 I’ll return at 11AM to answer questions live! Thanks for the questions, everyone. I’ll look in later, but I need to go back to work now!