Ruben Laukkonen, PhD
VU University Amsterdam
The phenomenology of truth: How the feeling of insight guides decisions under uncertainty
Nearly all waking moments are accompanied by a stream of thoughts and ideas passing through the mind (James, 1890). Many of these mental events can feel unproductive, arbitrary, or even distracting. But once in a while, an idea appears in the stream that is immediately imbued with a sense of profound importance and value. In this talk, I will provide a broad overview of several experiments which show that the feelings that accompany our ideas usually provide a helpful signal—insight experiences tend to predict correct solutions to problems. However, there are situations where the function of this normally adaptive process may be jeopardised, for example by false information, psychoactive substances, or mental illness. Therefore, feelings of insight may not always provide a valid signal. In one such demonstration, we artificially induced insight moments in participants and made false facts appear true. Since psychedelic substances elicit an unusually frequent number of ‘Aha!’ experiences, it is possible that the probability of false insights changes relative to the sober state. To address this, I will conclude the talk by making hypotheses about the nature and fidelity of insight experiences during psychedelic journeying by drawing on predictive coding accounts of their neural action.
I’m currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, researching how long-term meditation practice affects the most basic processes of the brain, and thereby shedding light on just how malleable and plastic humans are. Is it possible that meditation genuinely allows practitioners to perceive the world in a more direct way, beyond conceptions? Before this postdoc, most of my research (including my PhD) was on the insight experience. I’ve conducted (or helped conduct) at least a dozen empirical studies on Eureka moments, and continue to do theoretical work on the link between feelings of insight and our understanding of what is true.