Seven Minutes

When we're wrong about the root causes of our actions, were we ever right?

In an unnerving experiment that dates at least as far back as the nineteenth-century scientist Jean-Martin Charcot, a hypnotist prompts a willing participant, under trance, to open an umbrella and circle the room. When asked why they are holding an opened umbrella indoors, the subjects, at first puzzled, in the next instant retreat unselfconsciously to the comfort of a strange fiction: Rather than state the obvious, that the hypnotist in the room must have had a hand in it, they instead give a range of responses which almost all refer to internal, rather than external factors. A typical response would be something like, “I heard it was going to rain tomorrow, and I was checking the umbrella for holes.”

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