Last Night’s TV – Horizon: The Secret You

by Lynn Connolly

Horizon The Secret You

I thought I had control over what I think, which it turns out, I – as in, the person I think I am – probably doesn’t. My brain does, both the conscious and unconscious bits of it… and that’s creepy.

So I suppose the question I was left with after watching Professor Marcus du Sautoy test and retest his own brain, is, “Is my brain ‘me’, or am I my brain?”

Confused? Well you should be. Horizon is of course historically one of those shows that tries to simplify complicated stuff so plebeians like me can make head or tails of it, and usually it works, but I’m still not entirely sure what the outcome of this film was…

Consciousness, like existentialism, has both fascinated and plagued scientists and philosophers for donkey’s years – and me when I was doing my degree and had to second guess folks like Jean Paul Sartre – so that whole ‘I think therefore I am’ theory that was first propounded by René Descartes was, like Jeopardy, the question to the answer.

More confused? Well, again, you should be… so was I.

But putting aside all the ‘big’ questions, the experiments and globetrotting in search of answers to the issue of autonomy and self-awareness were pretty dang fascinating. For instance, one such experiment saw Marcus holding hands with a Professor at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden while wearing a ‘Cyber Mind’ helmet. When a knife was brought near his and the other professor’s arms, and then drawn across as though cutting, du Sautoy recoiled, because the trickery the helmet induced made him believe he’d been cut.

Another interesting one was when a science type bod predicted a decision Marcus was to make a good six seconds before he even became aware he was about to make a decision. The science type bod in question, John, knew what choice Marcus would make by ‘reading’ his brain. And that was something that seemed to really shock du Sautoy. It evidently left him feeling somewhat robbed of his sense of autonomy.

I won’t even attempt to regurgitate some of the information I learned during this show, because actually, they might not be my own thoughts at all…

Confused again? Welcome to my life…

If you missed this fascinating show, you can catch it on BBC iPlayer, and I’d highly recommend that you do, if only to watch just how easily the brain you and I are sitting here thinking we’re in charge of, is actually in charge of us. Assuming we know who ‘we’ are at all.

Oh don’t start me again…

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.