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University of Oxford, Psychology and Philosophy Personal Statement

Psychology and Philosophy,
University of Oxford

For centuries humanity has pondered the definitions of truth and falsehood. For many, the
truth is simply common sense, which Descartes described in “Discourse on Method” as something which everybody believes they are already well endowed with. The fault, he later points out, lies in the wide belief that persuasion and perception, two tools of common sense, can never deceive us – a belief which I am certain Psychology, Philosophy and Language Sciences repeatedly disprove. Such varied perspectives on the issue of reliability intrigue me no end, and I wish to study them further at university.
Studying the IB has helped me to find the different viewpoints on the issue of reliability,
which learning many subjects simultaneously can provide. In my Extended Essay “Is Seeing
Believing?”, I combined my study of Biology, Psychology and Epistemology to research why sight is not always trustworthy. For example, if our eyes are so complex, why are they easily fooled by the likes of Hering’s optical illusion? Why do we trust most what we have seen for
ourselves, when psychologist Neisser’s investigations into flash bulb memories (1982) show
that over time, even our sharpest memories can change significantly? And if anything is to be
learnt from ideas like Phrenology, could not what is accepted fact today become superseded
theory tomorrow? A refusal to accept the easy answer is a quality I have often been commended for, and will certainly utilise on these courses.
Another fascinating idea on reliability is how easily swayed common sense can be through the
art of persuasion. I believe this is a key concept in linguistics, especially in
speech-giving, which I have a keen interest in. During a recent ESU Public Speaking Regional
Final, in which I placed second, I considered how the most convincing speakers were the ones
whom people thought adhered the most to common sense. This concurs with Descartes’
aforementioned beliefs on the subject – that, as an old proverb puts it, “the first to speak
in court sounds right until the cross-examination begins”. Then it is revealed that it is how
speakers orate, as opposed to the “common sense” in their speech, that creates a persuasive
argument.
Inspired by the idea that much of what we believe to be common sense is in fact misconstrued,
I investigated the true reliability of memory. I reconstructed Bransford & Johnson’s research
study on the Schematic Effect on Memory (1972) with Bath University’s ‘On Track’ scheme. I
learned how past knowledge can heavily influence new information, which is arguably why we
find it so hard to get rid of pre-conceived stereotypes. Understanding how harmful stereotypes
can be then motivated me to develop and lead a community project de-constructing
anti-religious stereotypes. This developed my organisational, fundraising and teamwork skills.
I thoroughly enjoyed studying English on a UCL Summer School; by the end of it, not only had I
learnt vital lessons on in-depth literary analysis and writing critically, I had also received
the “Best Contribution to the English Strand” Award. I also took part in last year’s
international Student Robotics competition, which taught me skills in logical and systematic
analysis – useful in Philosophy and scientific evaluation. In addition, I gained a Nuffield
Placement with a biomedical research team at Bristol University. I used computer software to
analyse how research processes work, and regularly fed back to the researchers, which earned
me a Gold Crest Award and a small influence in the researching world, as well as some great
report-writing experience.
My experiences overall have shown me that the constant fluidity of humanity guarantees
infinite study material for “people scientists” like myself. The endless potential these
combined subjects provide excites me greatly, and I believe the skills I have learnt in the
last two years are but a foundation upon which my time at university will build; I cannot wait
to get started.

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