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What neuroscience and ancient Chinese philosophy have to say about effortless thinking and living.

Acting on impulse is a curious thing. Is it an expression of inner freedom or a reckless letting go of protocol? And, do different cultures value spontaneity differently? Samira Ahmed discusses spontaneity with Edward Slingerland, professor of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia, psychologist Daniel Goleman, known for his work on emotional intelligence, and Mary Robertson, emeritus professor of Neuropsychiatry at University College London, who brings her insights from treating Tourette’s Syndrome.

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41 minutes

Last on

Mon 31 Mar 2014 02:06GMT


  • Edward Slingerland

    Confucian China: more spontaneous than you might have imagined

    Duration: 14:32

  • Daniel Goleman

    Why practising hard frees up your spontaneity

    Duration: 11:56

  • 60 second idea

    Exile drivers of loud vehicles to a wilderness

    Duration: 04:36

  • Mary Robertson

    Tourette’s Syndrome: much more than a swearing tic

    Duration: 12:53

Edward Slingerland

Edward Slingerland

Edward Slingerland, professor of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia, confounds Western assumptions about prescriptive Asian etiquette with his research into ancient Chinese attitudes to spontaneity. The central spiritual goal of early Confucians and Daoists was the state of wu-wei or effortless, unselfconscious action. And yet, they also advocated at least four different ways of training for this kind of effortless existence.

Daniel Goleman

Daniel Goleman

Psychologist Daniel Goleman reminds us that while you can’t command people to have a spontaneous thought, you may be able to train your mind to harness spontaneous thinking better. And he discusses the value of the wandering mind: if this is something we all do at least half the time, what is its evolutionary purpose?

Mary Robertson

Mary Robertson

Mary Robertson, Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychiatry at University College London brings her insights from treating Tourette’s Syndrome as we explore the complex mental relationship between spontaneous action, impulsivity and dis-inhibition. Lay people may think of a Tourette sufferer as someone who lacks control over his impulsivity but current medical research shows a much more complex picture.

60 Second Idea to Change the World

60 Second Idea to Change the World

Edward Slingerland wants to tranquilise people who drive excessively loud motorcycles or cars, preferably when said vehicles are stationary in order to avoid traffic accidents. The riders or drivers would then be transported by authorities to the nearest local wilderness or national park, given basic provisions, and left to make their way back home as best they can. Positive effects: vast reduction in urban noise pollution and corresponding increase in general happiness levels and everyday civility. The offenders themselves would be forced to spend several days in silence, enhancing their appreciation for that neglected but essential element of our lives.  Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

In Next Weeks’ Programme

Counterfeiting around the globe: when is it dangerous and when is its creativity to be admired?  With Ghanaian anti-forgery entrepreneur Bright Simons, Philip Hook who is a director at Sotheby’s auction house in London, and the art historian Winnie Wong from Berkeley in California.


  • Sun 30 Mar 2014 09:06GMT
  • Mon 31 Mar 2014 02:06GMT