We have a large frontal lobe so that we can look into the future, we look into the future so that we can make predictions about it, we make predictions about it so that we can control it - but why do we want to control it at all? Why not jus tlet the future unfold as it will and experience it as it does? Why not be here now and there then? There are two answers.
One surprisingly right answer is that people find it gratifying to exercise control - not just for the futures it buys them, but for the exercise itself. Being effective - chaning things, influencing things, making things happen 0 is one of the fundamental needs with which human brains seem to be naturally endowed, and much of our behavior from infancy onward is simply an expression of this penchant for control.
Our desire to control is powerful, and the feeling of being in conrol is so rewaring, that people often act as though they can control the uncontrollable.
We are the apes that learned to look forward because doing so enables us to shop among the many fates that might befall us and select the best one. Other animals must experience an event in order to learn about its pleasures and pains, but our pwoers of foresight allow us to imagine that hwich has not yet happned and hence spare ourselves the hard lessons of experience.
Each of us is trapped in a place, a time, and a circumstance, and our attempts to use our minds to transcend those boundaries are, more often than not, ineffective. WE think we are thinking outside the box only because we can't see how big the box really is. Imagination cannot easily transcent the boundaris of the present, and one reason for this is that it must borrow machinery that is owned by perception.
The fact that those two processes must run on the same platform means that we are sometimes confused about which one is running. We assume that what we feel as we imagine the future is what we'll feel when we get there, but in face, what we feel as we imagine the future is often a response to what's happening in the present. The time-shared arrangement between perception and imagination is one of the causes of presentism, but it is not the only one.
But time is no grapefruit. It has no color, shape, size, or texture. It cannot be poked, peeled, prodded, pushed, painted, or pierced. Time not an object but an abstraction, hence it does not lend itslef to imagery...
The problem is that when we reason by metaphor and think of a dozen successive meals in a dozen successive months as though they were a dozen dishes arranged on a long table in front of us, we mistakenly treat sequential alternatives as though they were simultaneous alternative. This is a mistake because sequential alternatives already have time on their side, hence variety makes them less pleasuable rather than more.
what all of these facts about comparison mean for our ability to imagine future feelings.
The facts are: a) value is determined by the comparison of one thing with another; b) there is more than one kind of comparison we can make in any given instance; and c) we may value something more highly when we make on kind of comparsion than when we make a different kind of comparison.
These facts suggest that if we want to predict how something will make us feel in the futre, we must consdier the kind of comparison we will be amking in the future and not the kind of comparsion we happen to be making in the present.
The way we feel right now and the way we think right now exert an unusually strong influence on the way we think we'll feel later. Because time is such a slippery concept, we tend to imagine the future as the present with a twist, thus our imagined tomorrows inevitably look like slightly twisted versions of today. The reality of the moment is so palpable and powerful that it holds imagination in a tight orbit from which it never fully escapes.
If we were to experience the world exactly as it is, we'd be too depressed to get out of bed in the morning, but if we were to experience the world exactly as we want it to be, we'd be too deluded to find our slippers.
We may see the world through rose-colored glasses, but rose-colored glasses are neighter opaque nor clear.
They can't be opaque because we need to see the world clearly enough to participate in it - to pilot helicopters, harvest corn, diaper babies, and all the other stuff that smart mammals need to do in order to survive and thrive.
But they cannot be clear because we need their rosy tint to motivate us to design the helicopters, plant the corn, and tolerate the babies. We cannot do without reality or illusion. EAch serves a purpose, each imposes a limt on the influence of the other, and our experience of the world is the artful compromise that these tough competitors negotiate.
When facts challenge our favored conclusion, we scrutinize them more carefully and subject them to more rigorous analysis. We also require a lot more of them.
It doesn't take much to convince us that we are smart and healthy, but it takes a whole lotta facts to convince us of the opposite. We ask whether facts allow us to believe our favored conclusions and whether they compel us to believe our disfavored conclusions.
Distorted views of reality are made possible by the fact that experiences are ambiguous - that is, they can be credibly viewed in many ways, some of which are more positive than others. To ensure that our views are credible, our brains accepts what our eyes. To ensure that our views are positive, our eyes looks for what our brain wants. The conspiracy between these two servants allows us to live at the fulcrum of stark reality and comforting illusion.
Because we do not realize that we have generated a positive view of our current experience, we do not realie that we will do so again in the future. Not only does our naivete cause us to overestimate the intensity and duration of our distress in the face of future adversity, but it also leads us to take actions that may undermine the conspiracy.
We are more likely to generate a positive and credible view of an anction than an inaction, of a painful experience than of an annoying experience, of an unpleasant situation that we cannot escape than of one we can.
Yet, we rarely choose action over inaction, pain over annoyance, and comitment over freedom.
We pay more attention to favorable information, we surround ourselves with those who provide it, and we accept it uncritically. These tendencies make it easy for us to explain unpleasant experiences in ways that exonerate us and make us feel better. The price we pay for our irrepressible explanatory urge is that we often spoil our most pleasant experiences by making good sense of them.
Foresight is just a fallible as eyesight and hindsight. Fallible eyesight can be remedied by glasses and fallible hindsight can be remedied by written records of the past - but what of fallible foresight?
Remembering and experience feels a lot like opening a drawer and retrieving a story that was filed away on the day it was written, but as we've seen in previous chapters, that feeling is one of our brain's most sophisticated illusions. Memory is not a dutiful scribe that keeps a complete transcript of our experiences, but a sophisticated editor that clips and saves key elements of an experience and then uses these elements to rewrite the story each time we ask to reread it. The clip-and-save method usually works pretty well because the editor usually has a keen sense of which elements are essential and which are disposable. That's why we remember how the groom looked when he kissed the bride but not which finger the flower girl had up her nose when it happened.
Memory does have a few quirks that cause it to misrepresent the past and hence causes us to misimage the future.
We show a pronounced tendency to recall the items at the end of the series far better than the items at the beginning or in the middle. When we look back on the entire series, our impression is strongly influenced by its final items.
We remember feeling as we believe we must have felt. The problem with this error of retrospection is that it can keep us from idscovering our errors of prospection.
Apparently, prospections and retrospections can be in perfect agreement despite the fact that neigher accurately describes our actual experience. Our inability to recall how we really felt is one of the reasons why our wealth of experience so often turns out to be a poverty of riches.
Our memeory for emotional episodes is overly influenced by unusual instances, closing moments, and theories about how we must have felt way back then, all of which gravely compromise our ability to learn from our own experience.
For millions of years, human beings have conquered their ignorance by dividing the labor of discovery and then communicating their discoveries to one another, which is why the average newspaper boy in Pittsburgh knows more about the univers than did Galileo, Aristotle, Leonardo, or any of those other guys who were so smart they only needed one name.
Communication is a kind of "vicarious observation" that allows us to learn about the world without ever leaving the comfort of our Barcaloungers.
Why continue to make bad decisions?
1. A lot of the advice we receive from others is bad advice that we foolishly accept.
2. A lot of the advice we receive from others is good advice that we foolishly reject.
Super-replicators: Genes tend to be transmitted when they make us do thing that transmits their genes. Even bad genes can become super-replicators if they compensate for these costs by promoting their own means of transmission. The same logic can explain the transmission of beliefs. If a particular belief has some property that facilitates its own transmission, then that belief tends to be held by an increasing number of minds.
The production of wealth does not necessarily make individuals happy, but it does serve the needs of an economy, which serves the needs of a stable society, which serves as a network for the propagation of delusional beliefs about happiness and wealth. Economies thrive when individuals strive, but because individuals will only strive for their own happiness, it is essential that they mistakenly believe that producing and consuming are routes to personal well-being.
We are nodes in a social network that arises and falls by a logic of its own, which is why we continue to toil, continue to mate, and continue to be surprised when we do not experience all the joy we so gullibly anticipated.
If you believe that people can generally say how they are feeling at the moment they are asked, then one way to make predictions about our own emotional futures is to find someone who is having the experience we are contemplating and ask them how they feel.
Our belif in the variability of others and in the uniqueness of the self is especially powerful when it comes to emotion. Because we can feel our own emotions but must infer the emotions of others by watching their faces and listening to their voices, we often have the impression that others don't experience the same intensity of emotion that we do, which is why we expect others to recognize our feelings even when we can't recognize theirs.
This sense of emotional uniqueness starts early.
Our mythical belif in the variability and uniqueness of induviduals is the main reason why we refuse to use others as surrogates. After all, surrogation is only useful when we can count on a surrogate to react to an event roughly as we would, and if we believe that people's emotional reactions are more varied than they actually are, then surrogation will seem less useful to us than it actually is.
The irony, of course, is that surrogation is a cheap and effective way to predict one's future emotions, but because we don't realize just how similar we all are, we reject this reliable method and rely instead on our imaginations, as flawed and fallible as they may be.
Like the hogwash that farmers feed their pigs, the hogwash that our friends and teachers and parents feed us is meant to make us happy; but unlike hogwash of the porcine variety, human hogwash does not always achieve its end.
Ideas can flourish if they preserve the social systems that allow them to be transmitted. These ideas must disguise themselves as prescriptions for indivudual happiness.
Rather than calculating utilities with mathematical precision, we simply step into tomorrow's shoes and see how well they fit. Our ability to project ourselves forward in time and experience events before they happen enables us to learn from mistakes without making them and to evaluate actions without taking them.
Foresight is a fragile talent that often leaves us squinting, straining to see what it would be like to have this, go ther,e or do that. But if our great big brains do not allow us to go surefootedly into our futures, they at least allow us to understand what makes us stumble.