November 29th, 2011

red panda eating bamboo

Digging around in the mind

Interesting book review.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/27/books/review/thinking-fast-and-slow-by-daniel-kahneman-book-review.html">"Two Brains Running" by Jim Holt</a> (a review of Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman)

Excerpt (emphasis mine:
What does it mean to be happy? When Kahneman first took up this question, in the mid 1990s, most happiness research relied on asking people how satisfied they were with their life on the whole. But such retrospective assessments depend on memory, which is notoriously unreliable. What if, instead, a person’s actual experience of pleasure or pain could be sampled from moment to moment, and then summed up over time? Kahneman calls this “experienced” well-being, as opposed to the “remembered” well-being that researchers had relied upon. And he found that these two measures of happiness diverge in surprising ways. What makes the “experiencing self” happy is not the same as what makes the “remembering self” happy. In particular, the remembering self does not care about duration—how long a pleasant or unpleasant experience lasts. Rather, it retrospectively rates an experience by the peak level of pain or pleasure in the course of the experience, and by the way the experience ends.
...
Kahneman’s conclusion, radical as it sounds, may not go far enough. There may be no experiencing self at all. Brain-scanning experiments by Rafael Malach and his colleagues at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, for instance, have shown that when subjects are absorbed in an experience, like watching the “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” the parts of the brain associated with self-consciousness are not merely quiet, they’re actually shut down (“inhibited”) by the rest of the brain. The self seems simply to disappear. Then who exactly is enjoying the film? And why should such egoless pleasures enter into the decision calculus of the remembering self?
This intersects in interesting ways with my studies and experiences in Buddhism, especially the notion that the mind constructs the self, and the self isn't some kind of unchanging core. (A metaphor I found useful is that the mind constructs the self the way a hand constructs a fist.)

Also I've known for much of my life that what I want to do in the moment and what I want to have done are different, and I frequently noodle about how to reconcile them or rebalance the amount of energy I spend on each. My behavior tends to mostly toward what I want to do in the moment, and toward habit.

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