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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.

This entry was originally posted at http://firecat.dreamwidth.org/751409.html, where there are comment count unavailable comments.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 30th, 2011 04:21 am (UTC)
Wow. Very cool stuff. The way a hand constructs a fist -- Yes!

Re: what I want to have done --

I just had a conversation with the son who is living with us about adulthood and odious chores, that went something like -- Being an adult means gritting your teeth and doing the odious chore; focus on how good it will feel when it is done. This is really hard for me to do. I wonder what personality traits make it harder or easier? It's a hallmark of adult behavior, doing what you don't want to do because it has to be done, but what is it that we're doing in relation to being happy or unhappy?
Nov. 30th, 2011 04:31 am (UTC)
I've tended to think that what makes unpleasant things harder to do, for me, is a personality trait set of "contrary" + "questioning" + "lazy" + "low pain threshold."

What sometimes works for me is to take the "contrary" and "questioning" and use them to ask myself "OK, so WHY don't I like this? Is it really so awful?" Sometimes I discover that I don't mind it that much. (Like being out in the rain.) Sometimes I am able to name what I don't like and just naming it makes it so I don't mind it as much. (I don't like the low level uncertainty involved in making phone calls.) Sometimes naming it sends me down a path of problem solving: "OK, how can I set up my life to have less of this thing in it?" (This is how I decided to go freelance -- I hated several things about working in an office.)

It's interesting how a lot of people think that doing something you don't want to is "being an adult." My childhood had just as much of doing things I didn't want, if not more. And the adults I know aren't better at doing things they hate than the children I know.

Hmm, I sure rambled on a lot...sorry!
Nov. 30th, 2011 08:33 am (UTC)
yes! i actually disliked being a child quite a lot for that very reason. i hated the lack of agency.

and i think the discomfort i am finding in my life right now is that historical feeling - lack of choice. however, no matter how bad things get, and they do get bad, there are lots of things i have power over that i didn't as a kid - like i have a dog, i have the heating on when i want. this morning i woke up with a migraine and cystitis. i medicated what i could, bathed when i felt ready, and i will deal with my day as i see fit. sure, it would be nice to have help, but when that help arrives it will be in the shape of my boyfriend who is kind and supportive. can't be bad!
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 30th, 2011 08:38 pm (UTC)
That makes sense, but it still seems that I know a lot of adults who mostly operate on the former principle, and some children who operate a lot on the latter.
Nov. 30th, 2011 09:22 am (UTC)
also, i think chronic illness probably changes things. or, it has for me. i hardly ever have 'peak' experiences as such any more, since i don't do anything, but when i can enjoy small things i am grateful for their duration.

also, all this is a human preoccupation. i am thinking of the dog. this morning she had to wait an extra two hours to go out, and even then it was to go to the chemist and back, hardly very fun, but she still enjoyed it. she did her business. and now she is outside in the yard chewing a pig's ear. i don't think she would know what a remembered experience even was.
Nov. 30th, 2011 08:43 pm (UTC)
I know dogs remember stuff because some of them come to the animal shelter very afraid of people. But I think it might in the aggregate take less time to teach trust to an abused animal than to teach trust to an abused human.
Nov. 30th, 2011 09:07 pm (UTC)
that's very true, but it seems to me that they carry it very differently. i think it's more like how we carry PTSD, more visceral than the sort of visual memory our remembering mind does - we have a compulsion to create narratives in a way that is really elaborated.

i knew a dog who interpreted a lot of different stimuli to mean 'postman - must attack' but i don't think he made a story out of it, i think it was much more short form.
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