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24: DEC 1


  • Gilbert, "Why we Make Bad Decisions" (Ted talk) [1]
  • Gilbert, C4, “In the Blind Spot of the Mind’s Eye” (21)
  • Gilbert, C6, “The Future is Now” (16)

H&W Exercise

  • Things in your future that are clear, fuzzy, an opaque. [2]

Daniel Gilbert, TED talk, "Why We Make Such Bad Decisions"

  • Bernouli's formula for expected value: Expected value = odds of gain x value of gain.
  • two kinds of mistakes: estimating odds and value
  • Errors estimating odds:
  • Availability heuristic: works when estimating likelihood of seeing dogs vs. pigs on a leash, not when estimating odds of good or bad things happening (4:30). Example of words with R is diff places, things that get on the news -- dying of asthma vs. drownings. Lottery winners distort our judgement.
  • Already implications for wisdom if you think living well requires a rational approach to threats and gains. Do mostly fools play the lottery?
  • Example of not buying a 10th lottery ticket because Leroy has the other nine.
  • Mistakes estimating value
  • Big Mac example - we compare to the past, instead of the possible; vacation package with price change; salaries that increase over salaries that decrease.
  • Comparisons to the past - price cuts vs. price increases; salary preference for increases even if total salary is less, theatre tickets (mental accounting -- loss aversion affects our judgement. We imagine the play costs $40.) (11:00), liberals relative affection for Bush1, retailing (comparison of wine by price), potato chip / chocolate / spam study (14:30) (Note possible application to wisdom for wealthy culture), saving $100 on a large amount is less attractive than on a smaller amount, speaker comparison.
  • Expected value problems involving the future: (18:06): People have trouble with future value calculations(discounting): "now" is better and "more" is better, but we don't do well when those rules conflict. When both of the expected value calculations are in the future we do better (pay offs in 12 vs. 13 months). Favors locating choices in the future when possible.
  • Explanatory hypothesis: brain evolution not geared toward abstract calculation of rational alternatives.
  • Implications for wisdom: 22 min: interesting comment about Bernouli in relation to evolutionary history 22:30 (and biases such as those underlying these expected value problems).
  • What part of living well is comprised of expected value problems? Isn't there also qualitative version of this problem?

Gilbert, Chapter 4: In the Blind Spot of the Mind's Eye

  • Comparisons of Adolph Fisher & George Eastman. Point: Need to 2nd guess how we impose seemingly objective criteria on others' lives.
  • Just because it's easier for us to imagine that a certain kind of future will bring happiness, and what we imagine might even be in line with objective research, it doesn't follow that other futures won't.
  • Brain reweaves experience: study with cars and stop signs/yield signs. Information acquired after the event alters memory of the event.
  • Two highly confirmed results: Memory fills in. We don't typically notice it happening. Word list excercise. 80 -- literal and metaphorical blindspots. experiments with interrupted sentences. We fill in.
  • Model of Mind (84) Prior to 19th century:
"Philosophers had thought of the senses as conduits that allowed information about the properties of objects in the world to travel from the object and into the mind. The mind was like a movie screen in which the object was rebroadcast. The operation broke down on occasion, hence people occasionally saw things as they were not. But when the senses were working properly, they showed what was there. This theory of realism was described in 1690 by the philosopher John Locke: brains "believe" they don't "make believe" .
  • Model of Mind brought in with Kant at beginning of 1800's:
Kant's idealism: "Kant's new theory of idealism claimed that our perceptions are not the result of a physiological process by which our eyes somehow transmit an image of the world into our brains but rather, they are the result of a psychological process that combines what our eyes see with what we already think, feel, know, want, and believe, and then uses this combination of sensory information and preexisting knowledge to construct our perception of reality. "
  • false belief test -- [3] [As we develop, we acquire "theory of mind" and the capacity to enter the subjective space of others. Interestingly, it's hard to enter our own (strangers to ourselves) and our future selves.
  • Still, we act like realists: truck moving study-- we are first realists, but we learn to adopt an idealist perspective in social communication.
  • We experience the world as if our interpretations were part of reality. We do not realize we are seeing an interpretation.
  • We fill in details: imagine a plate of spaghetti. Very important for thinking about how we fill in the future. We carry out the exercise of imagining, and even make estimates of satisfaction, but the result depends upon which of the family of experiences picked out by "plate of spaghetti" we have in mind.
  • point for happiness theories: p. 89.
  • closes by giving you the narratives that make sense of the Fisher/Eastman comparison.

Gilbert, Chapter 6, The Future is Now

  • Being wrong about the future: possibility of heavy planes flying. 112
  • "When brains plug holes in the conceptualizations of yesterday and tomorrow, they tend to use a material called today"
  • 113: Long list of examples of current experience displacing past experience: dating couples, worries about exams, memories of Perot supporters. We “cook” the past.
  • Examples of how we fail to predict how future selves will feel. 115: Volunteers choosing candy bars or knowing answers. Different preferences after the experience.
  • We fail to account for the way future experience will change future preferences.
  • Sneak Prefeel -- evidence suggests brain can have emotional responses to imaginings of the future. We simulate future events, we don't just experience them reflectively. visual experience vs. imagination.
  • How to Select Posters: In poster selection study, the "thinkers" are less satisfied with their choices. 121 "Prefeeling allowed nonthinkers to predict their future satisfaction more accurately than thinkers did." 121
  • Limits of Pre-feeling: "We can't see or feel two things at once, and the brain has strict priorities about what it will see, hear, and feel and what it will ignore. ... For instance, if we try to imagine a penguin while we are looking at an ostrich, the brain's policy won't allow it."122 2 other research studies on unconscious bias in future predictions. 123
  • Note from the gym/thirst study: emotional contagion from one experience to another. The "availability heuristic" comes in here again. Priming. practical advice: you can see how mindfulness might be part of the remedy here.
  • Read cartoon on bottom of p. 125 "Imagination cannot easily transcend the boundaries of the present, and one reason for this is that it must borrow machinery that is owned by perception. The fact that these 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 fact, what we feel as we imagine the future is often response to what's happening in the present."

Advice/Useful Questions for Happiness Problems Related to the Future

  • We need humility about predicting the future. (Examples at start of C6).
  • We are often anxious about things in the future that we can’t know how we will feel about but think we should. (Stoicism helps here.) Practice saying, “I don’t know how I will feel about that.”
  • How is my sense of future possibilities limited by what is easy for me to imagine? (Availability heuristic.)
  • Watch out for hyper-discounting of the future. (Bias toward more now.)
  • We mistake interpretation for reality. Locke vs. Kant. (Get a second opinion.)
  • We may overvalue the uniqueness of our subjective experience. This leads us to discount the comparability of our experience with others.
  • Contingent future feeling. We often fail to predict how our future selves will feel. (Candy bar quiz study)
  • Cognitive load and emotional contagion. Will the future feel different the day after graduation? (gym/thirst study). Suggests that having a quiet mind can be useful.
  • We are sensitive to the way comparisons are framed. Watch out for others how offer to frame comparisons for us. (Wine bottle marketing example, availability heuristic.) The further into the future you go, the less certain you should be about the comparison sets for your choices.