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26: DEC 8


  • Gilbert, C8, “Paradise Glossed” (21)
  • Gilbert, C9, “Immune to Reality” (23)

Gilbert, Chapter 8: Paradise Glossed

  • Opening examples of people "re-narrating" horrible events in their lives, including wrongdoing and public humiliation. Asymmetry between people's estimates of misfortune (loss of ability) and estimates of people in those situations.
  • "If negative events don't hit us as hard as we expect them to, then why do we expect them to?" Interested in discrepancy between cs forecast and actual experience.
  • Suggests that the process of creating and attending to meanings is crucial (154-155). Evidence from examples of mind actively interpreting/seeing stimuli through mental structures like the “letterbox” (The Cat). Or Necker cube. We respond, in part, to our own representations of reality. (Recall the Truck cubby hole perspective taking experiment)
  • Definers and self-rating study (159). importance of relative complexity of experience (over visual illusions). Complexity creates ambiguity which we exploit with narrative Kale and ice cream study, 159. Our immediate experience can change our relative perceptions of arrays of other objects and experiences.
  • major thesis on 160. Once our experience becomes actual, our uncs goes to work renarrating the story with positive bias. a kind of "psychological immune system" (psychological investment system). (recall the poster study.) Interesting practical advice follows: You might be able to choose a more or less positive way of looking at situations that have ambiguous interpretations. You are trying to strike a balance between disabling self-criticism and panglossian self-delusion.see 162.
  • We Cook the Facts (164): The mind needs some like a fact for belief, (but facts are not always readily available), so... it cooks the evidence. IQ test takers selection of article on IQ bias. By selecting sampling (attending to ads for the cars we bought), by conversational practices (not, "Am I the best lover..., but ....").
  • Evidence that we cook the facts comes from situations in which there are symmetrical and predictable inconsistencies in a group's interpretation (sports fans 168), or studies that show that we select evidence that fits our views (169). (This is also the evidence that is moving some faculty to blind grading!)

Gilbert, Chapter 9: Immune to Reality (Openness to Investment in Reality)

  • Clever Hans
  • Confabulation: People are unaware of many influences on them, but when asked will create a story or reason that provides a plausible explanation other than the actual influence. Priming studies. Negative words flashed on screen produces more negative judgments. (note about being "strangers to ourselves" -- connects with Leary, Curse of Self)
  • (Thesis is that we also do this (exp uncs priming and confabulation) at the narrative level as well.)
  • thesis on 174: not only do we cook the facts, but we need to consume them in a way that doesn't reveal the fabrication or alteration. (One way that we become "strangers to ourselves" is that we need to conceal the fact that we're cooking the facts.)
  • Looking forward/backward (recall examples from 153, in which we over-predict the effect of negative events): asymmetry in judgments of events when looked at prospectively and retrospectively. Thesis: We assume that the views looking forward and backward are symmetrical, but they are not. You won't value things the same way once events transpire, but the process of revaluation is largely hidden from us.
  • Judge/Jury Rejection study: prospectively we aren't aware that we'll more easily write off the judge's decision than the jury's. (176) -- key issue: if the explanation for the result is so obvious, why can't the test subjects anticipate it?
  • great example of confabulation too. (Basically, we don't realize the jury decision threatens the immune system more.)
  • Regret: when we blame ourselves for outcomes we might have anticipated. A kind of "personal liability" emotion. Sometimes useful. Problem of the number of things you didn't do. (research on p. 179: suggesting that we regret omissions more than commissions, though we predict that we'll regret commissions more.) Why is this? Gilbert's thesis: It's harder for the immune system to re-narrate an event that didn't happen.
  • Psychological Immune System: Very bad things trigger it more than slightly bad things. "it is sometimes more difficult to achieve a positive view of a bad experience than a very bad experience. Concept of "psychological investment" in initiation rites study (181). Triggers at work in the negative feedback study (182).
  • Claims that we experience "sunk costs" in relationships. Trade offs between changing our experience and changing our view of our experience. Photo selection satisfaction study involving "escape" and "no escape" conditions p 184. Subjects in the escape condition were less satisfied with their choices. Yet test subjects asked which they would prefer say that want the escape option. (notice prospection/retrospection asymmetry)
  • Speculative Theory about how we use explanations: "Explanations allow us to make full use of our experiences, but they also change the natures of those experiences." 186. beneficial effect of writing about trauma, simulated student study involving identified vs. unidentified admirers. 187. Happiness buzz lasts longer on unidentified (power of unexplained) . (Interesting implication for seeking "love from the world".) Suggested as support for theory. Unexplained events have bigger impact. Other studies suggest explanations can get in the way of emotional impact. Point: We respond to unexplained and mysterious events with higher interest and affect, even attributing great significance to them, but we also relentlessly try to explain things, thus diminishing their emotional impact. Example of research with Smile Society cards. Details may have detracted from positive impact. (Again, people think the card with the explanation will have higher impact.) "The price we pay for our irrepressible explanatory urge is that we often spoil our most pleasant experiences by making good sense of them." 191

Some concluding ideas about Happiness and Wisdom

  • 1. Happiness “evolves,” but evolution isn’t about happiness.
  • 2. The bite of reality is lessen by understanding necessity and by our own psychological “tool kits.”
  • 3. The future is a problem.
  • 4. We often miss opportunities for happiness, but then, it’s a moving target.
  • 5. Wisdom is a real capacity that we can cultivate through both cognitive and affective skills.