Do you trust your eyes?

Divine Trees by Clement Briend

Divine Trees by Clement Briend

Last night, I posted photos of the Divine Trees at the Night Festival. An illusion of faces created by play of light and shadows projected on the trees by Clement Briend. Knowing that the museum had no power over pruning of the trees along the museum grounds, I kept thinking about this illusion.

Clearly my eyes cannot be trusted. Gestalt psychologists have told us that. Our mind tricks us to see two faces and a vase by the play of black and “space”.

A very good book I’ve pushed off reading, is “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman talks about the “experiencing self” vs the “remembering self”.

Most people make a mistake in the focusing illusion to give attention to selected moments. We neglect what happens at other times.  The mind is good at telling stories. When we look at a sparkling diamond ring, we think it would make us a very happy married couple.  Neglecting that working off the debt to pay for this ring, may cost us our very happiness.  Several young couples here in this country have found themselves heavily in debt, after splurging more than they could afford on their wedding celebrations.

Experiments have shown that our experience and our memories of an experience may differ. There’s a brilliant and funny TED talk by Daniel Gilbert, “The Surprising Science of Happiness“. I have his book, Stumbling on Happiness.  (http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_asks_why_are_we_happy)

“Our brains systematically misjudge what will make us happy. And these quirks in our cognition make humans very poor predictors of our own bliss.”

Shakespeare once said, “There’s nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”. 1 Thess 5:18 “In every circumstances, give thanks…” advised Apostle Paul.

Too much choice actually cripples you.

Prof Gilbert cites an experiment at Harvard.  A black-and-white photography course was conducted where students could learn how to use a darkroom. Students took 12 pictures with the University’s cameras; selected their best 2 pictures, blew them into 8-by-10 in the darkroom. [Here’s the catch.] They had to choose one picture to keep and give up the other one to the school as evidence of the course.

Students were randomly divided into two groups. First group was allowed to change their mind on which photo to keep and return. You ever want to change your mind, it’s totally returnable.”

Second group was told they can’t change their mind: “Make your choice. You will never see the picture that is returned to Headquarters.”

Which group of students do you think will come to like the picture they kept?

When asked, students think “they’re going to come to like the picture they chose a little more than the one they left behind”. It doesn’t much matter whether they were in the reversible or irreversible condition.

The Havard team found that five days later, students “stuck with the picture, who have no choice, have come to like it a lot!  Those who were deliberating — “Should I return it? Have I gotten the right one? Maybe this isn’t the good one? Maybe I left the good one?” — have killed themselves. They don’t like their picture, and in fact even after the opportunity to swap has expired, they still don’t like their picture.”

This experiment was conducted on Havard courses, with two groups of students, first group given the opportunity to switch their course even after it had started. Second group given no choice to drop their course. Which group do you think would be happier. Ironically, same results were found. Those given the liberty to drop and choose new courses during the first two weeks of term were the least happy.  

The secret to happiness? “Be content in all circumstances”. Thinking what might have been, and that you have made a bad choice, can actually kill your happiness. What you experience is different from your memory of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is another fascinating TED talk citing experiments on what motivates us at work by Dan Ariely. http://blog.ted.com/2013/04/10/what-motivates-us-at-work-7-fascinating-studies-that-give-insights/

 

 

 

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