Oct 292007

We human beings are pretty imperfect. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I always like to know the limits of human imperfection and the common ways it manifests. To that end, I love reading about logical fallacies, cognitive biases, and the such.

My favourite one is this:

Depressing things feel more like the “truth”. And some people feel compelled to focus exclusively on depressing things.

I’ve had discussions with people where I was focusing on something optimistic and they were focusing on something negative, and even though they acknowledged my point was true, their point was somehow more “true”.

The reason why I like it so much is because it isn’t actually about “truth”. It’s about how you set your filters. We all have filters setup in our minds that filter the literally googol-bytes of data the streams into your sensory filters all the time. See if you can remember a time when you were thinking about a certain car, shoes, clothes, ad, tv show or whatever and then you started noticing it more everywhere.

We need those filters and they do a pretty good job, the real issue becomes whether you set yours consciously or not. Many people have not. Many people simply inherited their filters from society or their families or who-have-you without really evaluating whether they’re the best filters for them. Many people seem to have a pessimistic or negative bent to their filters and thus they see that everywhere.

Honestly, I didn’t really consciously choose to be an optimist, I’ve sorta always been like that. But knowing that I am now, I consciously decided to remain an optimist and perhaps even become more of an optimist and a positive thinker.  Does that make being an optimist the “right” choice? That’s harder to answer. My reasoning is thus:

The objective information does not change (I’m assuming it doesn’t) no matter how I “feel” about it, whether I feel optimistic or pessimistic about it. Perhaps being optimistic actually leads you to more action (i think it does), but we’re going to ignore that for now and just think about our internal representations of events. Being optimistic, in general, feels good, while being pessimistic doesn’t (at least to me), so if I had to make the choice I’d choose optimism because it doesn’t make a difference either way except to how I feel.

Examples! A pessimist might point to the number of people dying in wars and genocides today and worry about that, while an optimist might point to the fact that the number of people dying in wars and genocides has gone down dramatically in the past fifty years, and its a been a downward trend over the past many centuries. Who’s right? Both people are, obviously, but one will probably feel more secure and safe and good about the present and the future and one won’t. Which would you rather feel?

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