“Odd as it may seem, I am my remembering self, and the experiencing self, who does my living, is like a stranger to me.”
Daniel Kahneman- THINKING FAST AND SLOW
I like paying a visit to an old friend. It sometimes requires a bit of dusting off and rearranging of my book shelf, but it’s usually well worth it. Indeed, some good friends of mine are in print.
This weekend, the lucky winner deserving of my attention was THINKING FAST AND SLOW, by Daniel Kahneman. Great book. A must read for psychology lovers.
In it, the author takes us on a trip to the depths of the human mind. He introduces us to brilliant theories and sheds light on realities totally obscure to most of us.
Now, anyone who attempts to explain this book in less than an hour is looking for trouble. The theories are complex and the scope is broad, so a quick breakdown doesn’t do it justice. As Einstein said, “You want things to be simple, but not simpler than they are.”
Anyways, I digress.
The reason why I felt the need to revisit this book was to look up one of his theories presented in one of the final chapters. The thought came to me after discussing summer vacation plans with a friend of mine. He’d like to go to Mexico and was looking into a nice DSLR camera. He wants his trip to be memorable.
“It’s all about the memories”, he said.
“Is it all about the memories, or is it all about the experience?”, I asked.
And so that’s where THINKING FAST AND SLOW comes in.
Our Two Selves
The question my friend and I were debating over basically breaks down into two concepts:
- The Remembering Self
- The Experiencing Self
Lets put it this way. In some alternate reality, someone offers you a trip to your favorite destination. He promises you the time of your life. However, the drawback is that you will not be able to take ANY pictures AND you will be given a potion that will swipe your memory clean.
Would you still go?
If so, would you be willing to pay the full price for such a trip?
Odd as it may seem, I am my remembering self, and the experiencing self, who does my living, is like a stranger to me.
Come to think of it, it’s sad that we often do things mostly for the memories they will provide us. Simply put, we often live for our future selves, our Remembering Selves. Not for our Experiencing Selves.
Even more disturbing is that we view and often treat our Experiencing Self as a complete stranger.
Another scenario: you face a painful operation during which you will be fully conscious and will feel everything. You will feel excruciating pain as well. However, at the end of the procedure you will be given an “amnesia-inducing drug”. It will will completely wipe out any memory of the episode.
How would you feel about that?
What Kahneman explains is that he suspects (he hasn’t officially tested this), that most of us will feel somewhat indifferent. If we won’t be left with the memory, we tell ourselves, who cares?
Living in the Now
I find this troubling. It sounds to me like a defect in the gears of the human brain. The fact that we are able to view our own selves as strangers at times is paradoxical. It presumes that we cannot really trust our own selves.
On the other hand, I think it’s great we look out for our future selves. Perhaps we are inherently intelligent investors.
All in all I think we should keep both of our “selves” in mind. Sure, we should look for memories, as those are all we’ll be left with, but not to the point of missing out on what’s in front of us.