But over time, with few exceptions, attention is withdrawn from a new situation as it becomes more familiar. The main exceptions are chronic pain, constant exposure to loud noise, and severe depression. Pain and noise are biologically set to be signals that attract attention, and depression involves a self-reinforcing cycle of miserable thoughts. There is therefore no adaptation to these conditions. … Adaptation to a new situation, whether good or bad, consists in large part of thinking less and less about it. In that sense, most long-term circumstances of life, including paraplegia and marriage, are part-time states that one inhabits only when one attends to them.
Any aspect of life to which attention is directed will loom large in a global evaluation. This is the essence of the focusing illusion, which can be described in a single sentence:
Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it.
It is not only at the opera that we think of life as a story and wish it to end well. When we hear about the death of a woman who had been estranged from her daughter for many years, we want to know whether they were reconciled as death approached. We do not care only about the daughter’s feelings–it is the narrative of the mother’s life that we wish to improve. Caring for people often takes the form of concern for the quality of their stories, not for their feelings. … Most important, of course, we all care intensely for the narrative of our own life and very much want it to be a good story, with a decent hero.
A comment I heard from a member of the audience after a lecture illustrates the difficulty of distinguishing memories from experiences. He told of listening raptly to a long symphony on a disc that was scratched near the end, producing a shocking sound, and he reported that the bad ending “ruined the whole experience.” But the experience was not actually ruined, only the memory of it. The experiencing self had had an experience that was almost entirely good, and the bad end could not undo it, because it had already happened. …
Confusing experience with the memory of it is a compelling cognitive illusion–and it is the substitution that makes us believe a past experience can be ruined. The experiencing self does not have a voice. The remembering self is sometimes wrong, but it is the one that keeps score and governs what we learn from living, and it is the one that makes decisions. What we learn from the past is to maximize the qualities of our future memories, not necessarily of our future experience. This is the tyranny of the remembering self.
Richer and more realistic assumptions do not suffice to make a theory successful. Scientists use theories as a bag of working tools, and they will not take on the burden of a heavier bag unless the new tools are very useful.
You know you have made a theoretical advance when you can no longer reconstruct why you failed for so long to see the obvious.
The same sound will be experienced as very loud or quite faint, depending on whether it was preceded by a whisper or by a roar. To predict the subjective experience of loudness, it is not enough to know its absolute energy; you also need to know the reference sound to which it is automatically compared.
I have always believed that scientific research is another domain where a form of optimism is essential to success: I have yet to meet a successful scientist who lacks the ability to exaggerate the importance of what he or she is doing, and I believe that someone who lacks a delusional sense of significance will wilt in the face of repeated experiences of multiple small failures and rare successes, the fate of most researchers.
In essence, the optimistic style involves taking credit for successes but little blame for failures.
…the proper way to elicit information from a group is not by starting with a public discussion but by confidentially collecting each person’s judgment. This procedure makes better use of the knowledge available to members of the group than the common practice of open discussion.
(he said this only slightly differently earlier, but it is both broader and more concise here, and bears repeating)