Friday, June 11, 2010

Daniel Kahneman: The riddle of experience vs. memory

By Darby A.

Everyone loves the idea of happiness. People go to great lengths just to grasp its understanding and existence. Some people think money can make them happy, where others believe that happiness is created just by living. Could both be true? Daniel Kahneman goes into as much detail as he can to explain the complexities behind happiness, and the effects that it has on the decisions we make in our daily lives.

Daniel begins his TED Talk with introducing us to our two selves: our experiencing-self and our remembering-self. He explains that our experiencing-self is about living in the present, the here and the now, and that are remembering-self is about the stories that our experiences have created. Each self generates its own happiness, making the word happiness a little more complex. An example Daniel gives for this is about a vacation. Say you're on a two week vacation. The first week was a blast and both of your selves are happy. Let's say the second week was just as good as the first. Your experiencing-self registers that it had twice the amount of fun, but your remembering-self thinks the exact opposite because the second week was no different from the first, meaning the story didn't change. The most important things in a story are the changes, the significant moments, and the ending. He gives a few examples of how important the ending is to one's remembering-self. One of the examples was of a man listening to a symphony. For the first 20 minutes he thought it was the most glorious music he had ever heard, but right at the end there was a screeching sound. He believed that the screech had ruined the experience, but Daniel corrected him by saying that the screech had ruined the memory. The man had still experienced those glorious twenty minutes, but it was the memory of the screech that made him dislike the memory. Another example he gave was of two colonoscopies. Patient B's surgery was longer than Patient A's. When looking at the charts, you could clearly see that Patient B had suffered more. When asked how much they thought to have suffered Patient A responded with a higher pain level. This was because the pain of the surgery was at its peak when the operation ended, leaving Patient A with a worse memory of the experience. Daniel makes the point that both selves need to be seen as distinct entities and not as one, for when this happens, the whole idea of happiness gets confused.

The remembering-self does not only recall your memories, but helps you to make future decisions. When we make decisions, we look back out our memories to help us choose. Daniel gives an example where a patient, who has gone through two colonoscopies with two different doctors, is having yet another colonoscopy. To help the patient decide which doctor to choose, they will look back at the memory of each surgery, seeing which one they enjoyed more, and then make their decision. He goes on about how the two selves bring two different concepts of happiness into our world. There is always a different choice when concerning the two selves depending on if you're thinking in terms of time, or in terms of memories The remembering-self is how satisfied a person is when they think about their life. The experiencing-self is how happy the experience is. In recent years, researchers have started to recognize this distinction. The main lesson that they have all learned is that the two are really different. A person could tell you how satisfied they are with their life, but you would never know how happily they are living it. Daniel gives a few more examples to further explain the two selves concept before he concludes his TED Talk.

The topic that Daniel Kahneman explained was quite complex and tricky to grasp, if you weren't listening the whole time. He knew what he was going to say next, other than the casual glance at his computer screen. He spoke with clarity and an understanding that kept the audience with him throughout his TED Talk. He was able to communicate many ideas about the topic, making you wonder if what he was saying was just the basics, and maybe even wanting to know the rest of it.

After watching this TED Talk, my idea of happiness has been changed. There are times in all our lives where we feel unhappy, but look at our lives and see no reason to be unhappy. I didn't really understand why that happens until now. I would recommend this video because it is extremely informative, and the idea of the topic is completely unique. I suggest watching it when you're not tired because it's hard to follow. Daniel Kahneman did a great job in the way he presented his information, by keeping eye-contact with his audience and giving examples, so that everyone understood what he was saying. Happiness holds many complex meanings, and when the clarification behind those meanings is not distinct, then we will lose the true meaning of the word happiness.

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