Monday, September 27, 2010

The Limits of Imagination

Very important to be aware of - Dan Gilbert in Stumbling On Happiness:
The three-and-a-half-pound meat loaf between our ears is not a simple recording device but a remarkably smart computer that gathers information, makes shrewd judgments and even shrewder guesses, and offers us its best interpretation of the way things are. Because those interpretations are usually so good, because they usually bear such a striking resemblance to the world as it is actually constituted, we do not realize that we are seeing an interpretation. Instead, we feel as though we are sitting comfortably inside our heads, looking out through the clear glass windshield of our eyes, watching the world as it truly is. We tend to forget that our brains are talented forgers, weaving a tapestry of memory and perception whose detail is so compelling that its inauthenticity is rarely detected. In a sense, each of us is a counterfeiter who prints phony dollar bills and then happily accepts them for payment, unaware that he is both the perpetrator and victim of a well-orchestrated fraud.
When we think about the pastrami on rye that we intend to have for lunch, or the new pair of flannel pajamas that Mom swears she mailed last week, we do not have to set aside a block of time between other appointments, roll up our sleeves, and get down to the serious work of conjuring up images of sandwiches and sleepwear. Rather, the moment we have the slightest inclination to consider these things, our brains effortlessly use what they know about delis and lunches and parcels and moms to construct mental pictures (warm pastrami, dark rye, tartan-plaid pajamas with bunny feet) that we experience as the products of imagination. Like perceptions and memories, these mental pictures pop into our consciousness fait accompli
We should be grateful for the ease with which our imaginations provide this useful service, but because we do not consciously supervise the construction of these mental images, we tend to treat them as we treat memories and perceptions—initially assuming that they are accurate representations of the objects we are imagining.

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