Saturday, September 10, 2011

Flimsy Film Critic

Life is very much like a movie.  A bad movie.  A movie we have made the effort to schedule time out for and paid money to attend.  Money we can’t be refunded just because we dislike the storyline or one of the actors.  It is an investment of sorts, one we make in expectation of it all being 'worthwhile', however we personally define or calculate it. 

The lives of others, albeit the most entertaining, dramatic or heart-warming highlights have served as the trailers, and given us an unrealistic taste of what to expect.  They project the all the best scenes, the funniest jokes and most romantic moments, and to top it all off they edit it to a fitting soundtrack to stir your emotions and help paint the picture they desire. 
Yet regardless of how many inaccurate images we view throughout our lives, we consistently revert to our hopeful selves upon seeing a new trailer, as if this time things will be different.  As if the techniques employed by the advertising department would have changed. 

Upon realising that we have wasted both time and money on such a disappointing production, instead of leaving to avoid wasting any more of our precious time, and suffering unnecessarily through such a banal and often excruciatingly cliché plot, we decide to stay.  Not just in the hope that things will get better if given the chance, but because we stubbornly want to receive our money’s worth, no matter how bad it may be.  We wish for things to improve so much as to even things out, because that’s how it’s supposed to work, right?  The movie just has to get better.

We have a curious way of remembering the past, because no matter how bad the reality was we only seem capable of recalling a dumbed-down version.  Conversely, when we think of events that were in reality more positive, or even emotionally-neutral, we may apply a positive feeling across a much greater area than it actually covered.  Read the entry on Hindsight Bias for an interesting look at the different ways in which our memories can be distorted.

We see the past less as shades of grey or even black and white, but as mostly pale.

When I finally die (as I keep having to remind myself) I don’t want people to lie about me in romantic speeches or within the privacy of their own minds.  I don’t want to be Ghandified and for people to credit me where it’s undue, simply because they’re fragile and need a suitable story to support their difficult-to-fathom emotions. 
Even the worst criminals seem to be remembered more fondly and innocently than should be warranted.

What’s the purpose of deliberately choosing a grimmer outlook over a sunny one, however more accurate the former may in fact be?  Isn’t it just better to be happier and feel good about life, than it is to acknowledge the unfortunate or less-than-desirable truth?  For me the answer is a clear ‘no’.  The reason being I don’t believe happiness, or the pursuit thereof, should be placed above all else.  Not only is happiness fleeting, but knowing that it is granted at the expense of wilful ignorance leaves me with a potent feeling of intellectual discomfort.
We like to appear clever, sensible, inquisitive and all in favour of uncovering life’s mysteries, but when faced with the task of unweaving the facts from familiar fiction, we fail at the first hurdle.  Willing to wear the uniform in order to stand up and be counted, but reluctant to do anything that might get it dirty.
The prospect of uncovering the truth in all manner of ordinary-seeming things is much more appealing than the idea of owning a delicate happiness that we must work to defend and preserve.

Often in life we make choices whilst being unaware that we are doing so.  I don’t mean to say that when we sit down of a morning to eat breakfast that we have subconsciously chosen not to assassinate the president instead, but that many choices are made by default. 
Our brains don’t have the power to process all of the things we can possibly conceive of but don’t want to do, so it makes sense that our focus is largely on what we do want. 
But knowing what we do want isn’t always as easy and straightforward as it seems, and so due to our ponderings we inevitably end up with the results of inaction and indecision.  Choosing to ‘do nothing’ or refusing to choose one way or the other is essentially deciding to leave things up to ‘fate’, but it is initially a conscious decision, however ignorant of the consequences or potential outcomes you may be.

Imagine a friend offers you a brand new, shiny 21 speed road bike for less than half of what you would expect to pay for it in the shops.  You already have a well-worn BMX sitting in your garden shed, but you know if you had a new bike you’d be out and about on it at every available opportunity.  You have enough money to make the purchase, but you were saving up to buy shares in Chicken Cottage, and you know that at this price the bike on offer won’t be around forever. 
There is much to consider and you remain divided. 
The money you saved is safely in your safe (of all places), and after a week or so your friend is arrested for handling stolen property.  Effectively you have chosen to keep your money, to change nothing as it were.  Regardless of whether the acknowledgement of this choice entered your awareness or not, it was a choice you have made.

Life is very much like the above scenario, but played out on a much bigger scale.  I don’t see people so much as choosing to live, but rather living by default as a result of being born. 

Your birth is the biggest and most significant choice you have no control over.  This is one reason at least, why I feel the decision to create life is too weighty to take lightly – perhaps we should just leave it to default?

On the other hand, suicide requires too much commitment to be a viable option for the majority of the human race.    


Fish said...

First off, I'd like to tell you that I'm a huge fan. I love psychology and philosophy. More specifically, I like to read jung and james cambell. I feel more of a connection to the creativity you show on your youtube posts and blog posts than anything else. If your interested, my blog is at the url and my e-mail is Some of the beliefs I have relating to your post is you are your past. I've always believed in freewill built into the structure of fate, I guess stemming from my belief in finiteness and how time and space had to start somewhere. Another idea that seems to relate to what your talking about is ones ability to construct or modify the reality around him/her. If you've read murikami's A Wild Sheep Chase it depicts that same idea. Recently, I've noticed confidence is something that consolidates your beliefs, emotions, and principles. I would have never thought I'd taken the route I had without the confidence that consolidated who I am (dictated by my past)and taking that leap of faith. If you look at CEO of major companies the majority of them are narcissists. They clearly have the ability to construct the world around them. The down side to all this is narcissists put all their efforts into winning and never failing, so depression usually ensues. Confidence is dangerous and must be taken sparingly. You want to preserve your humility without becoming arrogant or self-righteous. I know this is a bit of a tangent, but I think there's a point to be made about this concept and reality. Do you belief confidence plays a large part in the choices we make or is it another mechanism?

Eightyeightdays said...

I wrote a post because it relates to what you have said, and it contains other elements I have also wanted to write about.

In response to your other comments:

How would ‘freewill’ be a part of fate, and why do you see that as being related to finiteness?

I think I take a simplistic view of confidence in that I see it as something that arises out of familiarity, practise, repetition, and habit. The main variation would be in the carry-over effects of one habit, skill or area of expertise to another. This is very apparent when it comes to physical training and conditioning, and the way that some attributes like muscular strength for example will translate very well across a wide range of sporting activities. Similarly, I think that confidence can sometimes be general with a wide cross-over, and other times it can be absolutely specific and have no noticeable effect in another area of your life.

I believe that the confidence I have gained through being physically active and engaged in a number of different disciplines over the years has given me at least some cross-over confidence when it comes to trying a new sport for instance.

Furthermore, I believe that I have conditioned myself to be somewhat comfortable with standing out or ‘being myself’ as some might call it. Being around like-minded but different people also helped boost my self-assurance when going against the grain and pursuing the odd things that I really wanted. It became the norm so to speak.

I’ve never met a CEO, let alone the majority of them, so it would be difficult for me to agree with your statement.

What do you mean when you talk of the ability to ‘construct the world’ around one’s self?

Why do you think narcissists put all their efforts into winning? This is a characteristic that seems separate from narcissism, and not a necessary part of it.

Trying not to fail seems to be subtly different from focussing exclusively on winning, although the opposites are obviously linked. One would appear to be driven by avoidance, while the other is driven by a desire to succeed.

If you are constantly attempting to avoid failure then it’s likely that you will be often disappointed, whereas if your focus is on improvement or forward movement then you’ll most likely see failure as inevitable, but not let it deter you or affect you in the same way as it might do if you were trying solely to prevent it from ever happening.

Statistically speaking narcissists may be more susceptible to depression than non-narcissists, but that doesn’t imply anything about the source of their depression.

What makes you say that confidence is dangerous? I think that if your confidence is calibrated well (that your map is an accurate reflection of the specific territory) then it need not be dangerous like you say. Overconfidence or poor calibration is what I would be more concerned about.

I found a recent post that talks about just that - Calibrating self-assessments.

“You want to preserve your humility without becoming arrogant or self-righteous.”

By definition humility is only preserved by not becoming either arrogant or self-righteous.

With how I described confidence at the start in mind, I think that the choices we make are perhaps wholly determined by conditioning in one form or another. I’m not sure what else it could be! I think even your desire or ability to change is determined by factors that are largely out of your control.

Fish said...

You seem to take things quite literally. I give you parameters in my argument and you replace it with your own (preserving humility without becoming arrogant was stated in the context of being confident. You must have confidence and preserve your humility). I am Ok with this. I'm not going to tell you how free will relates to fate and finiteness cause your not open to anything, but your own argumentative parameters (even though my idea is based on the parameters of physics) and beliefs. We may never understand each other because we've never had a shared experience or developed an understanding with one another through communication. I talk about CEOs on an assumptive basis, so you could either look at the overarching idea or concentrate on the specifics. Confidence can be dangerous because in extremes people will view your confidence as fake. Have you ever disliked someone because there cocky? People need a social aspect in their life and need to care what others think of them. With out this a person would be a sociopath. Thank you for providing your own views and criticism on my comments.