Phil100W - "Stumbling on Happiness"

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Daniel Gilbert, the author of "Stumbling on Happiness", questions how a person can have a hard time accurately predicting what can make them happy in the future. Gilbert states that imaginations is what limits our way in understanding happiness. Humans have the ability to imagine the future, but they are really bad at it. We will not know how we feel tomorrow, or next year, or ten years later, we predict the future wrong. Gilbert states that it is our imagination and illusion of foresight which causes us to misinterpret the future and misestimate our satisfaction. Humans only think about the future to help minimize our pain and it is pleasurable. We also think about the future for the feeling of control because it is satisfying.

Because of how a human’s frontal lobe has developed, Gilbert states that we are able to envision and predict possible futures that we think will make us happy. However, Gilbert asserts that we are not the best predictors of future happiness as ______ the future is often illusory just like the present and past can be. One reason for this error, Gilbert explains, is that the feelings people have about past experiences are personal and subject to change the more experiences they have, causing their definition of an emotion such as happiness to change also. Moreover, Gilbert asserts that because it is extremely challenging in trying to recall the exact feeling a person had about a past experience, claims about happy feelings are unreliable. He states we use our imaginations to predict our future happiness but because of flaws in our memory and perception, we are unable to accurately recall our past experiences, which causes us to view the present incorrectly, thereby resulting in our wrongly predicting the happiness of our futures.

Gilbert claims that since our brain compresses experiences into key images, we fill in the rest of the details of an experience when we are attempting to recall it, but also when we are perceiving things in the present. Gilbert proposes that from an idealist perspective, we construct our perceptions of reality based on our thoughts, feelings, knowledge, wants and beliefs in combination with “sensory information and preexisting knowledge” (94). The problem is as Gilbert sees it is that the reality we think we experienced, are experiencing, will experience are all illusions that the brain quickly and efficiently weaves for us. However, Gilbert suggests that the details the brain leaves out have even a greater effect in us incorrectly predicting what will make us happy in the future. He claims we often mispredict our emotional futures because of our brain’s inability to accurately see the details of things that will take place in the distant future, causing us to misrepresent how we will feel about future events.

Moreover, Gilbert believes that we rely on our present feelings about an experience to imagine how we will feel in the future. However, by engaging in “prefeeling” (136), he asserts we make mistakes as the brain’s focus on the present perception of reality negates the imagined perception of the same experience in the future. Therefore, Gilbert is saying what we are feeling about an object or experience in the present will be what we think we will feel about the object or experience in the future. Continue on with Chapter 7 This “prefeeling” brings us to another concept of utility of when we make different decisions which yields lower utility due to our current states. We tend to imagine the future as the present with a twist, because we are often unaware that we are always predicting the future using our view of the present. The “prefeeling” is the act of the present feelings affecting our past and future feelings, it similarly contains flaws that make it an imperfect trick for the brain.

Gilbert states that people prefer to think in a “positive view”. Negative events affect us, but they do not affect us as much or as long as we...
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