Monday, January 21, 2013

What will I want?

There was an interesting column in the paper on Saturday by Oliver Burkeman.  It discusses the difficulties we all have in realising that we will change over time.  It's easier to recognise the fact that our characters, preferences, desires, and the like once used to be rather different from how they are now.  But we all tend to think that the way we are now is likely to be stable over time in a way that we know our past character was not.

Here is a link to the paper in Science by Jordi Quoidbach, Daniel T. Gilbert, and Timothy D. Wilson that sets out the research and the main conclusions.

Here is the abstract:
We measured the personalities, values, and preferences of more than 19,000 people who ranged in age from 18 to 68 and asked them to report how much they had changed in the past decade and/or to predict how much they would change in the next decade. Young people, middle-aged people, and older people all believed they had changed a lot in the past but would change relatively little in the future. People, it seems, regard the present as a watershed moment at which they have finally become the person they will be for the rest of their lives. This “end of history illusion” had practical consequences, leading people to overpay for future opportunities to indulge their current preferences.
I find it interesting because I have been thinking about prudential reasoning and, in particular, about extreme forms that recommend that our plans, decisions, and so on ought to take into account the consequences for our well-being throughout the remainder of our lives.  If it does not matter when a benefit or a harm happens within my life, then I have no reason to favour nearer rather than further goods, for example.  But if the 'End of History Illusion' holds, then this is one more psychological obstacle to making the right kinds of decisions, on this temporally neutral model.  Not only is it difficult to imagine how our character, plans, preferences and the like will alter over the remaining period of our lives, but we apparently suffer from the illusion that the character etc. we currently have is the one on which we should base decisions and plans from the remainder of our lives.  And in this we are very likely to be mistaken.

Tough, isnt' it?

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