Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Our psychological immune system

In a previous post I mentioned a review of the book by Daniel Gilbert (Harvard Psychology Department ) "Stumbling on Happiness". It is a wonderful read, hysterically funny in many places. Solid science with excellent notes on original sources. Here are some quotes from Chapter 8 "Paradise Glossed." I'm probably going to do additional posts on this book.

"Our experience of the world is a mixture of stark reality and comforting illusion. We can't spare either. If we were to experience the world exactly as it is, we'd be too depressed to get out of bed in the morning, but if we were to experience the world exactly as we want it to be, we'd be too deluded to find our slippers...we might think of people as having a psychological immune system that defends the mind against unhappiness in much the same way that the physical immune system defends the body against illness. This metaphor is unusually appropriate. For example, the physical immune system must strike a balance between two competing needs: the need to recognize and destroy foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria, and the need to recognize and respect the body's own cells. If the physical immune system is hypoactive, it fails to defend the body against micropredators and we are stricken with infections; but if the physical immune system is hyperactive, it mistakenly defends the body against itself and we are stricken with autoimmune disease.... A healthy physical immune system must balance its competing needs and find a way to defend us well - but not too well.... "

"Analogously, when we face the pain of rejection, loss, misfortune, and failure, the psychological immune system must not defend us too well ("I'm perfect and everyone is against me") and must not fail to defend us well enough ("I'm a loser and I ought to be dead"). A healthy psychological immune system strikes a balance that allows us to feel good enough to cope with our situation but bad enough to do something about it ("Yeah, that was a lousy performance and I feel crummy about it, but I've got enough confidence to give it a second shot."). We need to be defended, not defenseless or defensive, and thus our minds naturally look for the best view of things while simultaneously insisting that those views stick reasonably closely to the facts."

At the chapter end, after a further section on how we conspire to see mostly what we want to see; "To ensure that our views are positive, our eye looks for what our brain wants. The conspiracy between these two servants allows us to live at the fulcrum of stark reality and comforting illusion."

4 comments:

  1. Jonathan Bownds10:10 PM

    Great post- Sounds like a really interesting book.

    This is a particularly interesting concept, and I've wondered in the past what an ideal balance is in a world where people like GWB encounter remarkable success without many tangible connections to reality.

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  2. This book sounds interesting. It caught my eye when I was walking by it's display in a book store and now I'm so glad you sent it to Jon. I'm waiting in line to read it. Thanks!

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  3. To ensure that our views are positive, our eye looks for what our brain wants. The conspiracy between these two servants allows us to live at the fulcrum of stark reality and comforting illusion.

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  4. Interesting way of looking at things. But people aren't always toughened up by emotional jabs in the same way they are by illnesses. If I get the measels I can't catch them again, but many people don't develop this type of immunity when it comes to emotion.

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