Thursday, June 29, 2006


The Reduced “Stumbling on Happiness” II. Subjectivity (ch. 2, 3) - the science of happiness, what does the word mean, can we ever measure it.

Chapter 2 – The View from in Here

What are we talking about, making claims about happiness: emotional, moral, and judgmental happiness distinguished.

Emotional happiness a feeling, ‘you know what I mean’ subjective state. But because humans are reluctant to value bovine contentment, they can add ‘happy because’ (as a reward for virtue, for example.. judgmental happiness). However virtue refers to actions, happiness to feelings. Or, they can add ‘happy about’ which is an indication of a stance (how my life is going, whatever) not of feelings.

So, if we reserve the word happiness to subjective emotional experiences described as enjoyable or pleasurable (not morality of actions or judgements of experiences) how do we compare different ‘happy’ experiences and rate or rank them? Gilbert describes a number of demonstrations that our ability to remember or perceive differences in happiness is flawed. Also, all claims of happiness are from someone’s point of view, different people have different ranges of happiness on an intensity of feeling scale.

Chapter 3- Outside Looking In. “How am I feeling” - our answer to that question can be flawed, because our answer is what we are aware of feeling, and our experience can encompass much more than that. Our awareness is usually focused on a small fraction of the total information that our brains are processing (are you paying attention to the feeling in your left elbow right now?). Experience refers to the sense of being engaged while awareness gives us the sense of being cognizant of that engagement. Awareness is a kind of experience of our own experience. Our visual experience and our awareness of that experience are generated by different parts of our brains. Certain kinds of damage (to primary visual cortex) can cause blindsight, where there is no awareness of seeing, yet awareness is present because ‘guesses’ made about visual stimuli presented to the area of blindsight are correct.

Analogous to this some people show decoupling of awareness and emotional experience.. it can be possible for some people to be happy or sad without knowing it.

So, how do we measure it? Is there a ‘happyometer’? No. We have to rely on flawed measures of subjective experience verbally reported. (not measurements of muscle or brain activity). And, have to use statistics, gather and average the reports of large numbers of individuals. If hundreds of people report different degrees of pleasure in eating coconut versus banana cream pie, we could conclude that different pies really do cause different experiences.

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