David Amerland
The sunday read wishes, bias and neuroscience

Wishes

“Good morning” used as a greeting is, at its most basic form, both a greeting and a wish. It is in the latter part of its dual function that I want to focus on primarily because a wish is in itself a dual concept, it represents not just its symbol (i.e. we wishing something upon someone) but also its referent which in this case is what we want to achieve for ourselves.

The principle is sufficiently strong to apply to virtually every wish and every situation of wishful thinking. Elisabeth Lesser explores some of this duality in a Ted Talk about this inner conflict. Wishful thinking and its impact is sufficiently strong, as a concept, to have been the focus of at least one TEDx event. Psychologists have also looked at it and continue to look at it hoping to understand the drives we experience better and discover exactly how the Ackermann functions that run us, work.

Neurobiology considers wishes and wishful thinking to be unconsciously stated executive plans of sorts that express themselves through manifest behavior at a given opportunity. Wishful thinking, as neuroscientific research points out, is also an implicit bias that tends to distort our judgement values, if we let it.

The tiny “if” in the closing sentence of the previous paragraph is all-defining. It stands for a willingness to understand where our actions and inactions stem from, it represents a willingness to put in the effort to mentalize the world we want to live in, it really is the sum total of the effort we are willing to invest in order for us to become the best possible version of us.

The degree to which wishful thinking affects our judgements can actually be measured as it turns out, and the discussion on whether wishful thinking, in itself, is a bad thing is still going on. What is empirically easy to prove however is that our desire for a particular outcome clouds our judgement, creating bias.

These are things which we are programmed to experience. Overcoming them requires first, a willingness to explore just how we are affected by them and second, a willingness to make the effort to change. Change however is hard (hence the reason we need to invest effort) which means that our motivation is key. We are more likely to just give up if we don’t truly understand why we do something. To understand why we do something we need to have a grasp of what we want which means we better understand who we are.

It all sounds simple enough. Yet here we are. Think about it all, consider what each of the links reveals and also think about how I close each Sunday Read. It’s no accident.

Coffee, I know you haz it. So I won’t belabor the point. Donuts, croissants, cookies and ice-cream. Take your pick or, if you cannot decide, go for the lot. And. Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.

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