Experience is the Best?

College students were asked to recall the last time they spent over 100 dollars on either an experiential purchase or a material purchase. Then they asked them about their satisfaction with the purchase to figure out which brought (more) lasting happiness. The conclusion was that the experiential purchase made people happier, but I’m not so sure.
There’s an issue I have with studies like this (ie self reporting) because they bring up the problem of “true” happiness. Let’s say you spend a lot of money on a trip to a beautiful nature reserve in Suriname. But bam, you get sick on the first day. You power through and hike so you don’t waste the opportunity, or the money, but it’s rough. The sights are lovely but you feel terrible the whole time. The next day you feel a bit better but realize you stubbed your toe pretty hard on the hike yesterday and have a pronounced limp. Again, you power through and see more sights, but every other step hurts. You wake up with a stronger toe, but after walking with a limp for a day, your other leg is almost unusable. Because of your limp you made the “good” leg work harder and used muscles you don’t normally use to make up for the change in gait. This day you take it pretty easy, but the muscles ache any time you move and your head still hurts from being sick and your toe is still a tiny bit swollen… etc.
When you return from a trip like that you have a million stories and they sound awesome. “I was coughing and sneezing and my head was pounding but it wasn’t so bad. I was able to get through it and hike up the side of a mountain and see miles and miles of beautiful forest.” It’s a similar story for working through the limp.
I was thinking we might misremember exactly how much fun we had for a number of reasons. The first might be money. Who wants to feel like the wasted all the money they spent for the experience?

The more relevant reason might be the retrospective impact bias. We overestimate the impact of past events in specific ways. I’m sure everyone has caught themselves looking at some aspect of their past with rose-tinted glasses. If we are having a particularly bad day, we might remember our vacation being quite nice. The terrible pain is pushed out of our mind and we think of how awesome it was compared to the drudgery of daily life. Remember the sights? (not the migraine). Remember the hike? (not the painful limp). That was an amazing experience (minus the throwing up)!

But here comes the twist. Does it matter? If we remember a great vacation even when it was a pain in the ass, which is real? Memory is sort of messy like that. If you really think something happened, then it did (to you). If you think you’re trip was amazing, people would have a hard time convincing you otherwise. I’ll be a horrible scientist for a second (and most of my life, really) and talk about a personal experience to argue it does matter.

Last year, a friend and I went to visit some other friends across the state. The trip was good… but not completely. There was the 14 hours in a car. LA traffic. Lack of sleep. Etc. It was almost as tiring and stressful as work or finals week. On top of that her cat was sick when we got back. Fast forward to last month and we went on another trip, with a little hesitation on my side. (It wasn’t great hindsight on my end, I was just tired already and not in the mood.) Again, the trip was okay but the same issues came up. And she went through them as if they were new. She basically didn’t remember the bad parts from last year.

Fuck it, I’m tired.

tl;dr – We don’t always know what our experiences were, but does it matter? Sort of. It’s hard to accurately plan for the future if you don’t know how you feel about the past. (Sorry for misusing some words, it’s hard to write straightforward, easy to understand sentences without simplifying.) So should you go on a similar vacation? Maybe not.

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Experience is the Best?

Fun Coincidence

It’s a lovely coincidence that I finally got around to finishing that post about sadness and I feel a bit of malaise creeping over me. I’m not depressed – or particularly sad – just a tad disappointed and maybe nervous about the unknowable future. And I should be. I don’t like the feeling, but I should feel it. I’m not doing all I can to move forward in the direction I hope to go. This is partially by design. I want to give myself a little space right now to explore some ideas that I need to work out. I want an idea of what I want to pursue before I make the decision to pursue it fully. So for a little under a year, I’ve been reading like crazy and writing down a hundred ideas a day, eliminating 99.5 of them and seeing where that takes me. By design I’m holding still in terms of actual, noticeable progress in order to, not find myself, but prepare. That doesn’t change that it’s uncomfortable. The “smart” thing to do would be to get a nice lab job for grad school applications. Build some little networks and grab on to something someone is studying. But instead I’m trying to start on my own. Get some ideas on the move and then convince other people they should listen. I have no idea how it’ll go. It’s possible I’ll end up with nothing, a complete blank. Then a good deal of time of my life will be hard to explain to other people. While I don’t mind so much, telling a parent, a relative, a friend, or a family friend that you’re reading a lot doesn’t sound impressive. I’m about 10,000 words into a direction. So around 50 solid ideas to work with and explore. There are 20 more sources I have yet to read, with unknown consequences. I may add more ideas or I may have to throw out some of my favorites. Crumple up a section and build again.

There’s just not much tangible at the moment. And that’s scary. Sure, there are some scribbles on a word document and too many links to organize and remember, but in terms of definable movement, I’m lacking. It’s frustrating to feel like I’m not moving. Which means I need to work harder, try to rethink how I execute my plans, or abandon my current way of doing things. I’m not sure which is correct at the moment, so maybe I’ll try a few out and see where they go.

ADVENTURE!

Fun Coincidence

Fallibility of Memory

It’s uncomfortable how unreliable our memories are. Memories are commonly thought to work like a computer. You open up a folder, bring up the specific file, and read the memory like data. But memories are fluid. Every time we remember something we rebuild the moment from scratch. Any tiny detail can worm its way in and convince us its original because narrative memory and historical memory look exactly the same in our brains. We need both, but the realization that memory is so riddled with holes is troubling when thinking back on anything that’s happened to you in your life. The truth is, whether something happened or not doesn’t matter when you remember it. How many times have you and a friend had completely different recollections of a past experience? You’re certain you remember it the way it really was, but so is your friend. The actual events are lost forever, but that doesn’t change how you feel. The details of all the important parts of your life might have never happened. At least not how you remember them. But you shape them and make them fit your narrative. The story of you.

The next time you argue with a friend and you shout, “I told you I was going to be here at 3!” and she says, “You never said that. You were supposed to text me when you left!” Both of you should pause for a second. Unless there’s physical evidence one way or the other, it’s unlikely either of you will be convinced by asserting how confident you are that your memory is the correct version. No matter how many family member’s graves you swear on, that information is beyond both of you. Perhaps, you should pause, acknowledge that our minds aren’t too ready to switch beliefs at the word of someone else, and move on.

I sometimes sit alone in my room (okay, I do that frequently) and think about random topics – like memory and innate behaviors. Then I imagine how I would broach the subject with a friend the next time we hang out. I play out a few different abbreviated versions of the interaction in my head. A few days later, I’ll find myself at lunch with the aforementioned friend and unable to remember if I actually had the conversation earlier in the day or just the imagined versions. On occasion, I can’t, no matter how hard I try, remember. And I have to say, “Did I tell you about..?” before proceeding.

This would be absolutely terrifying if I didn’t know it was common. Ever heard a story so many times you could tell it yourself, but your unaware friend bristles with excitement at the thought of telling you about her crazy uncle’s arrest?

But even knowing it’s common doesn’t stop how scary the implications are. Sure, a conversation or a little story are no big deal. But it goes much further. This fallibility applies to all of our memories. Do I really remember the joy of going to the fair when I was little or did my family tell the story of my happiness so many times that it’s formed its own unique, but false, memory inside my head? Did I really have frequent, long conversations about World War II with my grandpa before he died, or was there just one or two and I’m imagining others because it makes narrative sense that we would talk about it?

I honestly don’t know how much I cried at my grandma’s funeral. I can remember feeling awful. I can remember it hurt. I also remember walking outside and sitting on the curb, looking out at the city covered in fog, and crying.

Did I make up that story?

Fallibility of Memory

Women going Childless… And also me

Edited to increase the adorability by infinity.

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This is a fascinating read and you all should read it immediately… or whenever you get around to it, or whatever, do what you want. Anyway, this hits pretty close to home even though it’s all about a woman’s decision not to have children. I hardly identify as a man so there’s not much different in the thought process. I fully acknowledge that women face more societal pressures than man. The expectations for them to have children is massive, and it’s not the same for men. Us men aren’t typically thought of as child loving people, and even when we are, not in a rush to have them ourselves. We are tricked by baby-crazed women or fall back on family life after burning out on strange women and short term flings. That was never me so I recognize zero percent of it, but I do know that almost no one asks me when I’ll have kids like they do with my female friends who have to answer the question nearly every time they see relatives. And when I answer that it’s not likely that I’ll have kids, I’m not pushed much.

But some of the excerpts from this article are not so much about society and more about the internal thought process, which is something I can identify with.

“I was always too self-centered and irresponsible to have kids. I know that never stopped many others, but I am a narcissist with a conscience.”
Debbie Kasper

This is perfect. Being self-centered is usually considered a negative characteristic to have. But it’s not. In fact, everyone is a narcissist to varying degrees. Just ask yourself how much time you spend thinking about your own life as opposed to the other 7 billion people in the world. I’m going to guess it’s not in proportion. What’s important is recognizing what that does to other people. The nice thing about interacting with other adults is that they can typically take care of themselves (more or less). So when I’m going through one of my inward spirals of narcissism, my loved ones keep on ticking, and sometimes even help me through my self inflicted melancholy as I do for them when I can. That reciprocity isn’t a possibility with a three month old. It’s 100% about that child. And it pretty much stays that way for life. Or at the very least many, many years. Your typical teenager isn’t sitting around thinking about the mental wellbeing of their old ass parents. I drop into a self-obsessed depression, I cannot possibly do what’s best for someone else. I refuse to put a child through that.

“It might not be a fear of kids themselves, as in truth I usually get along with them pretty well.

My fear of having children is that, frankly, I just don’t want to love anyone that much. I have my own problems with love, and I have processed and played the same games for a lifetime, but what if I had to do that with someone I actually MADE?!”
Margaret Cho

Again, I can’t fail my potential child. It isn’t a fun, light decision to make. It’s an entire life. Knowing myself as much as I do, I don’t think the risk is worth it. I don’t think my selfish wants or desires should fuel my behavior when it concerns a helpless little human. Are they unfailingly cute? Yes. Does a babies smile reduce me to a puddle of sweetly scented love? Yes. Do I want to hold my little baby niece 24 hours a day until she’s too heavy for me to hold? Yes. Would I love my child? Yes. Can I honestly say I would be able to do my best in raising a child? No. Sure, no one has done a perfect job parenting, but they should do their best. We all know terrible parents. Whether personally or watching parents and kids walk by in the store. Either bad mistakes, or poor decision making resulted in a child living a life he or she shouldn’t be forced to live. Sometimes it’s mean, stupid adults but other times it’s emotionally unavailable, complicated, personal issues that prevent parents from doing their best. (And sometimes their best just isn’t good enough. Mine might not be.) I care about the wellbeing of kids too much to gamble with their minds and futures.

 

the book sounds interesting. I’d like to buy it soon.

 

No Kidding: Women Writers and Comedians on the Choice Not to Have Children

Women going Childless… And also me

Where does thinking get you?

I’m sitting in my car in the driveway of my parents house. The door is half open allowing the cold air to worm its way through my sweater. I can hear the voices of children drift in from the elementary school around the corner.

I want to cry. Not for anything sad. More for the lack of everything. Life is passing me by while I busy myself with trivial things that hold my interest for minutes at a time. A song. An album. A book. A class. A subject. An idea.

It’ll pass.

Nowhere can I find the excitement of the past when I went to that elementary school five days a week for six years. When I sat in those, now, tiny classrooms. I can relive brief moments. But it’s the general feeling of losing that youth that is truly freaking me out. And realizing that someday, if I’m lucky, I will look back at these years with wistful yearning and wonder where the time went. Being aware makes it more difficult to experience now without considering later. I was blissfully unaware back then. Neither aware nor concerned with what I would think in twenty years. Where I would be or what I’d be doing.

There’s more pressure now. And with it possibly more meaning. But it’s hard to diminish what those years meant to me. They were probably the most purely experienced of any I’ve had. No moment meant more than the one I was in because no other moment existed. There’s something to that, even if it’s fleeting. But in acknowledging the power, the flaws are clear and nothing would be accomplished living that way throughout life. Maybe that’s okay for some people. The live each moment people. But fuck that. I live for now and the future. That person will be me as well. Everything builds. I’m standing on the shoulders of giants. It would be foolish not to consider the best way to set myself up. There are implications to actions. Only children and the selfish are unable to see passed now.

Where does thinking get you?

You Are Stardust

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A few days ago I wrote about the divide between some members of my family and myself. I still am a little worried, simply because I can’t predict the future and no matter what I do, I’ll never know how my relationship with my niece will turn out. Much like the stoics of old, I visualize the negative in order to best prepare for it. And I accept the possibility of not having my niece in my life, even though I will do everything I can to avoid it. But that doesn’t mean I assume she will not be around me. I accept the possibility but plan on the opposite.

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So I bought her a book. It’s called You Are Stardust and it’s super cute. The artwork in it is lovely. The dioramas of different scenes are really well done. The story is simple and not bashing on any worldview at all. I have to presume it’s taken from the famous Carl Sagan – and then Lawrence Krauss and Neil deGrasse Tyson – quote. Basically, if you are or were a famous physicist, you talk about this beautiful fact.

Degrasse Tyson sagan

There are a lot of these books that promote wonder in kid’s books and I think it’s one of the most important things we can do for children. Sort of like how a good teacher won’t teach you what to think she will teach you how to think, parents should take a similar position. And I don’t suggest this because I think all kids will be atheist scientists if left to their own devices. I say it because I want a society that can think for themselves. It’s not just religion or science that needs this sort of consideration. Politics relies so much on playing to irrational fears and beliefs. Misleading uniformed people to vote a certain way because a lot of people aren’t taught how to think critically. We accept information from authority. We aren’t trained how to question things. Especially if it’s something we want to believe.

Carl Sagan said it best again, “We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology. This is a clear prescription for disaster... Where will they come from? What about fusion, supercomputers, abortion, massive reductions in strategic weapons, addiction, high-resolution television, airline and airport safety, food additives, animal rights, superconductivity, Midgetman vs. rail-garrison MX missiles, going to Mars, finding cures for AIDS and cancer? How can we decide national policy if we don’t understand the underlying issues?” (my emphasis)
He was primarily talking about technology, but the last line sums it up perfectly. I have hope that we will improve. In order to do so, we need to pay attention to how young people are raised. I may or may not have children in my life, but I still care about humans. Call it my fundamental flaw. It doesn’t look like it’ll be changing any time soon, though.

I have a stack of my old baby books in my apartment, now. If my niece comes to visit sometime, I’ll be ready. I’m thinking about how to go about baby-proofing my apartment, too. I assume that includes my lab goggles for her so my cats don’t scratch out her eyes.

You Are Stardust

Places to Go

I don’t care much for traveling. When I have days off I prefer to go hiking someplace nearby. Take a weekend trip up north and see Crater Lake or Mount Lassen. Go south, get lost and almost die in the Mojave Desert. There are a whole lot of places in or around my own state that I’d love to visit. Truth is, I’ll probably never make it to most. I’ve been to a fair number of state/national parks and have barely left home to do it. I’ve been to small islands (with no residents on them besides rangers), forests, deserts, mountains, you name it. And I’ve barely scratched the surface.

Airplanes and complicated arrangements make travel more of a hassle than I care to deal with while on vacation. I like jumping in my car with a bag and driving, possibly with a friend or two. I enjoy making massive playlists to listen to on the way. It’s simple and I’m in control of everything. The hardest bit is checking into a hotel. I don’t have to get a ride to an airport or arrive stupidly early. I don’t get have to be  frisked. I don’t have to worry if I have a pointed-tip rock hammer in my bag, or pepper-spray. I don’t have to worry if my camera is being smashed in the overhead compartment or, even worse, baggage compartments. I don’t have to worry about my bag ending up in another state (does this still happen or is this a dated complaint?).

That said, staying around California is limiting. There are things in the world that don’t exist here and I would like to see them. There are usually reasons I want to go beyond them being interesting places or beautiful. Some are stupid reasons, but I’m okay with that.

Here are 5 of the places I’d like to visit someday (in no order).

1. Germany (Dresden, Munich, Heidelberg)

dresden

This is a strangish one. For no real reason I know of, I love Germany. I wanted to be German when I was little. I wanted to move there. Live there. I wanted to be German. The only thing I can think of is I wanted to be a professional footballer, and I really liked Germany’s team. Somehow that sparked a lifelong interest in the place though. I’d like to go to Heidelberg because I’ve heard nice things. I want to go to Munich to see Bayern Munich play. I want to go to Dresden because of Kurt Vonnegut. He was there when it was firebombed. He’s my tied-for-first favorite author. I’ve read that it’s been built up to be beautiful again. It may not be the same as when Vonnegut described it, but I want to see a piece of what he saw.

2. Iceland

Iceland-Volcano-Christoper-Lund-3

I’ve wanted to go to Iceland for a long time as well. From personal experience, the interest in this place has been increasing over the last few years. I used to get funny looks when I said I wanted to go, but not lately. It seems pretty beautiful, first of all. But I want to go to see the… mid-Atlantic Ridge! It’s also well known for its geothermal energy due to its insane geologic activity. Many, many, many of my classes would refer to Iceland for one reason or another. That’s what happens when you study geology.

3. Galapagos

Pretty straight forward. Darwin is a hero of mine and the Galapagos are incredibly awesome. The endemic animals are well known. Marine iguanas and everyone’s favorite finches. The blue-footed booby is not endemic, but it is wonderful. I’d love to be involved in some sort of science expedition out there so I don’t have to go on a tourist-y trip. Plus, inhabiting the islands are killing them and I don’t want to support that. Getting more access and doing no harm would be ideal. Tortoises love the views.

4. Australia (Shark Bay)

Australia is supposed to be a great place to visit but more than anything I’d like to see the stromatolites. Cyanobacteria are among the earliest living things. The ones in Shark Bay aren’t 3 billion years old, but a few thousand isn’t bad. It’s a place I think will be inspirational for me. Connect my cells to history. Pretty neat. I’m sure there are sharks there, too.

5. Central Suriname Nature Reserve (and Kaieteur Falls)

Supposedly one of the most impressive parks in the world. A tropical rainforest would be incredible to see and this is one of the best. Plus granite monoliths? I’m into it. Kaieteur Falls is way bigger than Niagara Falls. Just needs a Marilyn Monroe movie.

keiteur falls

 

 

 

if any of these pictures are yours and you want them to be removed or be cited, let me know. I’ve had most of these pictures for a while, and don’t remember where they came from. Sorry.

Places to Go