Below I offer a 19-minute explanatory video from the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce).
Synopsis:As a Skeptic, I find optimism (or pessimism, for that matter) equally disquieting, particularly if either position is based on incorrect or biased assumptions. For me, I would much rather deal with the facts of a situation; this gives me a more accurate basis on which to act or proceed and thereby expect a more optimal outcome. I have long felt that religious belief is popular because it affords people an optimistic viewpoint regardless of the realities of one’s situation.
Why are we so terrible at predicting what will make us happy? How do we maintain such stalwart optimism about our future in the face of so many modern threats?
Psychologists have long been aware that most people maintain an often irrationally positive outlook on life. Now it looks as though optimism may, in fact, be crucial to our existence. But does unrealistic optimism also threaten it as well?
Acclaimed neuroscientist Tali Sharot’s experiments and research at The Social Brain Project in cognitive science have shed new light on the biological basis of optimism, and she visits the RSA to take an in-depth look at how the brain generates hope and what happens when it fails.
But our media and culture are often bombarded with optimistically appearing messages. Over the last month, for example, media reports that the Consumer price index rose 0.2% or home sales rose 3% or unemployment dropped 2% leave the implication that these trends are linear and will continue their positive progression. In fact these figures rise and fall with regularity – precisely what statistics of these measures routinely do.
A reported drop in unemployment does not explain how many people have permanently given up looking for work, how many have returned to work at much lower wages. The underlying concept of "productivity" actually equates to more products or services using fewer people and/or at lower cost. Less people accomplishing more does not bode well for an increasing population all wishing to thrive and prosper.
Still I speak with friends who just assume that things will be getting better; housing will rebound, employment will rally. And in the short run, at least,they probably are correct.
Maybe it’s just me, but in the grand scope of things I don’t see things getting better. As I have often repeated in this blog, I believe my generation has seen the best times Man has, and ever will, on this planet. The truth is the middle class has shrunk, college graduates are increasingly finding it difficult to earn a decent living, and the tenor of political discourse makes me feel like there are those among eager to return society back to the 19ths century.
During a recent exchange with one of my commenters I came across this quotation: "You believe easily that which you hope for earnestly." – Terence 185–159 BC
I believe Terence's simple statement more than adequately sums up the conclusions drawn from Sharot's research at the Social Brain Project.