Can we do anything about this issue of relativity? The good news is that we can often control the “circles” around us; moving toward smaller circles that boost our relative happiness. If we are at our class reunion, and there’s a “big circle” in the middle of the room with a drink in his hand, boasting of his big salary, we can consciously take several steps away and talk with someone else. If we are thinking of buying a new house, we can be selective about the open houses we go to, skipping the houses that are above our means. If we are thinking about buying a new car, we can focus on the models that we can afford, and so on.
Monday, October 18, 2010
context matters, everything is relative
Let me start with a fundamental observation: most people don’t know what they want unless they see it in context. We don’t know what kind of racing bike we want--until we see a champ in the Tour de France ratcheting the gears on a particular model. We don’t know what kind of speaker system we like--until we hear a set of speakers that sounds better than the previous one. We don’t even know what we want to do with our lives we find a relative or a friend who is doing just what we think we should be doing. Everything is relative, and that’s the point. Like an airplane pilot landing in the dark, we want runway lights on either side of us, guiding us to the place where we can touch down our wheels.
A few decades ago. the naturalist Konrad Lorenz discovered that goslings, upon breaking out of their eggs, become attached to the first moving object they encounter (which is generally their mother). Lorenz knew this because in one experiment he became the first thing they saw, and they followed him loyally from then on through adolescence. With that, Lorenz demonstrated not only that goslings make initial decisions based on what's available in their environment, but that they stick with a decision once it has been made. Lorenz called this natural phenomenon imprinting. Is the human brain, then, wired like that of a gosling? Do our first impressions and decisions become imprinted? And if so, how does this imprinting play out in our lives? Is religion imprinted?