The lies we tell ourselves

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Let me tell you a very short story. Some days ago I woke up from a dream that I remembered down to the smallest detail. Such occurrence might seem silly for some of you reading this, but for someone like me, that has a hard time remembering any dream, this was quite notable.

Anyhow, in this dream I worked at a hotel, and was responsible for helping set up private events like weddings, ceremonies or any other such special occasion. After one of those events, the other workers and I cleaned up the previous night’s mess and took some cellphones, coats and house keys left by the guests to the lost and found office. As I arrived to the office, I overheard a coworker talking on the phone. From what I overheard, at the other end of the line there was a man named Link (you know, from Zelda) asking if we had found a sword. Alas, there were no swords in the lost and found office, but there were plenty of dinosaur eggs ready to hatch. Then I woke up.

As we’ve all experienced when dreaming, none of those events seemed out of the ordinary to me. In fact, they seemed as natural and coherent that my nonsense-detector didn’t go wild when experiencing them in my mind. I’d like to think that the illusion was breaking at the end and I woke up because of that, but it might as well have been my alarm clock.

During the week prior to this dream, I had been reading Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis, although what I found most interesting about that book was introduced very early on. Let me quote you the short passage,

This finding, that people will readily fabricate reasons to explain their own behavior, is called “confabulation.” Confabulation is so frequent in work with split-brain patients and other people suffering brain damage that Gazzaniga refers to the language centers on the left side of the brain as the interpreter module, whose job is to give a running commentary on whatever the self is doing, even though the interpreter module has no access to the real causes or motives of the self’s behavior.

Personally, I have always thought that we mostly told ourselves lies in a more overt and logical way. For example, when deciding if spending money on a purchase that we really want to make is the right choice, we can come up with fake, but plausible, reasons as to why the purchase is right. I figured that other cases of lying to ourselves were just like that. Going through this nonsensical dream showed me, in a very real way, how wrong I was and how easy it can be to go with the fictional flow.

The thing about realizing this is that I’m now left wondering what other sort of nonsense have I made myself believe. As a physicist, this is a very peculiar notion to have since a great chunk of my professional training and work has dealt with separating the wheat from the chaff not only in my own work, but also in that of colleague’s and students. Looking for other’s mistakes is much easier than doing the same with one’s own. Still, I remember wondering “Am I missing something? Have I considered all other options?” whenever I’ve done experiments or written a paper or submitted some other sort of work. The feeling has never been quite as intense as during my thesis writing and defending days, but it has never gone away.

When I was in junior high school I figured I would study psychology and then go into med school for neuro-something, but my interests changed halfway through high school. Now that I have some free time, I’ve been reading some of the material that my friends who are psychologists have recommended. If you’ve read The Happiness Hypothesis, please leave a comment bellow and tell me what you thought about it.

See you next week!

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