Monday, April 11, 2016

(I Can't Get No) Control

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow:
You cannot help dealing with the limited information you have as if it were all there is to know. You build the best possible story from the information available to you, and if it is a good story, you believe it. Paradoxically, it is easier to construct a coherent story when you know little, when there are fewer pieces to fit into the puzzle. Our comforting conviction that the world makes sense rests on a secure foundation: our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance. . . 

The core of the illusion is that we believe we understand the past, which implies that the future also should be knowable, but in fact we understand the past less than we believe we do. "Know" is not the only word that fosters this illusion. . .

The sense-making machinery of System 1 makes us see the world as more tidy, simple, predictable, and coherent than it really is. The illusion that one has understood the past feeds the further illusion that one can predict and control the future. These illusions are comforting. They reduce anxiety that we would experience if we allowed ourselves to fully acknowledge the uncertainties of existence. We all have a need for the reassuring message that actions have appropriate consequences, and that success will reward wisdom and courage.
I know that when people are frantic to explain a tragedy and blame the victim, it is from their own desperate need to grasp at control. It's frightening to comprehend our lack of it. Kahneman says that people greatly undervalue what he referred to as "luck," although frum Jews would call it something else. 

When we witness "success," we quickly pounce on the obvious qualities, hoping to replicate the outcome. But we err greatly, Kahneman says, for we aren't aware of the small, minute happenings, the myriad of uncontrollable, perfectly-lined-up flukes that led to fabulousness. 

We don't have control. We don't have control.  

All together now: We. DON'T. Have. Control.

Brené Brown, Rising Strong:

In research terms, we think about blame as a form of anger used to discharge discomfort or pain . . . It doesn't have to make sense, either. It just has to give us some sense of relief and control. In fact, for most of us who rely on blaming and finding fault, the need for control is so strong that we'd rather have something be our fault than succumb to the bumper-sticker wisdom of "**** happens." If stuff just happens, how do I control that? Fault-finding fools us into believing that someone is always to blame, hence, controlling the outcome is possible.
On the flip side, predicting doom and gloom and the end is nigh and the four horsemen of the apocalypse is also a need to control. But Daniel Goleman says: 
We don't know enough to be pessimistic.
We don't know. 

Kahneman explains a quirk of the brain with this ungaily acronym, WYSIATI: "What you see is all there is." When the brain has very little information, it makes unequivocal conclusions. When it knows more, it's oddly less certain, and won't deal in absolutes. 

When we say "I KNOW," chances are we know very little. It was when I was young(er) and stupid(er) that I made black-and-white statements. Now, I dislike hypotheticals ("Would you ever_____?"), even if the answer is seemingly obvious, because I don't know who I'll be in that possible future moment, never mind where my head will be at, if I'm rested enough, and all other extenuating circumstances.

The most I can control, I've concluded, is my lunch. Just barely.  

It was during and after my recent failed romance that I experienced a rare sensation: humility. I hadn't sought him out, see; a friend of a relative called up one day and redt him. Obsessed as I am with matrimony, it was nothing I did—such as shadchan stalking—that brought him to my doorstep. 

"The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord" (Iyov 1:21). "Luck," my foot.      


Daniel Saunders said...

My A-Level economics teacher used to love this quote: "Why is Socrates the wisest man in Athens? Because he knows that he knows nothing."

Control is hard. I know my OCD is a desperate attempt to take control of a life that feels out of control. And I know that the OCD is at its worse in my religious life, where control is really important, but which is sometimes partly out of my control. It's hard to accept that lack of control. HaShem does not punish us for things genuinely out of our control, but OCD lives in the area of "I should be perfect."

Princess Lea said...

But perfection is relative.