Monday, January 7, 2013

End of History...

... Illusion. Yet another cognitive bias to add to the lexicon. According to Daniel Gilbert:
"Middle-aged people — like me — often look back on our teenage selves with some mixture of amusement and chagrin. What we never seem to realize is that our future selves will look back and think the very same thing about us. At every age we think we’re having the last laugh, and at every age we’re wrong."
It's a fascinating article, which argues that we tend to admit to lots of change in our past, but to assume lots of continuity in our the future. The implications are pretty serious when you think about it. Sure, the authors reference decisions about tattoos and marriage that maybe don't turn out to be so smart in hindsight. But there's a bigger story here, namely: democracy.

Every four to five years we put numbers in boxes opposite party logos and candidate pictures in expectation of what exactly? Probably that the things that are important to each of us now will continue to be important to us in 4-5 years time. And we're probably wrong.

But it isn't just the politicians who are prone to short-term thinking (though Eoin O'Malley has some clever ideas for mitigating at least some of the tendency), we the voters are equally short-term in our thinking. I doubt many fifty-somethings (and I know a few) are really all that vexed about pre-school child-minding facilities nor about the services available in their local retirement home. But they probably were once about the former, and they probably will be eventually about the latter.

Still, maybe a radically different future will put paid to our End of History Illusions...

ht BBC Future

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