Why? Dr. Gilbert and his collaborators, Jordi Quoidbach of Harvard and Timothy D. Wilson of the University of Virginia, had a few theories, starting with the well-documented tendency of people to overestimate their own wonderfulness.*If you're avoiding NYT links, it's also on The Scientist: Metamorphosis Complete
“Believing that we just reached the peak of our personal evolution makes us feel good,” Dr. Quoidbach said. “The ‘I wish that I knew then what I know now’ experience might give us a sense of satisfaction and meaning, whereas realizing how transient our preferences and values are might lead us to doubt every decision and generate anxiety.”
Or maybe the explanation has more to do with mental energy: predicting the future requires more work than simply recalling the past. “People may confuse the difficulty of imagining personal change with the unlikelihood of change itself,” the authors wrote in Science.
In Buddhism we call the end of history illusion a “fixed idea of a self” and sometimes try to address it by looking back over the course of our life and how we’ve changed, starting with our baby pictures. The research here suggests that this dharma strategy is not likely to be effective. You see, we’re good at looking at the past and appreciating we’ve changed. We’re bad at looking at the future and appreciating that “we” will be somebody else and our choices now will create our future self. What can we do today that our future self would want? This is a hard question because we somehow fool ourselves into thinking we’re at the end of change now. The awesome face of emptiness may be just too hard to be – if we think there’s another choice...RoarMag: Psychologists discover “end of history illusion”
And now for why this matters for the US, for Soto Zen, and for me...
For a political economist like myself, the question that immediately arises is: what are the political implications of these findings? Obviously, the notion of the “end of history” is a political-philosophical idea coined by Hegel. By way of the French philosopher Alexandre Kojève it was subsequently picked up by the American political economist Francis Fukuyama, who used the concept to argue that the fall of the Soviet Union inaugurated the ultimate triumph of Western liberal democracy and capitalism.Daniel Gilbert previously: the vagaries of religious experience - positive psychology
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