Memoirs From a Nineties Coffee Girl: Hindsight Bias

The two books I’m currently most engaged with are Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide and Carl Jung’s Man and his Symbols. Setting Jung aside for a moment, allow me to discuss Lehrer a little. Lehrer is one of those names that pops up if you read Wired or Scientific American, which I do–and The New Yorker, which I don’t. His writing sounds young, as well as a little soft.* He writes soft science. That’s fine. I don’t always know when he (or any writer of his ilk) commits factual errors, but I have a heightened sixth sense for manipulation that prevents me from being completely duped. However, I can look past even blatant manipulation because I engage with this sort of writing for its squishiness and not despite it. Yes, you read that correctly. I want glimpses of hard science, even illogical ones, in order to engage my imagination.

What does this say about how I make decisions [that is, after all, the subject of Lehrer’s book]? I’ve long relied on what I thought were my analytical faculties and suppressed my instincts as inherently wrong. But as I examine my life decisions, I wonder how many of them I’ve actually made, or continue to make, by primarily using my prefrontal cortex, which is supposed to be the party spot for rational thought. In hindsight, I appear to be nothing more than an imagination junkie searching for the feeling mix that juices my life. But as you might already know, hindsight is nothing if not biased.

In the grand paradox of how I view myself today, I’ve relied too much on imagination in my decision-making processes, and I’ve simultaneously neglected the creative spark in my soul–the essence of who I am. My assumed reliance on imagination gives me pause and takes me back to those early years of my adulthood, the ones that turned me into a barista rather than a student.

While still at Linfield College, I had a number of friends who were studying physics. I don’t remember how it happened, how my creative writing studies attracted me to these people in a magnetic way. To my current biased way of thinking, I imagine [there’s the imagination again] that they were rational and I was creative, and so we fed off each other for those missing parts of ourselves. The ideal of myself as creative fed my energies and still feeds it, even if the truth is something so apart that it unsettles me to consider it.

What if none of the above is true? What if imagination has nothing to do with my decision-making properties at all? What if my choices in science literature and friends have more to do with fear? What if all my decisions have bloomed from the seed of anxiety planted in my soul by early failures to live up to my expectations? Perhaps I stood by physics geeks because I desired to be like them, but was afraid to study anything more difficult than creative writing. Maybe I (present tense) read soft science magazines because I’m still afraid of the incomprehensible nature of the world around me.

Now turning for a moment to the Jungian book on symbols, I have to admit I’m reading this book for the direct purpose of understanding myself better, and not for the purpose of understanding the world around me, although the net effect has added up to a little of both. Recently, I’ve dreamed a series of vivid stories, all of which have contained what Jung would call the Divine Child archetype. My divine child, according to Jung, is the essence of my pure self, or, as I view it, the core of my creativity unspoiled by the world. In my dreams, I’ve neglected this child and, furthermore, I don’t recognize the little person in his diaper and blue sleeper who wanders into my space unbidden.

What I’ve failed and continue to fail at is perceiving my Divine Child as my personal potential, which may have nothing to do with my dampened creative spark. As a young adult, I squelched my potential by quitting school and finding the first job available at an espresso shop. I convinced myself, in the forefront of my nonunderstanding mind, that writing poetry would save me from the disaster I had become. In the recesses, I convinced myself that studying the finer points of roasting and growing coffee would suffice as knowledge of the world.

As humans, we all suffer from disjointed thinking that we mistake for clarity, even if not all people suffer from my particular problems with anxiety and pretense. And, in a moment of clarity, I’ll proclaim that to be the purpose of this memoir. The books I’m currently reading have revealed truths about myself that I hardly expected when I turned over the first pages. We could all use a little honest self-examination now and again. Your book choices or lack of them reveal truths about who you are. Your dreams reveal the parts of yourself your outer ego is attempting to suppress.

In a choppy kind of conclusion, I seem to have stumbled on memoirs as a way to understand how memory works, which is ironic, to say the least. Hindsight isn’t 20-20. Hindsight carries with it biases I don’t know how to lobotomize from my understanding of self and the world around me. When given the opportunity, I look falsely at my past in order to integrate my cognitive dissonance. But hindsight can pierce deeply with that double-edged sword of truth if we stop overriding our egos and allow it to accomplish its healing job.

*To be fair, I believe Mr. Lehrer is young. And he’s obviously quite intelligent, but by writing for a general audience, he’s softened the science.

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2 comments

  1. I haven’t studied Jung but for one psychology class in high school, but I’d be interested in reading his ideas now because I have a hunch I’d find many of them flawed. Perhaps I’m just disgruntled with modern psychology.

    I can’t see my past clearly and I definitely idealize it. For instance, lately I’ve been idealizing being pregnant and having a newborn though I *know* I absolutely swore off the idea after the last one was born. Yet the idea keeps swirling in my head and I’m having difficulty willing it away, despite telling myself over and over, “Jessica, you were miserable!”

    Regarding past decisions, I can look back and see how my understanding of the nature of God at any particular time shaped my choices. Now I realize things like, “God doesn’t work like that…you didn’t have to take that path.” He would have been okay if I’d chosen another direction. In fact, He was probably prodding me in a different direction. Oh well.

    So, now I’m considering adding to my family and I’m busy worrying about what misconceptions are driving my decision making process. What ways might I look back in regret if I choose route A or B. It’s quite maddening. A bit OCD-ish.

    1. Jung studied universal and recurring symbols (or archetypes) in art and literature and dreams. He also developed the idea of introvert and extrovert personalities. The more I read of Jung, the more I respect his ideas. But he was like any great thinker–his interpretations of reality will naturally contain flaws.

      At this point in my life, I would come unglued if I were to get pregnant. I’m 39 and already exhausted. I have two lovely teenagers and two young ones. But, admittedly, I didn’t believe I could handle more than two. Now I have four. God knew what I could handle better than I did. If you seek God’s will, I’m sure he’ll give you answers. I’m positive of it. God does speak, and he does guide us.

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