Friday, March 27, 2009

Research

You never know what you'll find when you open a book.

I'm reading Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely (Harper Collins, 2008), and even though it should be a dry treatise on the psychological causes of our insistence on repeating the same mistakes, I find it a most enjoyable experience.

Maybe it's because Dan Ariely shows that our instinctual understanding (or at least my instinctual understanding, as writer) of human motivations and urges, is not as flawed as we might fear. And that the extreme reactions we like to showcase in our stories, at the point of crisis, are not as far-fetched as a cool, rational mind would like to make them.

And maybe it's because the author of Predictably Irrational is himself an excellent writer, a rare gem in the world of academic prose. He doesn't just provide information, and the names of the researchers involved in the experiments he describes, he entertains his public with the work he obviously loves and performs with a passion.

What have I learned so far in this book? That expectations do trump reality -- your senses will be betrayed by your mind. That ownership gives things more value than they're worth -- value is not a static, objective concept, but a scale that depends on variables as intangible as the moment when you decide how much you care for the thing you're considering selling or buying.

I can't help but wonder, as I read this book, how a Zen master would walk through life. Would he be as predictably irrational, or would his rational self govern him at each step? Could a human attain enough self-control to stop and consider every decision with a quiet, if not cool mind, before launching himself into reckless action?

Some days, I wish I was that Zen master. Other days... I just don't know. Whenever you gain something, you also lose something. And the grass is always greener...

9 comments:

Skhye said...

I think a Zen master's struggle in life is to be in control. Otherwise, he'd have no reason to exist. :)

Thanks for that breath of fresh air.

Judi Romaine said...

Interesting post, Masha. As someone who has followed a particular discipline involving distinguishing the realities we each live in automatically, the game to let go of the reaction, I see that it is possible to just 'be' with life - even those most awful of moments we all face from time to time. But it's a constant practice--the zen masters have years of practicing being with life. Have you seen Jill Bolte Taylor, the neurophysicist? She was on Oprah a few months ago, (and is from Bloomington IN where I live)? She had a stroke at 35 and discovered access to the right brain (the peaceful part of our brain where life just 'is'. I think she too would say it's a practice - to keep letting go of every moment - great topic - Lynn romaine (Long Run Home due 09/18/09 TWRP)

Skhye said...

Wow, I never knew the right side of the brain wielded the "life just is" torch. Hmm, that explains my quasi-Post-modern attitude toward life... Very interesting. But I'm bi-hemispheric. So, I'm certain my left-brained-ness balances out the right.

SFWriterMasha said...

Judi, I always say we think too much. And Skhye, is a Zen master's struggle to be in control, or to cede control, and therefore not to need it any longer, thereby negating control?

As I said, I think too much. Ah, for a quiet hilltop, a soft breeze, no fire ants...

Skhye said...

Either way, Masha, it's the struggle to not jump at reacting. I used to get so angry at things. Now, I just anthropologically psychoanalyze any situation in a nanosecond, and shrug. If I didn't, I'd lose my mind.

The word verification "colog" would make a wonderful term in a fantasy world...

Helen Hardt said...

Wow -- great post. Very thought provoking. Thanks for sharing, Mash!

Helen
www.helensheroes.blogspot.com

Mary Ricksen said...

It's so hard to not repeat our mistakes. It takes real work to get out of patterns we have followed our whole lives.
I wouldn't mind a little Zen stuff.
Ommmmmmm Ommmmmm

SFWriterMasha said...

You and me both, Mary. Especially when I'm surrounded by teenagers. Two is an army!

Stacey Joy Netzel said...

I usually only read romance books, have since high school, but lately a few good non-romances have been mentioned and I'm making a list to check them out at the book store one day when my hubby and I go to browse. This one sounds very interesting, same with the one Skhye mentioned on her blog the other day about people captured by Native Americans.