Wouldn’t it be wonderful if one could always know what the right decision is? Harvard psychologist, Dan Gilbert, starts his lecture by telling the audience that humans have indeed been given the gift to know the right thing to do every time they face a dilemma.
It turns out that, in fact, the world was given this gift in 1738 by a Dutch polymath named Daniel Bernoulli. And what I want to talk to you about today is what that gift is, and I also want to explain to you why it is that it hasn’t made a damn bit of difference.
One error he points out is that people normally “overestimate the value of our present pleasure.” People tend to think that the closer in time the gain will arrive, the higher the value is. When homework is due Saturday night, and you are currently sitting in front of the TV at 6 PM, it seems like the right decision to watch Infinite Challenge and then do your homework. It feels right because you will not be able to concentrate on your homework if you miss the show, you need some time to rest your brain, and ultimately you feel happier if you watch TV at 6 PM rather than if you watch it after you do your homework (at the time you made that decision). However, Gilbert proves that this is a psychological error. One would obtain the same happiness if the show was watched before or after their homework is done. The additional happiness, if any, would come from outside the TV show (relieved that there is no more homework to do). Treats seem more delicious when they are being dangled in front of your eyes. This is an acknowledgeable common error that people constantly make when making decisions.
Then how come the phrase Carpe Diem (seize the day) does not seem like a psychological error? If Gilbert has been telling us that when making decisions one must not be fooled by how bigger the value of the present seems, Roman poet Horace is telling us that, above all, we should chase after the important things of the present. While Gilbert’s idea is understandable in a purely logical way, Horace’s famous quote seems right in the sense that it portrays the honest minds of our young generation. Young people know that enjoying the present means less time to prepare for the future, ultimately agreeing with Gilbert. At the same time, young people feel that it is an unreasonable way to spend one’s youth in the dark just to prepare for a bright future. Carpe Diem connects with young people on an emotional level.
In a cold and rough society like today, young people naturally seek for advice and sayings that only help to lift their egos. This could be why so many university students all depend on lectures that give obvious yet encouraging messages like “Live with Passion!” or “Become a Leader!” These lectures, which are meant to help university students make the right life choices, only boost their confidence, yet how can a student make a good decision with an infinite amount of confidence, but no insight? University students need to go back to the basics. Dan Gilbert goes through a variety of scientific experiments that give an economic explanation of why people make bad decisions. However, his hilarious yet sharp analysis offers a deeper perspective that can be applied to so many events in our current lives. This lecture is definitely a basic lesson that all university students should learn in order to go back to the right train of thought.