There is only one reality, after all, so what’s all this talk about your reality and my reality? Tonight’s dinner-time TED talk was Rory Sutherland’s Perspective is everything. His slide presented at 2:55 states, as its first point of four:
Things are not what they are; they are what we think they are
Think about that for a moment. Naturally, presenting it like that, it’s quoted out of context. Much rather watch the talk it came from (18:24 in length) to appreciate its context:
Rory’s primary thesis is that how we frame things has a huge impact on our happiness, and that often our efforts at improving “reality” has costs that could have been better spent by making some effort to tackle the psychological side of things. With regards to whether things are what they are, we could get ourselves tangled up in a semantic discussion, or we can recognise the main point of this meme: Our lives consist of a sequence of subjective experiences. Consequently our subjective realities carry all the weight with regards to determining our happiness, while objective reality is only relevant insofar as it provides the substrate for our subjective experiences.
One example he gives is how making a train between Paris and London 40 minutes faster, an engineering project costing £6 million, would be trumped by the much cheaper project of adding wifi to our slower trains. Of course this example still affects the economic realities of the journey, so another of his examples might be better: adding information on when the next (high-frequency) commuter train arrives is more beneficial psychologically than increasing train frequency. Specifically: people are happier waiting 7 minutes for a train when there’s a countdown timer informing them when it arrives, than they are waiting 4 minutes for a train while having no idea when it will arrive.
As also demonstrated by a dog-shocking experiment, happiness is much improved when we, or the dogs, have a feeling of control over our lives, even if the physical result is the same. Projects seeking to improve the status quo should thus weigh in psychological factors instead of only considering economic and technological aspects of a problem.