Stumbling on Happiness

June 10, 2008

You may have noticed how ridiculously small the TV-screens are in most old sci-fi movies. Or how that low exam score moved from “catastrophe” to “oh well” within a few hours. Or how that long-awaited vacation is so disappointing now that it’s finally there. Or how an I love you written years ago seems so fake now. You may have wondered how you could possibly have had such thoughts or made such decisions. Now you’ve got answers.

From the also-available-in-audio shelf comes Daniel Gilbert with his great non-fiction book called Stumbling on Happiness. The author tries to answer the question of why happiness is so elusive and unpredictable.

What the book basically tells you is:

  • experience is subjective;
  • your imagination lies to you all the time;
  • your memories lie to you all the time;
  • your predictions can never be accurate;
  • you make ridiculous choices all the time;
  • you can never be sure of anything, past, present or future;
  • you are not unique.

Pretty tough truths, huh? Well, I’ve actually exaggerated quite a bit. Besides the fact that it points out uncomfortable things, I loved everything about this book:

  • It’s written in a very accessible and succinct style. If your attention slips for even a few seconds, you’ll have to rewind.
  • The author has a great sense of humor (I rarely laugh out loud).
  • Every chapter starts with a quotation from Shakespeare.
  • It will not trigger your “citation needed” alarm. In fact, it has such a solid scientific basis that the most frequent word combination after “for example” is probably “in one study”.
  • The examples given are logical and straightforward. Hey, the guy’s a Harvard professor!
  • The audio version is read by the author himself. That’s a plus because his tone of voice shows you exactly what he means.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to find out the inner workings of memory, imagination, and future prediction. It’s so good that I’ll probably want to go through it again in a few months. For a more thorough summary check the Wikipedia page.


Quotes from “Cat’s Cradle”

March 25, 2008

All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies.

For this and other gems of Bokononism, read Kurt Vonnegut’s book. It’s a pretty amazing science fiction novel with original ideas about life and religion. No damn cat, and no damn cradle!

Here are just some of the interesting quotations. I should have paid more attention

  • Anyone unable to understand how a useful religion can be founded on lies will not understand this book either.
  • There is enough love in this world for everybody, if people will just look.
  • Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.
  • Maturity […] is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter can be said to remedy anything.
  • It is not possible to make a mistake.
  • Science is magic that works.
  • It is never a mistake to say goodbye.
  • A lover’s a liar,
    To himself he lies.
    The truthful are loveless,
    Like oysters their eyes!
  • Don’t be afraid of straining your brains. They won’t break.
  • History! Read it and weep!
  • Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before. He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way.

Added later:

  • Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.

See here for more quotes.