Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

This book, by Psychologist Angela Duckworth, was very illuminating. I had heard of this book before thanks to having read Carol Dweck and Heidi Grant Halvorson’s books, but I wish I had read this one before them because I feel that it provides the foundational basis for those other two authors delve into with mindsets. Halvorson and Duckworth’s books together seem to give a more concise and efficient view on how to pursue goals. Dweck details the self-conceptions and lists anecdotal examples.

The most striking matter I’ve found about this book doesn’t really relate to the book per se. I’ve discovered that a lot of the more “official” reviews, such as the New Yorker, are being utterly pretentious and vilifying this book based on arguments that Angela Duckworth never made or even implied. I was shocked to see the radical difference between the contents of the book and the disparaging reviews that were being dishonest in their representation of both her research and her as a person. I was in disbelief until I read her perspective on her TEDTalk in her own book where she mentions, in much nicer words than I’m describing, how the CEO of TED basically asked her to dumb down her information to the public about her findings. The TEDTalk and the arguments against her feel and sound like they’re calling her bluff about nonsense the public has heard before, specifically because she was requested to tone down the information. So, it’s unfair. It’s unfair of us to judge her based on her TEDTalk and those shockingly disingenuous reviews. I wouldn’t honestly be saying this had I not done the same prior to reading her book on a whim.

Long story short: this book isn’t about education policy and never claimed to be. This book is for individuals and parents who want to learn what encourages people to find a passion, how to learn to work at that passion for a long term, and how we internalize a greater purpose for ourselves and others by following through with commitments that we feel strongly about. Grit was never about making kids better with grades. Nevertheless, this can only apply to grades, if kids care about the classes they take, but this book is more oriented towards extracurricular activities and encouraging them in kids early, it was never about trying to force kids to be passionate or persevere in grades on subjects they don’t care about. Duckworth even explains the problems trying to force people to be passionate about subject matter that they don’t care about.

In Duckworth’s book, her interviews and general research have found that people who are very successful in their careers didn’t simply find their passion from one incident. They discovered tidbits or gained encouragement from loved ones multiple time. As Duckworth puts it: Again, and again, and again. People might be happy to know that there isn’t a specific parenting style, you just shouldn’t devalue or tell your child the interest is bad, if you want to encourage their growth. Moreover, even if a child follows with an activity the parent has misgivings about like joining a music band, evidence shows that sticking to it for more than a year (generally 2 years) is likely to encourage them to stick to future goals when they discover a new passion. In the long term, the “grit” mindset of following through with your intrinsic passion can have long-term benefits. Also, much of the passion and perseverance doesn’t come from pushing through adversity, but rather being encouraged to follow your intrinsic motivation. Children need encouraging parents and teachers, we need encouraging friends, and – most of all – we need a sense that what we’re doing is meaningful for both ourselves and a greater society. I began realizing that a lot of the passion in the passion and perseverance rubric could apply to the immediate feedback loop that video games give people. Generally, we can immediately ascertain gains and losses and the techniques for how to improve are either instructed in the game itself or can be found from tips online. Having a community of friends to talk to about games like Dragon Quest or Dragon Age is self-reinforcing.

I’m somewhat hesitant to jot down a list of the crucial parts of her research, because I’m often afraid that I’m simply not giving this book and it’s author due credit by paraphrasing and potentially taking her out of context. I’m particularly hesitant because of how thoroughly people have insulted caricatures of her work instead of the work itself. When people begin counting terminology and the number of times a word was used, I begin to question whether they had ever even read her book at all. I was really disappointed with so many reviews that conflate Carol Dweck and Angela Duckworth’s research with their personality characteristics. This isn’t even isolated to women or even people who exist in the present-day. I just keep spotting this same pattern and when I read someone’s work, it’s largely incredibly different from what accusers espouse that their work  contains. I don’t want to contribute to that form of misinformation, even if subconsciously, and I don’t like taking someone’s words out of context as I see so often done.

I’ll just jot down certain specific quotes that I felt were key points in the book and align them with the overarching information that the book was explaining in bold text so people can judge for themselves.

The major overarching theme is underlined and specifics are placed underneath those umbrella concepts:

Developing a Passionate Interest

How Does Passion Start?

When it comes to lining up our occupations with what we enjoy, how come so many of us miss the mark? And does my dad’s success offer a counterexample to the passion argument? What should we make of the fact that, by the time I came along, my father’s work really was his passion? Should we stop telling people to follow your passion and, instead, tell them to follow our orders? I don’t think so. In fact, I see Will Shortz and Jeff Bezos as terrific inspirations for what work can be. While it’s naive to think that any of us could love every minute of what we do, I believe the thousands of data points in those meta-analyses, which confirm the commonsense intuition that interest matters.

Nobody is interested in everything, and everyone is interested in something. So
matching your job to what captures your attention and imagination is a good idea. It may not guarantee happiness and success, but it sure helps the odds. That said, I don’t think most young people need encouragement to follow their passion. Most would do exactly that—in a heartbeat—if only they had a passion in the first place. If I’m ever invited to give a commencement speech, I’ll begin with the advice to foster a passion. And then I’ll spend the rest of my time trying to change young minds about how that actually happens. -Page 98.

Passion takes time, so give it time:

A few months ago, I read a post on Reddit titled “Fleeting Interest in Everything, No Career Direction”: I’m in my early thirties and have no idea what to do with myself, career-wise. All my life I’ve been one of those people who has been told how smart I am/how much potential I have. I’m interested in so much stuff that I’m paralyzed to try anything. It seems like every job requires a specialized certificate or designation that requires long-term time and financial investment—before you can even try the job, which is a bit of a drag. I have a lot of sympathy for the thirty-something who wrote this post. As a college professor, I also have a lot of sympathy for the twentysomethings who come to me for career advice.

My colleague Barry Schwartz has been dispensing counsel to anxious young adults for much longer than I have. He’s been teaching psychology at Swarthmore College for forty-five years. Barry thinks that what prevents a lot of young people from developing a serious career interest is unrealistic expectations. “It’s really the same problem a lot of young people have finding a romantic partner,” he said. “They want somebody who’s really attractive and smart and kind and empathetic and thoughtful and funny. Try telling a twenty-one-year-old that you can’t find a person who is absolutely the best in every way. They don’t listen. They’re holding out for perfection.” “What about your wonderful wife, Myrna?” I asked. “Oh, she is wonderful. More wonderful than I am, certainly. But is she perfect? Is she the only person I could have made a happy life with? Am I the only man in the world with whom she could have made a wonderful marriage? I don’t think so.” A related problem, Barry says, is the mythology that falling in love with a career should be sudden and swift: “There are a lot of things where the subtleties and exhilarations come with sticking with it for a while, getting elbow-deep into something. A lot of things seem uninteresting and superficial until you start doing them and, after a while, you realize that there are so many facets you didn’t know at the start, and you never can fully solve the problem, or fully understand it, or what have you. Well, that requires that you stick with it.” After a pause, Barry said, “Actually, finding a mate is the perfect analogy. Meeting a potential match—not the one-and-only perfect match, but a promising one—is only the very beginning.”

Interest, Discovery, Successive Rediscovery, and Positive Feedback from Loved Ones:

To the thirty-something on Reddit with a “fleeting interest in everything” and “no career direction,” here’s what science has to say: passion for your work is a little bit of discovery, followed by a lot of development, and then a lifetime of deepening. Let me explain. First of all, childhood is generally far too early to know what we want to be when we grow up. Longitudinal studies following thousands of people across time have shown that most people only begin to gravitate toward certain vocational interests, and away from others, around middle school.

This is certainly the pattern I’ve seen in my interview research, and it’s also what journalist Hester Lacey has found in her interviews with the “mega successful.” Keep in mind, however, that a seventh grader—even a future paragon of grit—is unlikely to have a fully articulated passion at that age. A seventh grader is just beginning to figure out her general likes and dislikes.

Second, interests are not discovered through introspection. Instead, interests are triggered by interactions with the outside world. The process of interest discovery can be messy, serendipitous, and inefficient. This is because you can’t really predict with certainty what will capture your attention and what won’t. You can’t simply will yourself to like things, either. As Jeff Bezos has observed, “One of the huge mistakes people make is that they try to force an interest on themselves.” Without experimenting, you can’t figure out which interests will stick, and which won’t. Paradoxically, the initial discovery of an interest often goes unnoticed by the discoverer. In other words, when you just start to get interested in something, you may not even realize that’s what’s happening. The emotion of boredom is always self-conscious—you know it when you feel it—but when your attention is attracted to a new activity or experience, you may have very little reflective appreciation of what’s happening to you. This means that, at the start of a new endeavor, asking yourself nervously every few days whether you’ve found your passion is premature.

Third, what follows the initial discovery of an interest is a much lengthier and increasingly proactive period of interest development. Crucially, the initial triggering of a new interest must be followed by subsequent encounters that retrigger your attention—again and again and again.

For instance, NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins told me that it was watching space shuttle launches on television in high school that initially inspired his lifelong interest in space travel. But it wasn’t just one launch that hooked him. It was several shown in succession over a period of years. Soon enough, he started digging for more information on NASA, and “one piece of information led to another and another.”

For master potter Warren MacKenzie, ceramics class in college—which he only took, initially, because all the painting classes were full—was followed by the discovery of A Potter’s Book by the great Bernard Leach, and then a year-long internship with Leach himself.

Finally, interests thrive when there is a crew of encouraging supporters, including parents, teachers, coaches, and peers. Why are other people so important? For one thing, they provide the ongoing stimulation and information that is essential to actually liking something more and more. Also—more obviously—positive feedback makes us feel happy, competent, and secure. Take Marc Vetri as an example. There are few things I enjoy reading more than his cookbooks and essays about food, but he was a solid-C student throughout school. “I never worked hard at academics,” he told me. “I was always just like, ‘This is kind of boring.’ ” In contrast, Marc spent delightful
Sunday afternoons at his Sicilian grandmother’s house in South Philly. “She’d make meatballs and lasagna and all that stuff, and I always liked to head down early to help her out. By the time I was eleven or so, I started wanting to make that stuff at home, too.” As a teenager, Marc had a part-time job washing dishes in a local restaurant. “And I loved that. I worked hard.” Why? Making money was one motivation, but another was the camaraderie of the kitchen. “Around that time I was sort of a social outcast. I was kind of awkward. I had a stutter. Everyone at school thought I was weird. I was like, ‘Oh, here I can wash dishes, and I can watch the guys on the line [cooking] while I’m washing, and I can eat. Everyone is nice, and they like me.’ ”

If you read Marc’s cookbooks, you’ll be struck by how many friends and mentors he’s made in the world of food. Page through and look for pictures of Marc alone, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find many. And read the acknowledgments of Il Viaggio Di Vetri. It runs to two pages with the names of people who made his journey possible, including this note: “Mom and Dad, you’ve always let me find my own way and helped guide me through it. You’ll never know how much I appreciate it. I’ll always need you.” Is it “a drag” that passions don’t come to us all at once, as epiphanies, without the need to actively develop them? Maybe. But the reality is that our early interests are fragile, vaguely defined, and in need of energetic, years-long cultivation and refinement. – Page 103.

Don’t Rush a Passion:

For now, what I hope to convey is that experts and beginners have different motivational needs. At the start of an endeavor, we need encouragement and freedom to figure out what we enjoy. We need small wins. We need applause. Yes, we can handle a tincture of criticism and corrective feedback. Yes, we need to practice. But not too much and not too soon. Rush a beginner and you’ll bludgeon their budding interest. It’s very, very hard to get that back once you do. – Page 108.

Helpful tips to develop a Passion for Young Adults and Adults:

If you’d like to follow your passion but haven’t yet fostered one, you must begin at the beginning: discovery. Ask yourself a few simple questions: What do I like to think about? Where does my mind wander? What do I really care about? What matters most to me? How do I enjoy spending my time? And, in contrast, what do I find absolutely unbearable? If you find it hard to answer these questions, try recalling your teen years, the stage of life at which vocational interests commonly sprout. As soon as you have even a general direction in mind, you must trigger your nascent interests. Do this by going out into the world and doing something. To young graduates wringing their hands over what to do, I say, Experiment! Try! You’ll certainly learn more than if you don’t!

At this early stage of exploration, here are a few relevant rules of thumb taken from Will Shortz’s essay “How to Solve the New York Times Crossword Puzzle”: Begin with the answers you’re surest of and build from there. However ill-defined your interests, there are some things you know you’d hate doing for a living, and some things that seem more promising than others. That’s a start. Don’t be afraid to guess. Like it or not, there’s a certain amount of trial and error inherent in the process of interest discovery. Unlike the answers to crossword puzzles, there isn’t just one thing you can do that might develop into a passion. There are many. You don’t have to find the “right” one, or even the “best” one—just a direction that feels good. It can also be difficult to know if something will be a good fit until you try it for a while. Don’t be afraid to erase an answer that isn’t working out.

At some point, you may choose to write your top-level goal in indelible ink, but until you know for sure, work in pencil. If, on the other hand, you already have a good sense of what you enjoy spending your time doing, it’s time to develop your interest. After discovery comes development. Remember that interests must be triggered again and again and again. Find ways to make that happen. And have patience. The development of interests takes time. Keep asking questions, and let the answers to those questions lead you to more questions. Continue to dig. Seek out other people who share your interests. Sidle up to an encouraging mentor. Whatever your age, over time your role as a learner will become a more active and informed one. Over a period of years, your knowledge and expertise will grow, and along with it your confidence and curiosity to know more. Finally, if you’ve been doing something you like for a few years and still wouldn’t quite call it a passion, see if you can deepen your interests. Since novelty is what your brain craves, you’ll be tempted to move on to something new, and that could be what makes the most sense. However, if you want to stay engaged for more than a few years in any endeavor, you’ll need to find a way to enjoy the nuances that only a true aficionado can appreciate. “The old in the new is what claims the attention,” said William James. “The old with a slightly new turn.” In sum, the directive to follow your passion is not bad advice. But what may be even more useful is to understand how passions are fostered in the first place. – Page 114.

Gritty Journalist Anecdote; Passion as a Compass:

‘Screw it, this is what I’m going to do.’ I set out a very deliberate path that was possible, because the journalism industry was very hierarchical, and it was clear how to get from A to B to C to D, et cetera.” Step A was writing for Oxford’s student newspaper, Cherwell. Step B was a summer internship at a small paper in Wisconsin. Step C was the St. Petersburg Times in Florida on the Metro beat. Step D was the Los Angeles Times. Step E was the New York Times as a national correspondent in Atlanta. Step F was being sent overseas to cover war stories, and in 2006—just over a decade since he’d set himself the goal—he finally reached step G: becoming the New York Times’ East Africa bureau chief. “It was a really winding road that took me to all kinds of places. And it was difficult, and discouraging, and demoralizing, and scary, and all the rest. But eventually, I got here. I got exactly where I wanted to be.” As for so many other grit paragons, the common metaphor of passion as fireworks doesn’t make sense when you think of what passion means to Jeff Gettleman. Fireworks erupt in a blaze of glory but quickly fizzle, leaving just wisps of smoke and a memory of what was once spectacular. What Jeff’s journey suggests instead is passion as a compass—that thing that takes you some time to build, tinker with, and finally get right, and that then guides you on your long and winding road to where, ultimately, you want to be. Page 60.

Passion as a Compass forming a Life Philosophy:

Pete realized he didn’t have one and needed to: “If I was ever going to get the chance to run an organization again, I would have to be prepared with a philosophy that would drive all my actions.” Pete did a lot of thinking and reflecting: “My life in the next weeks and months was filled with writing notes and filling binders.” At the same time, he was devouring the books of John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach who won a record-setting ten national championships. Like a lot of coaches, Pete had already read Wooden. But this time, he was reading Wooden and understanding, at a much deeper level, what the coaching icon had to say. And the most important thing Wooden said was that, though a team has to do a million things well, figuring out the overarching vision is of utmost importance. Pete realized in that moment that particular goals—winning a particular game, or even a seasonal championship, or figuring out this element of the offensive lineup, or the way to talk to players—needed coordination, needed purpose: “A clear, well-defined philosophy gives you the guidelines and boundaries that keep you on track,” he said. Page 61.

Having a Life Philosophy

Goal-Oriented Passion:

At the bottom of this hierarchy are our most concrete and specific goals—the tasks we have on our short-term todo list: I want to get out the door today by eight a.m. I want to call my business partner back. I want to finish writing the email I started yesterday. These low-level goals exist merely as means to ends. We want to accomplish them only because they get us something else we want. In contrast, the higher the goal in this hierarchy, the more abstract, general, and important it is. The higher the goal, the more it’s an end in itself, and the less it’s merely a means to an end. In the diagram I’ve sketched out here, there are just three levels. That’s an oversimplification. Between the lowest and the highest level might be several layers of mid-level goals. For instance, getting out the door by eight a.m. is a low-level goal. It only matters because of a mid-level goal: arriving at work on time. Why do you care about that? Because you want to be punctual. Why do you care about that? Because being punctual shows respect for the people with whom you work. Why is that important? Because you strive to be a good leader. If in the course of asking yourself these “Why?” questions your answer is simply “Just because!” then you know you’ve gotten to the top of a goal hierarchy.

The top-level goal is not a means to any other end. It is, instead, an end in itself. Some psychologists like to call this an “ultimate concern.” Myself, I think of this top-level goal as a compass that gives direction and meaning to all the goals below it. – Pg. 62.

Prioritize Your Goals:

What I mean by passion is not just that you have something you care about. What I mean is that you care about that same ultimate goal in an abiding, loyal, steady way. You are not capricious. Each day, you wake up thinking of the questions you fell asleep thinking about. You are, in a sense, pointing in the same direction, ever eager to take even the smallest step forward than to take a step to the side, toward some other destination. At the extreme, one might call your focus obsessive. Most of your actions derive their significance from their allegiance to your ultimate concern, your life philosophy. You have your priorities in order. -Page 64.

Forming Your Goal Hierarchy:

Grit is about holding the same top-level goal for a very long time. Furthermore, this “life philosophy,” as Pete Carroll might put it, is so interesting and important that it organizes a great deal of your waking activity. In very gritty people, most mid-level and low-level goals are, in some way or another, related to that ultimate goal. In contrast, a lack of grit can come from having less coherent goal structures. Here are a few ways a lack of grit can show itself. I’ve met many young people who can articulate a dream—for example, to be a doctor or to play basketball in the NBA—and can vividly imagine how wonderful that would be, but they can’t point to the midlevel and lower-level goals that will get them there. Their goal hierarchy has a top-level goal but no supporting
mid-level or low-level goals: This is what my good friend and fellow psychologist Gabriele Oettingen calls “positive fantasizing.” Gabriele’s research suggests that indulging in visions of a positive future without figuring out how to get there, chiefly by considering what obstacles stand in the way, has short-term payoffs but long-term costs. In the short-term, you feel pretty great about your aspiration to be a doctor. In the long-term, you live with the disappointment of not having achieved your goal. Even more common, I think, is having a bunch of mid-level goals that don’t correspond to any unifying, top-level goal: Or having a few competing goal hierarchies that aren’t in any way connected with each other: To some extent, goal conflict is a necessary feature
of human existence. For instance, I have one goal hierarchy as a professional and another as a mother. Even Tom Seaver admits that the travel and practice schedule of a professional baseball player made it hard to spend as much time with his wife and children as he would have liked. So, though pitching was his professional passion, there were other goal hierarchies that obviously mattered to him. Like Seaver, I have one goal hierarchy for work: Use psychological science to help kids thrive. But I have a separate goal hierarchy that involves being the best mother I can be to my two daughters. As any working parent knows, having two “ultimate concerns” isn’t easy. There seems never to be enough time, energy, or attention to go around. I’ve decided to live with that tension. As a young woman, I considered alternatives—not having my career or not raising a family—and decided that, morally, there was no “right decision,” only a decision that was right for me. So, the idea that every waking moment in our lives should be guided by one top-level goal is an idealized extreme that may not be
desirable even for the grittiest of us. Still, I would argue that it’s possible to pare down long lists of mid-level and low-level work goals according to how they serve a goal of supreme importance. And I think one top-level professional goal, rather than any other number, is ideal. In sum, the more unified, aligned, and coordinated our goal hierarchies, the better.

Assessing Goals:

Indeed, giving up on lower-level goals is not only forgivable, it’s sometimes absolutely necessary. You should give up when one lower-level goal can be swapped for another that is more feasible. It also makes sense to switch your path when a different lower-level goal—a different means to the same end—is just more efficient, or more fun, or for whatever reason makes more sense than your original plan. On any long journey, detours are to be expected. However, the higher-level the goal, the more it makes sense to be stubborn. Personally, I try not to get too hung up on a particular rejected grant application, academic paper, or failed experiment. The pain of those failures is real, but I don’t dwell on them for long before moving on. In contrast, I don’t give up as easily on mid-level goals, and frankly, I can’t imagine anything that would change my ultimate aim, my life philosophy, as Pete might say. My compass, once I found all the parts and put it together, keeps pointing me in the same direction, week after month after year.

Inculcating Grit Habits to Form Grit Culture

Positive Self-Talk:

Carol also explains that the brain is remarkably adaptive. Like a muscle that gets stronger with use, the brain changes itself when you struggle to master a new challenge. In fact, there’s never a time in life when the brain is completely “fixed.” Instead, all our lives, our neurons retain the potential to grow new connections with one another and to strengthen the ones we already have. What’s more, throughout adulthood, we maintain the ability to grow myelin, a sort of insulating sheath that protects neurons and speeds signals traveling between them. My next suggestion is to practice optimistic self-talk. The link between cognitive behavioral therapy and learned helplessness led to the development of “resilience training.” In essence, this interactive curriculum is a preventative dose of cognitive behavioral therapy. In one study, children who completed this training showed lower levels of pessimism and developed fewer symptoms of depression over the next two years. In a similar study, pessimistic college students demonstrated less anxiety over the subsequent two years and less depression over three years. If, reading this chapter, you recognize yourself as an extreme pessimist, my advice is to find a cognitive behavioral therapist. I know how unsatisfying this recommendation might sound. Many years ago, as a teenager, I wrote to Dear Abby about a problem I was having. “Go see a therapist,” she wrote back. I recall tearing up her letter, angry she didn’t propose a neater, faster, more straightforward solution. Nevertheless, suggesting that reading twenty pages about the science of hope is enough to remove an ingrained pessimistic bias would be naive. There’s much more to say about cognitive behavioral therapy and resilience training than I can summarize here. The point is that you can, in fact, modify your self-talk, and you can learn to not let it interfere with you moving toward your goals. With practice and guidance, you can change the way you think, feel, and, most important, act when the going gets rough. As a transition to the final section of this book, “Growing Grit from the Outside In,” let me offer one final suggestion for teaching yourself hope: Ask for a helping hand. A few years ago, I met a retired mathematician named Rhonda Hughes. Nobody in Rhonda’s family had gone to college, but as a girl, she liked math a whole lot more than stenography. Rhonda eventually earned a PhD in mathematics and, after seventy-nine of her eighty applications for a faculty position were rejected, she took a job at the single university that made her an offer. One reason Rhonda got in touch was to tell me that she had an issue with an item on the Grit Scale. “I don’t like that item that says, ‘Setbacks don’t discourage me.’ That makes no sense. I mean, who doesn’t get discouraged by setbacks? I certainly do. I think it should say, ‘Setbacks don’t discourage me for long. I get back on my feet.’  ” Of course, Rhonda was right, and in so many words, I changed the item accordingly. But the most important thing about Rhonda’s story is that she almost never got back up all by herself. Instead, she figured out that asking for help was a good way to hold on to hope.

Duckworth, Angela. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (pp. 192-194). Scribner. Kindle Edition.

Learned Industriousness:

So, it appears that sometimes what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and sometimes it does the opposite. The urgent question becomes: When? When does struggle lead to hope, and when does struggle lead to hopelessness? A few years ago, Steve Maier and his students designed an experiment nearly identical to the one he and Marty Seligman had conducted forty years earlier: One group of rats received electric shocks, but if they turned a small wheel with their front paws, they could turn off the shock until the next trial. A second group received the exact same dose of electric shocks as the first but had no control over their duration. One crucial difference was that, in the new experiment, the rats were only five weeks old— that’s adolescence in the rat life cycle. A second difference was that the effects of this experience were assessed five weeks later, when the rats were fully mature adults. At that point, both groups of rats were subjected to uncontrollable electric shocks and, the next day, observed in a social exploration test. Here’s what Steve learned. Adolescent rats who experienced stress they could not control grew up to be adult rats who, after being subjected to uncontrollable shocks a second time, behaved timidly. This was not unusual— they learned to be helpless in the same way that any other rat would. In contrast, adolescent rats who experienced stress they could control grew up to be more adventurous and, most astounding, appeared to be inoculated against learned helplessness in adulthood. That’s right— when these “resilient rats” grew up, the usual uncontrollable shock procedures no longer made them helpless. In other words, what didn’t kill the young rats, when by their own efforts they could control what was happening, made them stronger for life.

Duckworth, Angela. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (pp. 187-188). Scribner. Kindle Edition.

Because his wife was a teacher, Bob had the opportunity to try short-term versions of the same experiments with children. For instance, in one study, he gave pennies to second and third graders for counting objects, memorizing pictures, and matching shapes. For some children, Bob rapidly increased the difficulty of these tasks as the children improved. Other children were repeatedly given easy versions of the same tasks. All the children got pennies and praise. Afterward, the children in both conditions were asked to do a tedious job that was entirely different from the previous tasks: copying a list of words onto a sheet of paper. Bob’s findings were exactly the same as what he’d found with rats: children who’d trained on difficult (rather than easy) tasks worked harder on the copying task. Bob’s conclusion? With practice, industriousness can be learned. In homage to the earlier work of Seligman and Maier on learned helplessness, where the inability to escape punishment led animals to give up on a second challenging task, Bob dubbed this phenomenon learned industriousness. His major conclusion was simply that the association between working hard and reward can be learned. Bob will go further and say that without directly experiencing the connection between effort and reward, animals, whether they’re rats or people, default to laziness. Calorie-burning effort is, after all, something evolution has shaped us to avoid whenever possible.

Duckworth, Angela. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (pp. 239-240). Scribner. Kindle Edition.

Deliberate Practice and The Hard Thing Rule:

In our family, we live by the Hard Thing Rule. It has three parts. The first is that everyone— including Mom and Dad— has to do a hard thing. A hard thing is something that requires daily deliberate practice. I’ve told my kids that psychological research is my hard thing, but I also practice yoga. Dad tries to get better and better at being a real estate developer; he does the same with running. My oldest daughter, Amanda, has chosen playing the piano as her hard thing. She did ballet for years, but later quit. So did Lucy. This brings me to the second part of the Hard Thing Rule: You can quit. But you can’t quit until the season is over, the tuition payment is up, or some other “natural” stopping point has arrived. You must, at least for the interval to which you’ve committed yourself, finish whatever you begin. In other words, you can’t quit on a day when your teacher yells at you, or you lose a race, or you have to miss a sleepover because of a recital the next morning. You can’t quit on a bad day. And, finally, the Hard Thing Rule states that you get to pick your hard thing. Nobody picks it for you because, after all, it would make no sense to do a hard thing you’re not even vaguely interested in. Even the decision to try ballet came after a discussion of various other classes my daughters could have chosen instead. Lucy, in fact, cycled through a half-dozen hard things. She started each with enthusiasm but eventually discovered that she didn’t want to keep going with ballet, gymnastics, track, handicrafts, or piano. In the end, she landed on viola. She’s been at it for three years, during which time her interest has waxed rather than waned. Last year, she joined the school and all-city orchestras, and when I asked her recently if she wanted to switch her hard thing to something else, she looked at me like I was crazy. Next year, Amanda will be in high school. Her sister will follow the year after. At that point, the Hard Thing Rule will change. A fourth requirement will be added: each girl must commit to at least one activity, either something new or the piano and viola they’ve already started, for at least two years. Tyrannical? I don’t believe it is. And if Lucy’s and Amanda’s recent comments on the topic aren’t disguised apple-polishing, neither do my daughters. They’d like to grow grittier as they get older, and, like any skill, they know grit takes practice. They know they’re fortunate to have the opportunity to do so. For parents who would like to encourage grit without obliterating their children’s capacity to choose their own path, I recommend the Hard Thing Rule.

Duckworth, Angela. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (pp. 241-242). Scribner. Kindle Edition.

Grit Culture:

How do you know you’re part of a culture that, in a very real sense, has become part of you? When you adopt a culture, you make a categorical allegiance to that in-group. You’re not “sort of” a Seahawk, or “sort of” a West Pointer. You either are or you aren’t. You’re in the group, or out of it. You can use a noun, not just an adjective or a verb, to describe your commitment. So much depends, as it turns out, on which in-group you commit to. The bottom line on culture and grit is: If you want to be grittier, find a gritty culture and join it. If you’re a leader, and you want the people in your organization to be grittier, create a gritty culture.

Duckworth, Angela. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (p. 245). Scribner. Kindle Edition.

Internalized Grit Culture:

Short-term conformity effects are not what excite me about the power of culture to influence grit. Not exactly. What excites me most is the idea that, in the long run, culture has the power to shape our identity. Over time and under the right circumstances, the norms and values of the group to which we belong become our own. We internalize them. We carry them with us. The way we do things around here and why eventually becomes The way I do things and why. Identity influences every aspect of our character, but it has special relevance to grit. Often, the critical gritty-or-not decisions we make— to get up one more time; to stick it out through this miserable, exhausting summer; to run five miles with our teammates when on our own we might only run three— are a matter of identity more than anything else. Often, our passion and perseverance do not spring from a cold, calculating analysis of the costs and benefits of alternatives. Rather, the source of our strength is the person we know ourselves to be.

James March, an expert on decision making at Stanford University, explains the difference this way: Sometimes, we revert to cost-benefit analyses to make choices. Of course, March doesn’t mean that, in deciding what to order for lunch or when to go to bed, we take out a pad of paper and a calculator. What he means is that, sometimes when making choices, we take into consideration how we might benefit, and what we’ll have to pay, and how likely it is that these benefits and costs will be what we think they’ll be. We can do all of this in our heads, and indeed, when I’m deciding what to order for lunch or when to go to bed, I often think through the pros and the cons before making a decision. It’s very logical. But other times, March says, we don’t think through the consequences of our actions at all. We don’t ask ourselves: What are the benefits? What are the costs? What are the risks? Instead, we ask ourselves: Who am I? What is this situation? What does someone like me do in a situation like this?

Duckworth, Angela. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (pp. 247-248). Scribner. Kindle Edition.

How to Begin Grit Oriented Behavior:

First, thinking of yourself as someone who is able to overcome tremendous adversity often leads to behavior that confirms that self-conception. If you’re a Finn with that “sisu spirit,” you get up again no matter what. Likewise, if you’re a Seattle Seahawk, you’re a competitor. You have what it takes to succeed. You don’t let setbacks hold you back. Grit is who you are. Second, even if the idea of an actual inner energy source is preposterous, the metaphor couldn’t be more apt. It sometimes feels like we have nothing left to give, and yet, in those dark and desperate moments, we find that if we just keep putting one foot in front of the other, there is a way to accomplish what all reason seems to argue against.

Duckworth, Angela. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (p. 252). Scribner. Kindle Edition.

Grit Culture Anecdotes:

“You have to learn to get over bumps in the road and mistakes and setbacks,” he told me when I called to talk about the culture he’s built at JPMorgan Chase. “Failures are going to happen, and how you deal with them may be the most important thing in whether you succeed. You need fierce resolve. You need to take responsibility. You call it grit. I call it fortitude.” Fortitude is to Jamie Dimon what sisu is to Finland. Jamie recalls that getting fired from Citibank at age forty-two, and then taking a full year to ponder what lessons to take from the episode, made him a better leader. And he believes in fortitude enough to make it a core value for the entire JPMorgan Chase bank. “The ultimate thing is that we need to grow over time.”

Is it really possible, I asked, for a leader to influence the culture of such an enormous corporation? True, the culture of JPMorgan Chase has, with some affection, been described as “the cult of Jamie.” But there are literally thousands and thousands of JPMorgan Chase employees Jamie has never met in person. “Absolutely,” Jamie says. “It takes relentless— absolutely relentless— communication. It’s what you say and how you say it.” It may also be how often you say it. By all accounts, Jamie is a tireless evangelist, crossing the country to appear at what he calls town hall meetings with his employees. At one meeting he was asked, “What do you look for in your leadership team?” His answer? “Capability, character, and how they treat people.” Later, he told me that he asks himself two questions about senior management. First: “Would I let them run the business without me?” Second: “Would I let my kids work for them?”

Jamie has a favorite Teddy Roosevelt quote he likes to repeat: It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. And here is how Jamie translates the poetry of Roosevelt into the prose of a JPMorgan Chase manual, titled How We Do Business: “Have a fierce resolve in everything you do.” “Demonstrate determination, resiliency, and tenacity.” “Do not let temporary setbacks become permanent excuses.” And, finally, “Use mistakes and problems as opportunities to get better— not reasons to quit.”

Duckworth, Angela. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (pp. 253-254). Scribner. Kindle Edition.

Final Thoughts on Grit

This book has been my way of taking you out for a coffee and telling you what I know. I’m almost done. Let me close with a few final thoughts. The first is that you can grow your grit. I see two ways to do so. On your own, you can grow your grit “from the inside out”: You can cultivate your interests. You can develop a habit of daily challenge-exceeding-skill practice. You can connect your work to a purpose beyond yourself. And you can learn to hope when all seems lost. You can also grow your grit “from the outside in.” Parents, coaches, teachers, bosses, mentors, friends— developing your personal grit depends critically on other people.

Duckworth, Angela. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (p. 269). Scribner. Kindle Edition.

Limitations of Grit:

As a psychologist, I can confirm that grit is far from the only— or even the most important— aspect of a person’s character. In fact, in studies of how people size up others, morality trumps all other aspects of character in importance. Sure, we take notice if our neighbors seem lazy, but we’re especially offended if they seem to lack qualities like honesty, integrity, and trustworthiness. So, grit isn’t everything. There are many other things a person needs in order to grow and flourish. Character is plural. One way to think about grit is to understand how it relates to other aspects of character. In assessing grit along with other virtues, I find three reliable clusters. I refer to them as the intrapersonal, interpersonal, and intellectual dimensions of character. You could also call them strengths of will, heart, and mind. Intrapersonal character includes grit. This cluster of virtues also includes self-control, particularly as it relates to resisting temptations like texting and video games. What this means is that gritty people tend to be self-controlled and vice versa. Collectively, virtues that make possible the accomplishment of personally valued goals have also been called “performance character” or “self-management skills.” Social commentator and journalist David Brooks calls these “resume virtues” because they’re the sorts of things that get us hired and keep us employed. Interpersonal character includes gratitude, social intelligence, and self-control over emotions like anger. These virtues help you get along with— and provide assistance to— other people. Sometimes, these virtues are referred to as “moral character.” David Brooks prefers the term “eulogy virtues” because, in the end, they may be more important to how people remember us than anything else. When we speak admiringly of someone being a “deeply good” person, I think it’s this cluster of virtues we’re thinking about. And, finally, intellectual character includes virtues like curiosity and zest. These encourage active and open engagement with the world of ideas. My longitudinal studies show these three virtue clusters predict different outcomes. For academic achievement, including stellar report card grades, the cluster containing grit is the most predictive. But for positive social functioning, including how many friends you have, interpersonal character is more important. And for a positive, independent posture toward learning, intellectual virtue trumps the others. In the end, the plurality of character operates against any one virtue being uniquely important.

Duckworth, Angela. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (pp. 273-274). Scribner. Kindle Edition.

Effort Counts Twice:

If you define genius as being able to accomplish great things in life without effort, then he was right: I’m no genius, and neither is he. But if, instead, you define genius as working toward excellence, ceaselessly, with every element of your being— then, in fact, my dad is a genius, and so am I, and so is Coates, and, if you’re willing, so are you.

Duckworth, Angela. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (p. 278). Scribner. Kindle Edition.

Overall, I enjoyed her book thoroughly, but I couldn’t personally identify with the parenting chapter and the chapter after it seemed like it was simply filling space with anecdotes. Angela Duckworth seems to write in a journalistic fashion just like Carol Dweck, they both utilize anecdotes to give people a more impressionable affect and it probably helps the average reader to remember more. I prefer Heidi Grant Halvorson’s more personalized writing style where she presents the reader with questionable assumptions about life and then presents the evidence to explain the reasoning behind why the research is valuable and how it can improve lives.

With all that said and shown, I give Angela Duckworth’s book:

9.7/10

Discover Your Genius by Gerald Sindell

This 11-step guidebook is a complete disappointment. I had foolishly considered the notion that perhaps a book that didn’t use statistical evidence or clinical psychological trials might hold some kernel of wisdom. After all, philosophers and Eastern religious texts offer interesting insights that I find worth consideration. To off-set the chance of disappointment, I had opened the book to a random part and read a bit. It seemed good enough, but I was proved to be thoroughly foolish for taking a small part and thinking the greater whole would offer just as much in terms of interesting insights.

That portion I had opened-up to read at the store I bought it from was the only interesting aspect. Everything else was garbage. I find the ideas too vague and poorly formed to apply to anything meaningful. The concept of raw ideas is just so groundless and ineffectual in conceptualization. A major flaw in this book is that the author assumes knowledge of various fields as examples and then presents his ideas on how they could work purely from his imagination. No attempt at reading or learning about these particular fields that he has no knowledge of but uses as examples and no attempt at understanding how to apply the specifics of what he’s talking about before posing these vacuous generalizations on fields that he’s ignorant of.

To add to the folly of this book, he sometimes goes into off-topic rants in the middle of certain chapters. It really feels as if this book was a rough draft of ideas that he didn’t pay any clear attention to or even think hard about distinguishing.

0/10. A complete flop.

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

10/10

This book is definitely worthy of its praise. Harvard Psychologist Daniel Gilbert provides some of the most incredible insights on how we misjudge our own behavior in the future and even go as far as to misinterpret the past. There’s more depth in so many of these psychology books that I read that one simple review honestly doesn’t do them much justice, I highly recommend reading them yourselves. I sometimes wonder if even these concise explanations do them justice, since the books by the actual experts are better able to detail and explain the details far more clearly and effectively than I ever could. I’ve decided to take several critical portions to provide evidence of why this book is such a goldmine of information and should be purchased by any avid reader of human psychology.

This book comes in six parts and for the purposes of this review, I’ll also add my own personal feelings regarding each of the parts.

Gilbert begins the book in Part 1 about the lack of control and misunderstandings that we have on human behavior by explaining details about how we remember surprising events or beholding man-made wonders and how our brain recalls specific instances of a moment but not details between those moments. He goes on to detail the life of Phineas Gage. I had heard the tale before in other psychology books, but Gilbert goes into much greater detail and explains why this was fascinating to doctors and psychologists during it’s time. Phineas Gage was a foreman who had a pipe blow across his skull and through his brain. He survived the incident, but after being hospitalized and treated, he was never the same. His compassionate and cordial personality suddenly changed to fits of irritation, rudeness, and anger. After the accident, he would yell at people and generally treat everyone who knew him poorly. The case is often cited by psychologists because it’s demonstrable proof that we – as human beings – simply aren’t as knowledgeable about our behavior or as independently in control of our own behaviors as we’d like to believe ourselves to be. As a point of comparison, I recall New Atheist and neuroscientist Sam Harris, in a debate about Heaven and a rewarding spiritual life, pointing out that people like the idea of seeing their grandma in Heaven for all eternity, but don’t seem to understand or even consider the fact that injuries to the brain can hurt your motor functions and even change your personality, yet people think they’ll be on some spiritual plane where their family is able to have full motor functions, consciousness, and hold the same set of personality traits when their brain is buried along with their physical bodies and has stopped functioning long ago. In the same sense, Phineas Gage’s life, and those like him, is irrevocable proof of the opposite. If your personality can so drastically change from physical damage to the brain – due to an accident of either chance or foul intent, it’s plainly unrealistic to believe you do have as much independence as you believe that you do or that your subconscious processes don’t influence your behavior. On the part of Phineas Gage, the parts of his brain that were damaged did influence calmness and compassion. It genuinely wasn’t his fault that he became what laypeople would chalk up as being an “asshole” to others.

Admittedly, I felt the book was going through several different parts without any coherent reason and felt it was sloppy. I took several months off reading it, because I had heard of Phineas Gage’s story before and I wasn’t sure if I was going to learn much of anything beyond what I had already read. The book did go into details of other studies covered, but upon closer examination after having finished reading, I realized I was being incredibly unfair. One such research material in another book, Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, was – from what I recall – done by the researcher himself. Using it as reference isn’t a valid reason to put a book down, I had just felt bored by the prospect without just cause. I was happily proven wrong about my presumptions as I read further on and it did provide amazing insights on the subject matter. Looking back, Gilbert’s starting structure makes complete sense because of how the research material and explanations covers psychology, neuroscience, economics, and memory recall. Therefore, while the Part 1 seems a bit ridiculous, it’s actually not sloppy writing, but something that Gilbert had to place in Part 1 so that readers get a more complete understanding of the complex research and can learn from it. It simply wasn’t fair of me to judge the book on Part 1 alone and he had very good reasons for explaining and writing Part 1 in the manner that he did.

Part 2: Subjectivity begins explaining the various forms of happiness and how people routinely try to deceive themselves about what constitutes happiness by trying to find ways to ground the feeling by definition. It’s largely seen as an intuitive gut reaction; a “you-know-what-I-mean” feeling and definitions are problematic. Even if, for instance, people are dieting and we can reasonably refer to such people as unhappy while they’re dieting, it’s largely to increase future yields because people who diet are trying to make their lives more pleasant. Moreover, the worst conceit is virtue happiness which was first promoted by the Greeks and later the twist that Christian theologians had added of happiness not being a product, but a reward to be expected after death – i.e. death worship. Later theologians then asserted that the virtuous and pious life was itself fulfilling and happy, with the premise being that those who don’t walk the path of God were unhappy.

The intermixing usage of virtuous happiness and Christian theologians later defense that living for God made one happy led to some bizarre arguments that were simply indefensible. Philosophers and theologians alike, by muddling cause and consequences as Gilbert states, would argue that a pious believer being eaten alive by cannibals is happy while a Nazi war criminal basking in an Argentinean beach is not really happy. That’s because happiness is a word that is generally used to cite an experience, but not the actions that give rise to happiness. Gilbert goes on to further point out that we should admit when even astonishingly awful events make people happy. He asks the reader if it makes sense to say: “After a day spent killing his parents, Frank was happy”? Absolutely! We hope no such person exists, and we understand this Frank person is a horrible person, but if he says he’s happy and looks happy, is there any reason to doubt him?

Gilbert goes on to write: “Happiness refers to feelings, virtue refers to actions, and those actions can cause those feelings. But not necessarily and not exclusively.” – it’s important to remember the nuance when we form an understanding of what happiness is and isn’t.

Can we distinguish the degree of happiness between people as a basis? Gilbert says we can’t tell and it’s because, even with side-by-side comparisons, we’re not having the same experiences at the same time. He points to research where two groups of people looked at a specific color of yellow paint with one group describing the yellow paint and the other being the “non-describer” group. They were then taken to a swathe of six different colored yellow paint and asked to pick the one they had just seen 30 seconds ago. The first interesting finding was that only 73 percent of those who hadn’t described the color could accurately select the color they had seen. The second, and shocking, finding was that only 33 percent of those who spent time to describe the color paint they had seen just 30 seconds ago were able to accurately identify the same color paint from the six different colors of yellow. Evidently, the describers verbal descriptions “overwrote” their memories. They didn’t remember the event that they had just experienced; they remembered what they said about what they experienced and their explanation wasn’t clear or precise enough to help them identify the same color painting 30 seconds later.

Gilbert points out that people simply don’t notice visual discontinuities due to their eyes jiggling every few seconds. In a study similar to the previous one, volunteers looked at text that LoOked LIKe tHis which alternated every few seconds to one that lOoked likE thIs every time their eyes jiggled away and the volunteers never noticed as they read the passages on the screen. In essence, and I’m paraphrasing now, our memories simply take snapshots of the most emotional parts of our experience with an event (such as going to a new diner), where we’ll remember the bad taste of the wine or the good taste of the food but not the before and after of how we arrived and left when nothing that affected us happened. We take these “snapshots” and reweave our memories of events. We’re not actually recalling; we’re fabricating memories based on the emotional snapshots of the experience that we’ve made. It’s why it’s hard to sometimes remember what year or what we did after a particular special memory like snapping photos at the Grand Canyon with our spouse/parents/children.

Moreover, we don’t seem to be aware when our gut reaction is simply giving us a false-positive. In a study where one set of volunteers were shown quiz-show questions, one group (quiz questions only) felt the questions were quite difficult. The other group (questions-and-answers) believed the questions were quite easy and believed they could have answered them had they never known the answers beforehand. Once the volunteers knew the answers, the questions felt simple (“Of course it was x – everyone knows that!”) and the volunteers (questions-and-answers) were no longer able to judge how difficult the questions actually were for those who didn’t share the knowledge of the answers. Gilbert mentions: “Studies such as these show that once we have an experience, we cannot simply set it aside and see the world as we would have seen it had the experience never happened.” and further says “Our experiences instantly become part of the lens through which we view our entire past, present, and future, and like any lens, they shape and distort what we see. This lens is not like a pair of spectacles that we can set on the nightstand when we find it convenient to do so but like a pair of contacts that are forever affixed to our eyeballs with superglue. Once we learn to read, we can never again see letters as mere inky squiggles. Once we learn about free jazz, we can never again hear Ornette Coleman’s saxophone as a source of noise. Once we learn that van Gogh was a mental patient, or that Ezra Pound was an anti-Semite, we can never again view their art in the same way.” (Stumbling on Happiness, pg. 49).

Gilbert points out that, as a result, we can be happy without knowing or having awareness of an experience that we’re missing in life. That conclusion genuinely shocked me. I had thought and believed the opposite for so long. Gilbert uses the examples of conjoined twins who have claimed to be happy and don’t wish to separate. We as a society may believe that they’re not truly happy because of the lack of independence, but how we gauge relative happiness and how they do is on different standards. They don’t know what it feels like to not have someone else always connected to them in life (even on personal matters like the bathroom), but that’s the point. Even if they were to agree to a separation and say they weren’t really happy before, that wouldn’t necessarily mean that they were right. They genuinely could have been happy as conjoined twins and their new experience simply gave them the opposite feeling when looking back on their lives. They may have genuinely been happier before the separation for reasons explained further on.

Chapter 3: Outside Looking In has Gilbert explaining why, despite the issues, the best indicator of a person’s emotional state is accepting their view. At the end of the day, only they can give us a measure of their personal happiness. Most deficits regarding this method can be cleaned-up by the Law of Large Numbers. Because using them as a basis for analysis is only a problem when we fail to recognize a glaring issue in the research study. Despite individuals having different subjective scales, the least flawed method to find the most accurate information is to understand the average of an experience.

Gilbert summarizes this point on page 70:

“The bottom line is this: The attentive person’s honest, real-time report is an imperfect approximation of her subjective experience, but it is the only game in town. When a fruit salad, a lover, or a jazz trio is just too imperfect for our tastes, we stop eating, kissing, and listening. But the law of large numbers suggests that when a measurement is too imperfect for our tastes, we should not stop measuring. Quite the opposite – we should measure again and again until niggling imperfections yield to the onslaught of data. Those subatomic particles that like to be everywhere at once seem to cancel one another’s behavior so that the large conglomerate of particles that we call cows, cars, and French Canadians stay exactly where we put them. By the same logic, the careful collection of a large number of experiential reports allows the imperfections of one to cancel out the imperfections of another. No individual’s report may be taken as an unimpeachable and perfectly calibrated index of his experience-not yours, not mine-but we can be confident that if we ask enough people the same question, the average answer will be a roughly accurate index of the average experience. The science of happiness requires that we play the odds, and thus the information it provides us is always at some risk of being wrong.” He essentially adds that if we wish to bet against it, then we need more of the same question to be answered by more respondents to prove otherwise. It’s the most credible way to measure happiness. We must know, after all, what religion, art, music, etc are good for. If not our personal happiness, then what would mattering to us even mean?

In the next chapter, In the Blind Spot of the Mind’s Eye, Daniel Gilbert elaborates on how we store and use memory. This is explained in pages 78 – 79: “How do we cram the vast universe of our experience into the relatively small storage compartment between our ears? We do what Harpo did: We cheat. As you learned in the previous chapters, the elaborate tapestry of our experience is not stored in memory-at least not in its entirety. Rather, it is compressed for storage by first being reduced to a few critical threads, such as a summary phrase (“Dinner was disappointing”) or a small set of key features (tough steak, corked wine, snotty waiter). Later, when we want to remember our experience, our brains quickly reweave the tapestry by fabricating-not by actually retrieving-the bulk of the information that we experience as memory. This fabrication happens so quickly and effortlessly that we have the illusion (as a good magician’s audience always does) that the entire thing was in our heads the entire time.” Later on, Daniel writes in pages 79 – 80: “This general finding-that information acquired after an event alters memory of the event-has been replicated so many times in so many different laboratory and field settings that it has left most scientists convinced of two things. First, the act of remembering involved “filling in” details that were not actually stored; and second, we generally cannot tell when we are doing this because filling in happens quickly and unconsciously. Indeed, this phenomenon is so powerful that it happens even when we know someone is trying to trick us.” In essence, the meaning we give our feelings after an experience will be our interpretation of the event.

Later in the chapter, Gilbert details the issue of Realism within the human psyche. In this specific context, he means that we confuse our interpretation of the world for objective reality and that such a bias is instantaneous. In pages 88-89, in his own words, Gilbert elaborates: “According to this line of reasoning, we automatically assume that our subjective experience of a thing is a faithful representation of the thing’s properties. Only later-if we have the time, energy, and ability-do we rapidly repudiate that assumption and consider the possibility that the real world may not actually be as it appears to us. Piaget described realism as “a spontaneous and immediate tendency to confuse the sign and the thing signified,” and research shows that this tendency to equate our subjective sense of things with the objective properties of those things remains spontaneous and immediate throughout our lives. It does not go away forever, and it does not go away on occasion. Rather, it is brief, unarticulated, and rapidly unraveled, but it is always the first step in our perception of the world. We believe what we see, and then unbelieve it when we have to.
All of this suggests that the psychologist George Miller was right when he wrote, “The crowning intellectual accomplishment of the brain is the real world.” The three-and-a-half-pound meat loaf between our ears is not a simple recording device but a remarkably smart computer that gathers information, makes shrewd judgments and even shrewder guesses, and offers us its best interpretation of the way things are. Because those interpretations are usually so good, because they usually bear such a striking resemblance to the world as it is actually constituted, we do not realize that we are seeing an interpretation. Instead, we feel as though we are sitting comfortably inside our heads, looking out through the clear glass windshield of our eyes, watching the world as it truly is. We tend to forget that our brains are talented forgers, weaving a tapestry of memory and perception whose detail is so compelling that its inauthenticity is rarely detected. In a sense, each of us is as counterfeiter who prints phony dollar bills and then happily accepts them for payment, unaware that he is both the perpetrator and victim of a well-orchestrated fraud.”

In a further chapter, The Hound of Silence, Gilbert specifies how we distort our own perceptions of future events by temporal distance. We confuse the vagueness of our thoughts on how an event will play out as realistic representations of that day. In pages 105 – 106, Gilbert explains:

“Seeing in time is like seeing in space. But there is one important difference between spatial and temporal horizons. When we perceive a distant buffalo, our brains are aware of the fact that the buffalo looks smooth, vague, and lacking in detail because it is far away, and they do not mistakenly conclude that the buffalo itself is smooth and vague. But when we remember or imagine a temporally distant event, our brains seem to overlook the fact that details vanish with temporal distance, and they conclude instead that the distant events actually are as smooth and vague as we are imagining and remembering them. For example, have you ever wondered why you often make commitments that you deeply regret when the moment to fulfill them arrives? We all do this, of course. We agree to babysit the nephews and nieces next month, and we look forward to that obligation even as we jot it in our diary. Then, when it actually comes time to buy the Happy Meals, set up the Barbie playset, hide the bong, and ignore the fact that the NBA playoffs are on at one o’clock, we wonder what we were thinking when we said yes. Well, here’s what we were thinking: When we said yes we were thinking about babysitting in terms of why instead of how, in terms of causes and consequences instead of execution, and we failed to consider the fact that the detail-free babysitting we were imagining would not be the detail-laden babysitting we would ultimately experience. Babysitting next month is “an act of love,” whereas babysitting right now is “an act of lunch,” and expressing affection is spiritually rewarding in a way that buying French fries simply isn’t.”

Gilbert explains later on that one simple trick can effectively manage this bias: think of the future event as if it was happening tomorrow instead of in the future. Doing so should aid you in figuring out all the mini-steps and requirements needed to act effectively for the event and provide more consideration for what you’ll be doing.

In further chapters, Gilbert goes onto explain prefeeling. Due to our bias for the present, we have a ubiquitous tendency to confuse our present emotions for how we’ll feel in the future. Prefeeling has some positives, Gilbert details a study in which people who used prefeeling to choose a poster instead of thinking over it for long were more satisfied with their choices than those who cogitated over the cost-benefits of how a particular poster would look with their apartment or house wall’s coloring. However, prefeeling has us “fill-in” the details of future events with our current emotional states and subconsciously bias us into believing that our present feelings of depression, happiness, or even boredom will continue in the future and even during future events that friends recommend to us – such as going to a party or concert or going to a new restaurant. We believe our current emotional state will remain the same regardless of the experience.

In the chapter Time Bombs, pages 145 – 146, Gilbert explains how our frame of reference – such as being a buyer and seller of a car – impact our feelings. He details the full effects of confusing the present moment for how we’ll feel in the future. He explains on page 147 in the Onward: “Because predictions about the future are made in the present, they are inevitably influenced by the present. The way we feel right now (“I’m so hungry”) and the way we think right now (“The big speakers sound better than the little ones”) exert an unusually strong influence on the way we think we’ll feel later. Because time is such a slippery concept, we tend to imagine the future as the present with a twist, thus our imagined tomorrows inevitably look like slightly twisted versions of today. The reality of the moment is so palpable and powerful that it holds imagination in a tight orbit from which it never fully escapes. Presentism occurs because we fail to recognize that our future selves won’t see the world the way we see it now.”

In the following chapter, Paradise Glossed, Gilbert explains how we ascribe meaning to ambiguous experiences  and how our minds generally form a preference on what the ambiguous stimuli means to us. We infer these meanings from context, frequency, and recency and often prefer that the ambiguous stimuli mean one thing rather than another due to our desires, wishes, and needs. As such, our brain tends to exploit the ambiguity of a stimuli for such preferable interpretations of the world.

Analogous to our physical immune system, our brains provide a psychological immune system that interpret incredibly negative events in a positive way. Generally speaking, this psychological immune system interprets events in ways that feel preferable to us after an incredibly negative experience so that we may derive meaning from it. This is why incidents of people who have been wrongfully jailed for decades, extramarital affairs, and debilitating injuries like the permanent loss of motor functions is interpreted positively with people feeling happier with their lives – these events reach a critical threshold where our psychological immune systems try to rationalize our experiences in a positive way. That is not to say that these are delusions or that it’s wrongful behavior, Gilbert is simply explaining the psychological process that is going on. Sure, losing an appendage is objectively worse than having avoided such a loss, but that doesn’t make our rationalizations and self-interpretations of those events any less meaningful or valuable. Gilbert mentions we need both a mix of reality and illusion to keep us going everyday and our psychological immune system interprets ambiguous events in a positive way to protect our emotions. Gilbert mentions that we have a general preference to give more thorough examinations and critiques to evidence that we dislike than to evidence that we find favorable. Gilbert mentions that this is essentially subconsciously cooking the facts for our own favored conclusions. However, just as important as that, we must feel as if the evidence is a discovery and not merely a self-delusion. When the information feels like a genuine discovery, we feel that we’re being honest with ourselves. It doesn’t work when we are dishonestly accepting a lie when the evidence that we value overwhelmingly disproves us. We like believing that we’re being honest with ourselves in these new discoveries and not dishonestly lying to ourselves and we do that be interpreting facts for our benefit.

Gilbert further explains the foibles of our psychological immune systems in pages 178 – 180 of the chapter Immune to Reality:

“Ignorance of our psychological immune systems causes us to mispredict the circumstances under which we will blame ourselves. Who can forget the scene at the end of the 1942 film Casablanca in which Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman are standing on the tarmac as she tries to decide whether to stay in Casablanca with the man she loves or board the plane and leave with her husband? Bogey turns to Bergman and says: “Inside we both know you belong with Victor. You’re part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But soon and for the rest of your life.”
This thin slice of melodrama is among the most memorable scenes in the history of cinema-not because it is particularly well acted or particularly well written but because most of us have stood on that same runway from time to time. Our most consequential choices-whether to marry, have children, buy a house, enter a profession, move abroad-are often shaped by how we imagine our future regrets (“Oh no, I forgot to have a baby!”). Regret is an emotion we feel when we blame ourselves for unfortunate outcomes that might have been prevented had we only behaved differently in the past, and because that emotion is decidedly unpleasant, our behavior in the present is often designed to preclude it. Indeed, most of us have elaborate theories about when and why people feel regret, and these theories allow us to avoid the experience. For instance, we expect to feel more regret when we learn about alternatives to our choices than when we don’t, when we accept bad advice than when we reject good advice, when our bad choices are unusual rather than conventional, and when we fail by a narrow margin rather than by a wide margin.
But sometimes these theories are wrong. Consider this scenario. You own shares of Company A. During the past year you considered switching to stock in Company B but decided against it. You now find that you would have been better off by $1,200 if you had switched to the stock of Company B. You also owned shares in Company C. During the past year you switched to stock in Company D. You now find out that you’d have been better off by $1,200 if you kept your stock in Company C. Which error causes you more regret? Studies show that about nine out of ten people expect to feel more regret when they foolishly switch stocks than when they foolishly fail to switch stocks, because most people think they will regret foolish actions more than foolish inactions. But studies also show that nine out of ten people are wrong. Indeed, in the long run, people of every age and in every walk of life seem to regret not having done things much more than they regret things they did, which is why the most popular regrets include not going to college, not grasping profitable business opportunities, and not spending enough time with family and friends.
But why do people regret inactions more than actions? One reason is that the psychological immune system has a more difficult time manufacturing positive and credible views of inactions than of actions. When our action causes us to accept a marriage proposal from someone who later becomes an axe murderer, we can console ourselves by thinking of all the things we learned from the experience (“Collecting hatchets is not a healthy hobby”). But when our inaction causes us to reject a marriage proposal from someone who later becomes a movie star, we can’t console ourselves by thinking of all the things we learned from the experience because . . . well, there wasn’t one. The irony is all too clear: Because we do not realize that our psychological immune system can rationalize an excess of courage more easily than an excess of cowardice, we hedge our bets when we should blunder forward. As students of the silver screen recall, Bogart’s admonition about future regret led Bergman to board the plane and fly away with her husband. Had she stayed with Bogey in Casablanca, she would probably have felt just fine. Not right away, perhaps, but soon, and for the rest of her life.”

Further on, he explains the Inescapability Trigger on page 183:

“Intense suffering is one factor that can trigger our defenses and thus influence our experiences in ways we don’t anticipate. But there are others. For example, why do we forgive our siblings for behavior we would never tolerate in a friend? Why aren’t we disturbed when the president does something that would have kept us from voting for him had he done it before the election? Why do we overlook an employee’s chronic tardiness but refuse to hire a job seeker who is two minutes late for the interview? One possibility is that blood is thicker than water, flags were made to be rallied around, and first impressions matter most. But another possibility is that we are more likely to look for and find a positive view of the things we’re stuck with than of the things we’re not. Friends come and go, and changing candidates is as easy as changing socks. But siblings and presidents are ours, for better or for worse, and there’s not much we can do about it once they’ve been born or elected.  When the experience we are having is not the experience we want to be having, our first reaction is to go out and have a different one, which is why we return unsatisfactory rental cars, check out of bad hotels, and stop hanging around with people who pick their noses in public. It is only when we cannot change the experience that we look for ways to change our view of the experience, which is why we love the clunker in the driveway, the shabby cabin that’s been in the family for years, and Uncle Sheldon despite his predilection for nasal spelunking. We find silver linings only when we must, which is why people experience an increase in happiness when genetic tests reveal that they don’t have a dangerous genetic defect, but not when the tests are inconclusive. We just can’t make the best of fate until it is inescapably, inevitably, and irrevocably ours.”

In essence: We’re more likely to do something and enjoy doing it when we limit our options and have no option than we would when given choices.

Gilbert goes on to further detail how unexplained events strike us as unusual and cause us to think about them more, thus a pleasant unusual experience is something we feel more joy in than an event we can explain away since we can stop thinking of them. Even in situations when an “explanation” doesn’t actually explain anything, this effect will happen since the event only needs to seem as though it was explained. By contrast, uncertainty can preserve and prolong happiness. When we don’t know why a person feels happy or angry at us – we question it more and why they felt that way and it’s a much more lasting impression.

Gilbert details in the chapter Once Bitten, about how our brains use facts and theories to make guesses on past events and the feelings we had of those past events. On page 206 – 208, in his own words:

“Our brains use facts and theories to make guesses about past events, and so too do they use facts and theories to make guesses about past feelings. Because feelings do not leave behind the same kinds of facts that presidential elections and ancient civilizations do, our brains must rely even more heavily on theories to construct memories of how we once felt. When those theories are wrong, we end up misremembering our own emotions. Consider, for instance, how your theories about something-oh, say, how about gender?-might influence your recollection of past feelings. Most of us believe that men are less emotional than women (“She cried, he didn’t”), that men and women have different emotional reactions to similar events (“He was angry, she was sad”), and that women are particularly prone to negative emotions at particular points in their menstrual cycles (“She’s a bit irritable today, if you know what I mean”). As it turns out, there is little evidence for any of these beliefs-but that’s not the point. The point is that these beliefs are theories that can influence how we remember our own emotions. Consider:

  • In one study, volunteers were asked to remember how they had felt a few months earlier, and the male and female volunteers remembered feeling equally intense emotions. Another group of volunteers was asked to remember how they had felt a month earlier, but before doing so, they were asked to think a bit about gender. When volunteers were prompted to think about gender, female volunteers remembered feeling more intense emotion and male volunteers remembered feeling less intense emotion.
  • In one study, male and female volunteers became members of teams and played a game against an opposing team. Some volunteers immediately reported the emotions they had felt while playing the game, and others recalled their emotions a week later. Male and female volunteers did not differ in the kinds of emotions they reported. But a week later female volunteers recalled feeling more stereotypically feminine emotions (e.g., sympathy and guilt) and male volunteers recalled feeling more stereotypically masculine emotions (e.g., anger and pride).
  • In one study, female volunteers kept diaries and made daily ratings for their feelings for four to six weeks. These ratings revealed that women’s emotions did not vary with the phase of their menstrual cycles. However, when the women were later asked to reread the diary entry for a particular day and remember how they had been feeling, they remembered feeling more negative emotion on the days on which they were menstruating.

It seems that our theories about how people of our gender usually feel can influence our memory of how we actually felt. Gender is but one of many theories that have this power to alter our memories.”

In the following chapter, Reporting Live from Tomorrow, on pages 216 – 217, Gilbert details why certain beliefs gain popularity over others in a society.

“If a particular belief has some property that facilitates its own transmission, then that belief tends to be held by an increasing number of minds. As it turns out, there are several such properties that increase a belief’s transmissional success, the most obvious of which is accuracy. When someone tells us where to find a parking space downtown or how to bake a cake at high altitude, we adopt that belief and pass it along because it helps us and our friends do the things we want to do, such as parking and baking. As one philosopher noted, “The faculty of communication would not gain ground in evolution unless it was by and large the faculty of transmitting true beliefs.” Accurate beliefs give us power, which makes it easy to understand why they are so readily transmitted from one mind to another.
It is a bit more difficult to understand why inaccurate beliefs are so readily transmitted from one mind to another-but they are. False beliefs, like bad genes, can and do become super-replicators, and a thought experiment illustrates how this can happen. Imagine a game that is played by two teams, each of which has a thousand players, each of whom is linked to teammates by a telephone. The object of the game is to get one’s team to share as many accurate beliefs as possible. When players receive a message that they believe to be accurate, they call a teammate and pass it along. When they receive a message that they believe to be inaccurate, they don’t. At the end of the game, the referee blows a whistle and awards each team a point for every accurate belief that the entire team shares and subtracts one point for every inaccurate belief the entire team shares. Now, consider a contest played one sunny day between called the Perfects (whose members always transmit accurate beliefs) and a team called the Imperfects (whose members occasionally transmit an inaccurate belief). We should expect the Perfects to win, right?
Not necessarily. In fact, there are some special circumstances under which the Imperfects will beat their pants off. For example, imagine what would happen if one of the Imperfect players sent the false message “Talking on the phone all day and night will ultimately make you very happy,” and imagine that other Imperfect players were gullible enough to believe it and pass it on. This message is inaccurate and thus will cost the Imperfects a point in the end. But it may have the compensatory effect of keeping more of the Imperfects on the telephone for more of the time, thus increasing the total number of accurate messages they transmit. Under the right circumstances, the costs of this inaccurate belief would be outweighed by its benefits, namely, that it led players to behave in ways that increased the odds that they would share other accurate beliefs. The lesson to be learned from this game is that inaccurate beliefs can prevail in the belief-transmission game if they somehow facilitate their own “means of transmission.” In the case, the means of transmission is not sex but communication, and thus any belief-even a false belief-that increases communication has a good chance of being transmitted over and over again. False beliefs that happen to promote stable societies tend to propagate because people who hold these beliefs tend to live in stable societies, which provide the means by which false propagate.
Some of our cultural wisdom about happiness looks suspiciously like a super-replicating false belief.”

Gilbert explains how we can use surrogates to understand our own emotional futures and why most people prefer to use imagination instead of the more useful tool of using other’s experiences as surrogates to know how we’ll feel in the future. Gilbert details why we have an aversion to this and the falsehoods we tell ourselves about uniqueness and the foibles of simply using imagination to think of a future experience that we have yet to experience:

On pages 224 – 225, 226-227, and 227-228, respectively. Gilbert details the shortcomings of our imagination:

“The idea sounds all too simple, and I suspect you have an objection to it that goes something like this: Yes, other people are probably right now experiencing the very things I am merely contemplating, but I can’t use other people’s experiences as proxies for my own because those other people are not me. Every human being is as unique as his or her fingerprints, so it won’t help me much to learn about how others feel in the situations that I’m facing. Unless these other people are my clones and have had all the same experiences I’ve had, their reactions and my reactions are bound to differ. I am a walking, talking idiosyncrasy, and thus I am better off basing my predictions on my somewhat fickle imagination than on the reports of people whose preferences, tastes, and emotional proclivities are so radically different from my own. If that’s your objection, then it is a good one-so good that it will take two steps to dismantle it. First let me prove to you that the experience of a single randomly selected individual can sometimes provide a better basis for predicting your future experience than your own imagination can. And then let me show you why you-and I-find this so difficult to believe.”

“No one can imagine every feature and consequence of a future event, hence we must consider some and fail to consider others. The problem is that the features and consequences we fail to consider are often quite important. You may recall the study in which college students were asked to imagine how they would feel a few days after their school’s football team played a game against its archrival. The results showed that students overestimated the duration of the game’s emotional impact because when they tried to imagine their future experience, they imagined their team winning (“The clock will hit zero, we’ll storm the field, everyone will cheer . . .”) but failed to imagine what they would be doing afterward (“And then I’ll go home and study for my final exams”). Because the students were focused on the game, they failed to imagine how events that happened after the game would influence their happiness. So what should they have done instead?
They should have abandoned imagination altogether.”

“Imagination’s second shortcoming is its tendency to project the present onto the future (which we explored in the section on presentism). When imagination paints a picture of the future, many of the details are necessarily missing, and imagination solves this problem by filling in the gaps with details that it borrows from the present. Anyone who has ever shopped on an empty stomach, vowed to quit smoking after stubbing out a cigarette, or proposed marriage while on shore leave knows that how we feel now can erroneously influence how we think we’ll feel later. As it turns out, surrogation can remedy this shortcoming too.”

“Imagination’s third shortcoming is its failure to recognize that things will look different once they happen-in particular, that bad things will look a whole lot better (which we explored in the section rationalization). When we imagine losing a job, for instance, we imagine the painful experience (“The boss will march into my office, shut the door behind him  . . .”) without also imagining how our psychological immune systems will transform its meaning (“I’ll come to realize that this was an opportunity to quit retail sales and follow my true calling as a sculptor”).

On pages 229-232, Gilbert explains the issue with our incessant belief in uniqueness:

“Because if you are like most people, then like most people, you don’t know you’re like most people. Science has given us a lot of facts about the average person, and one of the most reliable of these facts is that the average person doesn’t see herself as average. Most students see themselves as more intelligent than the average student, most business managers see themselves as more competent than the average business manager, and most football players see themselves as having better “football sense” than their teammates. Ninety percent of motorists consider themselves to be safer-than-average drivers, and 94 percent of college professors consider themselves to be better-than-average teachers. Ironically, this bias towards ourselves as better than average causes us to see ourselves as less biased than average too. As one research team concluded, “Most of us appear to believe that we are more athletic, intelligent, organized, ethical, logical, interesting, fair-minded, and healthy-not to mention more attractive-than the average person.”
This tendency to think of ourselves as better than others is not necessarily a manifestation of our unfettered narcissism but may instead be an instance of a more general tendency to think of ourselves as different from others-often for better but sometimes for worse. When people are asked about generosity, they claim to perform a greater number of generous acts than others do; but when they are asked about selfishness, they claim to perform a greater number of selfish acts than others do. When people are asked about their ability to perform an easy task, such as driving a car or riding a bike, they rate themselves as better than others; but when they are asked about their ability to perform a different task, such as juggling or playing chess, they rate themselves as worse than others. We don’t always see ourselves as superior, but we almost always see ourselves as unique. Even when we do precisely what others do, we tend to think that we’re doing it for unique reasons. For instance, we tend to attribute other people’s choices to features of the chooser (“Phil picked this class because he’s one of those literary types”), but we tend to attribute our own choices to features of the options (“But I picked it because it was easier than economics”). We recognize that our decisions are influenced by social norms (“I was too embarrassed to raise my hand in class even though I was terribly confused”), but fail to recognize that others’ decisions were similarly influenced (“No one else raised a hand because no one else was as confused as I was”). We know that our choices sometimes reflect our aversions (“I voted for Kerry because I couldn’t stand Bush”), but we assume that other people’s choices reflect their appetites (“If Rebecca voted for Kerry, then she must have liked him”). The list of differences is long but the conclusion to be drawn from it is short: The self considers itself to be a very special person.
What makes us think we’re so darned special? Three things, at least. First, even if we aren’t special, the way we know ourselves is. We are the only people in the world whom we can know from the inside. We experience our own thoughts and feelings but must infer that other people are experiencing theirs. We all trust that behind those eyes and inside those skulls, our friends and neighbors are having subjective experiences very much like our own, but that trust is an article of faith and not the palpable, self-evident truth that our own subjective experiences constitute. There is a difference between making love and reading about it, and it is the same difference that distinguishes our knowledge of our own mental lives from our knowledge of everyone else’s. Because we know ourselves and others by such different means, we gather very different kinds and amounts of information. In every waking moment we monitor the steady stream of thoughts and feelings that run through our heads, but we only monitor other people’s words and deeds, and only when they are in our company. One reason why we seem so special, then, is that we learn about ourselves in such a special way.
The second reason is that we enjoy thinking of ourselves as special. Most of us want to fit in well with our peers, but we don’t want to fit in too well. We prize our unique identities, and research shows that when people are made to feel too similar to others, their moods quickly sour and they try to distance and distinguish themselves in a variety of ways. If you’ve ever shown up at a party and found someone else wearing exactly the same dress or necktie that you were wearing, then you know how unsettling it is to share the room with an unwanted twin whose presence temporarily diminishes your sense of individuality. Because we value our uniqueness, it isn’t surprising that we tend to overestimate it.
The third reason why we tend to overestimate our uniqueness is that we tend to overestimate everyone’s uniqueness-that is, we tend to think of people as more different from one another than they actually are. Let’s face it: All people are similar in some ways and different in others. The psychologists, biologists, economists, and sociologists who are searching for universal laws of human behavior naturally care about the similarities, but the rest of us care mainly about the differences. Social life involves selecting particular individuals to be our sexual partners, business partners, bowling partners, and more. That task requires that we focus on the things that distinguish one person from another and not on the things that all people share, which is why personal ads are much more likely to mention the advertiser’s love of ballet than his love of oxygen. A penchant for respiration explains a great deal about human behavior-for example, why people live on land, become ill at high altitudes, have lungs, resist suffocation, love trees, and so on. It surely explains more than does a person’s penchant for ballet. But it does nothing to distinguish one person from another, and thus for ordinary folks who are in the ordinary business of selecting others for commerce, conversation, or copulation, the penchant for air is stunningly irrelevant. Individual similarities are vast, but we don’t care much about them because they don’t help us do what we are here on earth to do, namely, distinguish Jack from Jill and Jill from Jennifer. As such, these individual similarities are an inconspicuous backdrop against which a small number of relatively minor individual differences stand out in bold relief.
Because we spend so much time searching for, attending to, thinking about, and remembering these differences, we tend to overestimate their magnitude and frequency, and thus end up thinking of people as more varied than they actually are”

“Our mythical belief in the variability and uniqueness of individuals is the main reason why we refuse to use others as surrogates. After all, surrogation is only useful when we can count on a surrogate to react to an event roughly as we would, and if we believe that people’s emotional reactions are more varied than they actually are, then surrogation will seem less useful to us than it actually is. The irony, of course, is that surrogation is a cheap and effective way to predict one’s future emotions, but because we don’t realize just how similar we all are, we reject this reliable method and rely instead on our imaginations, as flawed and fallible as they may be.”

A truly fascinating read. I cannot recommend it enough. Amazing work by an amazing writer and psychologist.

The SJW Left and the Alt-Right

People argue that these opposing sides should come together and find common ground, but you can’t debate with people who dismiss everything you say and don’t want to hear it. This is conceit; pure and simple. There is no chance that debates with people who don’t even agree on what a fact is can yield anything worthwhile. I’ve tried, this is a short essay explaining why I’ve given up.

You can’t talk about context, important global issues, or facts with people who dismiss you out of hand based on the idea that no matter what, you’re just touting pure garbage from “Fake news” sites. The Alt-Right has made it clear that they don’t understand national objectives and don’t distinguish when it’s important for nation desiring to go to war vs issues of gender equality They like shouting “cuck” and “sjw” to feel good about their miserable lives every 5 minutes instead of honestly examining beliefs. When I explain anything to them, they erroneously and pretentiously argue on one point – usually associated with their own feelings – than the issue itself and when pressed on issues, they revert back to “oh you’re blaming white people for everything!” as if anybody ever even made that claim when arguing about climate change, global wars that burn alive civilians with drone bombings – including children being victims of such bombings, or a massive 20 trillion dollar debt that nobody is doing anything about. Meanwhile, shouting “sand nigger” is fine when explaining their dislike of Muslims.

We have all these pressing issues and the world is only going to get worse from the US pulling out of the Paris Climate change agreement . . . but instead we’re talking about what random meme Trump is tweeting. The saddest part is, the mainstream media went from mocking him to… taking him seriously as of now. As if we should expect seriousness of any kind because a joke is in office. Somehow giving more self-importance to him is going to help fix the country and lead it? The Alt-right doesn’t even understand context and constantly disparages everything until it’s reduced to their special feelings about being a white male Christian. I honestly tried understanding what the issue was to see if there is any steps to be taken to ameliorate whatever is going on. But I was being arrogant and foolish in doing so.

Here’s all I found for my troubles:

#Identity politics are bad and lead to losing elections – except when talking about White Male Christians feeling oppressed. Whenever identity politics is talked about for minorities, the context is forcefully changed to exclamations of white men being blamed for everything.

#SJW Cucks should stop being “special snowflakes” and deal with insults when given to them – but insulting Trump or “white people” (whatever that means since they’re generalizing a broad range of people based on skin pigmentation) is wrong and you should apologize to show respect. Oh, but also, you should be allowed to say whatever you want without being told to stop.

#paygap women shouldn’t get paid equally to men because they lack testosterone. Women are evidently always passive and don’t ask for a raise as much as men.

They’ve done no research on this since the data has shown women asking for raises generally face reprimand while men who do the same don’t face such reprimand. They don’t even seem to understand that this would reduce the jobs of men in the long run, because any intelligent hiring manager would recognize that choosing between an equally competent man and woman for a position would mean that they would obviously go for the one they’d be paying 30 cents less. They’re too dumb to even understand that.

#Feminism issues: Insulting women for their appearance like their hair, breast size, weight, and so forth should be a free speech right; but women calling you a shithead for it is wrong and they’re horrible people for responding like that. Oh, and everyone should have the right to say what they want but third-wave feminism is bad and evil for teaching young adult women and men about responsible sex.

#Terrorism: we should make Trump memes when video footage of bombings happen to feel smug about bombing another country instead of horrified for allowing things like “the mother of all bombs” being dropped and killing a mass amount of people. Also, we should believe Trump when he says there’s no civilian casualties, because we can trust him with that when he’s flip-flopped and argued the opposite of his original argument on every other issue.

There’s no debating people who don’t even understand objective, scientific analysis and don’t put value in it or in anything that you have to say. We’re at the most pressing juncture of reducing climate change and the US is literally going to lead to a permanent environmental disaster with the clown in charge and will have absolutely nothing of value to offer the next 4 years to either wind-down the wars or reduce debt. If serious leaders like Obama and Bush couldn’t do it, then there’s no way a clown who can’t be bothered to do anything besides tweet stupid shit is ever going to do anything of value in reducing the debt, reducing greenhouse gases, or ending the two wars. North Korea is shooting nuclear bombs into Japanese waters and Trump gets into a twitter war as a response. There are people who are waiting for greenhouse gases to have a planned and concerted fix to prevent climate disaster so they can feel secure in having children and the response has been more pipelines and bigger bombs for oil wars.

Democracy, in all its forms, has utterly failed. It’s the result of a middle-ground fallacy with objective scientific research on environmental impacts versus the special feelings of people who don’t value fact-checking at all. They like reducing issues to simplistic monolithic entities that they can scream at with their keyboards. They don’t care and have no inkling or even desire to understand what the global issues are or how they’re progeny are now imitating them to feel good about themselves. Facts are reduced and re-contextualized to trying to appease their emotional sensibilities towards factual evidence. The very issue becomes asinine and absolutely nothing is achieved.

Dies Irae Review

THIS REVIEW WILL HAVE SPOILERS

Dies Irae is a very interesting case of a visual novel that I just don’t know whether to give a positive or negative review.

Mercurius: “Wallow in Filth. Purity is but an illusion – discard it, and all doors shalt be open to thee. No matter the era, a singular choice may shift the cosmos, shaking the world to its very foundations. You will learn and achieve nothing while bound by the chains of seclusion.”

Overall, despite having completed it, I still don’t know what to think of it. I think my main contention is that Fuji Ren is one of the absolute worst characters I’ve ever seen. His motivations are inconsistent, incoherent with his inner monologues, and it becomes downright annoying when he just has “generic anime protagonist quote” as a response while never expressing any point within his inner monologues. As an example, he brings up Theresia’s background and how the concept of self-sacrifice in Christianity could be used to brainwash her into accepting memento mori in a very fatalistic way. This is an interesting observation, but all Ren actually says is essentially “Don’t give-up senpai!” in a very generic anime dialogue. It just doesn’t feel like there was any connection between his inner thoughts and his speech. A fellow visual novel player informed me that the entirety of the character’s point was to show the negative qualities of the standard hero archetype. As of yet, I can’t find any fault with that claim, but I still feel like the visual novel made a bad decision because the narrative would have been more interesting with Fuji Ren having more fleshed out dialogue with the rest of the cast. It feels like the generic anime dialogue is meant to be presented as subtext for something deeper, but I feel the message falls flat and often becomes an incoherent ramble because Fuji Ren’s thoughts and actions don’t always correlate well.

By contrast, this is actually never an issue for any of the side events and side character fights. I enjoyed the Marie route the most because it had one of the most phenomenal fight scenes between Kei and Samiel. I loved how the narrative showed us a total contrast between where Kei ended-up in her own route (a fairly generic storyline to be honest) and showcase one of the most brutal and devastating story arcs that I’ve ever seen a character go through in Marie’s route. She lost any chance to save her brother, realized too late that Beatrice was always there trying to protect her (unlike in her own route, where Beatrice saves her in the nick of time and is conveniently freed by Fuji Ren from the trapped collection of souls within Tubal Cain), has her sword shattered and is forced to use her family’s curse to survive, and is at the precipice of losing her life and becoming a mindless abomination as the next Tubal Cain and she still chose to fight despite the overwhelming power of the enemy forces.. She’s lost all her hopes and dreams, everything she wished to get back is forever gone, and her own freedom is now barred from her – yet she still chooses to fight. Kei’s story progression in Marie’s Route is so much more heartbreaking and interesting than in her own route. She became my favorite character ironically because of Marie’s route. Samiel’s words about war show just how cruel it really is, while Kei’s response is absolutely amazing. I loved that part. Shirou and Ellie vs Schrieber was also amazing but less philosophical in it’s underpinnings.

Part of my criticism has to do with Ren’s final fight in the Marie Route feeling just right in how over the top it is, it felt like there were set boundaries of what was and wasn’t achievable in a god-like state. But, the Rea route… it just became incoherent. The fight wasn’t even really a fight, it was people roaring final attacks or some strange phenomena happening when Ren also joined the fight, and I felt like it lost all coherence. I was trying to keep-up with the random deus ex machina at the end. My chief argument for this portion of the story is that it’s as if the battle could have had anything occur when you start shooting cosmic stars and summoning anti-matter.

I enjoyed the Kei route chapter 13, Marie Route chapter 13, and Rea Route Chapters 1-11. The “true” ending felt like it made the entire journey pointless though and I know they’re trying to say even the supposed bad guys in a war are human too… but when you have people saying how hot the Gestapo leader is while only mentioning the Holocaust in passing, I have to say I just couldn’t bring myself to care. I guess the Truth ending is more complete, but I couldn’t help but feel genuine disgust. Yeah, okay, Nazis were human beings too – they still supported policies that resulted in the mass genocide of their own people and others outside the country. I’m not going to pass that off as some background noise and I genuinely don’t know how to feel about the message of this game, or possibly it’s unintended message. I’m not going to sympathize with people who want other people dead for being a certain ethnicity. I found the part with them hanging out at the pub and speaking of how good looking the Gestapo leader was to be really unsettling. I liked the Marie and Kei endings, the Kasumi route is hilarious in how much she ruins everyone’s lives due to her ignorance. The Rea route endings I just flat out didn’t like because of the ridiculous Nazi humanizing and the fact that the ending means nothing really mattered. I really don’t like “time warp” endings like that and it’s always for the sake of celebrating middle class lifestyles as “normal”, which I find ridiculous. Moreover, Marie could rewrite the timeline… and still let the Holocaust happen? Like what? I don’t even get what they were trying to achieve or what the message was in the true ending of the Rea route.

That’s my take on it. I don’t even know what to give it as a score. Partly due to the fact that I don’t know whether to call Mercurius brilliant writing or a convenient deus ex machina to explain away potential plot holes.

G-Senjou no Maou: A Captivating Narrative turned into an Incoherent Mess

This Review Contains Massive Spoilers

This might sound like some angry, stupid rant and I totally apologize. I just want to let it be known that I enjoyed this visual novel so much that I didn’t sleep for a whole day just to complete chapter 3-4. I played it non-stop because I was totally loving it. Completely captivating plot, wonderfully written characters, and amazing music… and then that stupid plot twist at the end of chapter 4 happened. And, I feel as if the game took a giant hammer and smashed my heart into little bite-sized pieces. Playing this game was like enjoying the first 7 Harry Potter books, only for the ending to turn into 50 Shades of Grey – essentially a fanfic parody of a terrible novel series. Most people say that the other paths make plot holes, but looking through it objectively, I’d say the true route is the plot hole ridden route and I will explain why below.

This story has completely disappointed me. I don’t know who the heck thought it was a good idea to introduce the generic evil brother twist, but it completely ruined the entire game.

Some points in it’s favor before I begin bashing the hell out of it, in the hopes of showing that I’m not trying to just be offensive or anything like that. I’ll give this game props for having a narrative that subtly points out the propensity of using children for acts of despicable human violence. It seems to be an underappreciated and obscure theme. When Maou talks about the use of car bombs from Northern Ireland and ten year-olds using guns in the Middle East, the author seems to be bashing the use of children in violence for terrorist purposes, and pointing out to the realistic nature of using children for the purposes of human violence.

That being said, this plot completely fails because of the evil brother twist. The saddest part? The plot was perfectly fine before then.

First problem: It’s beyond suspension of disbelief to believe that Kyouhei could fake his own death in a terrorist subway bombing in Great Britain, one that evidently made world news, just because they couldn’t find the body only to be hiding in Northern Ireland becoming a terrorist and then skip to the Middle East to learn more terrorist activities. From bombmaking in Northern Ireland to handling weapons in the Middle East, to gun smuggling in Russia. How was he not on the CIA’s hit list? Everything he did had to have left a trail. We live in an age where US Spy blimps can record the exact phrase people in Afghanistan make when they’re writing down on a piece of paper using pencils. It’s beyond disbelief to think he’d even be able to get back into Japan, or that he wasn’t noted to be the only young Japanese guy part of Northern Ireland and the ME’s terrorist cells, or that there was no eye witness or DNA evidence when he was learning and testing his skills. It’s beyond ridiculous to believe that he was “very careful” to avoid everything. Furthermore, how the hell could Haru be chasing after him? So apparently, this guy evaded the secret service agencies of Great Britain, the US, and whatever alliances the US has with various ME countries, but Haru was tailing him? This is incoherent.

Maou’s goal is to free his father; this goal becomes completely incoherent. Kyousuke and Kyouhei’s father is dead. The Psychologist mentions him having been executed in one of his talks with Kyousuke when admonishing Kyousuke for defending his father’s actions.

Now, a friend of mine who loves the game argued that “freeing” may have been freeing his father’s name from shame and that his goal was simply revenge. That’s consistent with killing Gonzou, but why didn’t he also just wire transfer money to Kyousuke and their sick mother, when Kyouhei is evidently so extremely OP that he can evade investigation and leaving any trails from the US, Britain, and Russia? He can keep everything off his tracks and play mindgames with Haru, but he can’t steal money to pay off his family debt – despite avoiding being on the radar of US spy drones, the CIA, the equivalent of Britain’s security forces, and agencies throughout the Middle East and Russia? Yet again, incoherent. If he could accomplish this with simply being careful, why not force Gonzou and the others into a massive debt or trick those organizations into thinking the Japanese Yakuza were a higher threat and needed to be taken down?

Back to the father, Kyousuke supposedly only met him once when seeing him in jail, but if he suicided after killing four people, then how did Kyousuke meet him once when his father was in jail? And also, why would Kyouhei’s goal be to free him, if he committed suicide? Yet again, incoherence.

Gonzou’s actions become incoherent too. Why let a sniper shoot him after evading a car bombing in the previous chapter? Why even say Kyousuke had psycho-amnesia? Perhaps, it could be argued, to put a red-herring on the twist, but that part comes off as pointless and nonsensical because of the generic evil brother twist.

Worsening this is that the distinction between the organizations fall into incoherence after Gonzou’s death. Gonzou is the boss of Azai and leading the Souwa Alliance, an amalgamation of different Yakuza groups working together out of necessity because police have largely put a stop to Yakuza crime over the past several years. However, after Gonzou’s death, the writing claims that Gonzou is the leader of Sannou, which loses all sense of narrative coherence.

Sannou is the corporation that they’re making backdoor deals with to maintain economic hegemony in Kyousuke’s city. In fact, the narrative made this clear since Sannou was trying to push for Makiko in the chapter 3 arc of the Skating tournaments, but the Azai group was heavily backing Azai Kanon – their interests didn’t align on that. Saying Gonzou – a city mob boss – is a CEO of Sannou loses all narrative coherence because he could have just asked Makiko to step down and that would be that.

Kyousuke’s character loses coherence too. The previous night, when heartbroken over his mother’s tragic death, and thinking over how shitty his life has been; Haru reveals her deep love and Kyousuke shouts at her and seriously threatens to rape her, if he sees her again because she’s the daughter of the man who ruined his father, mother, and his life and chose that time to apologize to his dead sister.

Now, if he felt this way, and was repressing his mind from thinking about Usami Haru being the daughter of Usami Yoshinatri – the man who ruined his family, then why did he suddenly decide on the next day – as the Yakuza are chasing after him to kill him – that she’s his woman and that he’ll protect her, no matter what?

I… What was that? He’s on high-stress, threatening to kill people, and going mad with the idea of being Maou – presumably losing all his sanity. But then, after Gonzou dies and the Azai group think it’s Kyousuke, suddenly Kyousuke decides that he actually loves Haru and will protect her… the day after threatening to rape her, if he ever saw her again?

The plot hole isn’t any of the other routes. The plot hole is the true route. Maou not being Kyousuke makes no narrative sense. Maou’s petty actions have more consistency, if he’s Kyousuke and bound to the Souwa alliance and trying to make a name for himself in Sannou.

Keep in mind, Kyousuke killing Gonzou would have made far more sense since he’d been mentally tortured by that man and living as a puppet under him for several years. Moreover, his madness driving him to hate and kill Haru… seemed to be exactly where the narrative was leading with the flashbacks. The twin brother twist just ruins that even further. Especially since Kyousuke’s disappearance spells stop making any sense altogether throughout the story.

The most bizarre thing about all this, is that the story feels perfectly consistent, complete, and *coherent* before the twin brother revelation. Which leads me to believe that – considering the off-line of raping Haru – the game was definitely suppose to end at the choking scene.

Purely a guess, but it seems like Haru probably had 3 distinctive “bad”, “normal”, and “good” paths for that scene before the awful twin brother twist. Bad ending was probably Kyousuke giving into his madness as Maou and either raping or killing Haru after choking her to unconsciousness. Good ending may have been some bittersweet chance at reconciliation before the Yakuza stormed the place and killed them both, and the ‘true’ was probably them both making amends, getting the hell out of there, and the happy ending of the epilogue with their 8 year old daughter. The reason I say that is, despite all the hardships each of the previous 4 story arcs go through, the theme of the game is about love conquering all. Tsubaki hugs her brother and apologizes because he has no concept of her sudden spite towards him, Kanon loves Kyousuke deeply but can never grow to understand him because they have to keep out of each other’s affairs and that prevents any true intimate relationship from forming but Kyousuke’s doing it out of a sense of family love just as much as his obligation to Gonzou but Kanon will never understand, Mizuha breaks down in tears because she always feels powerless to help the sister that has suffered so much and truly does love her – causing Tokita to have her own emotional breakdown because she loves her sister just as much but society keeps pulling them apart, and finally, Kyousuke loses the only remaining hope he had left of having a happy life with the mother who has suffered mental torture and has been taking it out on Haru through mindgames as a way of getting back at the world. Finally, he just snaps and his Maou personality takes over – the promise of being with each other as kids can either be seen as childish sentiment, meaningless, or something they decide to stake their hope on despite the bad blood and they elope together. Their love conquering the bad blood between them and the societal circumstances around them creating grudges beyond their control.

Side note: Haru’s submissive nature to Kyousuke – despite how guarded she was – was hinted at with Yuki Tokita. Tokita declares herself a sadist, Haru says she learned to follow her orders as friends, Tokita would play with her sexually, Haru calls Tokita her only real friend, and Tokita insists she’s the only one who can please Haru sexually. Haru and Tokita were into S&M, I don’t even mean that as a joke. They really were. Haru taking her clothes off to please Kyousuke… oddly enough fits the narrative because she’s heavily into being sexually submissive but embarrassed about others knowing. When it’s just her and Kyousuke on New Years, she does nothing but giggle and laugh at Kyousuke insulting her because she’s being sexually aroused by his insults. …Yeah.

That’s just my thoughts on it. The plot literally loses all coherence thanks to that terrible plot twist and I’m honestly disappointed. I don’t know what else to say. I really loved this visual novel up until that twist literally ruined every single thing about the game. It’s really a shame because I loved the mindgames between Maou and Haru and really felt this was the perfect Maou versus Hero rivalry and romantic love affair before that horribly atrocious plot twist ruined the coherence of the entire plot. The side characters were also absolutely wonderful. The emotional turmoil between the circumstances related to Tokita and Mizuha even made me cry a little by the end of their character arc. The realism of Tsubaki’s situation with her brother and Kyousuke assessing his own apathy towards life were genuinely great moments. Haru is also surprisingly one of the best female leads in a story. Her sense of justice, her fearlessness, and her rational outlook to assess and defeat Maou’s logic games make a very compelling narrative. Her emotional turmoil towards Kyousuke possibly being Maou made for a compelling narrative since it was already established that she didn’t have a good assessment of her emotions and tried to bury her feelings by focusing solely on her goal of revenge against her mother’s murderer. I would have given this visual novel a 10 out of 10 but regrettably, I can only give it a 5/10 and I feel like that’s stretching it. One horribly stupid plot twist really can ruin an otherwise great story.

5/10 Visual Novel.

A good visual novel, but unfortunately one egregious twist ruined it from being a truly amazing story.

 

Thematic Analysis of Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse

Part 1 of 2; The Broader Themes

This will contain major spoilers for Shin Megami Tensei IV and Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse.

What can be said about SMTIV: Apocalypse? I’m not sure if my meager words can ever provide this game the sufficient praise that it deserves for being quite possibly the greatest game of 2016 and perhaps the all-time best game ever created in all of humankind’s history. Indeed, it is as if all of human evolution, all forms of human invention, and all of humanity’s lengthy history of entertainment was a prerequisite for greatest video game to ever be created. In the future, I’m sure people will look back and gape in stunned awe at the sheer magnificence of Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse. The all-time best sequel game and best duology to ever exist thus far in video game history. I kid you not, it is by far the greatest plotlines to ever exist, but requires actual knowledge of its philosophical and religious underpinnings to fully appreciate.

This duology – and indeed, it is a duology with SMTIV – is quite amazing in its usage of it’s in-game plot and the subtle philosophical themes combined to make one of the greatest and most unappreciated masterpieces of gaming. It has become my favorite duology game with one of the most brilliant uses of writing and plot progression ever written in gaming. The best use of the alternate universe concept – in effect, Atlus has made a duology that is the multiverse written in the best way imaginable. This game outstrips and outdoes the multiverses of Chrono Trigger-Cross by a wide margin.

Without further gushing, let us begin examining the greatest duology in all of gaming history. I doubt I’ll be able to give this duology the full breadth of praise that it deserves, however, but I’ll do my best.

           

The Juxtaposition of Flynn and Nanashi

Central to the duology are the experiences and views of the two main characters on the same conflicts that effect their lives. We have two games that present what is largely the same major conflict but with two contrasting views on the same information.

The philosophical underpinnings of Perspectivism espoused by Friedrich Nietzsche is clear between Flynn and Nanashi. That is, each main character views their reality from their own interpretations of the same information to form their own “truth” of what that information means. In this case, while a stronger degree of facts give a better understanding of reality, people decide which facts hold more significance to them and whether they will be antagonistic or positive to those facts. In essence, there is no objective truth from a purely personalized view of what reality means to a person. Someone might view the same set of facts in entirely different views. For instance, the decision between Jonathan and Walter in IV was a decision between whether the status quo was beneficial despite the use of a small segment of children as sacrifices to keep the people of Tokyo safe and a question of whether Flynn had any right to change the future of Tokyo, or a decision to do what was necessary and overturn a system that allowed such pernicious brutality against the small segment of children even if it meant putting Tokyo itself in immediate danger.

Flynn’s view:

Flynn is constantly recognized as a Messiah. From the start of his story, when meeting those mysterious voices and talking to the dream versions of Walter and Jonathan. He is constantly asked for his views; both his close friends and the societies around him ask for his personal opinion. There’s a deep, underlying message about Flynn being such an important and impactful figure on the scope of the world because of his triumphs and tribulations. His accomplishments create reverence and acknowledgement. This is an explicit, active part of the Neutral Path’s latter-half where he raises the hopes of the people through his positive, humanistic deeds.

Lucifer and Merkabah are presented as almost heroic and relatable due to the human element of being close friends with Walter and Jonathan before their respective ascensions, and the player – as Flynn – has to do a cost-benefit of what is of more importance for the future of the world.

Each choice feels meaningful and you identify with each because of the personal relationship that Flynn has with both characters throughout the journey. You feel a sense of loss when you’re forced to fight former friends and hearing their voices in the monstrous forms gives you a sense of loss. But in the end, you’re choosing a path that feelings like the correct decision, even if it costs hundreds of thousands of nameless, faceless people their lives. The sacrifice is worthy, necessary, and possibly even honorable for the greater purpose designed for their personal sacrifice.

Whether it be the people of Tokyo or Mikado in the Law and Chaos paths; whether it’s to allow God to reassert absolute control over humanity with you giving yourself to the greater goal or whether it is to allow humans to live in freedom with you as King. Even in Neutral, their positions seem understandable for the most part, because they’re struggling against the cosmic horror of the endless war of Law and Chaos explained by the White, but still have decided on a profound choice despite the endless cycle. This creates a very privileged position, typical of a the standard JRPG “chosen one” narrative, that feels normal in a video game.

The foreign language on the scaffold of the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado is presented as the “mystic script” and as Flynn, you’re left to wonder about the mystery because it’s never explained what the language is. You’re simply made aware of this strange, mystical language that Mikado is in wonder of. After that, as you go down what you believe to be the depths of hell itself, you see below the medieval kingdom of a typical JRPG lays the vast city of Tokyo and most players felt surprised by this revelation when playing the game without spoilers as Flynn. You meet denizens of Tokyo with noticeable thick accents and a bizarre fear of God and angels.

The Four Routes: When playing as Flynn and making decisions, you feel a significant sense of freedom and that your choices are meaningful. Within the framework of the game itself, it feels that way. However, story-wise, you’re forced to accept the fact that none of your decisions have any sense of permanence for the greater purpose of the story itself and you must acknowledge that despite your decisions, humans are tools to be manipulated. The White offer the only resolution and that is mass oblivion to end human suffering.

The theme of Hope is central to the Neutral route of the game. It’s made explicit and even before Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse confirmed the allusions, Flynn’s actions bringing meaning is what created the hope despite knowing that it would all come to ruin as part of the endless cycle of Law and Chaos. As mentioned in a previous segment, the Chalice of Hope and the Great Spirit of Hope, in conjunction with Masakados character unambiguously espoused this theme, The theme is an answer to humanity’s nihilistic feelings regarding the meaninglessness of life itself. It expresses this point fabulously through minimalism with the White. The theme of Hope borders on nationalistic pride in certain parts of the game and gives this idealism for a hopeful future despite the pernicious understanding that it’ll all fall to ruin regardless of Flynn’s actions because it is a constant, cyclical change bound to the extremes of Law and Chaos.

 

 

 

 

 

Nanashi’s view:

Nanashi is constantly vilified as a demon’s pawn throughout his journey. His allies become ambivalent in their trust towards him during the first mission to rescue Flynn in Tsukiji Konganji. While this encapsulates a small portion, it is part of a larger narrative of the game that is divergent from Flynn’s in IV. Nanashi is constantly told by Dagda that he’s just a puppet and the only ones who seem to empathize at a certain point are Hallelujah, Asahi, and Navarre.

The people of Tokyo come close to murdering him in cold blood because they view him as a constant threat to their continued existence. Neither Asahi’s emotional pleas or Fujiwara’s rational approach work to quell their hatred and desire for revenge for the loss of Flynn and the rise of the Divine Powers. Nanashi’s age is simply a non-factor as he’s constantly told to take responsibility for his actions because they have such overarching consequences. Consequences that he was too ignorant to understand at the time, but in the end, it doesn’t matter what his reasoning or limitations were once Shesha had murdered hundreds of thousands of people. Any attempt to point out naivety or ignorance is seen as running away from responsibility.

The only reason that the mob in Fujiwara’s Cafe Florida don’t outright murder Nanashi is because the Divine Powers act on their plans to seal away demon summoning to temper down the resistance to their plan of saving the universe from YHVH’s control. Nanashi becomes a convenient tool for them to utilize for their continued survival because he’s the only one that can summon demons thanks to Dagda.

After Nanashi is forced to prove himself, the people of Tokyo begin celebrating him as a Champion of Tokyo just like Flynn in the previous game. Unlike Flynn’s narrative of bringing meaning into people’s lives through good works, the narrative of Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse has a double-edged sword. The player can view it in the same viewpoint as the previous game of bringing meaning into people’s lives, however, we’re presented with the knowledge that these denizens of Tokyo will cling to anyone convenient and powerful enough to act as their savior. It doesn’t have to be Flynn, it can be anyone who does the work for them. And if you, as Nanashi, fail and cause mistakes? You have to accept the knowledge that you’ll be vilified as a demon’s puppet like before. The way they view Nanashi – whether as champion or Messiah – is dependent upon what benefit Nanashi brings to them. It is a subversion of the message of Hope. You’re a tool of the people for the sake of their own convenience. It is an admittedly dangerous situation, but they place pressure with no regard for Nanashi’s personal wellbeing at any point in time.

The language of the mystic script that the people and Samurai of Mikado speak of in the early parts of Shin Megami Tensei IV are revealed to be the plain, mundane language of English. It is a rather amusing development that Mikado reveres the English language as sacred.

As Nanashi travels up the scaffold, he views each of the dungeons in reverse numerical order from how Flynn viewed them because of their vantage points. Flynn grew-up in Mikado and the shock of seeing a city “below ground” through Naraku is juxtaposed with a youthful generation finally being able to bask in the sun and skies for the first time in their lives. The only prior experience being knowledge that such landscapes existed and seeing it through a small hole made by Shesha when it tore through space-time. The thick language of Tokyo in IV is not present in Nanashi’s understanding of the language, everyone sounds normal to Nanashi. By contrast, from Nanashi’s view, the random Samurai that Nanashi meets sounds very off and strange in his pronunciation of words compared to the people of Tokyo.


Lucifer and Merkabah are presented as antagonistic and morbid monsters who seek to hurt Tokyo for their own insane ideological positions. We learn that the young men who they use to be, Jonathan and Walter, are now dead as a personal sacrifice for the sake of these ideologies that the majority of the people of Tokyo neither want nor desire. Denizens of Tokyo wonder whether everyone in the firmament is insane because of what they’re being told about what Jonathan and Walter did to themselves. They’re seen as foreigners and almost alien in nature.

Nanashi has no personal relationship with either of them. He only knows them through images on a television screen or a brief summary on their phone and he only understands them within the insulated environment of the Hunter faction. Neither Lucifer nor Merkabah vie for his favor in the beginning of the story until he seems to be useful for their goals in the latter-half of the game. Some players speculate that the game purposefully made them out to be antagonistically evil and that the deep, meaningful personalities were removed. However, this ignores what Atlus has brilliantly done to further juxtapose Nanashi’s personal life with Flynn’s personal life. If Atlus had meant to express them as unambiguously evil, then they wouldn’t have bothered showing their human forms or having them reunite for one last battle as brethren samurai in Bonds or even had the characters interact with Anarchy Flynn at all in the Anarchy route. We see a relationship between Flynn, Walter, Jonathan, and – in Bonds – Isabeau that we’re simply not privy to from Nanashi’s personal perspective.

Most important to note is that there was no change in either Merkabah or Lucifer’s personalities. Lucifer wanted war for the sake of survival of the fittest due to the doctrine that Power is Everything, Merkabah outright kills Tokyo and Law Flynn in Shin Megami Tensei IV because they were spattered with unclean blood. Neither the angels nor demons changed their behaviors from either game. Nothing about the conflict beyond the addition of the Divine Powers changed. So what was changed? Why is there such a dynamic shift in presentation of the conflict? It was not, as people may assume, to make a good versus evil representation or to unambiguously say that people who choose either Law or Chaos are wrong. The presentation wasn’t meant to be objective and it wasn’t presented as such.

You changed. Your vantage point of the conflict is all that changed in the story of Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse. You aren’t Flynn, the messiah who has been curried in favor of by both sides from the personal relationships that he has with Walter and Jonathan. You’re Nanashi, a kid whose name translated to “no name” and who has no say on the grand scheme of these decisions. You have no personal relationship with either Walter or Jonathan and they don’t know you. You’re seen as one of the nameless, faceless people of Tokyo just like the rest of the NPCs in the beginning of the game.

Flynn has the privileged position of feeling like a Chosen One, who can freely choose to either support or reject Law and Chaos, and who is one of the prominent figures that decide the fate of the world. Nanashi is just a random denizen of Tokyo. He is a product of the conflict. He is doubly hated for being seen as a demon’s puppet and as one of the unclean ones, the discriminated group who were never given a choice. While Walter and Jonathan had very good ideological reasons for their choices, the people of Tokyo never learned of those reasons and can only learn of the conflict through biased filters. Moreover, neither the decision of Law to commit genocide upon Tokyo or the decision of Chaos to commit to warfare to reshape the world were ever favorable to the vast majority of Tokyo in Shin Megami Tensei IV. The only difference now is that you’re no longer a foreigner from Mikado with the privilege to choose sides, you’re a resident who identifies Tokyo as home and lives with the consequences.

The beginning of the game shows these consequences from the three that Tokyo views as leaders. Flynn’s neutral choice presents us with vastly improved hunter technology, running electricity throughout the active areas (this was, in fact, one of the sidequests in IV), a more hopeful people, and the prospects of the emerging three-way conflict. Walter’s choice of becoming part of Lucifer and raising a demon army is what leads to Adramelech attacking and killing Nanashi, Nikkari, and Manabu. Jonathon’s choice of merging with Merkabah results in the sealing of the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado with guards violently preventing Hunters from utilizing the terminal in the scaffold to better control their movements for the mass extinction plan.

The theme of Dependency. Clinging from one object of hope to another, to the extent that despite all of Flynn’s heroics during the Neutral path for a vast majority of Tokyo in Shin Megami Tensei IV, nobody really knew him as a person. Neither Fujiwara nor Skins picked-up or mention any changes in Flynn’s behavior, Isabeau mentions that Flynn seems different, but she still believes that it is Flynn. The only two people who had clear understanding of the dire situation and pointed out that Flynn was a fake were Merkabah and Lucifer. Not surprisingly, the only two people Flynn had any meaningful personal relationship with in the previous game. By contrast, when speaking to the people of Tokyo, you see how easily they cling from one hope to another. First, by vilifying you as a demon spawn one day to celebrating you as a “champion” the very next day – Nanashi is given the same title as Flynn in Shin Megami Tensei IV. Then, by showing us the Shesha-Flynn plot twist.

As Nanashi, we witness how easily hope can be manipulated for the purposes of someone who pretends to embody them. How did the Divine Powers go about masquerading the fake Flynn? They had Shesha tell the people what they wanted to hear, they acted as the part of a cartoon villain in the second Tsukiji Konganji scene to continue misleading the player and the cast of what was going on, and Shesha never acted “out of character” for our own expectations of how Flynn should act as a Neutral-aligned protagonist. It was, shockingly, perfectly in line with what we should expect from a Neutral Hero and it’s a slap in the face when the plot reveals it isn’t simply Flynn having some curse placed upon him or programmed via brainwashing to conduct certain actions against his will. The person that we thought was Flynn, and who followed the expected patterns of behavior for a Neutral protagonist, wasn’t Flynn at all. Nanashi sees firsthand how hope can be used to manipulate and use people for purposes counterproductive to their self-interests.

The most crucial aspect of the theme of dependency is the large cast of characters that are part of Nanashi’s journey. You’re presented with a cast that you can act as compassionate or mean towards. While Dagda acts as an overt and controlling force that demands that you obey him, it is under the expectations that you were going to follow his commands because he brought you back to life from the horrendous death that the player suffered. Some fans, particularly those who hadn’t played Shin Megami Tensei IV, seemed to assume that this was an expected anime-like set-up where you’re suppose to choose the expected “morally right” decisions regarding the power of friendship. But this idea of needing to choose the morally right path for the sake of it is, in actuality, meant to make you feel as if these friends are too dependent upon you and dragging you down. In essence, the feeling that you need to choose the supposed morally righteous decisions because it’s expected in a archetypical anime set-up is used against the player to make you feel that these characters are dragging you down and forcing you to be what they want you to be. They are dependent on you insofar as what you mean to their own personal expectations of you and you feel bound to a duty to them. Asahi being the most significant example of this and serving as an anchor of anger and guilt in the latter-half with her death. Her relationship to you interpretable as either a sister, lover, or a nuisance regardless of how you see her. Nevertheless, all of this can either be interpreted as the standard expectations of any typical JRPG with you meeting and helping allies as a good and typical JRPG protagonist or you can view them as hindrances. You can feel that they are sapping you of choice. After all that you go through together, you can choose the bonds of friendship as being well worth the struggles or see it as blind sentimentality compared to the overarching problem that will surely doom the future of the cosmos, if you don’t choose the morally reprehensive but objectively rational path.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Flynn and Nanashi perceive Akira:

As Nanashi, when journeying into the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, you meet and have fun speaking with ignorant medieval folks who don’t understand how a simple thing like a fan works and who have become more fundamentalist in their beliefs despite the social concessions for equality. Unlike Flynn, who viewed the statue of Aquila standing proudly with full appreciation of who that man was, Nanashi only sees it as defiled and broken. A statement of how little they view the founder of the country despite how hard he worked. Unlike Flynn, who had the chance to read the Obelisk fully to learn of and feel a part of Mikado’s history, Nanashi finds the history of his previous incarnation defaced and the people supporting extremist measures of genocide of his home of Tokyo under Merkabah.

As Flynn, we experience the social dynamics of Mikado with the two-tier caste system, the social issues between Samurai and the Monastery having in-fighting over Aquila’s law, and we gain a sense of wonder and mystery over this amazing human being known as Aquila. We meet two versions of him from the other worlds, Demonoid Akira and Human Akira. We know that this man, Akira, is someone of great importance who can reshape world events but will live a tragic life faced with total doom of all his achievements because of the endless cycle of Law and Chaos under YHVH. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, Akira is seen as an honorable and heroic figure who does his best just like Flynn.

As Nanashi, we see the past memories of the Third Akira directly. We become aware that the angels were set on an isolationist and stone age society under the angel Gabriel and the other Archangels. We see that the angel Merkabah has successfully taken power and rules over Mikado with a plan to commit genocide against Tokyo. Isabeau’s brief explanation of the caste system sounds stupid and obviously antiquated. Meanwhile, everything related to Akira is defaced or ignored. To Nanashi, Akira comes off as looking like a complete failure despite his earnestness.

As Nanashi, we’re forced into viewing the life of a man that we understand is our previous life but we don’t know why we’re seeing these images. We see Akira trying to form the middle path and believing in humanity, but Nanashi is well aware of the results. He was vilified in Tokyo as a traitor and his hard work in Mikado led to the rise of an extremist, isolationist, and hateful society out to destroy the only home that Nanashi has ever known and most of the friends that he’s expected to cherish. Unlike Flynn, who sees Tokyo as a distant country filled with adventure; Nanashi sees it as home as exemplified by their distinct differences in the Tokyo world map music of each game.

In an interesting twist, while Flynn is only vaguely aware of his past life and sees the ramifications of what other versions of himself did. Nanashi witnesses the suicide of past Flynn firsthand and from the narrative, Asahi herself is disturbed by what Nanashi tells her. We see how a man had to give-up his own life just to preserve Tokyo and how broken Tokyo still is. Nanashi is actually more informed than Flynn about Flynn’s past life; by contrast, Flynn is more aware of who Nanashi’s previous life was and helped seal the archangels after they murdered Akira when sent to the past via Mastema’s power.

Why Both Games are necessary to understand the full story:

This duology presents one of the most intriguing cases of shocking the player regarding the full scope of what is necessary versus what is comforting. People who have only played Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse without having played Shin Megami Tensei IV feel it is a black and white choice of good versus evil that is being presented, in which players should be expected to pick Bonds instead of the supposed “Bad” ending. The narrative would lead someone who hasn’t played the previous game, and who isn’t paying attention to Dagda or Krishna’s explanations or perhaps not taking them seriously since they do go into great lengths about these problems, to believe that you’re making a good choice.

The White, in Shin Megami Tensei IV, go into copious lengths of elaborating that humans are just tools to be manipulated by God, that humanity cannot escape it’s pitiful cycle of endless Law and Chaos forced upon them by God. If the Law and Chaos world doesn’t align with God’s will then it is cast into destruction.

And, as previously mentioned, the philosophical underpinnings of the ascetic ideal are being expressed as the general theme of the White.

The first meeting alludes to how often they meet in this setting throughout the multiverse. The White ask what you believe the meaning of life is:

The Second meeting, they explain that humans are tools to be manipulated by their social conditioning. The context goes broader than religious worship later on to mean human weakness in needing a hope to cling to and being unable to suppress their desires during the battle against them. In this instance, however, the White’s nihilism over the truth of what human beings are within their own socialized context and under the rule of a God who decrees them chosen people is made apparent.

The third and final meeting, in which they explain humans are prisoners of God’s expectations and how anything not aligned to God’s will – even if it’s Lawful – will be cast into destruction. If humans choose freedom, then freedom will also be cast into destruction. Humans are constantly repeating their mistakes. God wants humans to view their life as a “test” and loath themselves so that he can keep himself in power. Thus, humans are prisoners of his expectations. Humans must constantly loath themselves for the crime of being born human and appropriately worship God as the perfect creator of the universe. The allusions to sinfulness are clear.

The Divine Powers, Danu, and Dagda clarify additionally that the Creator, YHVH, bound humans into cages of flesh and essentially that the physical world is – from the point of view of all the deities – an illusion that humanity is shackled upon. The natural living within human flesh is seen as the worst possible misery for the souls of human beings and must be obliterated to save their eternal souls for true prosperity in the afterlife from the perspective of the Divine Powers. There are allusions to the Divine Powers loathing sinfulness as an anathema to existence itself.

Krishna and the Divine Powers view what YHVH has done to humanity as inexplicably evil and wishes to give all of humanity salvation by destroying the sinful world and recreating humanity to be free of sin.

Krishna speaks of humanity being bound to cages of flesh and makes his intentions clear:

Danu admits that Krisbna is right. Her only defense is that it’s still life:

Lucifer adds further clarification explaining that so long as humanity (within this context, the humanity created by God) exists then neither herself, the White, or YHVH himself will disappear.

The humanity of Flynn’s is the Fifth humanity. The previous four were slaughtered by the Archangels and the White came into being from the ancient races and are the Will of Humanity. It seems to be implied that when humans repress their nihilism towards life itself, it gives the White strength.

Stephen is the one who tells us about the White being aggregate sentient of humans thoughts:

Gabriel explains much of the same as Stephen:

The SMTIV Artbook further clarified:

the embodiment of the ancient races destroyed by the angels. They’ve appeared to humans four times now, sharing their memories and knowledge of the past. They claim that whether humans submit to angels or unite with demons against God, history is doomed to repeat itself and the future will never change. Therefore, they aim to obliterate all existence and return the cosmos to nothingness. They show the protagonist visions of two alternate futures – “Blasted Tokyo” and “Infernal Tokyo” – while taking on the appearance of Isabeau and Hugo in order to deceive the protagonist.- Shin Megami Tensei IV Artbook

Once you play both games and understand the full scope of the plot, you realize that not only have you made the objectively wrong choice in Bonds, but you’ve doomed all of your allies to an eternity in hell under Yahweh’s rule. Playing the Bonds route would simply have you believe that the ceiling not being broken apart and the characters all living happy lives is the only difference between it and IV’s neutral ending should you search it online, but the actual narrative tells us a dire tale. The happy ending of IV Neutral was, like all Neutral endings in the mainline series, a ruse that would only lead to total failure in the long-term of the story. In this case, not only was fighting Yahweh pointless because the extremes will always exist, but Nanashi and the player have wasted their only opportunity to free the universe from utter ruin. Bonds is about fighting hard for what they have and holding steadfast to keep their lives intact, but eventually all of them will die of natural human causes. Dagda and Nanashi are implied to never meet again. Everyone in Bonds will be cursed forever similar to Aleph and Demi-fiend. This pernicious and subtle theme isn’t make-believe, it’s presented clearly within the game as a recurring theme that’s only noticeable to people who take the time to chat with NPCs and who pay attention to the narrative involving the NPCs in the main story.

The Bonds ending is worse than at first glance; not only will Law and Chaos return with an extreme vengeance because humans created by Yahweh will always repeat their mistakes, but the White present a ticking time bomb of any and all future incarnations of Jonathan, Walter, Flynn, and Nanashi accepting their goal and destroying the Yamato Perpetual Reactor. Even worse, should none of those four be reincarnated then the White known only to Nanashi as the Pale Man explains that Twisted Tokyo is a world in which no Messiah came to save the human race from extinction. That explanation thoroughly repudiates the entire point of Bonds. If no Messiah comes to save people, the Bonds that people themselves forge don’t matter at all. Atlus goes further to express this point: if Nanashi agrees with Yahweh’s proposal and ignores Dagda’s pleas to give Dagda his hand, then the game ends and Yahweh is implied to have cast the rest of the party into hell for all eternity. If there Bonds really mattered and the power of the people can overcome everything, then why is this presented to us? Is it a glaring plot hole? No, considering the length they went in their revelation of the White in the previous game and the fact that we have the White explaining how a world simply dies off without a Messiah, it’s clear that they were making implications and subtly hinting that the happy friendship ending of Bonds will never last. The party even remark, it is all up to them. What we’re left with is a brutal war of attrition until the Fifth humanity dies out so that Yahweh makes good on his threat to replace humanity with more obedient servants like the previous four times.

So then, is Bonds just a horrible ending secretly made out to be positive, just like all previous Mainline games? Well . . . not necessarily. Bonds is about living and dying for one’s convictions of what is right, even if it means suffering eternally for making the most meaningful choice for one’s loved ones and home.

The party of Nanashi and Flynn know that they’ll suffer eternally, Yahweh doesn’t mince words. Unlike previous main characters, it doesn’t come as a horrifying surprise, they’ve accepted eternal suffering as meaningful for the sake of preserving their world and believe in the infinite possibility that positive changes will be ongoing with the dire struggles. To believe in the pure, blind chance of humanity. To be cursed eternally in hell for one’s convictions, one’s intrinsic beliefs, is a horrifically tragic, but ultimately loving and admirable message. It is not a deviation from previous mainline games, it’s just the most satisfying and expressive pro-humanistic message.

Most insidiously, from Shin Megami Tensei IV to Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse, only one ending was foreshadowed in the duology. But more on that in the next part regarding specific characters and character-driven themes.