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Your two selves

Where you would go on vacation if you could leave right now and money were no object?


Where would you go if you could leave right now, money were no object, but your memory of the vacation would be erased when you returned?


It’s very likely that your choice in each situation is different, in the second case being more hedonistic and static – I’m inclined to choose Elafonisos.

The two selves


According to Daniel Kahneman and others, this disparity reflects a difference in our preferences between the experiencing self [who is present here and now, and wants the pleasure to continue and any pain to stop], and the remembering self [a storyteller who looks at an experience as a whole and evaluates its worth, with special attention paid to the beginning, the peak and the ending].


The experiencing self lives in the present. It's the experiencing self that responds when the doctor asks "Does it hurt now when I touch you here?"

The remembering self keeps score and maintains the story of our life. It's the one that the doctor approaches when asking "How have you been feeling lately?"


Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman on our two selves:

Put simply, how we feel in the moment of experiencing something is very different from how we feel about the same thing when we are later asked to recall it.


Here's Kahneman’s TED talk. In it he shares a story of someone who had been listening to a symphony, and it was absolutely glorious music, and at the very end of the recording, there was a dreadful screeching sound.

And he said, quite emotionally, that the sound ruined the whole experience.

But it hadn't.

What it had ruined were the memories of the experience.

He had had the experience.

He had had 20 minutes of glorious music.

They counted for nothing because he was left with a memory; the memory was ruined, and the memory was all that he had gotten to keep.

The handling of time


The biggest difference between the two is in the handling of time.


From the point of view of the experiencing self, if you have a vacation, and the second week is just as good as the first, then the two-week vacation is twice as good as the one-week vacation


That's not the way it works at all for the remembering self. For the remembering self, a two-week vacation is barely better than the one-week vacation because there are no new memories added. You have not changed the story.


And in this way, time is actually the critical variable that distinguishes a remembering self from an experiencing self; time has very little impact on the story.

Making decisions


The remembering self is actually the one that makes decisions. For instance, the decision of where to go on vacations, to a very large extent, is taken in the service of our remembering self.


Is that fair? Will that make us happy?


It depends on how you define happiness. The happiness of the experiencing self is about how happily a person lives. The happiness of the remembering self is about how satisfied or pleased the person is when that person thinks about their life.

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