The Experiencing Self versus the Remembering Self

According to Daniel Kahneman, a noted psychologist and a Nobel prize winner, human mind operates in two different modes – the one that experiences and the one that remembers. In reality, of course, there is only one self at any point of time. Obviously, one is either experiencing or remembering. Curiously, though, it’s the remembering self that often influences the key decisions we take in life. Here’s how it happens.

Take the case of owning a luxury car. How much happiness does it give for one? Perhaps it will give you happiness when you think about it. But then how often do you think about it? When you are driving, you certainly cannot think about it. Even otherwise, after the first few days of owning, you may not bother to think so much about it. So the experiencing self is clear that a luxury car is not a great factor for your happiness. But then the remembering self will place a disproportionately high value on the fleeting moments of happiness one derives after owning the car. A decision to buy a luxury car again in the future will be based on this evaluation. In this particular case the remembering self neglects the “duration effect”. A luxury may give tremendous happiness but only for a limited duration of time.

Take another case of decision-making on relocation after retirement. Taking my example, I have lived both in Chennai and Mumbai and I’m presently in Mumbai. An imaginary conversation between the two selves – experiencing and the remembering selves – will perhaps be as follows:

RS(Remembering Self):I had lived in Chennai before. It’s a great place to relocate after retirement

ES(Experiencing Self): What makes you say so

RS: Chennai is culturally rich.

ES: But your interest is limited to Carnatik music and you will perhaps go to a concert once  or twice in a month.

RS: May be. But then all our relatives live in Chennai

ES: You are not going to meet them everyday – perhaps once or twice in a week. Rest of the time you are at home.

Here again there is gross neglect of “duration effect” in taking a decision. The ES will never neglect the duration of time because it’s experiencing pain or pleasure every moment. On the other hand, RS is designed to remember only peak experiences and neglect uneventful day-to-day experiences of pleasure or pain. In the example cited, RS would cherry-pick memorable events like attending occasional music concerts and meeting relatives and evaluate Chennai life as superior. RS is designed to remember events selectively and even spinning colourful and convincing stories about the past and people do take decisions based on these.




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