Continuing with the concepts from the last post, TEDblog also had something to say about How toddlers (and monkeys) make choices. They focused though more directly on the question of human happiness citing the same study as the New York Times article in the previous post. However, they or their links to the Proper Study of the Mankind provide the actual recent study published in Psychological Science, by Louisa Egan, Laurie Santos and Paul Bloom, as well as better sources for in-depth inquiry and other voices that took part in the discussion. This includes Barry Schwartz, who spoke on the paradox of choice at TED. Other speakers on What Makes Us Happy have also spoken in the past at TED on this subject.
This led to other sources of insight. Dr Christian Jarrett, BSc MSc PhD, is according to his writeup, a writer/editor specialising in psychology and the neurosciences. He works full-time for the British Psychological Society as inaugural editor/writer of their Research Digest. His blog had two articles of interest to this line of inquiry - How ignorance can lead to the right answer and Inter-ethnic violence predicted by same rules that govern chemicals. This reminded me of a past post that linked to a Cosmic Variance article Birds of a Feather. The fascinating premise of the article is that the movement of the flock was created by the decisions of the individual birds.
So where does this leave us? We enter the world in ignorance. We become very good in justifying our selves and our ignorance. As Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson point out in their book Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me), "we create fictions that absolve us of responsibility, restoring our belief that we are smart, moral, and right—a belief that often keeps us on a course that is dumb, immoral, and wrong". I do believe though that we can make decisions that transcend cognitive dissonance, where we don't create a false belief to justify ourselves, but we must also be willing to not continue to attach to that which we chose not to pick.
"The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." F. Scott Fitzgerald