Saturday, October 25, 2008

Spending our time in worlds that don't exist

Paul Bloom has a fascinating article in the most recent issue of The Atlantic that touches on libertarian paternalism, behavioral economics, pigeons, Walt Whitman, and gambling addiction. One of the most interesting sections is where he discusses how much time we spend in existences we know to be not real,
... The most common leisure activity is not sex, eating, drinking, drug use, socializing, sports, or being with the ones we love. It is, by a long shot, participating in experiences we know are not real—reading novels, watching movies and TV, daydreaming, and so forth. Enjoying fiction requires a shift in selfhood. You give up your own identity and try on the identities of other people, adopting their perspectives so as to share their experiences.
There are currently more ways to live in unreal worlds than at any other point in history. This doesn't mean that modern man necessarily spends more time unreal worlds than in previous eras. Indeed, it'd be hard to measure how much people in the 1700s daydreamed without a time machine that doubles as a giant fMRI. But I'd expect that yes, our society currently spends more time in unreal worlds than previous generations.

Should we as a society attempt to reverse this trend? That's where the libertarian paternalism comes into play. How can we do so without invading people's private lives? That's where the behavioral economics comes into play. What a curious world we live in.