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Opening Arguments

Still just half-baked

Interesting article in The Los Angeles Times about how people change:

Glancing around his study on a recent afternoon, Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert's eyes came to rest on his collection of thousands of music CDs, acquired over many years at considerable expense.

"I don't listen to a lot of them anymore," he said. "I was certain I'd listen to Miles Davis until the day I died."

According to his own research, Gilbert is hardly alone in having imagined that he'd always like the same music, or hobbies or friends.

Writing this month in the journal Science, he reported that people at all stages of life tend to believe they won't change much in the future — even as they recognize great shifts in their personalities, values and tastes in the past.

Calling it the "end of history illusion," he and his colleagues suggested that the phenomenon may help explain why people make decisions they later regret: marrying the wrong person or buying an expensive vacation home.

"We recognize it in teenagers," Gilbert said. "We say to them, 'You're not going to like that Megadeth tattoo in 10 years.' But no matter how old you are, you're making the same mistake."

Most of us understand and accept the fact that we will change as we get older. We will not be the same people in our 30s and beyond that we were in our teens and 20s. But we erroneously suppose this will be a change from one static set of traits to another static set. We start as liberal and will change to conservative. We will start as an agnostic and become a believer, or the other way around. We will give up that awful rock or hip hop music and finally understand the beauty of a Beethoven symphony. But the truth is that we are always evolving. We want to believe that at some point we will "finish baking" and then just become older versions of the same person. But if you've ever done any baking, you know it's not over even after you take the cake out of the oven.

Here's a reaction from Jazz Shaw:

I’m trying to understand if it’s even possible for people to keep changing over the entire span of their lives, and if that applies to all aspects of our preferences and personalities, or only some things. And is the change only in one direction, at least in areas where a “direction” can be inferred? Going back to politics for a moment, even if you were shifting over time from a liberal perspective to a more conservative one – or vice versa – there’s only so far you can go, right? Or do some people zig and zag from liberal to conservative back to liberal again?

I wonder what the effect on politics will be of the "echo chamber" effect that's getting ever stronger with the growth of the Internet and social media. Will we still change, adapt, evolve as we aregue with each other? Or will our habit of paying attention only to people who agree with us keep us stuck in the same  old dogmatic ruts?