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Notes Towards Day 10: "Allow for Serendipity"

Notes Towards Day 10 of Food for Thought

I. coursekeeping

those papers due Fri? reporting in on topic-defining, progress in researching....?
3-pp. paper reporting on current studies done on your health choice:
how are most college students handling the choice you are confronting?
how best to present the information you find?
find three web sources; look @ HOW they present the info (causes? correlations?
text? table? how do you fit in the statistics? why are you located where you are?

Emily's help for the next two essays

week after: you will come up w/ 5 questions, to ask 15 people,
& (instead of writing a paper)
present your information in graph or table form on line & to us in class

Of relevance: revisiting "Risk Charts: Putting Cancer in Context"
without context (=10-year-chance of dying from various causes, side-by-side)
impossible to gauge magnitude of a disease risk for any individual

See also Peter's presentation of two comparative graphs...
what do they tell us?

what has been the primary CONTEXT for your health decisions?

(could be a key dimension of your paper, to define that....)

cf. Aybola's "Depressingly Easy" Scientific American Mind essay:
By denying our brains the rewards that come from ­anticipating
and executing complex tasks with our hands...
we undercut our mental well-being.

reading for Tues, Oct. 7
60 pp. from Thaler and Sunstein's Nudge:
Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness

II. "allow for serendipity"
Consider the history/etymology of the website which hosts our conversations: Serendip
("`The Three Princes of Serendip' were always making discoveries,
by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of")

--in contrast with your concerted resistance to this idea...
(and/or equating chance=fate?)

mcchen: Schwartz's advice to "allow for serendipity" seems a bit silly because it is something that we cannot control, it is supposed to happen by chance. I suppose another way to interpret his advice see the positive side of every situation.

emily: this advice can be interpreted as be grateful for all the little enjoyable things in life.

Anonymous (Sara??): We need to stop feeling as if we need to control every thing in our lives, sometimes we have to leave it up to fate....However...This becomes dangerous when we stop acting and leave most things up to fate....This is also a strange concept, because not something we can make happen....we need to at times put down the reins and loosen control....On the other hand, waiting around for ...random good things will probably not happen.

ihe: How do we allow for serendipity??can we allow something to happen on accident?...usually things don't happen by accident in my opinion. Many time I...think..."this was meant to happen"..."it was meant to be".

stephkim: Schwartz asking us to allow for serendipity basically means to expect less....lets us satisfy...because we didn't have any expectations to start with. This advice is useless, first off because...we naturally expect certain things, even if we know its beyond our reach. Yet, to ask us to expect less to be satisfied more.. I believe it's an oxymoron- we're then going to be conscious of NOT expecting... which basically is expecting.... I'm often disappointed and thus not satisfied. But I think this is better than not dreaming and setting goals and simply accepting anything and everything that comes your way. It's healthy to have expectations and would be practical to make room to allow for it to happen, not random serendipities.

Serendipity plays a huge role in my life. The phrase "all things happen for a reason" is something I live my life by....Serendipity...makes me want to try new things because who knows what could happen. Serendipity keeps me wondering. The first lottery ticket I bought was on my 18th birthday. I was of legal age to buy a lottery ticket, and I won 50 dollars....What do you think, is it luck or serendipity?

hwiencek: I have trouble believing that "allowing for serendipity" would actually bring satisfaction....the mere mention of the possibility of serendipity puts the hope for something serendipitous to happen in my mind--which I would argue is an expectation....better advice would be to go into situations with an open mind....we should enter into decisions: with an overall goal that is not too specific and a willingness to be flexible in the way in which that goal is achieved.

cjewett: I believe that allowing for serendipity is good advice....I know I am guilty of trying to plan out every little detail of my life. I want every second of every day to have something assigned to it. Schwartz is saying that I need to let go of that and allow for things to occur that I might not have planned. Serendipity is partly responsible for me ending up at Bryn Mawr....

lwscott: The word itself just sounds so.... happy!...instead of focusing so much making things just perfect, ...just relax and let things play out....If we don't make this expectations then we don't leave room for disappointment....I have more fun when I'm spontaneous...

I think that Schwartz's use of the word "serendipity" gives his argument that too many choices complicate our lives a different, more important feel. He is making a correlation between fate and human choice, making it seem that humans should let someone/something else do all of the work for us instead of making our own choices. It is a very god/divine force centric attitude, and makes me feel powerless....saying that serendipity, or fate, is the right course of action sounds lazy and risky.

aybala50: Schwartz argues that a decreased number of choices will make us happier. When we think about it, for example, were as many people depressed 100 years ago as they are today?

Malli, Ilana, Sarah?

III. Schwartz's punch line is
"Choice within constraints, freedom within limits"; cf.

Pyramids and flocks: risk-taking and change in academic institutions
let's try this out...

IV. how Schwartz gets to this point....
talking points:
(from Part I)

3: cost to choice overload
5: pay less attention to others' choices
14f: shopping for knowledge: browsing classes, free to choose,
no shared intellectual experiences

18: 93% of teenage girls say shopping is their favorite activity
23: filtering extraneous information basic function of consciousness:
increasingly: time-consuming foraging behavior
29: more choices, more responsibility
39: religious institutions as markets for tranquility ("supermarket Quakerism")
41f: choosing identity
44: cumulative effect of added choices causes added stress
48: experienced, vs. expected, vs. remembered utility
49: peak-end rule (discrepancy between logic and memory)
57: gathering information: the availability heuristic
60: multi-individual information assessment (but: shared second-hand information)
62: anchoring, framing
67: creative accounting re: own psychological balance sheets
69: risk averse re: potential gains; risk seeking re: potential losses
75: choosing vs. picking

(from Part IV: What to do about choice:)
1. choose when to choose
(what's important is not objective but subjective results of decisions)
2. be a chooser, not a picker (reflecting, modifying goals, taking time and attention)
3. satisfice more, maximize less (learn to accept "good enough")
4. think about opportunity costs of opportunity costs
(there's no absolute standard to appeal to)
5. make your decision nonreversible (option of changing increases chances you will...)
6. practice an "attitude of gratitude"
7. regret less (rare single decisions have life-transforming power...)
8.anticipate adaptation ("hedonic treadmill," "satisfaction treadmill" --
double whammy of adaptation: robs us of full satisfaction)
9. control expectations
10. curtail social comparison
11. learn to love constraints (rule-following frees up time)

V. Notes from Katie Baratz's visit to Critical Feminist Studies
"benign paternalism"
"disorders of sexual development" (vs. variations? ambiguities? differences?)
sickness (body not working) vs. illness (how you experience that sickness)
inability to "fit" in a self-fulfiling description: you become the disorder?
"in adolescence, everyone experiences a sense of sexual disorder"

VI. from the "choices and constraints" discussion series:
Books are a relatively recent invention; learning went on before they existed, and has gone on since without them. Perhaps they negatively influence our sense of how we are doing. When we are making something material, or performing something physical, "how we are doing is evident in what we are doing"; but in book work, what we know might not be so clear. "We don't know what we don't know." This might be key to our shared sense that we are "all on the periphery": the idea that "someone else has to be the judge of our progress," and books may well contribute to that sort of judgment. A "good job" then becomes relative to what others do, and we are inhibited from thinking of ourselves as teachers; we assume that we are only learners....

We are failing, so long as our students look to us to know "how they are doing." Giving too many instructions--or offering a review of what is "great"--can have this effect. There are at least two standards here: how much one can learn, vs. looking for others' judgment of where one is, in relation to others. The process is incremental: classroom teachers should be inviting students to make free choices, and students should know that they will not be judged by the choices they make, which should be personalized in their own terms....

Perhaps we need to make a different kind of success--that which is inherent in the performance itself, rather than in others' judgment of it--more modal. Or perhaps that analogy, of winning and losing, doesn't really work, either: faculty can't "win" @ the work they do, for instance; they must keep on struggling.