Experience vs. Memory

by Ben Perreira

I have often referred to Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow. It’s brilliant in thought-provoking. He offers one thought experiment in which the reader imagines going on vacation and not being able to take any photos, and upon return his memory of the trip will be completely erased. The exercise asks us if we would continue to pursue certain activities if we could never again access them through memory, with them existing only in the then-present.

In some ways, I find this exercise moot and rather ironic considering I gained the information while reading a book, and his nonetheless. It is useful for a limited range of activities that are intended purely for pleasure. But what would those be, exactly?

As I’ve said, I am a strong proponent of learning by failure. When we experience things are are hoping they will be (a) very pleasurable and/ or (b) pay dividends of pleasure in the future. How you define pleasure is exclusively up to you.

I’m still doing a bit of post-MBA-research roaming through Europe (currently Barcelona), and traveling is not much different than reading or working in this regard. You can expect to get something from traveling to a certain place, but those expectations are rarely met. It could be much better or much worse. Traveling pays dividends in ways that are generally unpredictable and disproportionate. We get them at the time and years down the line.

Most of us would leave a book on the shelf if we knew we could never access the memory of its contents. And most of us would probably just stay home if we knew a trip’s experience would be the only source of pleasure derived from it. But using the same callous rationale, why even get out of bed in the morning?