Monday, July 10, 2023

The Summer Illusion

Hi from the vicinity of Sogndal, Norway!

My brain is foggy and exhausted from traveling (today we kayaked for three hours and hiked a glacier), so I'm just going to adapt a post from several years ago.

Apologies to commenters here, and social media friends and followers, and email respondents. I'll be back in Riverside next week, and I'll try to catch up on all those things.


Every spring I suffer the Summer Illusion. The following three incompatible propositions all seem to me, in the spring, to be true:

(1.) When summer arrives, I'll finally get a bunch of that research done which has been crowded out by my teaching and administrative commitments during the school year.

(2.) When summer arrives, I'll finally get a chance to do all of that non-academic stuff that I've been putting off during the school year -- big home maintenance projects, vacation travel to the four new places I want to visit, my plan to catch up on the whole history of golden-age science fiction.

(3.) When summer arrives, I'll finally have a chance to spend a lot more time just relaxing.

The Summer Illusion is surprisingly robust. Every spring, I suffer the Summer Illusion, building up big plans and hopes. Then, every summer, as those hopes fall apart, I scold my springtime self for having fallen, yet again, into the Summer Illusion. The pattern is so common and predictable I've given it a memorable name, The Summer Illusion, to help convince myself that it really is an illusion -- and hopefully not fall into it again. And yet I fall into it again.

You might think that the Summer Illusion depends on entertaining only one of the three propositions at a time. You might think that the way it works is that sometimes I entertain proposition 1 (I'll get my research done!), and at other, different times I entertain proposition 2 (I'll get all my other projects done!), and at still other times I entertain proposition 3 (I'll finally have lots of time to relax!). Largely this is so. And yet the Summer Illusion also survives simultaneous consideration of the three propositions. Even looking at the propositions side by side like this, I am tempted to believe them. Some part of me thinks of course all three can't be true, as I've seen time and time again -- and yet in my heart I continue to believe. Summer days expand so magnificently to fit my fantasies!

It's almost an inversion of busyness. If a period of time has the outward appearance of being a "relaxed", low-commitment period of time, it serves as a fantasy-and-procrastination magnet. I pile my future plans and hopes into that period of time, not noticing the impossibly mounting sum of expectations.


Philosopher Eric said...

It sounds like you and your family are having a wonderful vacation this summer, so enjoy it while you can!

On your summer illusions, it seems to me that one day the field of psychology will have broad generally accepted theory regarding our function. Thus eventually a basic platform should exist from which to grasp this tendency that you observe. Unfortunately today however you might get a different answer from each psychologist you ask. I see this as the essential difference between “hard” and “soft” science — the first has basic accepted theory from which to work, while the second does not. And indeed, many today believe it’s not possible for psychology to ever gain a “hard” platform from which to function. To me this pessimism seems extremely short sighted. It’s as if our function must be magical rather than causal. Science has dispelled countless forms of magical belief in other fields over its relatively short history, so I suspect it’ll reduce human function to various basic principles some day as well. In any case I’ll take a crack at interpreting your observations from a not yet accepted psychological platform of my own.

As I see it we’re all instantaneous phenomenal entities, though joined with past selves by means of memory, as well as future selves by means of hope and worry. You’ve been wondering about your illogical expectations of future selves, so we can discount the memory/past component. The worry mechanism exist as a bad present feeling to thus give us incentive to act on behalf of future selves in order to potentially diminish present worry. That doesn’t seem to be what’s driving your summer illusions however, so it can also be discounted.

Therefore my point is that you have these summer illusions by means of “hope”, which is to say that you feel good presently speculating that in the summer you should be able to do all sorts of things that you wont do, or just plain can’t do given how things actually are. But since these illusions simply give you a bit more happiness from time to time during the year, I see no harm in them. It’s not like sales people are going to use these hopes to pressure you into buying ultimately non sensible vehicles or timeshare lodging. So I say, carry on with your summer illusions…

One of my own illusions resides in hope that I might help the human scientifically grasp the human in the face of strong structural impediments which tend to lead professionals astray. It’s generally quite an enjoyable illusion, and even though I do realize that it should take powers far greater than myself to illuminate these impediments well enough for fields like psychology to finally progress. Thus I’ll also carry on with my own illusions …

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Phil E! I agree that it is quite a pleasant illusion, while it lasts.