Tuesday, December 01, 2009


Confabulation is a great word. I think I came across it in Daniel Gilbert's book 'Stumbling on Happiness', but the wikipedia definition isn't quite as I understood it. Similar but not the same.

Wikipedia defines it as the way we recreate memories and can recall things that actually never happened. Like the study (which I should cite, but don't know who did it) which looked at 'Where were you when X significant event' happened. We all think we know where we were when we heard that Diana had died, when Nelson Mandela was released, on 911, on the day Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled etc. Apparently, many of us are wrong.

We all know that one of the most powerful techniques of getting over a trauma is coming up with a story that we buy into. An explanation you may call it, or just something that helps you cope. The 'truth' being less important than the emotional ability to actually carry on

But that is not really the context I like the word. I may be stretching the definition, but the way I thought I had heard it used, and the way I liked it is how we often start with a conclusion, and then when asked, subconsciously make up a 'rational' reason. Not in a dishonest way, as you probably normally don't even know you are doing it. Quite simply, we haven't thought through everything we have an opinion on. But we have an opinion. When asked why, we will come up with reasons. But the reasons come after the opinion quite often. That is why when we argue about things and someone clearly and logically refutes the points we make... we don't always just say. Ok, well then I agree with you. We try think of new reasons to support our conclusion.

Not that this is always bad. If we were purely logical, rational animals, we both wouldn't be much fun and we wouldn't get much done. I think it takes a little bit of craziness to be a real success in life. And sometimes we think with our hearts, and not our heads. Nothing, wrong with that. But I do think it is important to try catch yourself doing it so you don't pretend you are being rational.

Next time you catch yourself confabulating. Stop arguing.
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