As regular readers know, I don't believe will power is a real thing. It's an unnecessary complication to the simple observation that people pursue whatever paths they think will generate the greatest happiness. If I decline a cookie and you don't, it's not because I have greater willpower; it's probably because you enjoy cookies more than I do, or you're hungrier, or I have a dental appointment. We are just moist robots executing our programs. Willpower is nothing but cause and effect romanticized.

I have a hypothesis that a person's ability to forgo short term pleasure in favor of future gains is largely a function of imagination. If you improve a person's imagination, you will improve his so-called emotional intelligence.

A recent study found that people will save more for retirement if they see a digitally aged picture of themselves. In other words, when you help people imagine their own futures, they make different choices. So the science lines up with my hypothesis at least that far.

I came to my hypothesis about imagination and willpower by observing people who routinely choose short term happiness over long term payoffs. If you ask enough questions, you'll find that people of that sort don't have an imagined future. Ask where they expect to be in five years and you'll get a shrug.

I'm the opposite. I've always imagined my future in great detail. If you observed my life over the years, you'd see what looks like loads of willpower. I got good grades in school, avoided the worst physical and legal risks, worked long hours, saved for my retirement, and stayed fit. According to my hypothesis, it probably means I have a good imagination. And I do. As a kid I always imagined myself in my retirement years. I could see my future home so vividly that I could walk through it like a 3D model. By the time I was in kindergarten I could tell you what my face would look like in retirement, how I would feel, and even how I would dress. I'm not saying my imagination was accurate, just vivid and persistent.

If my hypothesis is correct, and imagination drives our choices, what happens to kids in an Internet world who no longer need to exercise their imaginations? When I was a kid, imagination was essential for turning sticks into rifles and trees into enemy combatants. Today a kid just grabs a joystick and lets the game designers do the imagining for him.

My prediction is that people raised in the Internet age will have less practice using their imaginations, and as a result will have less of what society labels as willpower, or emotional intelligence. That should translate into greater rates of obesity, unbalanced national budgets, skepticism about climate change, and lots of people graduating with useless degrees. Hmm.

Do you think a kid born in the Internet age will have the same powers of imagination as older generations?
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+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 1, 2012
This generation always had the internet. How does it effect their imaginations? Too many unlisted variables to attempt a causation argument. I agree that there may be a decent correlation argument. However, that said, my generation always had television. What did that do to my imagination? My dad's generation always had a.c. electricity and lightbulbs, how did that affect his imagination, etc.

My imagination wants to know if many of these blog entries aren't in fact just 'Scott' dreaming up and publishing opposing viewpoints for my entertainment under anonymous pseudonyms. I know that it all must be about 'ME'. Thanks, Scott!

Meantime, Scott's training in hypnosis deals a lot with imagination. "When I count to four, you will awaken and feel totally refreshed and eager to go out and not drink 16 oz. sodas . . ." Doesn't hypnosis use 'imagination' to conjure up 'willpower'?

Maybe, this takes us 'full circle' . . .
+17 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 1, 2012
I challenge these imagination assertions...

Movies requires less imagination than books? Well less visualization maybe but consider that a lot of the continuity of a movie experience is imagined. A book will have lots of detail on how characters met, how they relate to each other, what they're thinking etc. a film jumps right into a scene. You'll see two people talking in a restaurant and you imagine their relationship, how they got there and all kinds of things books explain just from various visual cues.

Video games require less imagination? Maybe casual games do, but even in first person shooters you have to conserve ammunition in order to be successful. In fact most games unlike narrative media (books, movies) require resource management, planning, exploration and problem solving.

The internet is a creative medium. Even posting a comment requires writing skills. Setting up profiles, posting videos, building websites, etc are all creative expressions that require varying degrees of imagination and technical ability.
Jun 1, 2012
@Rcomian -

No, I was up with him until he said something incorrect.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 1, 2012
I think it's not only imagination but experience too. It makes the whole future-thing real because one has lived through a bunch of "futures", that is, cause-effect relationships that span months or years.
It's like many newbies on the stock market bloody their noses on the first bear market. Then they learn that "this time" is /not/ "different" just because they happen to be part of it.
Jun 1, 2012
Imagination is not on a decline. The medium in which it is expressed is.
-5 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 1, 2012
@Phantom II - So you were up with him until he said something that made you uncomfortable ...
Jun 1, 2012
Yes, kids in the internet age may end up having less imagination than older generations.
But it need not translate into less emotional intelligence.

The people who seem to have the most emotional intelligence are sometimes people who simply do not think a lot.They just go about their day-to-day affairs without really thinking too far ahead. In which case a lack of imagination actually contributes to more emotional "intelligence."
Jun 1, 2012
Whoops. I forgot that "e n t i t i e s" is considered a dirty word by your word-blocker. I'll try to remember in the future. My apologies.
Jun 1, 2012
I was with you up until the "skepticism about climate change" part. Obesity is a fact. Unbalanced national budget is a fact. People graduating with useless degrees is a fact. But even you will have to admit that anthropogenic global warming is a theory. Since it's a theory, it is, by definition, not a fact. Lumping it in with facts in an attempt to make it appear so is disingenuous. As you well know.

To me, will power is a nebulous term. I prefer to think of it as self-discipline. One is taught self-discipline through our parents and our teachers, and to some extent by other !$%*!$%* such as the military. Working against developing discipline can be our peers, our parents and teachers (if they also lack discipline), and most insidious of all, our government.

I agree with you concerning the lack of imagination. We've discussed that before. My analogy was the difference between radio shows and TV shows, and the difference between reading a book and watching a movie. Both formers require much more imagination than both latters.

Same with sticks and trees versus video games. Developing the ability to imagine is the core of creativity. I don't know if it can be juxtaposed into planning for retirement, though, and this gets us back to developing self-discipline in an increasingly undisciplined world.

Our government is s c r e w i n g us in this regard. First, they're making promises they can't keep about all the goodies they're going to give us. Then, they start to micromanage our lives, implying that we're just too lazy and dumb to be able to make decisions for ourselves. Take a look at Mayor Bloomberg's latest nanny-state move in New York: banning sweetened drinks over 16 ounces? If someone wrote that one into a novel, nobody would believe it.

So my main point is that we have to go back to being self-reliant and not looking to a huge, bloated, in loco parentis type of government, if we want to continue being a free nation. There's an alternative theory for you.

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