In an excerpt of Tali Sharot’s The Optimism Bias, published at The Guardian, she explores the possibility that a predisposition toward optimism is hard-wired. A neuroscientist by trade, Sharot’s findings are based on a breadth of her own research into the functioning of the human brain, and how a generally positive or negative outlook can affect a person’s life. I’m not exactly sure that she is making an evolutionary argument, but she suggests that, “the bias [toward optimism] protects and inspires us: it keeps us moving forward rather than to the nearest high-rise ledge. Without optimism, our ancestors might never have ventured far from their tribes and we might all be cave dwellers, still huddled together and dreaming of light and heat. To make progress, we need to be able to imagine alternative realities–better ones–and we need to believe that we can achieve them. Such faith helps motivate us to pursue our goals.”
Apparently, the neural system responsible for recalling memories is also the part of our brain that allows us to imagine the future, and for all the energy invested in backward glancing, it just may not exactly be the thing our minds are good at. Sharot offers that, “rather, the core function of the memory system could in fact be to imagine the future–to enable us to prepare for what has yet to come. The system is not designed to perfectly replay past events…It is designed to flexibly construct future scenarios in our minds.”
And so, of course, I consider art and its ability to give shape to potentials, to hypotheticals, to different ways of being, and I wonder what it might look like to map between this kind of making, these minds, and their predisposition toward confidence or cynicism. To make, to me, seems inherently optimistic, but my own bias is toward optimism and so this may be my personal logic speaking. But why would someone contribute to the civic fabric of the world if they were inherently or deeply pessimistic? The absurd conclusion here is that artists of all sorts will be optimistic folks, something that immediately lends itself to a thousand refutations, but I am still left with the question of why devote the energy to creation if one believes society to be shit?