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Optimism, Anniversaries and Reality

This summer has raised a question about which anniversaries we take seriously. The populist media's devotion to optimism is shown up by the contrast between extensive coverage of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing and passing over the centenary of the Treaty of Versailles (on 28 June) in almost total silence. Is it fair to regard this as an echo of the reception given to N. V. Peale's 'positive thinking' teaching in the 1950s or the research by Scheier and Carver 30 years later?

There is, apparently, scientific evidence that 'positive thinking', or an optimistic attitude, has personal health benefits. However, that might be questioned on the grounds that the psychologist Scheier (2012) characterises optimists as effective problem solvers, who are also more ready to cut their losses. There is likely to be a link between effective problem solving and optimism, but they are not the same thing. Indeed, on Scheier's presentation, ignoring less agreeable cases, like the Treaty of Versailles centenary, can be a sign of underlying pessimism and negativity.

Back in the 1950s Peale's ideas on positive thinking were criticised by some as being similar to hypnotism. Like the treatment of anniversaries in 2019 that shows up our uncertain attitude to reality. Do we try to face it or are we happier ignoring it? Do we even understand what it is? Some scientists have proposed that reality is basically a set of pure mathematics or the output of a program running on a cosmos-scale quantum computer. Would that be compatible with an optimistic attitude? Perhaps more so that the joke definition of reality as that which doesn't go away when you want it to.

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