Hope is the opposite of despair, depression is the opposite of optimism

The combination of beliefs and desires gives rise to human action. “Beliefs” are trickier than they seem because we act as if they’re philosophical statements that are either true or false, but under pressure they turn out to be nothing like this at all. Instead, they seem to be much more like aesthetic ideals, the pursuit of which we rationalize post facto. Tentatively, I identify these as derivative from the gray matter network which informs our perceptions of the world.

In my limited knowledge, “desires” have received a much more comprehensive treatment. They are caused by Pavlovian conditioning and revealed by economic choices: “Actions speak louder than words.” They follow the relatively simple ipso-facto logic of white matter. When we attempt to achieve a desire and succeed, the result (aside from the gratification itself) is a feeling of agency. That is, power to effect one’s destiny for good or ill. When we attempt to achieve some desire and fail, the result is a feeling of frustration. As I said before, frustration is the low end of depression.

Depression and optimism are emotional artifacts which reflect a change in a person’s risk-reward strategy, based on previous outcomes. For instance, a man who is consistently successful in talking to women is going to be optimistic about his next social encounter. He will take more risks in the pursuit of higher rewards because an abundance mentality is the correct adaptation when success in all but guaranteed. Only when he starts racking up some failures does it make sense for him to reflect and possibly dial back his ambition to accommodate a slightly less resource-abundant reality. But it makes no sense to be risk-averse when successes are forthcoming and effortless. Depression is the reverse situation- a constantly frustrated man going to be pessimistic about his chances in the next social encounter. If the cost of failure seems too high, he will bide time and conserve his energy instead of busting a move. In both cases, constant failures or successes might become generalized into attitudes: “I expect to succeed in everything I set my mind to,” or vice versa. Insofar as man is ever a rational animal, these are often rational generalizations of previous efficacy.

Despair is distinct from depression in that it is still an emotional reaction, but it is a response to a perception of the future, rather than a generalization of the past. The key here is that the future may look more or less hopeful, regardless of the way things have been previously, due to inferences drawn from pattern perception. So maybe all we’ve known for all our lives is endless Winter, but if Aslan returns and we understand the significance of this, then we’d expect the future to be brighter than the average of our previous experiences would suggest. As the title suggests, hope is the reverse emotional reaction to despair, both requiring some greater perspective than mere Pavlovian conditioning (optimism and depression).

This finally nails down the idea of hope, but I’m finding simple “fear” to be a more elusive concept than it feels like it should be. Seems like fear should lead to despair or some such, but that doesn’t seem to be always the case. A person can feel visceral fear and hope at the same time, and a person can fear God without being depressed in the slightest. Seems like it bears better disambiguation than I’ve done.


About Aeoli Pera

Maybe do this later?
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