Re: virus: [Fwd: An addition to the virus digest]

Eva-Lise Carlstrom (
Sun, 7 Sep 1997 15:33:37 -0700 (PDT)

Nathaniel Hall writes (in the guise of a fictional character):

"I suppose I have to define what I mean by a mental illness before I go
on any further. Our brains have evolved by nature to judge and evaluate
reality. Those brains which did a lousy job of that task simply died. A
healthy mind is one which approximates to the best extent possible a
world view that fits snugly with the world as it actually is. Your
subjective view of nature in close agreement with objective nature in
other words. As you can see the state of the world now consists of a lot
of unhealthy minds."

Funny thing is, having a worldview that is in the closest accordance with
objective reality is *not* always optimal. I have an example area in mind.
Research on perceived control of one's environment, and on optimism vs.
pessimism, has shown that people who score as optimists on standardized
tests tend to be more successful (as judged by self-satisfaction and by
factors such as income) [point 1], despite the fact that they predictably
*overestimate* the amount of control they have in life situations [point
2]. Or because of it.

Perhaps the reason for this is that it is more often helpful to
overestimate one's abilities than underestimate them. If you think you
can change a situation when the chances are in fact very low, you may have
made a less grievous error than if you failed to try when the chances were

For whatever reasons, a certain degree of overestimation of one's own
abilities (short of mania) correlates with a mental condition we generally
consider healthy.

Of course, having a decent range of variation around is evolutionarily
advantageous too; some environmental conditions might favor pessimism,
others optimism. I find myself trying to think up experimental designs

who has her own human desire to Know the Truth, but tries not to let it
get in her way.