Video of the day:
The depth of pleasure is hidden from us. People insist that the pleasure that they get from wine is due to its taste and smell, or that music is pleasurable because of its sound, or that a movie is worth watching because of what’s on the screen. And of course this is all true… but only partially true. In each of these cases, the pleasure is affected by deeper factors, including what the person thinks about the true essence of what he or she is getting pleasure from.
Paul Bloom is the Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Yale University. His research explores how children and adults understand the physical and social world, with special focus on morality, religion, fiction, and art. He is the author of How Pleasure Works
Why do origins matter so much? Why do we respond so much to our knowledge of where something comes from?
Many sociologists like Veblen and Wolfe would argue that the reason why we take origins so seriously is because we’re snobs, because we’re focused on status. Among other things, if you want to show off how rich you are, how powerful you are, it’s always better to own an original than a forgerybecause there’s always going to be fewer originals than forgeries.
I don’t doubt that that plays some role, but what I want to convince you of today is that there’s something else going on. I want to convince you that humans are, to some extent, natural born essentialists. What I mean by this is we don’t just respond to things as we see them, or feel them, or hear them. Rather, our response is conditioned on our beliefs, about what they really are, what they came from, what they’re made of, what their hidden nature is. I want to suggest that this is true, not just for how we think about things, but how we react to things.
Pleasure is deep
So take food. Would you eat this? Well, a good answer is, “It depends. What is it?” Some of you would eat it if it’s pork, but not beef. Some of you would eat it if it’s beef, but not pork. Few of you would eat it if it’s a rat or a human. Some of you would eat it only if it’s a strangely colored piece of tofu. That’s not so surprising. But what’s more interesting is how it tastes to you will depend critically on what you think you’re eating.
How do you get adults to really enjoy wine? It’s very simple: pour it from an expensive bottle. There are now dozens, perhaps hundreds of studies showing that if you believe you’re drinking the expensive stuff,it tastes better to you.
How you think about what you’re experiencing, your beliefs about the essence of it, affect how it hurts
The most extreme example of this is that in some cases, pain under the right circumstances can transform into pleasure. Humans have this extraordinarily interesting property that will often seek out low-level doses of pain in controlled circumstances and take pleasure from it — as in the eating of hot chili peppers and roller coaster rides. The point was nicely summarized by the poet John Milton who wrote, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”