Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Even great experiences create discomfort

Recently, I had a terrific out of the world experience. This stirred up my entire thoughts and in a way hijacked my brain. For the next few days, all I was doing was reliving moments of it and trying to remember every detail. No matter what I thought about, I would ponder over it again and again. Its like a stuck logical loop where I would think about ideas like: What was it really? What insights does it give me? What should I do to have an even better one? Should I pursue something similar? How will other people react if I tell them? How would I explain it to them? Would they be able to understand my translation of it?

What struck me is that, this is not the first time in my life this has happened. Interesting experiences hijack my entire attention and make me continually explore their mystery. The more intense it is, the more I'm pulled in.

I don't know if I need to interpret this as discomfort in the first place. Its what I have been doing most of my life. I would be terribly fascinated with some object, game or person and keep intensely exploring that until the interest naturally fades into something else. I have seen a lot of people around me however, do not live life with that intensity. Even if they do, the intensity is only for certain things and not versatile or really broad. It also stays more or less constant. For e.g.: among the people I know, there is an obsession with knowing the latest gossip or information, maintaining a oneupmanship, tapping into the easiest sources of money, increasing one's value in the market etc.

About Dopamine:
Once dopamine is involved in the picture, it hugely dominates. The real obsessive experience starts when an entity stimulates dopamine. That makes the obsession much much stronger. I guess our whole motivation and behavior is biologically adjusted to all the activities that maximize dopamine. So they would theoretically be the most powerful forces. In fact dopamine is the key force of attraction.

Why the reward system may be fair after all
For a long time I felt, pretty girls have an inherent advantage since more people want to get to know them and their opportunity for interacting with others is maximized. However, if they get attention easily, they may not bother to develop other skills and attitudes needed for pleasure not related to looks. Average looking people usually develop in other areas and by virtue of facing rejections etc. develop greater empathy, stronger personalities and develop other talents and interests which help them gain rewards. The more I think about it, I feel no one has any real advantage. You can rewards in spikes or get it slowly but the wave will still be maintained with its crests and troughs.

Giving a starving man a loaf of bread gives him as much pleasure as a middle class man gets eating in a 5-star restaurant. In the pretty girl example: If some guy gives her a lot of attention, she would not be too bothered by it because she gets it in abundance. But if this level of attention is received by an average girl, she would be really moved and rewarded much more.

So, do some people really subjectively experience more pleasure than others?
We can never compare 2 subjective experiences, even my comparison would be my subjectivity. So the answer to this question is almost unknowable.
2 things strike my mind when I think about this.
1. Analyzing the biology of the person's brain, nervous system etc for the main neurotransmitters and chemicals influencing subjective experience.
2. Understanding the person's beliefs and how they are functioning: empowering/dis-empowering him

But even these factors may not indicate subjective experience. There is an inherent duality here.
Say there are Person A: with less dopamine and Person B with more dopamine. Person B may have more dopamine in his system, but he has always had it, he would know the value of it only if he can experience person A. Similarly person A would have no idea what having the level of dopamine person B has feels like. Person A cannot even imagine it.

So the conundrum is that wherever we are in life, we always feel we are in the center. The frame of reference itself moves along with us. We are always craving for better things, avoiding the bad stuff. We try to map our place by comparing ourselves to others and that gives us orientation. But this is a comparison in an artificial reality. There is no compass, no map, no circumference, no location in actual reality.

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