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Psychological hedonism

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I think the whole of this Philosophy Bites podcast (20mins) is worth listening to, although a few things stand out, including a brief mention of George Loewenstein (GL)* (10:05-10:50):

https://philosophybites.libsyn.com/paul-bloom-on-psychological-hedonism Do we seek pleasure and avoid pain? The moral psychologist Paul Bloom [author of The Sweet Spot: Suffering, Pleasure and the Key to a Good Life**] believes psychological hedonism gives an inaccurate picture of what motivates us. In this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast he discusses pain and pleasure with Nigel Warburton.

*GL’s 1999 academic paper, “Because it is there: the challenge of mountaineering ... for utility theory”, is summarised in the following book review (penultimate paragraph), which includes a PDF link for the full text (https://www.cmu.edu/dietrich/sds/docs/loewenstein/mountaineering.pdf):

** https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/nov/24/the-sweet-spot-by-paul-bloom-review-the-pleasure-of-pain An intriguing scientific investigation into why suffering, from mountaineering to BDSM, so often leads to satisfaction
 

 Shani 26 Dec 2021
In reply to Robin Montaigne:

> An intriguing scientific investigation into why suffering, from mountaineering to BDSM, so often leads to satisfaction

+1

If that sentence doesn't win you Favourite UKCer (FUKCer), of the year 2021, i don't know what will.

 alx 26 Dec 2021
In reply to Shani:

> An intriguing scientific investigation into why suffering, from mountaineering to BDSM, so often leads to satisfaction

 

Also explains listeners of The Archers, Morrissey or working for Sheffield Hallam

 Shani 26 Dec 2021
In reply to alx:

> Also explains listeners of The Archers, Morrissey or working for Sheffield Hallam

....and fans of Nottingham Forest, decaf coffee and non-alcoholic beer, people who aim for 10k steps a day...

 TechnoJim 27 Dec 2021
In reply to Robin Montaigne:

Enjoyed that.

Psychological Hedonism would make a great route name.

 Jon Stewart 27 Dec 2021
In reply to Robin Montaigne:

Thanks, that was right up my street. 

I'm quite attracted to hedonism as an account of what motivates our behaviour. We've evolved positive and negative emotions to guide our behaviour to towards what makes us best pass on our genes (which includes acting in ways that lead to protecting our kin and living together in successful societies).

As Bloom says, it doesn't make sense to me to use a single word "pleasure" to lump together all positive emotions. People put a lot of effort into behaviour that gives them some sort of long-term background confidence, like getting into a high status position in a social context through their job, or by getting really good at climbing, or whatever.

Whether or not Bloom is right that there's something intrinsic to the struggle that motivates behaviour, I'm not convinced. I think it's the "pleasure" of looking back at one's achievements and feeling like we're the kind of person we want to be that motivates us to do difficult things. It's still about positive emotion, but it's not the basic sensation of "pleasure" we're chasing. If it was, we'd spend all our time and effort just on food and sex and drugs, so "pleasure" is not a good description of the mental states we really care about. However, hedonism still works as a theory if we expand our notion of pleasure to include something more like eudaimonia, and is really identical to Bloom's "motivational pluralism"  in that we are chasing a diverse set of positive emotions. 

As for the 'experience machine' - I just don't think the thought experiment makes any sense. I don't see how going through all the experience of say, raising a family, is any different at all to actually raising a family. I'd have to understand what the exact differences are between the experience machine and reality before I could make a decision, but my hunch is that the experience machine would be by far the best option and I'd be absolutely rational to hop right in.

Post edited at 23:23
In reply to Jon Stewart:

Glad the podcast was your kind of thing, Jon. They seem to have lots of interesting ones on the site

I guess there are cases where something intrinsic to the struggle that’s involved in the pursuit of certain goals can affect our behaviour. If we want to summit a particular mountain, for e.g., the potential for experiencing “flow” (or “being in the zone”) on routes that offer the right amount of resistance could motivate us to reject those we’d find relatively easy, in favour of a more challenging one – but not one so challenging that we’d fail to achieve our goal of summiting. We might seek out more challenging routes simply to improve, of course, but that could be a different goal (the GL paper linked in the OP includes flow as one of the components of “mastery”)

Although flow is a positive mental state, I’m not sure the hedonist would equate it with “pleasure”, as they see struggle as merely instrumental, at best; if something promised enough pleasure to more than offset the anticipated “pain”, they’d choose it in spite of the struggle involved, not because of it. I suspect they’d rather be helicoptered* to the summit

I wasn’t sure about the real life vs. the experience machine (EM) thought-experiment, either. I suppose that, just as we might choose to summit a mountain by climbing rather than by helicopter when we’re motivated by things other than pleasure, we might choose real life over the EM if we value things in addition to inner experience:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Experience_machine#Reasons_not_to_plug_in

But perhaps that reflects the biases – in our current, unplugged state – discussed in the podcast?

 *This account of Nietzsche’s view on suffering & “happiness” uses the helicoptering vs. climbing example, also mentioned by Nigel Warburton in the podcast:

youtube.com/watch?v=wj8qw3_Aias& (34:45-35:40) - Manuel Dries & Bettany Hughes:

Genius of the Modern World | Nietzsche | BBC4 HD [2016]
 

 Jon Stewart 10 Jan 2022
In reply to Robin Montaigne:

> I guess there are cases where something intrinsic to the struggle that’s involved in the pursuit of certain goals can affect our behaviour. If we want to summit a particular mountain, for e.g., the potential for experiencing “flow” (or “being in the zone”) on routes that offer the right amount of resistance could motivate us to reject those we’d find relatively easy, in favour of a more challenging one – but not one so challenging that we’d fail to achieve our goal of summiting.

I think flow is a positive mental state, but from introspection it don't think it on its own it accounts well for my motivation to climb. I can jibber up a route in a state of total self-doubt and abject terror, take half the day over it, and not encounter a single moment of flow. But if it's a route that means something to me in terms of character, difficulty, reputation (i.e. what other people will think of me when I tell them, or what I think they'll think, I'm half-ashamed to admit), etc, then in my memory I'll transform that experience into one of pride and retrospective euphoria. It's this retrospective euphoria ("type 2 fun") that can be the motivator rather than seeking out the essentially terrible experience for its own sake. Shitting yourself, desperately sweating off crap holds too high above your gear that you've just lost your confidence in is a bad experience, but it gives context to the "pleasure" that comes later, and that the "pleasure" can't really exist without. This is the problem with Experience Machine...

> Although flow is a positive mental state, I’m not sure the hedonist would equate it with “pleasure”, as they see struggle as merely instrumental, at best; if something promised enough pleasure to more than offset the anticipated “pain”, they’d choose it in spite of the struggle involved, not because of it. I suspect they’d rather be helicoptered* to the summit

I don't think being helicoptered to the summit is a useful metaphor. The experience of climbing isn't characterised by pain and suffering leading to a euphoric rush as you summit/top out. That's just not how it is. The real euphoria on a trad route might be latching a jug that ends the first hard section, or it might be the buzz of committing to a spectacular steep traverse with no feet and mind-reeling exposure but that isn't actually very hard once you get going. It can be about the journey, even just bits of it, or it can be about the retrospective pleasure, but it's all not about the satisfaction of topping out.

I would consider myself a hedonist, but I appreciate that delayed gratification is the key to accessing the higher pleasures. Even something "easy" like enjoying listening to music is better if you put some effort in and try challenging stuff, or stuff that takes many listens to appreciate. I was watching a tragic film the other day, and it wasn't exactly "pleasure" but it made me think of this idea of hedonism and how that might fit in. I didn't come to any conclusion!

> we might choose real life over the EM if we value things in addition to inner experience:

I don't think anything meaningful exists that is not part of (inner) experience. Being a certain sort of person *is* just a series of thoughts and emotions which appear in the contents of inner experience. I don't like Nozick's reasons for not plugging in, they don't make sense to me. The whole thought experiment falls flat for me: there is no comparable experience of topping out on a route without it including the memories of the desire to climb the route, the planning, anticipation, setting off, the crux, the wobbling, the sweating and yelping etc. And if you get the memories of all of that as part of the deal, then it's just indistinguishable from actually doing it. It's either identical to the true experience and you don't know it's simulated, or it isn't and is therefore obviously fake and unsatisfying.

> But perhaps that reflects the biases – in our current, unplugged state – discussed in the podcast?

>  *This account of Nietzsche’s view on suffering & “happiness” uses the helicoptering vs. climbing example, also mentioned by Nigel Warburton in the podcast:

I'll check that out, ta!

Post edited at 22:15

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