Nerian

Arbitrary desires and pursuing pleasure

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I appologize for the length of this post, and I understand if no one wants to read it. I just feel frustarted with these ideas and needed to get some thoughts out there, for any who care to listen.

To what extent is it rational to pursue pleasure? To what extent do we have to justify our desires?

How can anyone justify their desires? If you desire something, isn't that alone reason enough? Even if it is somewhat self destructive, isn't the enjoyment of life more important? Certainly, many Objectivists would object to obstaining for eating chocolate if one enjoys it, even though there is only a spiritual benefit to eating chocolate, the pleasure. Chocolate isn't good for you, so why can anyone condemn someone for doing something purely for pleasure when the detriment to one's health is higher than that of eating chocolate if it's only a difference in degree, not of kind?

Many desires seem to come out of nowhere. One cannot always identify why one gains pleasure from this or that, or why one enjoys this or that. Isn't the enjoyment of the thing the only rhyme, reason and justification for doing it? If the desires are a result of one's past experiences and part of one's subconscious, they are not chosen, and so still arbitrary. IF they are innate, they are arbitrary, and if they are random they are arbitrary. Or is it a case that one decides to value one's arbitrary desires? If we are told not to, then where does the joy of living come from? If we are repressing everything we want as arbitrary, then why do anything? Life would be a dutiful drudgery.

To put it another way: How is Dagny's interest in railroad's anything but arbitrary?

In psychology, from what I have learned, we are wired with a few basic innate drives and pleasures. All other pleasures on the psychological level are learned by association to the basic intrinsic pleasure. We feel good when we make money because we have associated money with getting the things we want. The things we want are the concrete pleasures that we do for their own sake. Such as Listening to music. Enjoying food. Sexual relations. Beautiful imagery. The fun of an activity done for its own sake. Laughing. Etc. Essentially you can think of it like a hierachy of values down to the intrinsic value of positive conscious states. Pleasure is the root of it all, and what gives you pleasure on that level is not chosen. If one never experienced pleasure during development, one would never be able to develop more abstract values such as friendship or productive work or social standing. Why would they be values? Those are just things one needs to get at basic pleasures in life, and that's why they are values. One could not enjoy anything without it being tied back to the innate pleasures. And this brings me to people with issues with their brains not producing pleasure. In these people with anhedonia, nothing has any value anymore. For such people, there's no reason to pursue anything. No amount of philosophical argumentation about life as the standard of value will make them want to be productive at work.

Pleasure is the psychological ends in themselves. You don't aim at pleasure for some other reaosn, in the same way you don't aim at happiness for some other reason. I still agree that you want to aim at a happiness that does not contradict your nature, such that it is pure, and without penalty or hangover. But that's still valuing it for itself, you're still only wishing for it to be pure so that it can be fully enjoyed without being lessened in any way.

Now the Objectivist points out that there are monks and mystics who would denounce pleasure and seek a path of suffering for the sake of suffering. This is valuing suffering in the abstract, but not in the intrinsic. Suffering still feels bad. One cannot consistently value suffering because if one were achieve it, one would gain psychological pleasure from that achievement, and thus contradict ones own pursuit of the suffering. The only way to pursue suffering is to do so inconsisently. In this sense, it is impossible and that's why it's irrational.

Clearly, life is the standard of value in so far as pleasures are contingent upon its existence, and the pleasure reward circuitry of our brains was set up mainly to aid survival of the individual. But the reality of evolution is that our pleasure circuitry was not set up to guide the survival of the individual life exclusively, but in the self interest of his genes, the individual's life is merely contingent. This is the idea behind the 'Selfish Gene'.

Quote

Happiness is the successful state of life, pain is an agent of death. Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values. A morality that dares to tell you to find happiness in the renunciation of your happiness—to value the failure of your values—is an insolent negation of morality. A doctrine that gives you, as an ideal, the role of a sacrificial animal seeking slaughter on the altars of others, is giving you death as your standard. By the grace of reality and the nature of life, man—every man—is an end in himself, he exists for his own sake, and the achievement of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose.

BUT WHAT VALUES? Morality and philosophy cannot imbue as with those. They are given to us. Once again, imagine you had never experienced pleasure. Nothing would be a value to you. Life's value to you on the conscious experiential level only stems from the experience of positively valenced mental states in the first place.

Egoist Ethics in my mind is the identification of proper meta-values. These are the abstract values that everyone must adopt in order to maximize one's concrete values. Any other set of meta-values are a contradiction with life and your nature and thereby impossible. Meta values guide you consisently achieve life, upon which your pleasures are contingent, so that you can go on enjoying yourself. It's not merely that improper meta-values lead to death, but improper meta-values are also impossible to achieve consisently. Altruism, as Objectivists have stated, is impossible consistently achieve. One must be selfish to some extent, and thus always be guilty. Egoism, the identification that one ought to act in one's own self interest, is still valid, but one's self interest in not merely defined by survival, but by 'flourishing qua man', which means you are embracing your biological drives. You refuse to not be what you are. You refuse to renounce yourself in any way. You treat what you want as sacred and justified unto themselves. Happiness stems from a confluence of various pleasures, innate and abstract, and is itself another pleasure, and all pleasure are psychological ends in themselves.

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I still agree that the only way to be a consistent hedonist would be to be an egoist first, but I think a synthesis is required that looks at the reality of our consciousness and the instrinsic 'positiveness' of pleasure, physical and psychological.

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Ah, we are animals first. Let's not overlook it, or we risk rationalism and a body-mind separation. I sometimes put it over-simplistically: biology and (to a large degree) psychology is what was 'done to' the individual, and philosophy is what he chooses to do for himself. The need "to know" may often over-ride one's physical needs but shouldn't negate or minimize them in the least, they keep one in touch with the earth. Then again, if physical needs take too much precedence, you'll soon learn all about it. (Physically. And emotionally. And in self esteem).

Hi Nerian, nice to see you again.

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Poor Dagny. How could her interest in getting laid by three consecutive men "be anything but arbitrary?"

As far as I can figure Eddie Willers had about ten years to bed her before Rearden did but simply let the opportunities pass by. Of course Rand didn't want a lesser god to get into her pants. Now THAT'S arbitrary! It denigrates the pure biological power of sex and the craving to mate and have a warm body next to you at night. Rand operated in her fiction and non-fiction and her own life on a rigid caste system and everything and everybody near her under her thumb.

--Brant

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50 minutes ago, Nerian said:

I still agree that the only way to be a consistent hedonist would be to be an egoist first, but I think a synthesis is required that looks at the reality of our consciousness and the instrinsic 'positiveness' of pleasure, physical and psychological.

Rand might say "egotist."

You are saying egoism underlies both hedonism and Objectivism? Or that Objectivism is a hedonistic philosophy?

--Brant

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21 minutes ago, Brant Gaede said:

I didn't know you had to be a hedonist to justify pleasure.

--Brant

I'm sure the pleasure police will be knocking at your door.  "Sir... back away from that chocolate bar now!  You aren't allowed to eat that!  It tastes good!"

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Examining human being by taking pleasure out of the human equation simply removes much, too much. No pleasure means the species dies out, not the existence of 7 1/2 billion people. 

--Brant

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1 hour ago, Nerian said:

I appologize for the length of this post, and I understand if no one wants to read it. I just feel frustarted with these ideas and needed to get some thoughts out there, for any who care to listen.

To what extent is it rational to pursue pleasure? To what extent do we have to justify our desires?

How can anyone justify their desires? If you desire something, isn't that alone reason enough? Even if it is somewhat self destructive, isn't the enjoyment of life more important? Certainly, many Objectivists would object to obstaining for eating chocolate if one enjoys it, even though there is only a spiritual benefit to eating chocolate, the pleasure. Chocolate isn't good for you, so why can anyone condemn someone for doing something purely for pleasure when the detriment to one's health is higher than that of eating chocolate if it's only a difference in degree, not of kind?

Many desires seem to come out of nowhere. One cannot always identify why one gains pleasure from this or that, or why one enjoys this or that. Isn't the enjoyment of the thing the only rhyme, reason and justification for doing it? If the desires are a result of one's past experiences and part of one's subconscious, they are not chosen, and so still arbitrary. IF they are innate, they are arbitrary, and if they are random they are arbitrary. Or is it a case that one decides to value one's arbitrary desires? If we are told not to, then where does the joy of living come from? If we are repressing everything we want as arbitrary, then why do anything? Life would be a dutiful drudgery.

To put it another way: How is Dagny's interest in railroad's anything but arbitrary?

In psychology, from what I have learned, we are wired with a few basic innate drives and pleasures. All other pleasures on the psychological level are learned by association to the basic intrinsic pleasure. We feel good when we make money because we have associated money with getting the things we want. The things we want are the concrete pleasures that we do for their own sake. Such as Listening to music. Enjoying food. Sexual relations. Beautiful imagery. The fun of an activity done for its own sake. Laughing. Etc. Essentially you can think of it like a hierachy of values down to the intrinsic value of positive conscious states. Pleasure is the root of it all, and what gives you pleasure on that level is not chosen. If one never experienced pleasure during development, one would never be able to develop more abstract values such as friendship or productive work or social standing. Why would they be values? Those are just things one needs to get at basic pleasures in life, and that's why they are values. One could not enjoy anything without it being tied back to the innate pleasures. And this brings me to people with issues with their brains not producing pleasure. In these people with anhedonia, nothing has any value anymore. For such people, there's no reason to pursue anything. No amount of philosophical argumentation about life as the standard of value will make them want to be productive at work.

Pleasure is the psychological ends in themselves. You don't aim at pleasure for some other reaosn, in the same way you don't aim at happiness for some other reason. I still agree that you want to aim at a happiness that does not contradict your nature, such that it is pure, and without penalty or hangover. But that's still valuing it for itself, you're still only wishing for it to be pure so that it can be fully enjoyed without being lessened in any way.

Now the Objectivist points out that there are monks and mystics who would denounce pleasure and seek a path of suffering for the sake of suffering. This is valuing suffering in the abstract, but not in the intrinsic. Suffering still feels bad. One cannot consistently value suffering because if one were achieve it, one would gain psychological pleasure from that achievement, and thus contradict ones own pursuit of the suffering. The only way to pursue suffering is to do so inconsisently. In this sense, it is impossible and that's why it's irrational.

Clearly, life is the standard of value in so far as pleasures are contingent upon its existence, and the pleasure reward circuitry of our brains was set up mainly to aid survival of the individual. But the reality of evolution is that our pleasure circuitry was not set up to guide the survival of the individual life exclusively, but in the self interest of his genes, the individual's life is merely contingent. This is the idea behind the 'Selfish Gene'.

BUT WHAT VALUES? Morality and philosophy cannot imbue as with those. They are given to us. Once again, imagine you had never experienced pleasure. Nothing would be a value to you. Life's value to you on the conscious experiential level only stems from the experience of positively valenced mental states in the first place.

Egoist Ethics in my mind is the identification of proper meta-values. These are the abstract values that everyone must adopt in order to maximize one's concrete values. Any other set of meta-values are a contradiction with life and your nature and thereby impossible. Meta values guide you consisently achieve life, upon which your pleasures are contingent, so that you can go on enjoying yourself. It's not merely that improper meta-values lead to death, but improper meta-values are also impossible to achieve consisently. Altruism, as Objectivists have stated, is impossible consistently achieve. One must be selfish to some extent, and thus always be guilty. Egoism, the identification that one ought to act in one's own self interest, is still valid, but one's self interest in not merely defined by survival, but by 'flourishing qua man', which means you are embracing your biological drives. You refuse to not be what you are. You refuse to renounce yourself in any way. You treat what you want as sacred and justified unto themselves. Happiness stems from a confluence of various pleasures, innate and abstract, and is itself another pleasure, and all pleasure are psychological ends in themselves.

How can anyone justify acting on any and every desire without a hedonistic rationale? Hedonism destroys morality for morality limits behavior. I knew an officer in Vietnam who enjoyed killing people. He killed a lot of enemy soldiers. After the war he was convicted of murdering his Cambodian wife. I don't think he got pleasure out of that murder; he did it so he could marry his cousin and run for the President of the Czech Republic--so claimed the prosecutor. But all those he did kill previously must have made it easier. (He once told me, "No--no prisoners!")

What is a "meta-value"? It sounds like jargon.

"Embracing your biological drives" doesn't mean you have to be swept down the river by them.

Being what you are--well, does that exclude self-betterment?

Does owning up to what you are mean letting that own you?

Why does happiness mean "a confluence of various pleasures" only? Might not there be other factors?

It's completely rational to pursue pleasure. It's completely irrational to let pleasure control you.

Now consider your entire post--it implicitly presupposes no rational thinking brain at all, just a billiard ball of a person being hit by pleasure balls. How can you build yourself up as a person, become an adult, like that?

Why don't  you throw a huge chunk of integrity into your nail soup and see what happens?

--Brant

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22 minutes ago, merjet said:

Pretty good and succinct. There is, however, no "science of ethics." She had no good understanding of science and in my extensive experience neither did Nathaniel Branden. He, however, did not use it so much as she did as an argument from authority as implicitly done here. Science and the philosophy of science only shares the metaphysics and epistemology with Objectivism. Ethics (morality), politics--human social existence--philosophy qua philosophy, have little overlap with science. Proper use of scientific methodology, though, requires tremendous integrity.

--Brant

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1 hour ago, Nerian said:

To what extent is it rational to pursue pleasure? 

Let's take this question down to a less abstract level. To what extent is it rational to pursue taste in food?

I hold to the theory that our sense of taste has the natural function of telling us what is good for our health and what is bad for our health. So as a rough rule of thumb with exceptions which I will discuss, what tastes good is good and what tastes bad is bad healthwise.

Exception 1:   The sense of taste can become corrupt. We can acquire a taste for bad things and a distaste for good things. When our sense of taste is corrupt, it is to that extent and in that way less effective as a guide in healthful eating. One of the possible effects of fasting (living on air and water and sleep and no food) is the restoration of the sense of taste to its uncorrupted state. Dr. Alan Goldhamer has a story about a man whose sense of taste was changed during a fast.

Exception 2:   There are substances that can deceive even an uncorrupted sense of taste, thereby defeating its natural function. One of these substances is monosodium glutamate, commonly known as MSG, more exactly unbound glutamic acid or glutamate. This is a taste enhancer. It has only one purpose -- to make foods taste better than their health and nutrition merits justify. You probably could make dogshit taste good by putting enough MSG on it. This substance is hidden in other ingredients and is common in restaurants. Its only purpose is to deceive the sense of taste and make food taste better than it deserves to taste.

So to sum up so far, the sense of taste was given to us as a guide but we must keep it uncorrupt and if necessary restore it to its uncorrupted state and avoid substances that can defeat even an uncorrupted sense of taste.

My rules:

1,  I avoid all foods that have anything in them other than food.

2.  I avoid all foods that are prepared by anyone other than myself because I don't know what's in it.

3.   Any food that doesn't taste good on its own is not fit to eat.

4.   If no food tastes good on its own then it is time to quit eating. (This rule didn't come up yet.)

The sense of taste not only tells us what is good and what is bad (if it's uncorrupted and undeceived) but also serves another natural function. It tells the body what digestive juices to produce to digest the food. The body produces different digestive juices for different foods. In this way, the more we enjoy our food, the better we digest it. Enjoyment of food is almost a moral obligation if you want the best possible digestion and thereby the best possible nutrition and thereby the best possible health.

Now let's get back to the question:   To what extent is it rational to pursue pleasure?

Or my less abstract version of the question:   To what extent is it rational to pursue taste in food?

I leave this question as a homework assignment  for people  smarter than me to answer.

 

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Nathaniel Branden said something about this in The Basic Principles of Objectivism lecture series:

Quote

You have to, in effect, know under what circumstances
it's appropriate to follow your feelings.
For example, a very crude, simple example: you're out
for a walk on a summer day-in the field, let us say-and
suddenly you take it into your head that you feel like
running, and all you are aware of is that you're feeling
very good, and this would give you an emotional
experience of pleasure. Well, this is not irrational,
because rationality consists of taking cognizance of what
is the context in which you are functioning. There
couldn't possibly be any argument against your running.
And if there couldn't be any argument against it, and if
you know it will give you an experience of pleasure, why,
then, it becomes rational to do it. But you have to know
that. So that, if, for example, you're a severe cardiac case,
the fact that you happen to be in the mood to run doesn't
mean that you should do it.
Rationality requires that you be cognizant of the
context.
I'll give you a rather facetious, humorous example of
this. Some years ago, talking to a young man, he got hung
up on the following problem; namely, somebody had said
to him, "Well, how can you be rational all the time?
You're out on a date with a girl, let's say. and you park the
car. What are you going to start discussing-astronomy.
or the celestial motions? How can you be rational all the
time?"
Well, of course, the error here is in assuming that
that would be rational!

This was said in lecture 10, The Objectivist Ethics.  The lectures can be found here, and in book form here: The Vision of Ayn Rand: The Basic Principles of Objectivism, the above was taken from the book.

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7 hours ago, Nerian said:

To put it another way: How is Dagny's interest in railroad's anything but arbitrary?

Nerian,

This kind of question plagued me for years.

Rand's heroes either have it or don't. Roark even asked Keating how he could stand not knowing the profession he wanted to pursue. How could he stand it? Not knowing?

In other words, here is essentially what Rand presented on this point (and I hate to say this about her): For those who understand, no explanation is necessary. For those who don't, none is possible.

I've done a lot of study in the last decade or so pursuing where urges and desires come from. I suppose it's because at one point in my life, I was a drug addict (after a stint as an alcoholic) and, for a person like me, that should not have happened. But it did. I can't ignore it or rationalize it. So I went on a journey of discovery to find out what the hell happened and I guess I've been on that journey ever since.

This led me to neuroscience, modern psychology and some other areas--the layman's stuff so far. More recently, I've discovered there is a lot more to storytelling than just stories.

I can't begin to put forth all I have learned and thought about in a post, but I can point you to a form of reasoning that has developed over my journey, which you are free to accept or reject.

 

Rational Animal

Since you started your questioning with Rand (as did I), let's start with her definition of human beings (which was also Aristotle's definition): rational animal. The "animal" part is the genus and the "rational" part is the differentia. If you go into her thought process in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, you also know there is some algebraic thinking behind this, that is letting a word (or symbol) stand for a lot of non-stated units. (When these symbols overlap, she even called the overlapped part a "conceptual common denominator." That's a huge oversimplification, but it's the gist.)

Up to here, so far, so good. But what does this have to do with the question of where desires come from? Well, the non-stated units for differentia in Rand's definition concern reason, volition, identification, integration, etc. And here--in the differentia, meaning "rational"--is where she drew most of her human desires from when she wrote fiction or analyzed social issues. She implied the rest was "whim," thus implying it was evil.

Why? Well, to her, one of the meanings of evil is choosing not to think. That is true for many cases, but it can become a serious overreach when you feel an urge so strongly it takes over your mind before you can even think rationally and you end up characterizing yourself as inherently evil. You act seemingly rationally, meaning you can drive a car, put tools together, etc., but you are not thinking. Not about what's driving you. I believe it's a huge mistake to call yourself evil for this mental state most of the time. You're not inherently evil. You're inherently animal. :) 

Let's not forget, the "rational" differentia genus in Rand's definition is not the only part that comes with a bunch of non-stated units, The "animal" genus does too: being mobile, warm-blooded, reproductive through sex, and so on. Not only that, humans are primates, so why not call man a "rational primate"? (You actually could and be correct, but that is for another discussion. Rand resisted this, though, and made up some kind of weak explanation about getting too specialized which was the realm of science, etc. etc. etc., but that is one I never bought even in my most Randroid days.)

 

Evolution

Now I'm going to leap to evolution. What do all animals have in common in their pursuit of values? They seek to survive and they seek to reproduce. These urges are automatic and they trigger a bunch of neurochemicals in all animals. These neurochemicals goad the animal into action, especially action based on feedback from the environment. But, and here's the thing, this feedback is not necessary for those neurochemicals to trigger or those urges to take over the animal's mind. Animals grow into them. These capacities kick in as part of the growth process. Some need maturity, some need pre-maturity, some need old age. Feedback hones these urges as neural pathways get created, but it does not create them--not the root of them. (In other words, Rand's adoption of the "tabula rasa" argument is a blind alley. You will find yourself turning into intellectual spaghetti if you try to analyze all you see giving that as a premise.) 

Oh, there are individual exceptions along the way, but those individuals don't get to pass their genes down in the species gene pool. Animals who don't survive and reproduce don't get to help shape the future of what the species will be like. They are not your ancestors nor mine. In other words, our ancestors were folks who prioritized surviving and reproducing--and this goes all the way back to the beginning of the human species. 

So whatever was in their mental genes, the genes that control the underbelly of the mind, are in our genes, too. If you or I or anyone else is different, that's part of a random process that works in evolution with individual members. That's not part of the main gene pool in how human beings have evolved as a species.

Now we get to rationality in an evolutionary context. What's important to know is that rational thought sits on top of this other stuff. It doesn't replace it. Too often in Rand's works, she will call man a rational animal, then pretend the animal part doesn't exist while she focuses solely on the rational part. What's more, she's very good at communicating on the animal level (seriously good), so she's quite persuasive. It's odd, but she uses the animal part of communication to convince folks that the animal part is not to be considered too much. :) 

But the essence is we have basic pre-rational drives that govern our use of rationality. From an evolutionary standpoint, this means we use rationality to help us survive and help us to find mates for reproducing our species. (Once again, the individual exceptions do not get a say in the future of the species.) In other words, rationality is not an end in itself and it is not the sole tool of man's survival. We do not use rationality solely for the sake of being rational. We use it in conjunction with--and mostly subservient to--basic drives. More recently some people can try to be rational for the sole sake of being rational, but that's because in modern society other people can carry the burden of their survival and the reproduction of the species. But not even Rand thought rationality was an end in itself. She left that to the more boneheaded folks among her progeny. :) 

Rand got the survival part right in her essay ("The Objectivist Ethics"), but she ignored reproduction. (NB implied her framing of values was overly-narrow once, if I remember correctly, and alluded to "species values" or something like that.) Rand also got the pain-pleasure part right in general terms (saying something like pleasure is a response that leads you toward survival and pain is a response that leads you to awareness of a threat), but if you use that as an absolute standard of measurement instead of a description of how underlying mental processes mostly work, you are going to get confused. There are just too many examples where this does not hold.

I want to go deeper here, but that's good enough for now to cause some thought and piss off other folks. :) There are a few other topics to cover.

 

Brain Chemicals

I want to call your attention to the work of a lady who I have been following for some time. Her name is Dr. Loretta Breuning (here is the link to her Amazon books: Loretta Graziano Breuning).

Her approach is precisely the "animal" part of the "rational animal" definition, with focus on mammal. All humans are mammals, so whatever is good for a mammal is good for a human. In Loretta's understanding and research, all mammals release similar neurochemicals that guide their actions. These neurochemicals, when triggered, take over mammalian brains and focus all the different systems in the brain in one direction to do one activity, so to speak. Some call this frames, but it is felt as emotions. 

There are many neurochemicals, but Loretta has narrowed them down to 5 so she can communicate the idea to the lay public in a manner where they can do things to use this information: dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, oxytocin and cortisol. Interestingly enough, there are some Objectivism-friendly people who show up on her Facebook page, but they don't post on forums or participate in the "movement."

For instance, there's a guy named Roy Barzilai who has a couple of books on Amazon. He openly acknowledges his Randian influence. Riffing off of Loretta's approach, he has studied human history through the lens of testosterone levels in the different populations. It makes for some wild stories, but he does make a good solid rational case. I'm halfway through his book, The Testosterone Hypothesis: How Hormones Regulate the Life Cycles of Civilization (get it at the link on his name if you are interested), and it's not dry or silly. It's quite interesting.

The real deal go-to guy on brain chemicals, though, is Paul Zak. He actually takes blood samples during values-based situations like weddings, involvement in stories, etc. His big thing is oxytocin since that is the neurochemical he has focused on. If you read his book, The Moral Molecule: How Trust Works, I believe it will blow your mind. (It's in lay language and an easy read.)

The final book for getting your feet wet, if you choose to pursue this way of thinking, is not as easy as the others. It's a bit of a slog and it does not deal so much with neurochemicals as with the neural circuits that are triggered by them. To me, this book is so fascinating, I was able to cut through boring parts and focus on the understanding I was getting. It's called Why We Snap: Understanding the Rage Circuit in Your Brain by Douglas Fields.

The term "rage circuit" is a bit off since he deals with other forms of the brain being so hijacked by a strong feeling, the person lunges into action, like when a person jumps into a river to save a drowning stranger but doesn't know why he did it. But "rage circuit" is the term he uses. Just expect it to mean more than anger.

His theory is that pressure builds up during everyday living on certain areas of the brain (and he takes this all the way down to actual neurons in the hippocampus) that a tipping point can get reached where the person "snaps" and kicks into action, usually violent action. He has identified nine areas where this occurs and identified them by an acronym LIFEMORTS: L (Life or limb/survival), I (Insult), F (Family/maternal aggression), E (Environment/territory), M (Mate), O (Organization, social organization and rules), R (Resources/lack of resources), T (Tribe/“us and them” mentality), and S (Stop, stuck, being trapped, restrained or cornered). Hat tip to here for the copy/paste, which I changed a bit, just so I don't have to type all that stuff out.

My thinking on this is that if pressure can build up on these areas so much that a person's brain can get hijacked and he will snap, kill people, jump into danger, etc., the opposite angle also must have some validity. This means we also pursue these areas as innate values. For example we want to preserve our lives, we want public respect, we want good family life, we want our physical space around us, etc. Anyway, if you can get through this book, I believe you will be well rewarded.

 

An extra thought or two

That's all I have time for right now. I know this does not answer where Dagny's interest in the railroad came from, but it does start to explain how that could happen.

As humans evolved and started telling stories about experiences rather than just living them, the human cortex had to grow to keep up. So it evolved into the biggest part of the brain. (At least, storytelling is one of the reasons.) The cortex is where rational thought (meaning thought based on logic, math, etc., instead of just percepts, to use a Randian term) is processed. But rational thought runs on inherent processes, experience and memories of experience.

Neurochemicals basically point it in a direction to kick in and focus. This last is hard if we focus without the neurochemical fuel (running on willpower alone), since willpower is like anything organic. It runs out and needs to be replenished after a rest. (And yes, there is neuroscience on this, too.)

But in the cortex, I found two other things that were important to my journey of discovery. The first is that intellectual curiosity has developed so greatly in it over human evolution, hooking directly into the nucleus accumbens for dopamine rewards, for instance, that satisfying a curiosity urge has almost become an end in itself in human values. You are curious about stuff because you are curious. Period. Just like you feel thirst when you need water because you feel thirst. Period. There is no other why. That's just the way it is. Law of identity and so on. This curiosity goes way beyond mammal, but I like to call it my inner ferret (and, believe me, he's as snoopy as all get out :) ).

The next thing is a weird part of the left brain based on the work of Michael Gazzaniga. That is where our inner storyteller resides. Just because the left brain is the seat of rational processing, that doesn't mean it doesn't like a good yarn. :) (Caveat, this is far more complicated. But this oversimplification is useful for imparting the gist.)

The right brain is the one people think of as the dreaming brain, the emotional side, etc. And this is where people would think the storytelling part would reside. But the right brain is present-oriented, not past and future. That part goes to the left brain. Enter the storyteller. Stories are mostly told in past tense, not future or present. There's a mental reason for this. Once again, there are exception, but they sit on top of this truth, they don't replace it.

Gazzaniga has studied people who have had their corpus callosum damaged (this is the group of fibers that connects the two brains). He has found that when the left brain cannot make sense of something coming solely from the right brain, it makes up a story to explain it, and it will automatically opt for bullshit when a rational story doesn't work. :) What's worse, we believe our bullshit when we do that. I want to go into examples because they are fascinating, but that's beyond the scope here.

Anyway, enough of that. Look into it if you get the yearning. A whole new world opens up when you do.

And you might see Dagny and a railroad in there somewhere...

 

A personal thought

I want to end on a personal speculation. I don't want this to be thought of as a hard and fast rule, but I do believe there is enough of an element of truth here to make it more than a minor detail. It is relevant.

When I was growing up, my parents used to beat me for being bad. (This was common among the hillbilly culture.) Often I would get beatings when I wasn't bad because my parents had bad information. Also, I cannot say my parents were paragons of rationality when they started in, even when I deserved punishment. They could get sadistic and, to a little boy, look evil. To top things off, I got mocked a lot for dreaming big. (This all makes my parents look bad, but they had lovely parts, too.) 

I believe this mistreatment affected my own enthusiasm for automatically choosing a career and turning my life over to it. (I did go into music, but I borrowed some of my enthusiasm from Rand, my love of Rachmaninoff, for example. I never would have gone there if she hadn't.)

I think the worldview I was taught through the irrationality I saw around me led me to conclude at an early age that when you feel too strongly in favor of an activity (even if it's raising hell :) ), you get beat and mocked. So better not to feel that deeply. Just go around and see what you can do to get by. Get what you can, but stay out of the way of that goddam belt and all that sneering.

I think a variation on this affects a lot of young people and the abuse doesn't just come from their parents. It's not the whole story with lack of inherent passion for a career, but, to me, it definitely is a part.

I believe Ayn Rand was in love with writing from an early age due to a mixture of all the above. She was one of the lucky ones where things, meaning her own innate biology, her experience, the culture around her, etc., lined up so choosing stories was not painful, or at least not so painful she chose other stuff. Notice she, and her heroes, only get punished for their career choices when they are adults and are already in love with them, not when they are young and still choosing.

For the rest of us, we have some crap to unload before we can fall in love like that. The fact is, though, it's possible. If you are in that situation, you won't get there solely from Rand. That's not her strong part. But you can get there. You just have to branch out from Rand's works and get out of your comfort zones (which, to people like me, were more like fallout shelters than mere comfort zones. :) ) Most of all, do not replace Rand for yourself. God, that would be a bad choice... You are way too precious for that...

I hope this gives you some food for thought.

Good luck on your own journey of discovery.

Michael

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7 hours ago, Nerian said:

[...]

In psychology, from what I have learned, we are wired with a few basic innate drives and pleasures. All other pleasures on the psychological level are learned by association to the basic intrinsic pleasure. We feel good when we make money because we have associated money with getting the things we want. The things we want are the concrete pleasures that we do for their own sake. Such as Listening to music. Enjoying food. Sexual relations. Beautiful imagery. The fun of an activity done for its own sake. Laughing. Etc. Essentially you can think of it like a hierachy of values down to the intrinsic value of positive conscious states. Pleasure is the root of it all, and what gives you pleasure on that level is not chosen. If one never experienced pleasure during development, one would never be able to develop more abstract values such as friendship or productive work or social standing. Why would they be values? Those are just things one needs to get at basic pleasures in life, and that's why they are values. One could not enjoy anything without it being tied back to the innate pleasures. And this brings me to people with issues with their brains not producing pleasure. In these people with anhedonia, nothing has any value anymore. For such people, there's no reason to pursue anything. No amount of philosophical argumentation about life as the standard of value will make them want to be productive at work.

Pleasure is the psychological ends in themselves.  [...]

I think a distinction needs to be made between bodily pleasure, which is perception, and emotions, which are felt in the body and can be perceived, but they are psychosomatics, outcomes based off of a person's value premises whether consciously or unconsciously held.  Happiness is based off of value premises and experiencing it is pleasure, but pleasure qua pleasure isn't necessarily happiness.

7 hours ago, Nerian said:

You don't aim at pleasure for some other reaosn, in the same way you don't aim at happiness for some other reason. I still agree that you want to aim at a happiness that does not contradict your nature, such that it is pure, and without penalty or hangover. But that's still valuing it for itself, you're still only wishing for it to be pure so that it can be fully enjoyed without being lessened in any way.

The last two sentences still read as a contradiction, how can something be of value, something that is for you yet at the same time you know that it is against you?  The thing is against you, it has that identity as such, A is A, it cannot be for you.

7 hours ago, Nerian said:
Quote

Happiness is the successful state of life, pain is an agent of death. Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values. A morality that dares to tell you to find happiness in the renunciation of your happiness—to value the failure of your values—is an insolent negation of morality. A doctrine that gives you, as an ideal, the role of a sacrificial animal seeking slaughter on the altars of others, is giving you death as your standard. By the grace of reality and the nature of life, man—every man—is an end in himself, he exists for his own sake, and the achievement of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose.

BUT WHAT VALUES? Morality and philosophy cannot imbue as with those. They are given to us. Once again, imagine you had never experienced pleasure. Nothing would be a value to you. Life's value to you on the conscious experiential level only stems from the experience of positively valenced mental states in the first place.

Morality and philosophy cannot imbue us with values, values are not given to us they are chosen by us.  And (hopefully) this is guided by a (rational) morality and philosophy, that was also chosen by us.

I wouldn't think someone could value as a normal human without a pleasure mechanism.  By pleasure mechanism in this context I mean emotions, and I think emotions are a necessity for human consciousness and proper human functioning.  But it's not the emotion or the pleasure that does the valuing, pleasure doesn't evaluate, a reasoning mind evaluates.

7 hours ago, Nerian said:

Egoist Ethics in my mind is the identification of proper meta-values. These are the abstract values that everyone must adopt in order to maximize one's concrete values. Any other set of meta-values are a contradiction with life and your nature and thereby impossible. Meta values guide you consisently achieve life, upon which your pleasures are contingent, so that you can go on enjoying yourself. It's not merely that improper meta-values lead to death, but improper meta-values are also impossible to achieve consisently.

I'm not sure what meta-values are, even after reading the description.

7 hours ago, Nerian said:

Altruism, as Objectivists have stated, is impossible consistently achieve. One must be selfish to some extent, and thus always be guilty.

Guilt is an emotion, which is based off of value premises.  As Rand says, check your premises.

7 hours ago, Nerian said:

Egoism, the identification that one ought to act in one's own self interest, is still valid, but one's self interest in not merely defined by survival, but by 'flourishing qua man', which means you are embracing your biological drives. You refuse to not be what you are. You refuse to renounce yourself in any way.

On the embracing biological drives, I don't know if I would say embrace to the point of letting them drive or guide, a person should be guided by reason and if they brought identification of biological drives into the realm of reason and integrated them into their value system(s) noncontradictorily, it wouldn't be refusal for a person to be what they are, or renunciation.

7 hours ago, Nerian said:

You treat what you want as sacred and justified unto themselves. Happiness stems from a confluence of various pleasures, innate and abstract, and is itself another pleasure, and all pleasure are psychological ends in themselves.

A want isn't justified by itself, a want has to be justified by reason, unto a value system by the person doing the wanting, evaluating whether it is consonant with what is for him and what he deems for his life.  Happiness can arrive from both bodily and abstract pleasure, but there are value premises involved, pleasure by itself isn't happiness.  Pleasure isn't a psychological end in itself.

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“The Fifth Element” was loaded with wonderful scenes. I need to see it again about every five years.

Dallas wrote, “On the embracing biological drives,”

Most innately *caused* actions and reactions further survival. Thank you Mother Nature for the benevolent or tame-able reality (and Charles Darwin for some understanding of the process.) Even in the earliest days of humanity we behaved in a way that more assuredly allowed for the survivability of our offspring, which included voluntary, peaceful human interactions.

Peter  

Notes.

Source: Child Development, 1997, 4th Ed., Laura E. Berk]: Legend: Reflex--Stimulation--Response--Age of disappearance—Function.   Rooting--Stroke cheek near corner of mouth--Head turns toward source of stimulation--3 weeks (becomes voluntary head turning at 3 weeks)--Helps infant find nipple. [Note that in making this observation, voluntary behaviors are distinguished from reflexive.]   Sucking--Place finger in infant's mouth--Infant sucks finger rhythmically--Permanent--Permits feeding.   Swimming--Place infant face down in water--Baby paddles and kicks in swimming motion--4-6 months--Helps infant survive if dropped in a body of water.   Eye blink--Shine bright light at eyes or clap hand near head--Infant quickly closes eyelids--permanent--Protects infant from strong stimulation.Withdrawal--Prick sole of foot with pin--Foot withdraws, with flexion of knee and hip--Weakens after 10 days--Protects infant from unpleasant tactile stimulation.   Babinski, Stroke sole of foot from toe toward heel--Toes fan out and curl as foot twists in--8-12 months--Unknown!   Moro--Hold infant horizontally on back and let head drop slightly, or produce a sudden loud sound against surface supporting infant--Infant makes an "embracing" motion by arching back, extending legs, throwing arms outward, and then bringing them in toward body--6 months--In evolutionary past, may have helped infant cling to mother.   Palmar grasp (something I observed as a young child when interacting with infants)--Place finger in infant's hand and press against palm—Spontaneous grasp of adult's finger--3-4 months--Prepares infant for voluntary grasping.   Stepping--Hold infant under arms and permit bare feet to touch flat surface--Infant lifts one foot after another in stepping response—2 months--Prepares infant for voluntary walking. end quote

From “How We Know,” by Harry Binswanger, page 42: Like existence, consciousness is an irreducible primary. One can subdivide conscious actions, separating different kinds: seeing for example, is one kind of conscious activity and hearing is another. Analogously, one can subdivide existents – e.g., into living and non-living things. But just as one cannot go beneath the fundamental fact of existence, so one cannot get beneath the fundamental fact of consciousness. One cannot reduce conscious action, qua conscious, to something else.

To ask: “What kind of action is consciousness?” is to ask: “What do all conscious processes have in common that makes them actions of consciousness rather than physical actions?” The only answer is: all these actions are actions of consciousness; they all involve awareness of something. And “awareness” is a synonym for “consciousness” . . . . “Irreducible” here means “cannot be analyzed.” If you try to analyze what it is to be aware, you will soon discover that no analysis is possible . . . . So, what makes something a ‘conscious’ causal response? Consciousness. That’s all we can say. There is no further analysis. end quote

I just wanted to add that watching consciousness via an fMRI scan is opening a lot of eyes. joke.

Peter  

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54 minutes ago, Peter said:

Thank you Mother Nature for the benevolent or tame-able reality (and Charles Darwin for some understanding of the process.) Even in the earliest days of humanity we behaved in a way that more assuredly allowed for the survivability of our offspring, which included voluntary, peaceful human interactions.

Think of the Benevolence when an F5 tornado blows through town.  Or when a Tsunami killed 240,000 people in Indonesia  (2004)

Or the infant death rate in Haiti. One dead for every 20 live births. With an average life expectancy of 62.7 years.  And it is that only because of aid provided to Haiti  by international health organizations. Left to its own devices  Haiti would suffer much worse. 

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1 hour ago, BaalChatzaf said:

Think of the Benevolence when an F5 tornado blows through town.  Or when a Tsunami killed 240,000 people in Indonesia  (2004)

Or the infant death rate in Haiti. One dead for every 20 live births. With an average life expectancy of 62.7 years.  And it is that only because of aid provided to Haiti  by international health organizations. Left to its own devices  Haiti would suffer much worse. 

Peter was talking about evolution, not environments. Perhaps evolution has a benevolent effect in equipping us to survive malevolent environments.

 

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21 minutes ago, jts said:

Peter was talking about evolution, not environments. Perhaps evolution has a benevolent effect in equipping us to survive malevolent environments.

 

Nature is neither malevolent or benevolent.  Nature is.  Only conscious beings can be malevolent or benevolent.  Nature outside of living conscious biota  is not conscious.  It is massive and energetic  but as intelligent as a carton full of bricks. 

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23 minutes ago, BaalChatzaf said:

Nature is neither malevolent or benevolent.  Nature is.  Only conscious beings can be malevolent or benevolent.  Nature outside of living conscious biota  is not conscious.  It is massive and energetic  but as intelligent as a carton full of bricks. 

Where would civilized countries be without history and the influence of more advanced civilizations? Progress would be slower. Consider The Renaissance, The Enlightenment, Libraries, and the greater use of Logic and Reason. We shall not forget.

I am not trying to be insulting, but Africa, or places inhabited by descendants of Africans are NOT influenced as much by greater civilizations. To a degree they cling to tribalism as exemplified by gangs such as the Crypts  and the Bloods, even in places like Chicago. A lower median IQ and other innate traits may be the cause, just as Neanderthals were only able to advance after we came into contact with them . . . but even then . . .  only to a minor degree. They remained in small family units and tribes until they disappeared.

Peter

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