Coded gray.

Thursday 27 July 2000


Pic of the day: These flowers by the roadside, they have no worries about food and clothes, life and death. Then again, they probably don't have much excitement either.

The pleasure principle

I'm starting to write this at midnight, because I simply had to banish Sss'ra first. No, I've not taken up demon summoning for profit and pleasure, it's that old game "Master of Magic" again. I've been playing on "Impossible" level lately, and been progressively more ticked off by the computer opponents and their treacherous activities. There comes a time when enough is enough, when one has to stretch the limits of the impossible and go straight for the heart of chaos. Anyway, it took quite a while, but I eventually defeated and banished the main opponent, which at that point was outside the borders of the power graphs. Man, it felt really good!

And that, of course, is why I do this. And that. It's the pleasure principle. As long as it feels good, do it. If it doesn't feel good, stop.


I've pondered this now and again through the day. Not the computer opponents, but the pleasure principle. Are we humans really that simple, basically working on the same principle as the amoeba? Those little critters will stretch in the direction of food, and retreat from the direction of poison. So do I, though I'm happy to say that poison is a rare thing at these times. The most frequent versions in my daily life are probably tobacco smoke and exhaust. And I do shrink away from those whenever possible.

Of course, not all people shrink back from tobacco smoke. And the reason is that the nicotine does disturb the brain, such that its content of pleasure chemicals tend to rise. The effect is somewhat more subtle than in more typical pleasure drugs: Nicotine does not simply grab the pleasure center and yank the lever. It does instead optimize stimulation levels, calming down those who are anxious and kicking in gears those who are bored. The effect still is that people feel better. And the fact that they're destroying themselves and those around them tend to fade, faced with the fact that it just feels good.

As I understand it, not all people react equally strongly to nicotine. Women in general are more likely to get the strong positive effect from it, I hear, which should explain why women are the ones most likely to smoke these days. Here in Norway at least smoking is now largely a woman thing. Some sad older men are stuck in the rut of smoking, even though it is no longer considered manly. But among the young people, it is growing more rare to see a man with a cigarette anymore.

Of course, I have sometimes thought that women are simply not used to resisting temptations the way we men are. A woman who caves in to her urges is likely to get fat. A man who caves in to his urges is likely to get jailed. There is a subtle difference there. Then again, I may be wrong. Or it may be just me. Though I doubt that: Look at any one war. Senseless destruction, murder, rape, treachery and the occasional bout of heroism. That's male nature unleashed.


The reason why we don't do whatever we want at once, is typically that we hope for a reward or fear a punishment. The particularly religious person may expect God (or the equivalent) to settle the account eventually. Most people are probably more practical. The most obvious fear is conflict with the authorities, who have the power to punish lawbreakers. But another factor that is keeping most people in check is the fear of social isolation, and the hope of acknowledgement and glory. Peer pressure. Humans are very much social creatures, and want to be included in their little corner of society. Again, when there is war or civil war, when the fabric of society is torn asunder, a number of people show their true nature.

In all honesty, there are some people who obey their conscience, without fear of police or eternal damnation. Presumably their conscience has the power to inflict damage all on its own, or to reward them. My conscience, in so far as one still exists, has very little power in this part of my life. But these things do vary. As luck will have it, the conscience is formed so early that people don't really remember what happened, and do not understand it well enough to combat it effectively. Thank goodness for that. But it also leads to people doing stupid, pointless things because their conscience says so, even though deeper thought would have revealed that it is not really making things better. They crave and need the boost of pleasure that a satisfied conscience gives them. The pleasure principle strikes again.


Certainly carnal lusts are not the only ones with the power to reward. I think I have mentioned before, my experience is that religious ecstacy is certainly at least on the level of what the flesh can bring. (One may point out that I have not travelled all that far along the road of the flesh. Then again, those who point this out have rarely had much to do with the spiritual side of life either.) My observation is that the actual manifestation of the pleasure, in the brain, is the same for sin and samadhi. The other effects are highly different, mind you, but the sheer sensation of feeling good is pretty standardized. I suppose all our instincts use the same key.

I know some people like to make a point that we humans don't have instincts. I guess it is more politically correct to call them hereditary inclinations or some such. But while we do change the clothes of the doll, it is still the same beast underneath. We eat, drink, sleep, fight for status, and eventually breed and care for offspring. Just like sheep, cows, cats and dogs. We just do it all in a very much more advanced and civilized way.

Scientists tell us that beneath the huge cerebral cortex in the human brain there is a small part, the limbic system, that contains the basic emotions and such. And that this part is virtually identical to other mammals, like apes and dogs and mice. We understand a lot more, but we still feel the same. It is a sobering thought, that the animals probably feel practically the same way as we do: Happiness, fear, sadness, eagerness. They grieve over lost relatives, though most of them seem to forget quicker than we. As well they should, since their lives run so much faster than ours. Long-lived animals like elephants may love and hate and mourn for years like we do, or so I hear.

I'm not sure there is really a point to this. Not in itself. I may sound cynical, I may sound resigned. It is not quite that simple. Remember, I am a sentient being - to some extent at least. Knowing myself means that I can work on myself. When I was young, emotions and desires would just come out of the blue, much like in babies that have no control on when they soil themselves. It just happens. It was quite a challenge to handle these sudden, strong emotions. These days, I usually get a better warning beforehand. Even so, it isn't always easy.

There is so often this choice: To compromise, to struggle through with some pleasure and some pain. Or to ride out for the enemy stronghold, to forsake and to risk and to channel all into one daring strike. To triumph - or to lose.
God, I wish life had a "reload" feature. Right now, that's the only feature I really miss.

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