Reality Blind - Vol. 1

Summary: Though our natural tendency is to want more of culturally condoned pursuits, some desires have natural limits. For instance, I (NJ Hagens) can only eat about three cheeseburgers

before my stomach sends a signal to my brain that I am full – and at four or five my stomach and esophagus would fill to the level I couldn't physically eat another without feeling pain. However, this is not so with virtual wealth, or many of the “wanting” stimuli promoted in our economic “more equals better” culture. Professor Juliet Schor of Boston University has demonstrated that irrespective of their baseline salary, Americans always say they'd like to make a little more the following year 39 . Similar research (“Easterlin Paradox”) shows that average happiness has remained consta nt over time despite sharp rises in GDP per capita 40 . A related study followed a cohort of people over a 16-year period. The participants were asked at the onset to list ten possessions that they desired (e.g. sports car, snowmobile, house, private jet, etc.). During the 16-year study, all age groups tested did acquire some/many of the things they originally desired. But in each case, their new desires increased more than their acquisitions. 41 This phenomenon is termed the “Hedonic Treadmill” (or Hedonic Ra tchet). This ratchet phenomenon occurs because when a certain level is reached, there is no going back to the original state. In evolutionary theory the effect means once a suite of genes become ubiquitous in a population, there is no easy way to “un -evol ve” it— i.e. it gets locked in. Another example of a ‘ratchet effect’ is obesity— as we get fatter the body creates more lipocytes (cells composing adipose tissue). But this system doesn't work in reverse, even though we can lose the weight we gained, the body can't eliminate these new lipocyte cells — they may shrink during a diet but are there to stay. 42 Magnify this to the societal level and you find we have created a culture dedicated to continually increasing our neural high-water marks,


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