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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Paul Bloom: The Origins of Pleasure

Another great TED talk.
Why do we like an original painting better than a forgery? Psychologist Paul Bloom argues that human beings are essentialists -- that our beliefs about the history of an object change how we experience it, not simply as an illusion, but as a deep feature of what pleasure (and pain) is.
Paul Bloom: The Origins of Pleasure

This video became a "rhyming event" for me today. I watched it just seconds before going to the home society where I've been playing piano for kids with developmental disabilities this summer. As I enter, I see that John, one of the kids, has a freshly-painted finger-painting sitting on his lap. It's of a heart. He says it's for me. That meant so much to me, and I though it was such a beautiful painting. Most people would probably look at it, see a blob of red and pink, and shrug.  But I'd rather have this painting than a Vermeer. So yes, it goes to show, the "history" of an object makes all the difference in our experience of it.

Paul Bloom brings up good points about our experience of music as well. The piece, 4'33 has been under scrutiny in relation to so many topics--how do we define music? how does the fact that Cage composed it change how we view the piece? I find it amusing that not only is 4'33 on iTunes, but you can enjoy it here on youtube performed by a full orchestra and a packed audience that gives it a standing ovation (and plenty of coughing between movements). The Joshua Bell "experiment" (in quotes because it wasn't really a controlled experiment) mentioned in the video has a slew of other factors involved as well, like the environment (I disagree with the video--the listeners in the noisy subway, busy with places to be, were not listening to the same Joshua Bell played in a perfectly acousted concert hall. "History" can't account for everything of course.

Once again, psychology has shown us the power of belief in shaping our experiences.

The mind is its own place,
and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell,
a Hell of Heaven

--John Milton