Deb's Reviews > How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like

How Pleasure Works by Paul Bloom
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Apr 28, 12

Read in November, 2011

*Pleasure runs deep*

Why do we enjoy what we enjoy? Why does a bottle of Perrier seem to taste so much better than tap water, and why does that $200 bottle of wine seem to blow Two Buck Chuck out of the water? In both of these cases, the nature of the liquids inside the containers is not what makes the difference, but it is our beliefs about their invisible essences that shape our preferences and determine our enjoyment levels. In the author's own words: "What matters most is not the world as it appears to our senses. Rather, the enjoyment that we get from something derives from what we think that thing is." (p. xii)

This theory of pleasure centers upon the concept of essentialism--"the notion that things have an underlying reality or true nature that one cannot observe directly and it is this hidden nature that really matters." (p. 9) As the author explains: "Our essentialism is not just a cold-blooded way of making sense of reality; it underlies our passions, our appetites, our desires." (p. 22) The book provides a fascinating tour of how our essentialist natures explain so much about what makes us buzz in delight...or cringe in disgust. It demystifies such curious oddities as to why we prefer bottled water (which often is just tap water, btw), why our beliefs about the artist and creative process determine how much we enjoy the artwork, why we value originals exponentially more than identical duplicates (would you shell out thousands for an identical knockoff Rolex?), why someone would pay $50,000 for a tape measure used by John F. Kennedy and be repulsed even at the thought of wearing a sweater owned by Hitler, and why we become so attached to our possessions. Essentialism also underlies the pleasure we get from transcending everyday reality via imagination, religion, and scientific inquiry. The book brilliantly lives up to its subtitle and illuminates "the new science of why we like what we like."

Appropriately and emphatically, I found _How Pleasure Works_ to be highly pleasurable. (Confession: I actually liked it so much that I read it twice.) At the end of the book, the author notes that "People are drawn to seek out the deeper essence of things; we are curious, and the payoff for learning more is a click of satisfaction." (p. 218) Infinite clicks of satisfaction is what this book is all about!
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