People are poor analysts when it comes to pleasure. We think we eat truffles because they're delicious. We think we swoon in front of a Vermeer because it's masterly and beautiful. This assumption of a simple correlation between quality and sensation misunderstands the promiscuity of pleasure.
"What matters most," writes Paul Bloom in his engaging, evocative How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like, "is not the world as it [actually physiologically impacts] our senses. Rather, the enjoyment we get from something derives from what we think that thing is." Bottled water supplies the purest example of Bloom's argument. Partisans tout the superiority of Perrier, or whatever their favorite brand of sparkling water happens to be. But as experiment after experiment demonstrates, give someone seltzer water but tell them it's Perrier, and they'll wax ecstatic about the mineral springs of southern France.
Monday, July 5, 2010