A Pleasure

Pleasure is something we know when we experience it, but is not such a simple thing to communicate to others. The more diligently we go about defining and describing what pleasure is, the further we drift away from the thing itself.

Pleasure as described in Wikipedia: The experience of pleasure is subjective and different individuals experience different kinds and amounts of pleasure in the same situation. Many pleasurable experiences are associated with satisfying basic biological drives, such as eating, exercise, hygiene, sleep, and sex.[2] The appreciation of cultural artifacts and activities such as art, music, dancing, and literature is often pleasurable.[2]

A simpler look at the pleasure spectrum often goes like this:

A Hierarchical List of Pleasures

  1. Sensory Pleasures — Pleasures of the physical senses
  2. Emotional Pleasures — Pleasures of the emotions
    A more deeply felt nuance
  3. Intellectual Pleasures — Creative, intuitive, or logical problem-solving
  4. Spiritual Pleasures — Awe approaching euphoria


The graphic below contrasts different levels of happiness based upon how long-lasting particular kinds of happiness may be:

According to the chart, a more solid and long-lasting happiness may come from involving oneself with a social group of some kind, in pursuing a common cause. Sharing one’s feelings with others provides for a reverberative and amplifying effect of particular feelings and emotions.

Plato looked at pleasure as the replacement of something that was missing, as when heat is provided on a cold night, food in the context of hunger, or love in a time of loneliness.

Epicurus provides a surprisingly sober look at pleasure:

“When we say, then, that pleasure is the end and the aim, we do not mean the pleasures of the prodigal or the pleasures of sensuality, as we are understood to do through ignorance, prejudice, or willful misrepresentation. By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and trouble in the soul. It is not an unbroken succession of drinking bouts and of revelry, not sexual lust, not the enjoyment of fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, that produces a pleasant life. It is rather sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs that lead to the tumult of the soul.” __ Letter to Menoeceus

Compare that passage from Epicurus with a quote from Marcus Aurelius, the stoic:

The happiness of those who want to be popular depends on others; the happiness of those who seek pleasure fluctuates with moods outside their control; but the happiness of the wise grows out of their own free acts. __ Marcus Aurelius, C. Scot Hicks, David Hicks (2002). “The Emperor’s Handbook: A New Translation of The Meditations”, p.75, Simon and Schuster quoted here

The stoic and the epicurean may find much in common with each other, based upon the above quotes. This may come from taking a longer-term perspective on pleasure, rather than assuming the moment-to-moment attitude taken by the young and superficial. Both may find some commonality with the Dalai Lama.

Darwin said this about “good spirits”:

“I heard a child a little under four years old, when asked what was meant by being in good spirits, answer, ‘It is laughing, talking, and kissing.’ It would be difficult to give a truer and more practical definition.”[9] As Darwin also observes, “[W]ith all races of man, the expression of good spirits appears to be the same, and is easily recognized.”[10] __ Charles Darwin quoted in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Like most meaningful things in life, much about pleasure is innate, and much is based upon experience. The brain is wired for pleasure, and we see children and youth pursuing the simplest and most transitory pleasures imaginable. Only as their brains mature, and begin to take a longer-term perspective on the consequences of their actions, will most young people restrain their natural impulses for the sake of longer-term gain.

Innate Pleasure System

Hedonic Brain Circuit
Hedonic hotspots and anatomical circuits that distinguish the nucleus accumbens hotspot in rostrodorsal medial shell as a unique site (anatomy based on Thompson and Swanson (TS symbol in orange boxes; 2010) and on Zahm and colleagues (Z symbol in purple hexagons; 2012). Thompson and Swanson [66] reported that the nucleus accumbens hotspot of rostrodorsal medial shell is uniquely embedded in its own closed-circuit corticolimbicpallidal-thalamocortical loop, connecting discrete input subregions and output subregions, and segregated from other parallel loops passing through other regions of medial shell. Zahm and colleagues suggested additional unique connections for the rostrodorsal hotspot [65]. GABAergic projections are indicated in red, hedonic hotspots are marked in yellow, glutamatergic projections are green, and dopaminergic projections are marked in blue. Figure by Daniel Castro, modified from [81].

The brain’s circuitry for affective reactions spans from front to back of nearly the entire brain (Figure 1). Much of this circuitry is remarkably similar between humans and other mammals [20–22]. Even some apparent differences between humans and other species in limbic circuits may more exaggerated in name than in fact. For example, essentially the same homologous region of deep ventral anterior cingulate cortex exists in both, but is called the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (Area 25) in humans, and called infralimbic cortex in rodents.

… Still, some real differences do exist between limbic brains of humans and other animals. The most obvious difference is the massive expansion of prefrontal cortex in humans, reflecting greater encephalization. Anatomically, encephalization also creates greater differentiation among prefrontal subregions. This may produce a few human cortex subregions that lack any clear homologue in nonprimates, such as dorsal anterior insula [23]. This may also produce some neuronal differences, such as the granular layer in anterior orbitofrontal cortex of humans that is missing in rats.

Encephalization may also foster greater invasion by descending projections from prefrontal cortex into subcortical structures and functions. A possible human feature is greater freeway connectivity, or direct projections between cortex and deep subcortical structures. By comparison, other animals might rely a bit more on local road connections, which make more frequent intermediate stops. For example, descending projections from orbitofrontal cortex make more clearly defined connections to hypothalamus and brainstem structures in primates than in rats [24]. Conversely, ascending sensory pain and taste signals toward cortex from the brainstem primary visceral/sensory relay, the nucleus of the solitary tract in the medulla, may leap directly to the thalamus in primates, but make an obligatory stop at the pontine parabrachial nucleus in rats [23,25]. Psychologically, human encephalization may consequently result in a greater cortical involvement of affect and emotion, expressed as top-down regulation of affective reactions. Still, mesocorticolimbic circuits for mediating core affective reactions are largely similar across all mammals. __ Berridge and Kringelbach (2013)

We see much of the same hedonic brain mechanism in simpler mammals. And so we are much like the animals in our orientation to pain and pleasure, and we can learn a great deal from studying them. At the same time, we are quite different. A quick look at the range of human habitation and activity compared with that of any lower animal, will destroy any serious attempts at “animal egalitarianism.”

Hedonic hotspots and hedonic circuits
Image Source

Considering the range of human pleasure, it seems clear that we have not become familiar with very much of the territory. From the sensual to the social to the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual universes we inhabit — we tend to be largely ignorant and inexperienced, with most of our vast worlds left unexplored.

Even sex — a popular pleasure — has barely been explored. In fact, in our modern age of feminist rule, genuinely uninhibited sex has become one of great forbidden zones.

And that is a terrible shame, since a natural passion for eroticism is something that most of us have in common. Sex can connect the individual with the social, the superficial with the profound, and the secular with the spiritual. But that is not allowed, in the current hyper-phobic miasma bestowed by our feminist-authoritarian arbiters of speech, thought, and action.

And so there are entire universes of pleasure waiting to be explored. Where can one go to learn about them? Not in today’s universities, which have become torture chambers for anyone wishing to escape the hobbled worlds of ideology and indoctrination in which most liberal arts departments find themselves trapped these days. And so legions of youth are passed on to “adulthood” without acquiring the greatest pleasure of all — the pleasure of exploring the parallel universes of greater reality.

Life Without Pleasure

It is in running the gauntlet of university that some young people begin to comprehend what anhedonia is all about. This is particularly true for those who take their professors too seriously. That can be fatal.

Anhedonia refers to the reduced ability to experience pleasure.1 It has had an important place in many aspects of psychopathology since it was first described in the previous century,2 and is still a feature of several types of psychiatric disorders and maladaptive behaviors.3-5 Anhedonia has been the most extensively studied in major depression,6 but, as it also constitutes one important negative symptom of schizophrenia, much literature has also been devoted to anhedonia in psychosis.3,7 Anhedonia has in fact been studied in a large range of neuropsychiatrie disorders, including substance use disorder,8-10 Parkinson’s disease,11 overeating,12 and various risky behaviors.13 __ Gorwood (2008) “Neurobiological mechanisms of anhedonia” Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience

In today’s university, it may be those who focus on bingeing, fornicating, and living well on other people’s money, who get off lucky — for all the unpleasant consequences they must deal with. Their classmates who neglect the fore-mentioned in favor of “getting a world-class indoctrination” are the ones more likely to suffer from a long-lasting and destructive-to-their-mental-and-physical-health anhedonia.

Euphoria and Ecstasy

The hard-core pleasure seekers tend to be satisfied with nothing less than full-frontal ecstasy. This pursuit of hard-core pleasure is revealed by the high contemporary rates of drug abuse in all societies, from affluent to impoverished. This is what so many want:

Euphoria: In the 21st century, euphoria is generally defined as a state of great happiness, well-being and excitement, which may be normal, or abnormal and inappropriate when associated with psychoactive drugs, manic states, or brain disease or injury.[26] Source

Ecstasy: “In everyday language, the word ‘ecstasy’ denotes an intense, euphoric experience. For obvious reasons, it is rarely used in a scientific context; it is a concept that is extremely hard to define.”[3] Source

Paradoxically, when such states of mind are pursued too strongly — and to the exclusion of all other concerns — the person is more likely to find the opposite of what they seek. This is particularly true for those who take the shortcut of using drugs, but it can also be true for those who lose themselves too deeply in pursuit of sexual and spiritual experiences of ecstasy.

A Gradual Balanced Approach

In the “Sentics Cycles” approach to emotional balance, neuroscientist and musician Manfred Clynes provides a wide-spectrum approach to emotional experience, which often results in a deeper pleasure than the practitioner was previously accustomed to.

[Manfred Clynes] developed an application—a simple touch art form—in which, without music, subjects expressed, through repeated finger pressure, a sequence of emotions timed according to the natural requirements of the sentic forms. The 25-minute sequence, called the Sentic Cycle, comprises: no-emotion, anger, hate, grief, love, sexual desire, joy, and reverence. Subjects reported experiencing calmness and energy. Many also evidenced progress in the alleviation of depression, and, to some degree, tobacco and alcohol addictions, as a result of repeated application of this process.[2][3][4] Thousands of people have by now experienced sentic cycles, some for years, some even decades. In the 1980s especially, Clynes taught various groups to conduct Sentic Cycles on their own. __ Wikipedia

By juxtaposing the neutral, negative, and positive emotions in a simple, short exercise, Clynes provides a portable experience that often provides both pleasure, insight, and resilience simultaneously. It is a very simple sequence which individuals can customize to their own needs.

Another approach that yields similar results in the long run, is basic mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is the moment to moment experiencing of one’s conscious experience, without judgment, censorship, or top-down direction.

This ancient method for heightening awareness can be described fairly simply with a “five-aggregate model”:

An ancient model of the mind, generally known as the five-aggregate model[60] enables one to understand the moment-to-moment manifestation of subjective conscious experience, and therefore can be a potentially useful theoretical resource to guide mindfulness interventions.

The five aggregates are described as follows:

  1. Material form: includes both the physical body and external matter where material elements are continuously moving to and from the material body.
  2. Feelings: can be pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.
  3. Perceptions: represent being aware of attributes of an object (e.g. color, shape, etc.)
  4. Volition: represents bodily, verbal, or psychological behavior.
  5. Sensory consciousness: refers to input from the five senses (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting or touch sensations) or a thought that happens to arise in the mind.

This model describes how sensory consciousness results in the generation of feelings, perception or volition, and how individuals’ previously conditioned attitudes and past associations influence this generation. The five aggregates are described as constantly arising and ceasing in the present moment.[60] __ Wikipedia

Mindfulness is a simple and portable approach to broadening one’s awareness, which can often lead to a greater capacity for experiencing pleasure in the midst of ordinary life.

Euphoria is Accessible in Simple Ways

It would be helpful for young people and adults to understand that without drugs or alcohol, they can achieve a state of calmness — even euphoria and ecstasy. Without chemicals, without elaborate spiritual practices, without exotic sexual or religious rituals, deep pleasures are within their reach. Paradoxically, the key to such pleasures is found in learning to stop grasping for things that they believe will bring happiness and pleasure. And that takes time and practice.

Most minds are instead shaped by compulsion. Compulsion is not good preparation for adulthood — particularly not for a next-level adulthood. But this compulsion is all that most people are given, which makes it a necessary starting point for those who wish to go further on.

The compulsion must be dislodged. One useful approach to “loosening up” this rigid and stultifying compulsion, is dancing. There is dance movement therapy, and there is dancing. Of the two, I suspect that dancing has more of a future. The use of all forms of dance and movement to broaden a person’s mind-body awareness and to expand his social world, contains the essence of true therapy.

The four main components of early Dangerous Child training involve the use of movement, pattern, language, and music from the earliest ages. All approaches combine playfulness with an open-endedness that leads naturally into growth and more technical forms of learning as the child ages.

Affective Neuroscience of Pleasure Psychopharmacology (2008)

Neuroscience of Affect Current Opinions in Neurobiology (2013)

Neurobiological Mechanisms of Anhedonia

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