Superstimuli

Submitted by Jkasali on
Printer-friendly version

Eliezer Yudkowsky posted this most excellent article in the blog Overcoming Bias more than one year ago, but at time I failed to make the connection with porn because I was unaware (or maybe simply refused to be aware).

http://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/03/superstimuli_an.html

The premise of the article is that while we humans basically remained the same biologically for the last couple thousands of years, our environment did not and we have a hard time to cope with all the stimuli around us (cleverly labeled as superstimuli) without becoming neurotics or addicts or something in between. I'll paste the most relevant parts here with a comment.

A candy bar is a superstimulus: it contains more concentrated sugar, salt, and fat than anything that exists in the ancestral environment. A candy bar matches taste buds that evolved in a hunter-gatherer environment, but it matches those taste buds much more strongly than anything that actually existed in the hunter-gatherer environment.

Indeed. That's what porn does: it's a candy bar for our sexuality. We men are hardwired to like women; but porn isn't nothing like what our brain is designed to handle.

I feel bad for myself as a man but, frankly, I feel much more pitiful toward women. They are probably even more affected b that than us. We men have an easier time, generally. Not that we don't have our own stock of insecurities - height, penis size, money - but we can even get away with being relatively unattractive, if we can show confidence, sense of humor, security, social status. Things that can be worked out, more or less. I've seen even dwarfs and midgets with georgeous women.

Women have a much harder time. From them, we just expect an illusion. We men grow up accustomed to the ideal of beauty promoted by lingerie models, tv shows, movies, and we expect in bed what we saw in porn movies. And our "ideal woman" must reflect all of that, or else we simply move on and find someone who is eager to comply. We get cognitively addicted to that stuff, to the point that we even ignore women who don't match that ideal and dump the ones who don't measure up to it.

The now-famous Dove Evolution video shows the painstaking construction of another superstimulus: an ordinary woman transformed by makeup, careful photography, and finally extensive Photoshopping, into a billboard model - a beauty impossible, unmatchable by human women in the unretouched real world. Actual women are killing themselves (e.g. supermodels using cocaine to keep their weight down) to keep up with competitors that literally don't exist.

That's the key point: Today we all ten measure up with something that doesn't exist. We men have to measure up with hollywood actors and porn actors. Women even have to measure against Photoshopped stuff.

On the subject of addiction:

Resisting any temptation takes conscious expenditure of an exhaustible supply of mental energy. It is not in fact true that we can "just say no" - not just say no, without cost to ourselves. Even humans who won the birth lottery for willpower or foresightfulness still pay a price to resist temptation. The price is just more easily paid.

Our limited willpower evolved to deal with ancestral temptations; it may not operate well against enticements beyond anything known to hunter-gatherers. Even where we successfully resist a superstimulus, it seems plausible that the effort required would deplete willpower much faster than resisting ancestral temptations.

I even remember an article I read somewhere (must begin to keep track of the stuff) which speculated that we humans have a set number of "Willpower Tokens" we can use in a day. As soon as we run out, we fall back into addiction or have to seek external help to avoid that.

As far as my experience goes, that's true. But I also think that willpower is something that can be trained or even un-trained: I had a lot of willpower when I was younger, but I lost most of it growing up.

Great post

I really enjoyed the whole blog entry you linked. The author's points are similar to those we made in "Yesterday's Genes." http://www.reuniting.info/science/genetic_lag_burnham_phelan_richard_daw...

I took the liberty of posting a few lines of comment about how porn is a superstimulant, too. Wink

Sounds like you're really putting it all together, jkasali.

I guess I don't agree with the idea that we have a fixed quota of willpower. My view is that willpower = equilibrium. So if you stay off of the various dopamine roller coasters to the extent possible, your willpower gets very solid without your even needing to work at it. Certainly Gary and I notice that we're less swayed by propaganda and material enticements since we've been practicing karezza. We also found it easier to stick to the practice of karezza itself.

Of course..

It's all about removing people from self-responsibility and getting them dependent on a bigger system of central control which feeds on engineered insecurities.

This reminds me of the fat blocker pills which convert the fat you ingest into undigestible oil. I heard of obese people taking these pills AND retaining the same dietary habits as before because, you know, the pill is doing the work for them so why change?

Oh well.. it's like in the Matrix. Some people get out, some people remain in unaware, and some people get out and want to go back because the truth is too difficult to handle.

Jkasali

I love that Mandarin character you are using, tell me what does it mean?

And yes I found the post very helpful too. I can visualize a hunter-gatherer getting 'tempted' by a woman from another tribe that he sees across the river while on the hunt. It crosses his mind, 'wouldn't mind that', but then he remembers the ever-present danger of Sabre-toothed Tigers in this part of the forest, and so brings his mind back to the task at hand. Later that day, when he gets back to the cave, he accidentally sees his brother's wife naked. That temptation is easily conquered too when he contemplates how his bro would (literally) kill him if he even made a pass at her. So he just goes back to his own wife. "Did you see anything interesting out there today, dear?' she asks. He just grunts and settles down for the night with her. It's so easy to be free from porn when it's 10,000 BC.

It

means "love" Wink I always loved that character.

It surely was easier in 10,000 BC, but even in the 50s wasn't that difficult. Actually, I suspect that even in the 70-80-90s the problem was much more contained, at least porn-wise. You had to go to the store and purchase or rent a VHS, and that already was a deterrent for the more affected demographics. Then you had to hide the VHS from view, especially if you lived with other people. It was practically harder to get addicted.

Internet changed everything. Immediate access, privacy, a plethora of choices at your disposal. And what's worse, age control is really a joke and prepaid credit cards are available even to minors (at least it is so in Europe).

I remember that I laughed out hard when in the South Park Movie the boys visit a german fetish site, then read "You must be 18 years or older..." and nonchalantly click "Yes".. then puke. [bigsmile]

Ha ha!

The good news is that when we find our strong center within and learn how to strengthen ourselves without pills, we will be less gullible to being sucked into that matrix. So I see a silver lining in this cloud.

Although, one drug company is already sponsoring research on a porn addiction pill.... If we fall for that, I guess we'll be in the loop forever...like the fat pill people. That will be a huge loss to the world of a lot of wonderful men....