Measuring pleasure, pain, bias, and acculturation

It’s a given that our senses of complex pleasure and pain are socially mediated and/or constructed.

Even simple pleasures and pains can feel different in different cultures and contexts.

Complex pleasures, pains, values, biases, and social norms are learned and maintained by social interaction. Just as most children naturally like sweets, most adults naturally cleave to cultural norms.

It is relatively painless for most to hold conventional beliefs and painful to go against them. This is why cultures seems so groundless—even ridiculous—when viewed from a temporal or cultural distance.

An interesting study from Cornell University claims that “…the subjective quality of affect can be objectively quantified across stimuli, modalities and people.” (Source: Population coding of affect across stimuli, modalities and individuals)

An article on the study, which is behind a pay wall, says of it that brain “activity patterns of positive and negative experiences were partly shared across people.” (Source: Study cracks how the brain processes emotions)

That is, different people’s brains appear to show similar activity under fMRI imaging when responding to similar pleasures or pains.

The pleasures and pains charted in the experiment were simple, but I believe it is reasonable to extrapolate from them to general statements about how humans perceive and respond to cultural norms, values, beliefs, and semiotics.

The biases of my culture feel pleasant to me and remain maddeningly simple-minded because I process them in much the same way I process the taste of ice cream or the feeling of a familiar and comfortable chair.

The biases of your culture feel painful to me and remain maddeningly simple-minded because I process them in much the same way I process a fly on my nose.

Virtually all people are trapped in very slow-moving agglomerations of signs and symbols (culture) that determine how they experience pleasure and pain (biases and more).

I think the Cornell experiment, though it does not make such strong claims, is showing basically that.

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