Intellectual Pleasure




Why did philosophers love wisdom; and what did the ancients find in knowledge so scared and sublime?

Brain scans of individuals at certain learning stages show increase of dopamine levels, while they solve a puzzle, learn a new fact, uncover a mystery, win an argument, reach a conclusion, etc. Such experiences are eponymously called the Eureka pleasure, after Archimedes' excitement when he discovered the Laws of Buoyancy.

We love to see CHANGES taking place in our world, by learning, reading, traveling, exploring or just sensing; that we may call passive knowledge. Or we make those changes ourselves, by inventing, designing, writing, giving advice, helping others, or changing society and environment; that is, active knowledge. Unlike lifeless "objects," we humans are conscious of our world, watching it changing everyday—until we lose that dear gift of consciousness. And unlike "animals," we take pleasure in that act of witnessing, even when it's not necessarily related to our immediate needs, that animals care only about.

Learning is a unique, superior pleasure, that doesn't release endorphins immediately like the other "less-teaching" sensual pleasures (sightseeing, listening to music, appreciating arts, socializing, etc.), because it takes a while to imagine an object, longer than just hearing, smelling ... or seeing it. However, once we get into the imaginative mode, learning's pleasurable effect lasts longer than sensual pleasures, because it can then connect with previously stored pleasures in our memory, multiplying, diversifying and re-creating new sensations, that outer senses cannot give, store or handle.

In the future, there will be more and deeper intellectual pleasures, that we may abandon many sensual pleasures we have at present that almost serve no evolutionary function other than giving a temporary physical thrill, compared to intellectual pleasures that are both pleasurable and "useful" for survival. We may prenatally design the brain to release more endorphins with intellectual pleasures than it does with sensual ones, making humans creative by nature to speed up civilization. As we better understand and control our "brain parts," knowing how to maintain, address and excite each part immediately, on demand, we will enjoy reading, imagination and other brain activities more and faster.

We can think for pleasure as we can for duty. Some philosophers believed "we can't think when we are really happy," even recommending not thinking at all then to enjoy more. Among those are Nietzsche, Mill, and other advocates of the paradox of hedonism. Recently, such claim was scientifically refuted. It only applies to some physical pleasures, that, like all instincts, are operated by the lower brain which naturally slows higher brain functions. Some pleasures, like food or sex, have a short immediate doping effect making thinking difficult; whereas others, like intellectual pleasures, taking longer to be felt, have a deeper longer effect without losing one's consciousness.

Only recently we could recognize the chemicals responsible for our pleasures, physical, intellectual, or involving both body and mind, where we can simultaneously think and move, look, hear, etc. Thinking gives intensity, durability, diversity, and security to many sensual pleasures. Claiming that thinking decreases or disrupts pleasure is like saying you can't enjoy an apple while chewing it, sight-seeing while your eyes are moving, or having sex with any part of you moving.

There are times, however, when we must "stop thinking" even if it is thinking for pleasure. Yet this is the case with all pleasures, intellectual or not, as both our body and mind have their limits, needing to rest, from excessive work or excessive pleasure. The brain is just a body organ we can exhaust, neglect, exercise, or extract pleasure from.

Learning gives meaning to life. One may wonder:

"What is it in life I badly want to see or hear before I die, compared to that I want to know and find answers to? Which makes more difference, in my entire life experience: new knowledge or different sensations? If I can choose my happiness, will it be another place I haven't visited yet, a person I wish to meet, a song or music style I haven't heard before ... or the same old places, faces and tunes I'm used to? Why not allow myself a chance to see life from an entirely different perspective, in a different light, using a different (inner) eye, that my brain naturally possesses?"

For the true hedonist, it's unwise to spend one's precious years repeating the same actions, behavior and "self," turning into a lifetime prisoner of their old habits, thoughts and friends, and missing freedom from the past, from "socio-sensual disturbance" and the many physical cares humanity chokes itself with. It's a freedom that starts with freeing the mind and giving it a chance to see the whole universe differently. Then, one is automatically guided to better sources of knowledge, where one whets and hones the mind senses, instead of those lackluster dull old senses one was chained to. What is there to learn but little to nothing from such animal urges, with deceptive, addictive, consumptive nature and mostly obsolete functions, compared to the other diverse, deep, and direct sources of knowledge.

What's the use of a pleasure you are unconscious of while enjoying? By conscious pleasures we differ most from animals, rocks and robots, solely given birth by Knowledge, the true "mother" of pleasure, whose eyes we realize our world with, and at her knees we learn about love and life. All virtues are conceived by her, and flourish in her courtyard; but without her they wither and die. Those "children of mind" we call ideas are but our early impressions in life, that grow up to be fully-fledged habits, shaping our characters and deciding our fate. For the child, as for the adult it should be, reality is not what we see, it's what the mind can see. As ideas mature, they become our invisible friends: their company gives us solace, when we are alone or with others. When our infant eyes first saw the light of day, they were there next to our cradle, materializing and taking bodies too, by capturing and interpreting the vague noise and strangers' faces around us. Ideas never die; they only move from mind to mind, of those whose minds are open; as servants of Truth who never ages, they haunt us temporarily until we die: together we share life, but alone they leave us for someone new, when our brain stops.

Every living experience takes place "in the brain," the vessel in which we keep things we love, or hate sometimes. There, all sounds, images and thoughts are received: some are welcome to stay, overnight or for life, others dismissed at first sight. Once home, each is shown their room, according to status and age: there they live, interact and reproduce, and when it's time to leave, they are transformed into new ideas and actions. We are the landlord, the master of the mind we own; we decide everyday what to think, feel or do. We constantly make decisions, and living is such a decision, but not everyone is free to decide. Our free will that we idolize, in the temple/prison of Self, is helplessly exposed to our world and genome, frequently attacked by enemies outside and rebels inside. So to live in harmony, the part with the whole, one must have diplomacy and learn the rules of living: harmony, beauty and knowledge are all One.


Intellectual Pleasure vs. Physical Pleasure

Examples of Physical Pleasures

Any physical pleasure had once been intellectual, millions of years ago, at previous stages of our evolution. It was only triggered by simple chemical signals transmitted through the nervous system, however primitive it was then, responding to our fundamental need: surviving. Animal pleasures were only a need, and the brain had to reward the efforts of a hardworking creature, to teach it how to love and hate, for the behavior to be added to its surviving repertoire. Its primitive brain could only learn two things: pain is bad, pleasure is good.

The pleasures of food, sex, nature, art ... and social pleasures had all started as nervous stimuli in response to our biological needs, which over several geological periods became pleasures in themselves, even after the biological need for them had stopped:

  • We do not have sex necessarily for reproduction, to deserve that endorphin rush nature rewards us with. We enjoy it, although we won't go extinct without it, thanks to artificial insemination.
  • The excitement we receive from eating sweets is also deceptive, because producing/storing body energy is no more a great survival challenge to most humans.
  • Looking at a green landscape or a running river, smelling flowers, or listening to birds singing does not mean we found a source of food, as it simply means to other animals.
  • We still enjoy the sunshine, although we don't necessarily need it to see our surroundings, as we now have electricity.
  • Enjoying a walk, an exercise or a sport doesn't mean it is the only way to explore the world, search for food, or run away from danger, although it once was. Sitting still in a moving vehicle, or letting a machine do the job is more efficient and time-saving, although not exciting.
  • Even enjoying the human touch or being with familiar people we love (which triggers the release of oxytocin and vasopressin, the social fear-fighting hormones) is a misleading animal instinct. Most of our insecurities cannot be permanently eliminated except through actions and decisions we alone can make, with or without socializing, however enjoyable the latter is. Having a safe place to live, a regular income, a network of contacts, and sufficient knowledge of the world and ourselves, are some of those actions. Our ancestors needed the closeness of bodies for collective physical work and for fighting intruders. What we need now most is the connection of minds and mindsets, which is more challenging, and not necessarily requiring the physical presence of others. 
  • Etc.


Examples of Intellectual Pleasures

Intellectual pleasures and physical pleasures have common ingredients that give each its uniqueness:

  • Diversion: traveling/fantasizing (approaching change).
  • Chase: teasing/curiosity (anticipating change).
  • Satisfaction: satiety/perfection (facing change).
  • Sharing: activities/ideas (multiplying change).
  • Security: physical safety/intellectual confidence (accepting change).

1. Mind-Travel

Our mind is full of intricacies, where one can go astray or find their true self, lose their sanity or gain wisdom. To start off the mind journey, one needs guidance, a beacon to trust, for having a safe trip. It's a dark land of everyone's fears, hopes and unfulfilled desires, where only a wise man can find his way, without getting entangled by his own ropes (for his self-control is stronger than his habits). It's a whole world within, full of places and times that existed, others yet to exist, and some that may never exist.

Those who tasted the pleasure of mind traveling will take the adventure again. Once they overcome their fear and stand up for their belief, face the past and free their imagination, they won't look back on traditional pleasures. We go to Mind Wonderland to enjoy ourselves, when the outside world is dull, failing to satisfy our craving for excitement. We travel there searching for the truth, to find within what we could not find without. We take a trip down mind lanes to pick up our intellectual food: ideas, principles and beliefs that will keep us strong when facing a hardship, and deepen our pleasure when we are happy. Above all, part of us always lives there, observing the world through mind binoculars, that enhance our vision, giving us a far-sighted view, on which we base our judgment of reality. That constantly active part in us is always seeking a meaning for life, a reason why things the way they are, that chaos outside can't explain.

2. Brain-Food

We eat to survive, and to enjoy ourselves too. Our hunger for food ends once we are full, and so does the pleasure of eating. The brain receives a sufficiency of leptin, the satiety hormone, and we are hungry no more. Attempting to prolong our eating session after one is full, causes a stomachache, if not nausea.

On the other hand, our hunger for knowledge doesn't stop by learning. There is always more room in our brain for new knowledge. Perceiving new knowledge gives us different tastes that life serves us everyday, on the banquet of mind: there all sciences, arts and histories of mankind are arranged, ready to satisfy our curiosity, to uncover some of Life's mysteries. 

3. Brain-Sex

People think orgasm takes place down between their legs, while it actually happens higher than that: between their ears, where their brains are. The rush of endorphins starts at the mind territory, where all things come from. We learned recently that our mind experiences a similar excitement when we learn and understand. Brain orgasm is a gift, not offered by a lover, or during a one-night-stand, but only by ourselves, when we want to learn: "A mystery catches our eyes and keeps teasing us, we follow it down dark, untrodden alleys, until we find a place where we share our desires ... There, while uncovering it, one is breathlessly sighing: 'Aha!'"

4. Intellectual Friends

Friends of mind can be like-minded people we share with a special bond. They can be dead people whose ideas and works survived them. They are sometimes imaginary friends, human or non-human, we or others have created. Or they can be inanimate objects, like every book we love and still go back to, to find solace, that our physical friends couldn't give. 

5. Intellectual Confidence

In civilized societies, people have the right to choose, unless their choices encroach on others' rights. They are free to believe or doubt, because no belief is possible without doubt. Choosing one's belief is to find coherent, non-contradictory principles, making sense and giving meaning to life. They are the foundation stone for whatever is erected later in the mind's landscape, where one can have a place to rest: safe, secure and well-served. Nothing is like reason to be our invincible castle, protecting our mind against ignorance and evil. Reason is our sole refuge when all life forms are lost to entropy: when chaos beats order. Although it's an endless race between order and chaos, and all things may end in chaos, we can still prevent chaos from happening by constantly delaying it. Chaos is stronger than order, and us; it's an ever-growing enemy coming to destroy us, an invader knocking at our door: each knock is the ticking of Time running out, heralding the end of life. "We should never open that door." Our knowledge should keep growing, and our minds be always on alert, to gain the upper hand. We can conquer chaos, and make it an impossibility by our own will. 

In the beginning was the word, the Logos that created the world, the Light that conquered darkness. We worship that Light, because we want to know, we want to be enlightened. To know is to be divine, reflecting the image of God, the all-knowing. He is the Original, and we are copies, bonded to Him. Humans in all ages created and worshipped many gods, because ignorance blinded their reason, and knowledge was unavailable. The unknown was fearful, so they worshiped it. Now, we dissect our fears with the scalpel of Knowledge. Before, when one fell sick, people ran to alchemy, black magic and superstition, to treat them. But now, we gained the power of learning, to cure our sicknesses.

Whatever the mind can absorb it should seek, love and worship. If some conceive eternity and eternal happiness with God, let them have it. If others don't, let them find their own way. Knowledge cannot be forced, because knowledge must be loved. 


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