Last night's lecture by Yale University psychologist Paul Bloom explored the psychology of desire. According to Bloom, the perception of pleasure depends quite a bit on essentialism, a belief that there is an "essence" which extends past the intrinsic value of an item.
To illustrate the role of essentialism in our perception of pleasure, Bloom related the story of a "Vermeer" painting of Chirst's supper at Emmaus, executed by a Dutch forger named Hans van Meegeren. When the public believed that the painting was by Vermeer, large crowds attended the exhibition. Revealed as a forgery, the painting now hangs in a small museum in Connecticut, drawing much smaller crowds.
Dr Bloom went on to cite studies in which participants were asked to place a value on items of clothing which had been "worn" by celebrities- study participants were willing to pay more for unwashed clothes worn by a celebrity than for freshly laundered celebrity wardrobe items. The unwashed "George Clooney" sweater has more of an "essential" value than the unwashed item. Another study had children placing items in a "duplication machine"- while non highly prized items could be exchanged for duplicates, favorite toys had an "essential" value higher than their duplicates (in some cases, the study subjects would not even allow a prized item to be "duplicated"). Another study had participants rating inexpensive wines mislabeled as expensive imports, and believing them to be of higher quality than correctly labeled bottles of the same wine.
A review and a brief excerpt from Dr Bloom's book How Pleasure Works can be found here.
Last night also marked the triumphant return of Secret Science Club co-founder and co-author of this wonderful read, Michael Crewdson, who has been in self-imposed antipodean exile for a year and a half. Michael, welcome back to the "718" motherland for a few weeks.