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Why Has No-One Been Looking?

The main message is that a lot of the pleasure we enjoy each day, in a quiet, little-noticed way, comes from things in our minds matching up or fitting well. If there is indeed in my brain a system or mechanism that leads from a good match to a spasm of pleasure, this system has a great influence on how I lead my life --- and so too does the system in your brain on your life. Now millions of dollars are spent every month by thousands of people working intensively on brain science, but they are not looking for this system or mechanism. If it is so important, we have to ask why not.

        First question: is it because the Central Idea is wrong or silly? I don't think so. Most people will think some twigs on the Tree are unimportant or mere guesswork, but I think most people will find many of the twigs acceptable, or even self-evident. People will say, "Of course, we have known that for years! That's so obvious it doesn't need saying." So the Central Idea can't be rejected out of hand.

        I think a large part of the answer concerns money. Much of the money for brain science comes in the form of grants. A scientist may apply for a grant to study the topic of ... and find the answer to ... . Part of the art of gaining a grant is to think of a good question. One wants to claim: "If you provide X dollars spread over Y years (some small number such as three years or five) there is a good chance that my team can answer this question for you" --- because grant-giving bodies like to see a high likelihood of short-term results. Now tracking down the pleasure-from-matching mechanism is a larger undertaking than that; it is not an undertaking that fits conveniently into the current standard pattern of applications for a grant.

        But there is also the unpredictable sway of fashion. For ten years or more, consciousness has been fashionable; many minor aspects of the question of consciousness have been very thoroughly chewed over. In fact a great amount of valuable and varied work has been done, all supported through the dubious claim, "If we investigate ... it will help to elucidate the problem of consciousness." 

        Suppose the fashion were to change. If pleasure-from-matching were widely recognized, like consciousness, as something important to understand, many minor projects could go forward under that umbrella. To break the problem down and attack just a small part is effective strategy, as long as the long-range goal is accepted as one toward which many contributions are needed. Without such acceptance, a small project has to find some other bandwagon to ride on.

        A second good reason deserves mention: finding the source of people's everyday pleasure does not cure anyone. When there are so many people on hand who need curing, why spend money to understand people who are perfectly well? I have no particular qualification to answer that, but one can draw a parallel with physical health. In that field it is common to claim that the penny has two sides: maintaining the healthy deserves attention as well as curing those who are ill.

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So there are a few reasons why people in brain science have not been looking at pleasure-from-matching, but I don't think they are good reasons. If the fashion were to change and this became a hot topic, I think ordinary people would stand to gain. Personally, I think they would stand to gain by a significant amount.

 
 

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