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Previous Accounts

Many people have made suggestions that come close to the central idea; the surprising thing is how many people have come very close without anyone actually hitting it quite on the nose. I begin with four first-person accounts, and then look for people who have made broad general suggestions.

Four examples of personal experiences: 

Andrew Wiles worked for seven years on "Fermat's Last Problem". He reached a point where his work had two parts and if he could just see how they connected, he would achieve his goal. Eventually he had his inspiration, his moment of insight, and recalled it thus:  "... it was indescribably beautiful ... I stared in disbelief ...". But what about elation? Surely that moment was in some way upbeat. He says "beautiful" which implies some sense of pleasure, but he does not say straight out that the two things came together and provoked joy.

Boris Pasternak reports about writing poetry "... these rough passages had astonished him and moved him to tears by certain unexpectedly successful lines." By successful, surely he means that they matched well his inward thought, and he records being emotionally stirred; he just forgets to mention that they were tears of pleasure, the good match brought pleasure.

Willa Cather writes about visiting an art gallery. On one page she says that looking at some picture gave her great pleasure; on a different page, she says that looking at some picture, she felt a connection to certain feelings within herself. But she misses saying that the match between the picture and her inward feeling gave her pleasure. Surely that's what happened, but she just misses saying so. ( On Twig 13, there is more about enjoying art.)

        In a different piece, she gets the three parts linked up. She visits the grave of Alfred de Musset and sees beside it a very decrepit tree, struggling to survive despite various hazards. She says that, if he could have seen the tree, de Musset would have been pleased by the match between the tree's struggle and his own life and adverse circumstances --- a third-person assertion. But I have never found a page where she says "I noticed a match and was pleased by it," a first-person account.

Roger Penrose He describes having a feeling of elation but being puzzled to know where it came from. In retrospect, he figured that it must have come from a moment earlier in the day when he saw the answer to a problem, but because he was deep in conversation at the time, he did not give attention to that match-up, he put it in the back of his mind; only the sense of elation stayed with him and eventually caused him to think about its source.

        In all four examples, one suspects that if one could quiz the people, they would agree, "Yes, it was the match that gave me pleasure." It is a common experience; perhaps its commonness prevents it from getting reported. Pleasure from a two-way match is all over the place and drives our mental lives, but has not been sufficiently recognized. "The aspects of things that are most important to us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity" (Ludwig Wittgenstein).

More General Statements

Arthur Koestler  Koestler's book "The Act of Creation" (1964) drew attention to the great range of experiences in which two parts come together in one's mind, and introduced the term bisociation. Koestler does not mention all forty of the twigs I have put on the Tree, but I think he was a leader at that time in recognizing that jokes, rhymes, works of art and flashes of insight (Eureka!) all involved bisociations --- that the same kind of mental link-up occurs in all of them.

         As far as I know, Koestler did not comment on the third element,  the spasm of pleasure that a match elicits; Koestler's picture shows just two curved arrows. But he led the way in pointing out that there is a single phenomenon here with effects so wide that it is of interest to just about everybody.

Nicholas Humphrey  In 1973 Nicholas Humphrey made many of the points on which this web site is based. He used rhyme as a central example, but noted that architecture, music, stamp-collecting, flowers etc. also give pleasure through having elements that fit or match. Secondly, he noted that grouping items into classes or categories depends on matching, and that the survival of humans and many other animals depends on this ability*. He calls classification "the core of learning" so that learning thrives on this same pleasure. The short essay, just ten pages, thus contains a hard, logical and far-reaching core, but it is written in such a graceful style that its forceful content was not widely recognized.

*(What we learn by observation during childhood is not so much the characteristics of individual objects, such as my nose, but the characteristics of noses in general, that distinguish them from nostrils and from snouts. The idea of a class or category of objects, such as noses, has a hoary history going back to before Plato. It is a topic of inescapable importance, but readers may wish to go elsewhere before embarking on it. When ready, click on Classes and Categories.)

John McCrone   In 1992, John McCrone drew attention to the "psychological click" that accompanies the linking of a thing presently perceived with a memory. Like Humphrey, he noted that two things coming together sparked a third mental effect, and  that this sparking was not a rare or special event --- it was and is constantly happening, it pervades our mental lives. He did not remark on the click being pleasurable, and he commented only on that one kind of match, between a memory and something seen now. But a winning point is: he suggested that tracking the details of this effect was the most important thing people in neuroscience could attend to. I absolutely agree.

        (Unfortunately, the technology for making brain scans improved vastly about that time, and the fashion in brain research swung abruptly. Nowadays vast effort is devoted to finding where in a brain activity is occurring, and attention to what processes might be occurring is overshadowed.)

Joshua Fost   In 1999, Joshua Fost published a paper with some exceptionally pithy bits; for example: "We are all familiar with the satisfaction of remembering a location, fixing a broken device, or generally just being right. Can we explain why, neurobiologically, our brains cause us to ... feel this way?" He pinpoints satisfaction, names a range of contexts, and sees that there must be a mechanism in our brains that links matching to pleasure. One might say that the purpose of this web-site is to encourage people to realize how much mental pleasure they get, in a constant little-noticed stream over a very wide range of activities, and how exactly Fost's question hits the nail on the head. Fost's enquiry into the neuroscience is extended here; see maybe.

 

 

References

        

 

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