Virtually Pleasuring Ourselves Out of Existence

Much has been made about how the internet re-wires our brains and shortens our attention spans. But considering Linden's research, it seems more likely that the internet—with its infinite promise of delightful information, ready at the touch of a button—is like having an electrode on our medial forebrain pleasure circuit.

If we have a choice to make, between receiving pleasure from quieting our brains, emptying our souls of self and stuff in order to have a transcendent experience in prayer that may or may not actually come, or to push a button and have the very same part of our brain stimulated in a millisecond's time with boundless information, often of a spiritually encouraging, or self-affirming nature—what are most people going to choose? If you have the choice between slogging through 600 pages of a novel of dubious interest, or moving, with the click of a button to more interesting plot-lines, what will you choose?

If all of our life choices are determined by the medial forebrain pleasure circuit, why would anyone choose to do anything other than push the self-stimulating buttons?

The answer is that our lives depend on resisting that urge. Indeed, if easy stimulation of the pleasure circuit has the capacity to surpass one's instinct for food, sexual reproduction, or caring for young, the survival of our species may depend on the sublimation of that pleasure.

Unless we have a spiritual, moral, or ethical framework to suggest that suffering, the absence of pleasure, has merit and benefit to our lives, civilization is at risk of being ignored to death. And as religious institutions are the most likely purveyors of the concept of suffering as the source of life, perhaps the last laugh in the evolutionary story is that the survival of the fittest might be in favor of religion.

11/10/2011 5:00:00 AM