Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Pleasures of Imagination by Paul Bloom

How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like

Hello all, I am feverishly working at completing a book, so today I thought I'd share something slightly off topic, but still very much relevant to fairy tales and folklore.  It's an essay by Paul Bloom, The Pleasures of Imagination published a few weeks ago.  "Paul Bloom is a professor of psychology at Yale University. He is author of the forthcoming book, How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like (W.W. Norton & Company), from which this essay is adapted."

Here are the first three paragraphs to whet your appetite:

How do Americans spend their leisure time? The answer might surprise you. The most common voluntary activity is not eating, drinking alcohol, or taking drugs. It is not socializing with friends, participating in sports, or relaxing with the family. While people sometimes describe sex as their most pleasurable act, time-management studies find that the average American adult devotes just four minutes per day to sex.

Our main leisure activity is, by a long shot, participating in experiences that we know are not real. When we are free to do whatever we want, we retreat to the imagination—to worlds created by others, as with books, movies, video games, and television (over four hours a day for the average American), or to worlds we ourselves create, as when daydreaming and fantasizing. While citizens of other countries might watch less television, studies in England and the rest of Europe find a similar obsession with the unreal.

This is a strange way for an animal to spend its days. Surely we would be better off pursuing more adaptive activities—eating and drinking and fornicating, establishing relationships, building shelter, and teaching our children. Instead, 2-year-olds pretend to be lions, graduate students stay up all night playing video games, young parents hide from their offspring to read novels, and many men spend more time viewing Internet pornography than interacting with real women. One psychologist gets the puzzle exactly right when she states on her Web site: "I am interested in when and why individuals might choose to watch the television show Friends rather than spending time with actual friends."

The article resonated with me.  I am a story addict, not that anyone is surprised by that.  I was raised by a realist mother who rarely touches fiction although she enjoys movies well enough.  My father is much more open to fiction and stories, but he usually shies pretty far away from fantasy.  His fiction usually requires a pretty firm grounding in reality.  Then I came along, a solid mesh of their two personalities with the additional unexpected fervor for all things fiction as well as fantastical.  I've always explained that I find more inspiration and even instruction from most fiction than almost any piece of nonfiction, especially if it isn't story oriented.  Biographies are an exception for they are pretty much stories.  My nearest and dearest understand that recommending a self-help book to me is rather pointless. 

In fact, as much as the article fascinated me, I am not rushing out to the read the full book How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like although I admit I find it more tempting than most nonfiction I come across.  And right now my brain is too exhausted with intense research and writing, so I am especially looking for stories to relax--I've been rereading Dorothy Sayers the past week as comfort reading.

Anyway, I could write and write and write about this but my time is short.  The article is some food for thought on a sultry summer day--we are a few days away from official summer, but it has settled in early here in Nashville.


  1. Summer is here too, in south Louisiana. The temps have been stifling and what better why to escape the heat then to curl up in the air conditioner and drift away into someones imagination. Great article, by the way. I may just have to check out that book.

  2. Thank you for sharing this, it's a fascinating article!