Just who the hell do you think you are?

Excuse me?


It sort of made sense for you to write those last two books, because you actually know a little bit about the topics. You study language learning and social reasoning in your lab. But pleasure? What makes you think you have anything interesting to say about pleasure? What do you have for us next — a book of poetry? Perhaps a graphic novel?

Well, look, I admit that pleasure looks like a bit of a stretch. But the main idea did grow out of my research on children, on studies that suggest that we are natural-born essentialists, making sense of things and people in terms of the deeper properties they posses, not their superficial appearances. And then I became interested in how this essentialism can influence what we like. So take the example of the pleasure of taste.

Hey, that reminds me. Have you noticed the mistake on page 100? You say that ebay doesn’t allow the sale of food. You know this is mistaken, right? You meant unpreserved food.

Yes (softly).

Well, that must be embarrassing. I’m sure there are many other mistakes that you’ve missed. Such as scientists you forgot to cite. And then there are all the people you should have thanked in the acknowledgments but forgot to. Lots of hurt feelings! Anyhow, go on. You were talking about food.

So, uhm, the idea is that the pleasure of taste is influenced by what we think we are tasting, in the same way that the pleasure of art is influenced by what we think we are looking at, or the pleasure of sex is influenced by –

Oh yes, sex. I bet you get a lot of questions about sex. Do people ever ask you about sexual fetishes? Rubber and women’s shoes and that sort of thing?


Do you have a good explanation of what’s going with that?


Really? No idea at all?

I’m afraid not.

Well, that’s too bad. Let’s talk about something you might know more about. I wanted to ask you about the pleasures of the imagination, something you spend two chapters on. One idea that you explore is the notion of multiple selves—the idea that a single brain is composed of many different people, often with competing interests. These selves are often at war—one wants to diet; the other wants to eat cake—and they use different strategies to try to take control over the body. But sometimes the generation of alternative selves can be a source of pleasure. We like to become a different person when playing a video game or immersing ourselves into a book, or, for children, when playing with an imaginary friend. Am I getting this right?

Basically, yes.

Well, I was wondering if multiple selves can also be a source of pain. So, for example, one can split into two, with one self asking question and the other answering them—and the questions can be thought up to be particularly unpleasant, picking at exactly what the answerer most dreads. And that would be awful.




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PAUL BLOOM is a professor of Psychology and Cognitive science at Yale University. His research explores how children and adults understand the physical and social world, with special focus on morality, religion, fiction, and art.

He has won numerous awards for his research and teaching, is past-president of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology, and co-editor of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, one of the major journals in the field.

He has written for scientific journals such as Nature and Science, and for popular outlets such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Atlantic. He is the author or editor of 5 books, including, most recently, How Pleasure Works.

He lives in New Haven with his wife, Karen Wynn, and his sons, Max and Zachary.

2 responses to “Paul Bloom: The TNB Self-Interview”

  1. Webb says:

    Rubber? Really?

  2. Lisa says:

    All my selves like this!
    Hmmm, seriously – very interesting.
    My Catholic self screams that there should be no pleasure in life, it’s an unnecessary luxury…
    The others want to kill her.
    Your book looks most intriguing.

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