Addicted to reality

If you are imprisoned by reality, is it wrong to suffer from the Stockholm syndrome?  I read this quote: “People who are addicted to Twitter,” Lanier said, “are like all addicts—on the one hand miserable, and on the other hand very defensive about it and unwilling to blame Twitter.” Another word for this is doomscrolling — you keep scrolling down, looking for one more post…


Wait, how is this different than, I dunno, club-hopping (or bar-hopping?) Sure, the idea is to dance/get drunk, but along the way, you hope to find one more really great club/bar.  At the end you’re exhausted or drunk or both.  Is this addictive behavior?

Before there were clubs, before there were cities or towns, there were villages and hikes in the forest, and if you wanted to get so far out that you could never return, you could hike clear across some continent. Were such hikes pleasant, or did they end in misery? Both. Hiking is (physically) healthy: it triggers anabolic growth of muscles and assorted other positive physical changes. You feel pleasantly tired at the end of the day, because assorted endorphins are released, as well.   This is reality. This is the physical world the human animal  was born into, evolved into.

World’s first nightclub

We’ve taken aspects of that physical world, and concentrated it, distilled it, enhanced it, and tried to make it even better. Clubbing is like … hiking in a forest … with friends …  finding a visually, spatially, architecturally stunning clearing … taking a rest, but then getting excited enough to dance.  Such clearings are rare.. but we can build them. Perhaps Stonehenge was the first nightclub ever. (OK, so the dolmen in Gaudalperal, Spain are maybe 2,000 years older… but you get the idea.)

Unlike a hike in the forest, clubbing is easier to get to. It’s safer: without wild animals to attack you, or poison ivy to roll around in, you can enjoy some intoxicants.  Sure, dancing can make you sweat, but you don’t even have to dance, if you don’t feel like it. And then there is the sexual tension… and, for some reason, its always hot, and the air is always bad. Why is that?  This is where things skew sideways. We’ve distilled the awesomeness of a hike, made it even better, but in some ways worse.

Hang on, let me change my outfit

Every human activity began as wild animals living in nature. We’ve taken everything to an extreme: The hike in the forest has become the life-threatening hike across the Arctic, or the top of Mt. Everest. The clubbing scene can turn into living for (the Brazilian) Carnival (so, cosplay, before cosplay was invented). Quiet moments reflecting becomes published mathematics. Cracking a joke has become a vast entertainment industry. All small things can be, are plumbed to their most extreme depths.   Is this reality, or is this hyper-reality?

Walt Disney knew a thing or two about paperclip maximization

What’s the driver for extreme behavior? What pushes? Addictive neural circuitry pushes.  Sometimes the results are flawed: nicotine addiction, gambling addiction. The utility of any action is always in question: are the right-wingers correct in decrying this or that activity, or are the liberals correct in saying its harmless? Clearly, planting crops (or any overtly economic activity) is beneficial: it provides you with the food, the energy, the money to pursue extreme behaviors.  This is the basic premise of “capitalism”: it creates wealth, and without wealth, once cannot pursue extreme activities. We applaud STEM because it lies along an indirect path to wealth. Not so clear about music and Hollywood, even thought there’s much money there. But drug dealers also have a lot of money, so being profitable is not a clear-cut signal of social good.  Addiction feels good, at least for a while, at least in certain ways, but it’s a kind of sophisticated paper-clip maximizer:  we’re maximizing the utility function for … something, but was it really “good for you”?

If I’m weird, is it because I’ve developed Stockholm syndrome from reality?

Our neural circuitry enables the relentless exploration of extreme situations.  Sometimes it fails, and we paper-clip-maximize useless addictive behavior. Sometimes it works, when we’ve harnessed  it the achieve great new feats.  Ever notice how some (many?) of the driven over-achievers,  the burning hot, live-wires have a crazed look in their eye? They need to go farther, push harder, do more, be more, and there’s an obsessive quality to it.  Doom-scrolling for greatness. Stellar star-dom or bust.  What  exactly, is going on here, and why must I compulsively write about it?

You, too, can be a winner by exploring the truth


One Reply to “Addicted to reality”

  1. I would think it’s intuitively obvious to someone so familiar with classifying divergent and non-divergent systems.

    I think I’m paraphrasing Chesterton, “anarchy is what doesn’t know when to stop.”

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