The Intrinsic Rewards of Mental Activity

I once saw a short film about the famous experiment where research scientists gave brushes, paint, and large sheets of paper to a number of chimpanzees, and then left them to their own devices. Soon, the chimps became so engrossed in daubing colour on the paper that they neglected their usual mating and eating habits. In a sense, they had become crude abstract artists! The important thing to note is that, while mating and eating are necessary for survival, daubing paint is not.

Mind Related Activities

Mind related activities can be so absorbing we neglect vital functions such as eating. (Photos: public domain)

The chimps were demonstrating that mind-related activity is so powerfully rewarding it can overpower even such basic life-sustaining drives as hunger and lust. If the effect is so strong in chimpanzees, we can easily see why human creators, with their more-powerful minds, behave the way they do. Here is the doorway that humans have walked through as we evolved beyond being just animals. Once our intelligence reached a certain point, mind became the primary driving force in our evolutionary development. Importantly, this is true not only because we became better at hunting and gathering, but also because mind is useful for much more than sharpening our survival skills.

Continue reading “The Intrinsic Rewards of Mental Activity”

The Happiness of Constant Striving

Philosophers of happiness have often said that humanity’s eternally recurring and seemingly insatiable desires are a crushing burden and a debilitating problem. To live with an unsatisfied desire, the argument goes, makes one unhappy. Therefore, if one is to be content, expunging desires is of the utmost importance. This dubious notion is the foundation of entire self-denying spiritual practices. Advocates of self-denial invoke the myth of Sisyphus, the king in ancient Greece who offended Zeus. As punishment, he was condemned to push a huge boulder to the top of a hill. However, the simple (but sweaty) game was rigged. Whenever the boulder neared the top of the hill, it rolled back down to the bottom. Some prefer the less strenuous, but equally frustrating Danaidean example. In Greek legend, the Danaides were daughters of the Egyptian prince, Danaus. After they had murdered their husbands, they were condemned in Hades to fill water jars with holes in the bottom.

The Danaides by John William Waterhouse, 1903

Success may not be necessary to attain happiness. For many, the striving itself becomes a fulfilling and satisfying way of life. (Image: public domain.)

Continue reading “The Happiness of Constant Striving”