Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Subjective hedonism   posted by Razib @ 9/08/2009 12:46:00 PM

The last part of this discussion between Felix Salmon & James Kwak is about wine (most if it is about finance), in particular, the fact that people subjectively seem to gain more utility out of expensive wines than cheap ones, even though most blind taste tests show little correlation between price and preference. Paul Bloom is apparently writing his next book on the topic of this sort of subjective hedonic experience, whereby your knowledge of context shapes and filters your perception. I used to think it wasthese sorts of subjective hedonic experiences were best not had, but now I'm not sure so. Is this just signalling? I don't think so since this often operates on a personal scale relative to food consumed alone. Can we train ourselves not to manifest these cognitive ticks? Consider an extremely tasty brownie shaped like feces vs. one that wasn't. Could you train yourself not to be affected by the feces shape because you know that qualitatively there isn't any difference? I assume most people could make themselves eat the feces shaped brownie, my question is could their rational and conscious understanding that it tastes the same as the one not shaped like feces reshape their perception of the experience so that they are of equal quality? It seems the price or knowledge of the provenance of a wine is much less "hard-wired" in our brains than aversion to feces, so perhaps we could appreciate cheap consumables so long as they didn't trigger aversive reflexes.

Addendum: I'm sure there's a technical word for what I'm talking about, but which I labelled subjective hedonism, so feel free to tell me in the comments.