Weekly I/O #22

Root of All Human Motivation, Virtual and Real, Feel, Justified Success, Confirming Belief

Weekly I/O is a project where I share my learning Input/Output. Every Sunday, I write an email newsletter with five things I discovered and learned that week.

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The below is extracted from the email sent on May 02, 2021

Here’s a list of what I’m exploring and pondering this week.

1. All human behavior is only driven by the desire to escape discomfort.

Book: Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life

Most people in the world believe that human motivation is all about carrots and sticks. It’s all about pain and pleasure, like what Freud called “the pleasure principle”. However, the author of the book stated that “When we look at the research, neurologically speaking, the root of all human motivation is about the desire to escape discomfort, the avoidance of pain.”

Epicurus, the ancient Greek philosopher, also said that: “By pleasure, we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul.” Simply put, the drive to relieve discomfort is the root cause of all our behavior, while everything else is a proximate cause. Even when we think we’re seeking pleasure, we’re actually driven by the desire to free ourselves from the pain of wanting.

I’m actually quite curious about whether this is a widely accepted statement and how robust it is supported by scientific evidence. For me, it will be a little bit tricky to understand how this can explain some human behavior like the desire to have dessert when we are not hungry or even just the desire to get laid. Maybe it can be some sort of fear of missing out. Feel free to send me your thoughts.

2. “Virtual” is not opposed to “real” but opposed to “actual”.

Book: Difference and Repetition

I first knew about this notion in this video(in Traditional Chinese) talking about the philosophy of Virtual Reality and VR movies.

The French philosopher Gilles Deleuze stated that both actual and virtual are fully real. While the former has a concrete existence, the latter does not, but it is no less real for that fact. Like some conceptual inventions which people pursue such as freedom, equality, justice, we won’t say these aren’t real just because these are virtual or these haven’t been realized.

This distinction is initially treated as an esoteric interest only to specialists in the field of ontology. However, since the advent of computer games, or more especially now we have Virtual Reality technology, this distinction has become more essential it reminds us that what is seen or experienced on screen is still real, even if it is not actual.

3. “People may forget what you said, people may forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou


4. In a meritocratic society, those who land on top want to believe their success is morally justified, they get it on their own. And their kids can have the same belief with the admission to elite colleges.

Book: The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?

In an unequal society, those who land on top want to believe their success is morally justified. In a meritocratic society, this means the winners would like to think that they have earned their success through their own talent and hard work.

This is the gift most of these parents wanted to give their kids. If all they really cared about was enabling their children to live in affluence, they could have just given them trust funds. But they wanted something else. They want the meritocratic cachet that admission to elite colleges confers.

The consequence is, for the more we think of ourselves as self-made and self-sufficient, the harder it is to learn gratitude and humility. And without these sentiments, it is hard to care for the common good.

5. “The empiricist thinks he believes only what he sees, but he is much better at believing than at seeing.” — George Santayana


I learned this quote from a class I’m taking this semester. Professor J. Edward Russo (also the author of the book Winning Decisions) gave an example in the class.

A new product development team observes a consumer focus group to discuss a new product concept. After the discussion, those who were positively predisposed on product development the team were more favorable after observing the consumer reaction. And those who were negatively predisposed were more opposed after observing the consumer reaction.

Why? As the other quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “A person hears only what they understand.” Seeking only confirming evidence can turn a window into a mirror.

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