Get curated editors’ picks, peeks behind the scenes, film recommendations and more.
Pleasure, despite being central to human experience and evolution, is quite hard to define. Aristotle argued that what we call pleasure is comprised of at least two distinct aspects, hedonia (pleasure) and eudaimonia (human flourishing or a life well-lived). However, as Morten Kringelbach, professor at the department of psychiatry at the University of Oxford in the UK and at the Centre for Music in the Brain at Aarhus University in Denmark, points out this instalment of Aeon’s In Sight series: ‘It’s surprisingly difficult to show that somebody who is happy is also somebody who has had a lot of pleasure.’
Kringelbach’s research into how pleasure works in the brain seeks to find the connections between experiencing hedonistic pleasure – food, sex, drugs – and living an eudaimonic life. When all is well, he discovered, there is a system of give and take between different regions of the brain that yields experiences of pleasure that cumulatively contribute to feelings of wellbeing. However, imperfections in the mechanisms that govern pleasure in the brain leave us susceptible to conditions such as addiction, an unhealthy fixation on the pursuit of pleasure, or depression, in which both the desire for pleasure and pleasure itself are significantly diminished. A common characteristic of these and other affective disorders is that they take people away from what Kringelbach argues are the two key – often overlooked – aspects of pleasure: variety and community. Ultimately, he thinks, variation in pleasure, together with sharing that enjoyment with others, is what’s needed for a well-balanced, eudaimonic life.
Interviewer: Nigel Warburton
Producer: Kellen Quinn
Editor: Adam D’Arpino
How a self-taught autistic artist mines creativity from life’s endless variations
Nature and landscape
An afternoon with hobbyist diamond miners in Arkansas is a thing of rare beauty
What can a Kurosawa classic tell us about reality, knowledge and truth?
Meaning and the good life
To know or not to know? Lillian weighs the costs of a life-changing genetic test
Liquid experiments show how beautiful things can happen when chemicals meet
What is it like to clean the world for tomorrow while the rest of a city sleeps?
Philosophy of mind
Caring for the vulnerable opens gateways to our richest, deepest brain states
History of ideas
How did ‘personal responsibility’ evolve into its opposite, ‘everyone for themselves’?
An artist grapples with the loss of his brother, and the problem of canine abduction