Avoiding hyperstimuli

Hyperstimuli are like regular stimuli, but turned up to 11. Fruit contains naturally occurring fruit sugars, which your body craves because sugar is an important energy source and fruit is full of valuable nutrients. Fruit is a natural stimulus. Candy is made from a vegetable, sugarcane, that has had all of the annoying fibrous vegetable part stripped away and been refined down to a pure, sugary, chemical substance. Running is normal; riding a rollercoaster is not. Chatting with your friends is a normal social interaction; getting a thousand likes on Facebook is not.

Most of us have happiness “setpoints” that we tend to return to after weathering the slings and arrows of fate and fortune. Some of us tend to be happy people, facing misfortune with confidence that things will turn out; some of us tend to be dour, facing happiness as a trial to be endured until misery returns. Of course there are exceptions and things that really do radically alter your life (“I’m not starving anymore! Yay!”) but for most of us, most of the time, will trend back to our normal moods.

This implies that the hyperstimuli in your life are not really making you any happier. Long-term, you are no happier eating hamburgers and pizza than you would be eating rice and beans, because you adjust to the presence of the hyperstimulus and downgrade to treating it like a normal stimulus. Pizza once a year is a feast. Pizza once a month is fun. Pizza every day is monotonous.

But once your brain is used to processing hyperstimuli like normal stimuli, regular stimuli look pale and boring by comparison. If you can have ice cream and cookies and hamburgers and pizza for dinner, why would you have rice and beans? Oh, sure, you know rice and beans are “better” for you. You have some sense that you’d weigh a lot less on rice and beans, and that you’d spend a lot less on food. You might even avoid a heart attack. Abstractly, these are all nice things, but rice and beans are boring. You don’t want rice and beans. You want pizza.

Of course, maybe if you’d never started eating hyperstimulating food every day in the first place, you’d think a good plate of rice with a side of nicely spiced beans was pretty nice.


11 thoughts on “Avoiding hyperstimuli

  1. If one really wanted to enjoy the flavours that come with pizza and the like.

    One would have to cut out almost all sugar and starchy foods.

    Sugar and anything that breaks down into sugar like high carb foods would have to go.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I think the addition of sugar is what helps makes so addictive as well outside of the cheese. Since we sense the sweetness that is subtly in the product

        Although grains and starchy foods break down into sugar themselves. But generally Low GI is superior to High GI in terms of the sugar release into the body.

        So wholegrain is better than not wholegrain. And Rye is superior to Wheat in that respect.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Not sure if it wouldn’t be better to say that hyperstimuli are one of the mechanisms by which hyperreality might operate.

      Hyperreality refers to a reality where references are separated from their referents.

      E.g. people’s perception of what a gunshot wound should look like isn’t informed by looking at actual gunshot wounds (mostly), but at representations thereof. Those representations themselves aren’t meant to be accurate simulations of gunshot wounds, but instead, a simulation of what a representation of gunshot should look like, which is itself informed by previous simulated gunshot wounds. As for why those media gunshot wounds aren’t an accurate depiction of reality to start with, it might be because somebody figured out a way to make gunshot wounds look cooler, i.e., hyperstimulus, which being cool, supplanted accurate depiction.

      I don’t know what exactly happened in that particular case, and I don’t actually know that movie gunshot wounds aren’t accurate, but take this as an example of how (I think) hyperreality might operate.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Certainly we get stuck in these loops where the fake version of a thing is so common that people only know the fake version and think it is real, so much so that when they actually encounter the real thing, they complain that it’s “wrong” because it’s not like the fake one.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This is why Christian and Buddhism both feature fasting.

    This recalibrates pleasure centers in the brain and allows for proper enjoyment. For example regular fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays for Eastern Orthodox.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Recommended reading: The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction Is Not A Disease.

    First, that there is no real difference between being addicted and just really liking something.

    Second, the scariest part is this. Suppose you managed to get yourself addicted to something actually healthy, like workouts, or health-neutral things like hot spicy food. Still, addiction itself, no matter how good is its target, means you are going to chase immediate satisfaction more and be less able to delay gratification i.e. it increases time-preference.

    Putting it together, it seems even with the best, healthiest things, liking them too much is dangerous and one needs to vary them in order to avoid the increasing time-preference problem.

    Which sucks, because I like routines. They allow me to do them while I think about something else.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think of “addiction” as a state where it takes more and more of the thing to get the same initial state of happiness, which leads to bad outcomes. Food is generally not addictive because it takes roughly the same amount of food to achieve satiety each time. Part of the dynamic here is that we *have* satiety signals for normal stimuli, and they get triggered when we have consumed enough of the normal thing to benefit ourselves without going overboard. Hyperstimuli have been modified in ways that mess with our normal satiety signals. For example, they might taste like nutritious food, without sending fullness signals. Or talking to someone on the internet might feel like real socializing, but without any of the real benefits of socializing in real life. So the “satiety” signal is distorted and we end up consuming incorrect quantities of this stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

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