Inner Peace and Freedom – Chapter 15: Anything that makes you feel pleasure will surely make you suffer

If a person’s desires can be endlessly satisfied, their destruction is not far away.

Humanity has a basic characteristic: we tend to rely on things that make us feel pleasure. So, how does pleasure arise?

In the human brain, there is a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which is a chemical that helps cells send signals. When individuals experience external stimuli and their latent attachment, desire, greed, and avarice are satisfied, dopamine will be released in large amounts. For instance, a hug, a compliment, or a daydream can trigger an increase in dopamine levels.

When the external stimuli are strong enough to satisfy a person’s desires and temporarily alleviate the hidden suffering of not getting what one wants, they experience a sense of relaxation and relief in their senses, which is pleasure.

Arvid Carlsson’s discovery of dopamine as a neurotransmitter in the brain earned him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2000. Dopamine is associated with various addictions. Excessive dopamine release can cause damage to the brain, heart, and blood vessels.

The shallow experiences of pleasure include jokes, delicious food, teasing, praise, rubbernecking, or even fear. Moderate experiences include smoking, gaming, or undergoing cosmetic surgery. Deeper experiences include sexual activities, excessive gambling, or drug use, commonly referred to as “sex, gambling, and drugs”.

Comparing these three, if sex increases dopamine levels by 100%, cocaine elevates dopamine by 350%, and methamphetamine leads to nearly 1200% increase. Thus, it’s very hard to quit drugs.

The world is becoming increasingly open and unrestrained. People are constantly seeking various pleasurable experiences on the internet, such as dating, entertainment, gaming, gossip, and secrets.

What is alarming is that anything that brings you pleasure will surely bring you suffering as well.

For example, beautiful women, delicious food, sweet words, tobacco, alcohol, and drugs can bring a sense of pleasure, but they can also cause harm: delicious food can lead to weight gain and health issues, sweet words can make people lose themselves and disconnect from reality, beautiful women can trigger desire and make people lose their minds. Not to mention the side effects of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. This is also mentioned in the Tao Te Ching: “The five colors blind eyes, the five sounds deafen ears.”

Even more terrifying is that when dopamine is often overproduced, the threshold for experiencing pleasure will be surpassed, leading to desensitization to pleasure.

As the threshold keeps rising, if a person wants to continuously experience pleasure, they must constantly intensify the level of stimuli. They need to be stimulated more continuously and intensely to continue experiencing pleasure.

For example, some people start smoking at one pack every two days, then progress to one pack per day, two packs per day, and eventually reach a point where they even need to smoke two cigarettes at once to get the feeling. Similarly, those who enjoy spicy food may find themselves craving increasingly spicier dishes.

This pattern applies to all addictions such as gaming, drug use, and gambling.

There is an experiment like this: an electrode is implanted in the brain of a mouse, and the mouse is allowed to press a pedal to deliver an electrical stimulation. With each press, the electrode stimulates the dopamine-producing neurons, causing excitement. As a result, the mouse presses the pedal at a rate of several hundred times per minute until it becomes exhausted and dies.

The feeling of pleasure can be engineered. What is most terrifying in this era is that the feeling of pleasure can be engineered by modern technology and algorithms.

For instance, there are more and more entertainment apps, and what lies at the core of most apps? Behind each app, there is a powerful team employing cutting-edge technology (AR+VR) and leveraging greater computing and data processing capabilities (cloud computing+big data). Through various means such as sound, light, interaction, and feedback, they use algorithm-driven precise recommendation systems guided by various theories in psychology, consumer behavior, neuroscience, etc. They continuously bombard you with stimuli, satisfy your every desire, and give you constant pleasure, making you increasingly dependent on them.

In the eyes of capitalists, there is only money and profit, but no humanity and righteousness. Metrics such as registrations, daily active users (DAU), monthly active users (MAU), and average online time determine the value of an app. Nowadays, there is no app that is not measured by these standards.

If a person’s desires can be endlessly satisfied, their destruction is not far away.

The internet is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it provides us with various conveniences; on the other hand, it also offers various junk content, such as vulgar shows on live streaming platforms, misleading talent shows or reality shows, perplexing fantasy novels, etc.

The logic behind them is based on endlessly satisfying human desires. Never before has anything been able to comprehend human nature as thoroughly as the internet.

The foreword of Amusing Ourselves to Death says: “Those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism… the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance…. we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumble puppy…”

Those capitalists or businessmen take advantage of their discourse power to create an “information bubble” around you, trapping you in the world they create, such as various holiday sales, brainwashing advertisements, and manipulative tactics designed to lure you in.

In this era of free information dissemination, all kinds of vulgar information permeate every corner, such as belligerence, idolizing celebrities, stock trading, gossip, violence, rubbernecking, and abuse, all triggering and fulfilling various dark aspects of human nature and desires.

Everyone yearns for freedom, but if there is no education and constraints in law and morality, and no study and practice in self-discipline, freedom can only lead to decadence, diseases, and even destruction.

Dopamine plays a role in regulating various physiological functions of the central nervous system. However, when dopamine is overproduced for a long period, it can lead to disruptions in neural regulation, resulting in various disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, chronic multiple tic disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), pituitary tumors, etc.

Relying solely on self-discipline and self-cultivation is not enough; there must be a regulation mechanism in society to restrain the dark side of human nature and nurture its bright side.

We firmly support the state’s control over the internet and entertainment industry because without such regulations, people’s lives would become polluted and they would sink deeper and deeper.

The most fundamental teaching in Chinese culture is self-discipline, which essentially means to properly control one’s desires. However, nowadays, very few people proactively restrain their desires. When most people choose to be numbed, only very few people choose self-discipline and patience.

Only those who use strong willpower to overcome desire and anger can achieve spiritual awakening, transcendence, and elevation. It is often these determined individuals who never follow the crowd and can accomplish great things.

Good medicine tastes bitter, and honest advice is hard to accept. I hope you who watch this lecture will strive to learn self-discipline, not cling to pleasure and excitement, cultivate and strengthen your independent thinking ability, continuously study and work hard in your dedicated fields, and become pillars of the future.

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