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kevbo's avatar

What is it with our propensity to continuously distill experiences?

Asked by kevbo (25672points) December 2nd, 2009

I’ve thought about this question before but was inspired to ask it after watching “Big Wave Riders”, a documentary about the evolution of big wave (20+ ft) surfing. The documentary begins by explaining that native Hawaiians (and other islanders, I imagine) surfed conventionally for nearly a millennia. Then, westerners discovered surfing and within 10 or 20 years there were 2 million surfers and surfing pioneers seeking bigger and bigger waves until we’re to the point that the biggest waves surfed require specialized boards and jet skis to tow the surfer into the wave (because the waves move too fast to paddle into).

What caused us to accelerate the surfing experience?

Same thing with drugs. Traditional Columbians treat the cocoa leaf as a gift from nature/God and a natural stimulant. We turn it into crack. A recent UK article talks about the increased risks of psychosis from “skunk” weed that contains 5 times the THC as old school marijuana (and has all but replaced old school marijuana in the marketplace).

Why does our culture value the extreme experience over the “normative” or natural experience and why (presumably) are other cultures content with what they’ve had historically?

A related thought—I heard this woman being interviewed on our local public radio and she talked about how western children will say they think with their brains and Tibetan (i.e. eastern) children will say they think with their hearts. What does it look like to think with your heart, and is this the essential difference?

Hell, even Fluther is like conversation on steroids. I have nothing to say to a lot of people IRL because there’s no new or relevant information to exchange.

Put the puzzle together for me.

edit:: I guess the availability/application of technology is a common denominator/catalyst among everything I mentioned. Is that it or is there more

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16 Answers

kevbo's avatar

I mean … more?

LostInParadise's avatar

There are a number of us who feel as though something is terribly wrong. I find in my advancing years that I have become something of a Luddite. Do we need all this complicated gadgetry? What have we gained from it all? Do people actually enjoy eating McDonald’s hamburgers? I find myself half hoping that we will run out of energy. Then we will have to live and work closer together in something that may actually resemble a community. Maybe things would slow down and people would go back to enjoying the simpler things in life.

unit's avatar

@LostInParadise well said indeed.

Blondesjon's avatar

A lot of folks do enjoy the simpler things in life.

In response to your question, I believe we have a genetic predisposition to always improve on things (good or bad like there is such a distinction). The better we can make our castles, weapons, and medicines, the better chance we have at survival. Everything else is just a byproduct of that drive.

John Henry proved that a man could beat a steam engine but it killed him in the end and didn’t change a damn thing for the steam engine.

gemiwing's avatar

As far as drugs and ‘improving’ on natural designs, I think it has to do with the fact that in those cultures where the cocoa originates, they have a cultural reference for it. They have ceremonies and procedure- where we have none of that emotional importance to it. It’s just yet another thing for us to use and toss.

As far as the brain/heart goes. That I would chalk up to cultural and linguistic expression. Western society does think with it’s heart, they would simply never describe it as such. Think=brain- full stop.

amnorvend's avatar

This isn’t anything that’s unique to Western culture. In Japan, people are never content with what they have, they always want more and thus have some pretty amazing technology. And just about everywhere around the world has had its fair share of leaders who want to take over the world and thus try to dominate everything.

Every culture (including ours) has people who want new things and people who want to keep things the way they are. I suppose that a case can be made that some cultures are more influenced by one camp than the other, but as I’ve stated that’s hardly anything uncommon.

Harp's avatar

Fundamentally, it’s greed.

There’s a difference between looking for better ways of doing things and continually seeking stronger and more rarefied experiences (though it’s easy to cross over from the former into the latter). Americans have, by and large, lost the ability to say “enough” because that word has been purged from our vocabulary by decades of conditioning. Our consumer culture is based on the premise that there’s always something better and more fulfilling out there on the horizon. Contentment with what we already have is the mortal enemy of consumer capitalism. We’re all plugged into the greed machine, to varying degrees.

That same spirit of restless discontent applies just as well to the realm of peak experiences as to material goods. One can become a collector of evermore superlative experiences, each instantly becoming “not enough”.

gemiwing's avatar

@Harp here is an interesting article on ‘enough’ and how it relates to technology. It’s long but a good read.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Because we’re priveleged enough to say ‘let’s do this, because we can…’
Because some people find meaning in pushing their limits
Because others have no meaning in life and feel so numb that they need bigger and better jolts

nikipedia's avatar

Maybe this is about individual diversity. You an assume that any group of individuals will cluster around a mean, but as you expand your group to make it larger and larger you will start to get an increasing number of individuals at the high and low extremes. These people (at the extreme end) may be seeking out the same sense of enjoyment from an activity (surfing, cocaine) that other people are seeking, but they need MORE to derive the same pleasure from it.

I say this because not all surfers are these extreme surfers you describe, just as not all runners are ultramarathoners and not all people who like to get high do it by smoking crack. It seems to me these boundaries are being pushed by a subset of participants, and they are not necessarily reshaping the terrain of activity for all participants.

mammal's avatar

the ability to pick the choice fruits of an alien culture, isolate it, extract its essence, bottle it, import it back home and generate a dependency, is the fundamental basis of Imperialism, i’m thinking here; coffee, sugar, tobacco even surfing… for thinking with the heart….<3 = :o)

RedPowerLady's avatar

I think it has to do a bit with cultural appropriation. “Outsiders” come into other cultures and take their ways of life without understanding what they are taking. Then they use it however they want which deludes the entire experience.

drClaw's avatar

All comes down to this

Blondesjon's avatar

@Harp . . . you just described my drinking habit

ninjacolin's avatar

go harpy go harpy go!

i think it’s a matter of artistic endeavor. Art being a measure of uniqueness, humans simply seek art or unique positive experiences in all that they do. In some cases it’s a matter of personal uniqueness, for example, making more money than you ever made before or surfing the biggest wave you have ever surfed before. In other cases, it’s a matter of global uniqueness. For example, setting world records. It’s not really a matter of extremes that are sought so much as it is a matter of unique experiences. It’s the pursuit of positive originality.

rawbylaw's avatar

@mammal those damn imperialists! exploitin, pilferin and all is one thing, but generating a surfing dependancy, that’s just wrong!

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