Paul Bloom - Essentialism and The Origins of Pleasure

If I tried to sell you the painting to the right for a hefty sum, I'm pretty sure you'd think it wasn't worth your time, or that I was trying to pull your leg. Never mind the artistic talent and effort that indubitably went into the piece, you'd argue it's obviously a forgery and hence not worth very much. But why should that matter?

In the following TEDTalk presentation, and using famous and fascinating examples from scientific studies and experiments, psychologist Paul Bloom argues that human beings are natural-born essentialists: we project meaning to our experiences way beyond the information we receive from our senses. Of course, Hume and Kant made that point about 300 years ago, but sometimes it takes science a little while (or a few centuries) to catch up to philosophy :)

Anyway, this is why the placebo effect is so powerful, why our expectations shade our perceptual experiences (like why we think more expensive stuff tastes better) and why we hold on to superstitious beliefs such as the idea that objects have some unchanging essence or sine qua non that gives them their unique identity. And it all starts with a hilarious story about that Nazi bastard Hermann Goering...

And if you want to see how easily people can be fooled by fancy names and brands, check out how Penn & Teller do it.
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