The Psychology of Bliss

From The New York Times:

Henig-sub-popup In 2003, a German computer expert named Armin Meiwes advertised online for someone to kill and then eat. Incredibly, 200 people replied, and Meiwes chose a man named Bernd Brandes. One night, in Meiwes’s farmhouse, Brandes took some sleeping pills and drank some schnapps and was still awake when Meiwes cut off his penis, fried it in olive oil and offered him some to eat. Brandes then retreated to the bathtub, bleeding profusely. Meiwes stabbed him in the neck, chopped him up and stored him in the freezer. Over the next several weeks, he defrosted and sautéed 44 pounds of Brandes, eating him by candlelight with his best cutlery.

Hold on a minute. Why does this story appear in “How Pleasure Works,” a book whose jacket copy promises a “new understanding of pleasure, desire and value”? If this is a “new under­standing,” maybe we’ll just stick with the old one, thank you very much. For heaven’s sake, we’re only on Chapter 2, and already we’re deep into cannibalism, compounded by a suicidal-masochistic impulse. Still to come are such topics as rubber vomit, human grimacing contests and monkey pornography. But stick with it and trust the author, Paul Bloom, to use these weird digressions to get us someplace interesting. Bloom, a professor of psychology at Yale, has written a book that is different from the slew already out there on the general subject of happiness. No advice here about how to become happier by organizing your closets; Bloom is after something deeper than the mere stuff of feeling good. He analyzes how our minds have evolved certain cognitive tricks that help us negotiate the physical and social world — and how those tricks lead us to derive pleasure in some rather unexpected places.

More here.