The Great Pleasure Machine

I’ve been pondering how we’re wired to search out the truth.  Even when that truth is irrelevant to our every day existence, even when it is painful we search out the truth.

At the same time, paradoxically, we thrive on denial.  There are things we don’t admit to ourselves.  But denial isn’t the whole story.

Consider the first Matrix movie.   The characters in the movie are faced with a choice: live in the bleary, harsh, dangerous world that actually exists.  Or they can participate in a tremendous illusion, living in the safe comfort of a virtual existence that is much easier and more comfortable.

Or a thought experiment.  Suppose somebody designed a perfect pleasure machine.  While attached to this machine you can do nothing but experience unimaginable pleasure.  Would you want to spend the rest of your life attached to this thing?

Or something a little closer to home: If your spouse had an affair, would you rather live in blissful ignorance?   If your cherished grandfather was dealing crystal meth, would you rather not know?

We cheer for the characters in the matrix who operate in the real world, rather than the imaginary one.  Most of would not want to spend the rest of our waking days attached to The Great Pleasure Machine (though personally, I wouldn’t mind a few minutes.)  We would want to know about our spouse.  Or are grandfather.

I’m not saying we wouldn’t be a bit ambivalent, even tempted by not-knowing.  But overall, we want to know.

To me, the things that’s interesting, is that in some of the cases, you can’t provide a logical account as to why we want to know.  If our spouse was going to bring home a sexually transmitted disease from the affair, it’d be logical to want to know.  But suppose both your spouse and the partner are monogomous, and disease free.  I think we still want to know.

No matter what stipulations we put on these scenarios to guarentee that our ignorance won’t negatively impact us, something in us yearns for the truth.  We’d even rather be hurt by the truth than live in ignorance.

People who don’t believe that their isn’t an absolute and fundamental truth, people who suggest that we were “created” by random circumstances, I think they owe an explanation here.  It’s hard to imagine why all this would be the case if we weren’t wired this way by a truthful creator who wants us to seek him out.




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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

3 thoughts on “The Great Pleasure Machine”

  1. Truth and reality vary from person to person. Every perception is affected by your own past, your own present, and by the people around you. That said, some of us seek for the kind of truth that is seen universally, the kind of truth that says your grandfather KNOWS he’s dealing meth, the kind of truth that says there is a reason WHY your spouse is having an affair. The kind of truth that can’t be refuted. Others would rather be truthless, void, blown along… and while that seems easier, I think living in deception is much harder. Jesus shines his light so that the dark flees from it…exposing everything. That’s the truth I want in my life.


  2. Thanks for your comments, Jane.
    Mostly, I agree with you: sometimes we don’t percieve truth, often we only percieve part of it. As you say, this is determined by our life experiences.
    All of us, though, face choices about whether we’ll deny further truths or face them. I think the thing I was thinking about as I wrote this post is that it’s kind-of surprising how often people do seek out painful truths. It implies to me that we aren’t just pleasure seekers but that we’re after something more important than comfort and ease.


  3. One of the ideas I’ve come across as to why we desire to seek out the truth has to do with the evolution of our cognitive abilities.

    The idea goes like this:

    One of the big differences between humans and animals is how physically frail we are. Take the strongest, most brutal human hand-to-hand fighter and stick him in a cage with an adult male gorilla and see who wins.

    We lack the claws, teeth, tusk and pure brawn of our animal cousins. Yet we dominate the planet. Why? What is the natural weapon that allows us to do this?


    No other animal can engage in deception in quite the same way as we humans. It’s one of the things that are unique to humans, and there is an argument to be made that deception is one of the driving forces that has driven human intellectual development.

    However, this then raises the problem that one human may outperform another through the malicious application of deception. The defense to being harmed via means of deception is the will to know the truth.

    It’s almost like we’re snakes that have developed an immunity to our own potent venom.

    Like I said – it’s just an idea that could explain the innate human will to truth. On the surface, it is plausible that a hominid that is innately concerned with what is really going on in the world around them would be innoculated against being harmed by means of deciet, and thus such an instinctive will to truth might be evolved through simple naturalistic selection.

    There’s very probably some problems with this view. I’m no biologist. But it’s an interesting idea, and I think it has some merit to point out that the will to truth might be nothing more than the will to not be harmed by means of deciet.


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