Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Contentment: A Progressive State


            Contentment is defined as a state of happiness and joy that comes from having reached a state of satisfaction. While it has been argued that this state of satisfaction could impede one’s growth, the counterclaim is instead a logical fallacy of correlation versus causation.

            Phrenological mapping, a classic case of correlation versus causation, is a pseudoscience that rose to popularity in the late 18th century. Developed by German physician Franz Joseph Gall in 1796, phrenology purported that (based on the concept that the brain is an organ of the mind) certain brain areas have localized, specific functions or modules. Today regarded as an obsolete amalgamation of primitive neuroanatomy with moral philosophy, the belief that contentment impedes one’s growth or progress is equally primitive in its understanding of “state” with respect to movement versus repair and maintenance.

            Where propositions are said to be true or false, states are said to obtain or not. In this respect, the proposition that satisfaction is not present in movement, which is associated with progress, is false. In order to support the claim that contentment is an inhibitor to progress, one must assert the following propositions:

  • ·      For progress to exist, movement must be present.
  • ·      Movement is not present in satisfaction.
  • ·      Therefore, satisfaction cannot exist in progress.

Let us consider the first two propositions:

            “For progress to exist, movement must be present.”  With respect to movement patterns in spatiotemporal data (data belong to both space and time or to space-time), the nature of progress involves movement from one space in time or state to another. Discovery and learning are direct results of movement from one state to another. As new information is presented, processing occurs. This processing is what one might call progress or expansion to include new information. In this respect, I would agree with the first proposition.

            “Movement is not present in satisfaction.”  Over the past few decades, ‘positive psychology’ has put the notion of ‘happiness’ at the forefront of scientific and psychological research. Such happiness is often described in terms of contentment or ‘life-satisfaction’, and is measured by means of self-assessments.

            Historically, desire theories evolved with the emergence of welfare economics. Pleasure and pain are inside people’s heads, thus economists began to see people’s well-being consisting in the satisfaction of preferences and desires, the content of which could be revealed by the person experiencing the state. The ranking of preferences gave rise to the development of ‘utility functions’ for individuals, and methods for assessing the value of preference-satisfaction.

            The simplest version and also the argument chosen to counter the second proposition exists in the version of desire theory called the present desire theory, according to which someone is made better off to the extent that their current desires are fulfilled. If for example one is satisfied or content with what they define as existing in a state of active and continual growth and progress, the sensation of satisfaction is operating in conjunction with progress. Just as the brain’s drainage system, called the glymphatic system, flushes fluid from the brain and spinal cord into the space between brain cells which contract at night allowing cerebrospinal fluid to rush into the brain’s interstitial space and wash away debris, so too does the state of satisfaction work as a faucet to clear out stagnant thoughts or exhaustion that arise as a direct result of being in a constant state of progressive movement. In this sense, satisfaction is an integral part of the state progress.

            Satisfaction serves progress just as sleep serves the brain’s ability to wash away toxins. Being in a constant state of movement associated with progress is akin to insomnia, the sleep disorder characterized by the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep as long as desired. Chronic insomnia can cause muscular fatigue, hallucinations, mental fatigue, and/or death, as seen in prion-based fatal familial insomnia.  

            If contentment is satisfaction’s primary task, it is an integral part of human progress that serves additional functions besides clearing out the negative effects of exhaustion associated with movement. Contentment, in this respect, is integral to well-being.

            Physical well-being must exist for progress to be sustained. Thus, the subjective interpretation of pleasurable experiences found in contentment must also exist for progress to be sustained.

            The argument for contentment as an integral aspect of progress can thus be presented as:

  • ·      For progress to exist, satisfaction must be present.
  • ·      Satisfaction is an integral aspect of progress.
  • ·      Therefore, progress cannot be sustained without satisfaction.

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