premature exploitation: popping the bubbles a little too soon

The Embarrassing Problem of Premature Exploitation

Babies love putting things in their mouths: dirt, insects, bits of grass, their own poo. They have no sense of fear or self-preservation, and come up with endlessly creative ways to place themselves in mortal peril. Once they learn to talk, their constant experimentation with the world transcends the physical to the philosophical. They want to know everything. They are bottomless pits of curiosity, with very little in the way of attention span or self-discipline. Your typical two-year-old can only concentrate on a task for six minutes at a time. Young children are not self-aware enough to feel much in the way of shame, or embarrassment. Nothing is off-limits. In a word, very young people spend almost all of their time exploring.

The elderly are set in their ways. The only foreign objects they put in their mouths are dentures and hard caramels; occasionally followed by a fork to extricate said caramels from said dentures. They tend to have stable routines, rituals, hobbies, and social circles. They rarely try new things or experiment with new identities. They’ve lived long enough to know what they’re about, and they intend to wring out every ounce of enjoyment before the curtains come down. In a word, very old people spend almost all of their time exploiting.

The ‘explore-exploit’ constraint is one of the most useful ideas I’ve come across…

The Brave New World of Wireheading

The rat’s paw moves constantly, sometimes becoming a blur as it depresses the lever over and over. Once, twice, ten times, a hundred times, five thousand times in the space of an hour. With each push, an electrode sends a jolt of electricity coursing through its tiny rodent brain. The rat will push the lever for as long as 24 hours without stopping. It won’t eat, or sleep, or make any effort to leave the confines of its stainless steel cage. Unless the men in white lab coats cut off the current, it will stimulate itself to death.

It’s 1954, and science has just stumbled upon the brain’s pleasure center. Heady days! The excited researchers repeat the experiment on monkeys, and find, again, they can reach right into the hypothalamus and light it up like a Christmas tree, transforming their subjects into blissed-out automatons. The seminal paper concludes that these results could “very likely be generalized eventually to human beings—with modifications, of course”.

Of course…

The 100 Books Challenge: A love letter to reading

The 100 Books Challenge (A Love Letter to Reading)

As a small human being, I made fortnightly trips to the public library with a garbage sack slung over my shoulder. Not a tote, not a grocery bag; a big ol’ garbage sack. Short stories, novellas, comics, teen fiction, non-fiction – all of it disappeared into the sack’s insatiable maw.

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