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  • I'm going to talk today

  • about the pleasures of everyday life.

  • But I want to begin with a story

  • of an unusual and terrible man.

  • This is Hermann Goering.

  • Goering was Hitler's second in command in World War II,

  • his designated successor.

  • And like Hitler,

  • Goering fancied himself a collector of art.

  • He went through Europe, through World War II,

  • stealing, extorting and occasionally buying

  • various paintings for his collection.

  • And what he really wanted was something by Vermeer.

  • Hitler had two of them, and he didn't have any.

  • So he finally found an art dealer,

  • a Dutch art dealer named Han van Meegeren,

  • who sold him a wonderful Vermeer

  • for the cost of what would now be 10 million dollars.

  • And it was his favorite artwork ever.

  • World War II came to an end,

  • and Goering was captured, tried at Nuremberg

  • and ultimately sentenced to death.

  • Then the Allied forces went through his collections

  • and found the paintings

  • and went after the people who sold it to him.

  • And at some point the Dutch police came into Amsterdam

  • and arrested Van Meegeren.

  • Van Meegeren was charged with the crime of treason,

  • which is itself punishable by death.

  • Six weeks into his prison sentence,

  • van Meegeren confessed.

  • But he didn't confess to treason.

  • He said, "I did not sell a great masterpiece

  • to that Nazi.

  • I painted it myself; I'm a forger."

  • Now nobody believed him.

  • And he said, "I'll prove it.

  • Bring me a canvas and some paint,

  • and I will paint a Vermeer much better

  • than I sold that disgusting Nazi.

  • I also need alcohol and morphine, because it's the only way I can work."

  • (Laughter)

  • So they brought him in.

  • He painted a beautiful Vermeer.

  • And then the charges of treason were dropped.

  • He had a lesser charge of forgery,

  • got a year sentence

  • and died a hero to the Dutch people.

  • There's a lot more to be said about van Meegeren,

  • but I want to turn now to Goering,

  • who's pictured here being interrogated at Nuremberg.

  • Now Goering was, by all accounts, a terrible man.

  • Even for a Nazi, he was a terrible man.

  • His American interrogators described him

  • as an amicable psychopath.

  • But you could feel sympathy

  • for the reaction he had

  • when he was told that his favorite painting

  • was actually a forgery.

  • According to his biographer,

  • "He looked as if for the first time

  • he had discovered there was evil in the world."

  • (Laughter)

  • And he killed himself soon afterwards.

  • He had discovered after all

  • that the painting he thought was this

  • was actually that.

  • It looked the same,

  • but it had a different origin, it was a different artwork.

  • It wasn't just him who was in for a shock.

  • Once van Meegeren was on trial, he couldn't stop talking.

  • And he boasted about all the great masterpieces

  • that he himself had painted

  • that were attributed to other artists.

  • In particular, "The Supper at Emmaus"

  • which was viewed as Vermeer's finest masterpiece, his best work --

  • people would come [from] all over the world to see it --

  • was actually a forgery.

  • It was not that painting, but that painting.

  • And when that was discovered,

  • it lost all its value and was taken away from the museum.

  • Why does this matter?

  • I'm a psychologists -- why do origins matter so much?

  • Why do we respond so much

  • to our knowledge of where something comes from?

  • Well there's an answer that many people would give.

  • Many sociologists like Veblen and Wolfe

  • would argue that the reason why we take origins so seriously

  • is because we're snobs, because we're focused on status.

  • Among other things,

  • if you want to show off how rich you are, how powerful you are,

  • it's always better to own an original than a forgery

  • because there's always going to be fewer originals than forgeries.

  • I don't doubt that that plays some role,

  • but what I want to convince you of today

  • is that there's something else going on.

  • I want to convince you

  • that humans are, to some extent, natural born essentialists.

  • What I mean by this

  • is we don't just respond to things as we see them,

  • or feel them, or hear them.

  • Rather, our response is conditioned on our beliefs,

  • about what they really are, what they came from,

  • what they're made of, what their hidden nature is.

  • I want to suggest that this is true,

  • not just for how we think about things,

  • but how we react to things.

  • So I want to suggest that pleasure is deep --

  • and that this isn't true

  • just for higher level pleasures like art,

  • but even the most seemingly simple pleasures

  • are affected by our beliefs about hidden essences.

  • So take food.

  • Would you eat this?

  • Well, a good answer is, "It depends. What is it?"

  • Some of you would eat it if it's pork, but not beef.

  • Some of you would eat it if it's beef, but not pork.

  • Few of you would eat it if it's a rat

  • or a human.

  • Some of you would eat it only if it's a strangely colored piece of tofu.

  • That's not so surprising.

  • But what's more interesting

  • is how it tastes to you

  • will depend critically on what you think you're eating.

  • So one demonstration of this was done with young children.

  • How do you make children

  • not just be more likely to eat carrots and drink milk,

  • but to get more pleasure from eating carrots and drinking milk --

  • to think they taste better?

  • It's simple, you tell them they're from McDonald's.

  • They believe McDonald's food is tastier,

  • and it leads them to experience it as tastier.

  • How do you get adults to really enjoy wine?

  • It's very simple:

  • pour it from an expensive bottle.

  • There are now dozens, perhaps hundreds of studies showing

  • that if you believe you're drinking the expensive stuff,

  • it tastes better to you.

  • This was recently done with a neuroscientific twist.

  • They get people into a fMRI scanner,

  • and while they're lying there, through a tube,

  • they get to sip wine.

  • In front of them on a screen is information about the wine.

  • Everybody, of course,

  • drinks exactly the same wine.

  • But if you believe you're drinking expensive stuff,

  • parts of the brain associated with pleasure and reward

  • light up like a Christmas tree.

  • It's not just that you say it's more pleasurable, you say you like it more,

  • you really experience it in a different way.

  • Or take sex.

  • These are stimuli I've used in some of my studies.

  • And if you simply show people these pictures,

  • they'll say these are fairly attractive people.

  • But how attractive you find them,

  • how sexually or romantically moved you are by them,

  • rests critically on who you think you're looking at.

  • You probably think the picture on the left is male,

  • the one on the right is female.

  • If that belief turns out to be mistaken, it will make a difference.

  • (Laughter)

  • It will make a difference if they turn out to be

  • much younger or much older than you think they are.

  • It will make a difference if you were to discover

  • that the person you're looking at with lust

  • is actually a disguised version of your son or daughter,

  • your mother or father.

  • Knowing somebody's your kin typically kills the libido.

  • Maybe one of the most heartening findings

  • from the psychology of pleasure

  • is there's more to looking good than your physical appearance.

  • If you like somebody, they look better to you.

  • This is why spouses in happy marriages

  • tend to think that their husband or wife

  • looks much better than anyone else thinks that they do.

  • (Laughter)

  • A particularly dramatic example of this

  • comes from a neurological disorder known as Capgras syndrome.

  • So Capgras syndrome is a disorder

  • where you get a specific delusion.

  • Sufferers of Capgras syndrome

  • believe that the people they love most in the world

  • have been replaced by perfect duplicates.

  • Now often, a result of Capgras syndrome is tragic.

  • People have murdered those that they loved,

  • believing that they were murdering an imposter.

  • But there's at least one case

  • where Capgras syndrome had a happy ending.

  • This was recorded in 1931.

  • "Research described a woman with Capgras syndrome

  • who complained about her poorly endowed and sexually inadequate lover."

  • But that was before she got Capgras syndrome.

  • After she got it, "She was happy to report

  • that she has discovered that he possessed a double

  • who was rich, virile, handsome and aristocratic."

  • Of course, it was the same man,

  • but she was seeing him in different ways.

  • As a third example,

  • consider consumer products.

  • So one reason why you might like something is its utility.

  • You can put shoes on your feet; you can play golf with golf clubs;

  • and chewed up bubble gum doesn't do anything at all for you.

  • But each of these three objects has value

  • above and beyond what it can do for you

  • based on its history.

  • The golf clubs were owned by John F. Kennedy

  • and sold for three-quarters of a million dollars at auction.

  • The bubble gum was chewed up by pop star Britney Spears

  • and sold for several hundreds of dollars.

  • And in fact, there's a thriving market

  • in the partially eaten food of beloved people.

  • (Laughter)

  • The shoes are perhaps the most valuable of all.

  • According to an unconfirmed report,

  • a Saudi millionaire offered 10 million dollars

  • for this pair of shoes.

  • They were the ones thrown at George Bush

  • at an Iraqi press conference several years ago.

  • (Applause)

  • Now this attraction to objects

  • doesn't just work for celebrity objects.

  • Each one of us, most people,

  • have something in our life that's literally irreplaceable,

  • in that it has value because of its history --

  • maybe your wedding ring, maybe your child's baby shoes --

  • so that if it was lost, you couldn't get it back.

  • You could get something that looked like it or felt like it,

  • but you couldn't get the same object back.

  • With my colleagues George Newman and Gil Diesendruck,

  • we've looked to see what sort of factors, what sort of history, matters

  • for the objects that people like.

  • So in one of our experiments,

  • we asked people to name a famous person who they adored,

  • a living person they adored.

  • So one answer was George Clooney.

  • Then we asked them,

  • "How much would you pay for George Clooney's sweater?"

  • And the answer is a fair amount --

  • more than you would pay for a brand new sweater

  • or a sweater owned by somebody who you didn't adore.

  • Then we asked other groups of subjects --

  • we gave them different restrictions

  • and different conditions.

  • So for instance, we told some people,

  • "Look, you can buy the sweater,

  • but you can't tell anybody you own it,

  • and you can't resell it."

  • That drops the value of it,

  • suggesting that that's one reason why we like it.

  • But what really causes an effect

  • is you tell people, "Look, you could resell it, you could boast about it,

  • but before it gets to you,