November 13, 2010

Pleasure, not calories, reduces stress

Experimental research with rats showed that those able to access occasionally sources of pleasure, such as sweet solution treats or sexually receptive partners, have lower stress levels than those who cannot, even if the same amount of calories was fed directly to stomach.

Full story at Science Daily.

This finding (somewhat self-evident, I'd dare say) left me wondering about why so many religious sects repress pleasure and I must conclude that the real reason is to create perpetually stressed adepts. Now, what's the advantage (for the sect) of perpetual stress among its flock? Are perpetually unsatisfied people more easily manipulable? I will presume so even if the exact mechanism eludes me.


  1. have lower stress levels than those who cannot, even if the same amount of calories was fed directly to stomach.

    What about drugs or cannabis?

  2. Can't say: it was not part of the experiment.

    Surely stimulants increase stress in the short run, as they increasing alertness and arousal, while tranquilizers probably decrease it (they calm you). However they have strong drawbacks such as addiction and tolerance (which makes them pointless), so they should not be abused.

    But cannabis belongs to the strange family of visionary drugs, whose effect is much more dependent on individual psychology and emotional state, hence the effect should depend highly on individual factors. For instance, if tired, pot will induce sleepiness, what doesn't happen if fresh (though also depends on dose and other factors, I guess).

    One interesting effect of pot is that often calls for sweet foods, treats (again this may depend on individual psychology and circumstances), suggestive that it might actually induce stress... or that your blood sugar levels plummet? IDK - I'm no expert.

    In general, visionary drugs depend on your mental state (and environmental influences of course). If you have heavy burden of pseudo-moral corset your mind may even break down with these drugs (though pot is not normally dangerous other more intense psychedelics can well be but only because of the risk of psychological breakdown, not addiction nor physical harm). On the positive side your mind may open to a wider perception of reality, increasing your wisdom, that's why "the doors of perception" and all that, you know. It's a risk to take consciously, as the "spiritual" challenge it is (or may become). Whatever you "see" in such circumstances is not something to fight (even if scary) but something to contemplate and accept: after all you are looking at your own mind (or soul). Whatever it is is never that bad. Having someone "wiser" by you who can remind you everything is alright may help.

    Anyhow, this is more for stronger drugs than mere pot, but experiences with pot may vary a lot, specially if new to the drug and using a strong variant. I've read that some Mexican marijuana can be almost as vision-inducing as peyote but normally you just stay by a half-open door with pot: nothing too revealing.

    Yet its visionary effect may be enhanced with yoga, I know that firsthand. And I know that it's a drug of choice among Indian babas, right?

  3. Maybe I should qualify my assessment of pot as purely visionary. It is possible that it also has some calming effect, but it's diffuse. It's not your typical "peace drug" as opiates or alcohol, really, and it can get you nervous as well (something tranquilizers simply do not).

  4. "Now, what's the advantage (for the sect) of perpetual stress among its flock?"

    Doesn't stress make brainwashing easier? I remember reading a book on the subject way back in the sixties. Can't remember the title.

  5. I know that it was experimentally demonstrated in rats that the creation of a "helplessness" situation weakens the psychological defenses and renders the subject apathetic. This is used in torture, when they first "work you out" without even asking any questions or giving you any choices: they are just rendering you helpless.

    It's different however, albeit related maybe.

    But it is very possible that a perpetually stressed mind cannot think clearly. So you may be right in this.

  6. "why so many religious sects repress pleasure"

    This may be a case of selective sampling. There isn't all the much evidence that Indo-European polytheism was anti-pleasure per se, even if it may have had elements of ritual purity associated with it. Nor is there much evidence for pleasure repression in animistic faiths.

    In Western religion asceticism seems to shows up around the time of the Essenes in Judaism, and a little early with the pagan Stoics in Greco-Roman religious thinking, via these roots it ends up in Christianity and Islam. It shows up in the East around the same time as the Stoics (perhaps a little earlier) in Buddhism, and isn't a real obvious feature of Zoroastrianism (a couple hundred years earlier than Buddhism). It isn't obviously a feature of either the Shinto or Confucian traditions in the East. So, basically, rejection of pleasure as a religious idea dates to the Mediterreanean and India ca. 5th-2nd centuries BCE.

    Perhaps before then, it wasn't necessary to disavow pleasure via religion because pleasure wasn't widespread enough to be a social issue.

    Early on the idea seems related to a desire for mental clarity and insight. Perhaps this traces to the rising importance of scholarly culture where too much debauchery distracts from one's studies.

  7. Buddhism isn't really stoic or ascetic but choses the middle path, one without the (alleged) errors of the extremes Buddha experienced (according to legend) in his life (first princely hedonism and then probably Jain-style ascetism).

    Anyhow I'm not sure if the ascetic path to illumination has not existed intermittently in various cultures and contexts. It seems difficult to discern this matter before written history really. One can well say that vestal virgins were extremely ascetic and similar sacred figures have existed and exist in other cultures/religions. Roman morality was quite ascetic in origin anyhow, and Spartans were certainly so, even if for mundane reasons.

    However you may well be right in that Christianism, and specially Islam I'd say, represent a temporary success of such extremist doctrines. Yet, you still see monks indulging in the pleasures allowed by doctrine (i.e. not opium or cannabis or sex but certainly alcohol and all kinds sensual food). On the other side Muslims may indulge in legal promiscuity (polygyny) or drugs other than the forbidden Spirit of the Devil (alcohol), such as opium or cannabis (the drug of choice of Bosniak fighters for instance in the 1990s).

    Even the most extremist ascetic doctrines seem to acknowledge the practical need to let most adepts if not all, some escape. An extreme case is that of the sympathetic Cathars of Occitania, who were led by an ascetic class called "perfects" but allowed about everything to common adepts, whose destiny was reincarnation... until they could reach perfection. Sadly the first crusade against dissident Christians was against them and they were exterminated.


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