Burning fire - Warming fire

The word "epicurean" is relatively famous. We wrongly believe that the Greek philosopher used to glorify round the clock unrestrained pleasure. It is not true for Epicurus defined 3 distinct types of desires :

  1. natural and necessary desires : nature provides us with all we need to fulfill them. Their satisfaction brings pleasure, their dissatisfaction triggers pain and damages. For instance it feels good to breath, being deprived  from air is a deadly torture.

  2. natural non-necessary desires : it feels good to satisfy them but lacking them does not make a special impact, except maybe on psychology. For instance if my crush doesn't feel the same about me, it can be deeply painful but if I find a way to let go then I will overcome the sadness.

  3. neither natural nor necessary desires : it is  pure pleasure with no other purpose but to excite the body, the heart or the head. They are useless. If we have too much of them it can hurt badly. The examples are countless. Sugar, tobacco and alcohol. What do they bring ? A brief and intense joy, a sad comedown, the need, the habituation that requires higher doses, the addiction which enslaves, the body wearing out, often illness, sometimes death.


We must satisfy the first type of desires whereas the non-necessary ones have to be assessed wisely. Is their satisfaction likely to harm other people or oneself ? Can it possibly do harm in the long term ? Is it possible to find greater pleasure by refraining from them ?

Pain wipes pleasure away. It must be avoided for it is the sign that we are moving away from happiness. Yet some pains can bring worthy pleasures. Running away from some kind of pains brings nothing but a vain and temporary relief. We will all die sooner or later, this pain is inevitable.

Therefore it seems to me that Epicurus consider the pleasure to be like a compass that points towards a happy life. Pain shows that we are going the wrong way. The reason watches to avoid the deceiving pleasures and accept the rewarding pains.

This philosophy of life reminds me of Dr Lustig's work. He claims that the more pleasure we get, the more we drift away from happiness. Pleasure is instant, ephemeral, intense, solitary, followed by a comedown. Happiness live longer, it requires patience, choices, contact with others, it fluctuates smoothly, continuously.

The peak of pleasure releases a great amount of dopamine in the brain, whereas happiness produces serotonin. If the dopamine rushes are too frequent then the brain cells overdose, they are damaged so they less and less able to capture both serotonin and dopamine. As a result we need higher doses to get the same pleasure and we become less ans less fit for happiness.

It seems to me that pleasure brings joy, happiness also brings joy but these are 2 different kind of joys. One of them burns the brain when the other warms softly. The joy burns when we seek pure pleasure by activating the reward circuit in the brain. The joy warms when it stems from an activity, a person, a situation in which we get absorbed wholeheartedly. In one case we artificially reward ourselves for no reason. In the other case the reward comes naturally because the context overflows with satisfaction.

I can see a parallel with calories. We are made to believe that the amount of calories intake matters which is not quite true because there are "empty calories" as opposed to "filled calories". The filled calories are for instance brought by a fruit fully eaten. Sugar comes along with water, minerals, vitamins, fibers, proteins, oligo-elements. The body can correctly use that complete package. The empty calories come from instance from the candy, so colourful, so scented. The abundant and concentrated sugar comes aboard alone.

The body doesn't know what to do with such a high quantity of raw fuel. Storing in the form of fat or dump it all in the blood stream ? The liver is overbooked. As the body needs resources to digest, it draws on our reserves of minerals and vitamins. In addition to unbalancing the blood sugar level, the candy is also likely to cause deficiencies.

The artificially empty calories "burn" the organism and its precious stockpiles. The naturally filled calories  "warm" the body by providing it with energy and refilling the stockpiles.

Another parallel comes to my mind because a similar phenomenon occurs in the media. The dedicated journalists report the words and facts that they have witnessed, optionally adding their own analysis. How will the people react to the news ? No one knows. This kind of information is full of details and food for thoughts, it can bring about revelations and debates.

Some other journalists only look for the buzz. They truncate the facts, they take quotes out of their context, these artificial and concentrated extracts hit the headlines. Their aim is not to inform but rather to trigger strong emotions in order to sell more paper and selfishly earn a lot of money. That kind of press "ignites" the general public.


On the one hand there is communication that is stripped of its substance, artificially concentrated, which burn by exclusively targeting emotion. It is intense, it is hot, it divides the people, the comedown ensues, leaving a bitter taste and the need for a stronger new buzz because the previous one had us so immunized that nothing surprises us anymore. On the other hand lies communication that warms because it informs. It takes time to be crafted and time to be integrated. The emotion that it generates fits into a whole context which makes it a collective engine instead of turning us into a self-destructing pyre.

As we can see, this pattern can be found in many fields of life. Physique, emotional or mental energy burns when it is artificially concentrated. The energy warms when it is naturally whole.

Things are not so sharply separated in real life. Countless shades of joys are inextricably entangled. Therefore caution must prevail in the walks of life that arouse strong emotions like sport, politics or religion. When the lack or excess of pleasure leads to physical, emotional or mental violence against oneself or others then it becomes urgent to scrutinize the relevant desires, on the basis of Epicurus classification for instance.

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