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The fourth book of the year for me was Satisfaction: The Science of Finding True Fulfillment.

Buddhism says that we seek permanence, stability, and predictability. So does Gregory Berns, the author of Satisfaction. Buddhism says that, viewed from a spiritual standpoint, we achieve satisfaction by letting go of these desires. Berns says that, viewed from a neurological standpoint, we achieve satisfaction by finding novelty.

Predictability is, I think, what every animal wants; by this I mean predictability in the sense of the skill of being able to foresee, and not in the sense of a quality or description of one's environment. If you can predict what will happen in the future, even if it is just a few seconds away, then you have a substantial advantage over someone who can't make such a prediction. Prediction equals survival...

Although we would like to predict events in the world, our ambitions are more or less thwarted by the fact that we must share the world with other people... No matter how well you know another person, you can never be sure of what he or she is going to do. Of course, this makes for an unpredictable, if exciting, existence, for no other animal has a social structure as complex as humans...

If you believe that the world is unpredictable because we live in it with other people, then a straightforward way to counteract such unpredictability is to motivate humans to better their predictions. You see immediately how such a drive could lead to an evolutionary advantage, and, in the social realm, how learning to predict one another's behavior patterns, imperfect as these forecasts might be, could lead to mating with the most fit members of the opposite sex. The stronger the drive to predict, the more an individual will learn about how the world and its inhabitants operate, resulting in reproductive success and the transmission of such a drive to one's offspring.

The drive to predict leads to a single outcome in a fundamentally unpredictable world -- the need for novelty. I have come to understand novelty as the one thing that we all want.

Satisfaction helped me understand the drive for new experiences, and provided an interesting contrast to Buddhist teaching: yes, the world is unpredictable, but instead of focusing on letting go of our desire for predictability, we can recognize that evolution has wired us to derive satisfaction from activities (novel experiences and challenging achievements) that ultimately lead to better predictions on our part. I don't see the two philosophies as necessarily incompatible, but rather as different and potentially complementary strategies for dealing with the same problem.

Put another way, it turns out that my reduced desire for collecting things and my increased desire for achieving things are linked in a way I couldn't have imagined.


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