Why are expensive things expensive

Column "What knowledge creates" : Why we love the real - even if it's expensive

People do strange things. They buy a Rolex watch for 10,000 euros, although they could buy a copy on the Internet for 200 euros. In 2006, a wealthy collector paid $ 140 million for an abstract painting by American artist Jackson Pollock. A relatively easy to imitate work of yellow, gray, black and brown paint splatters. Bottled water labeled with well-known brand names is a billion dollar business, although the same product off the tap is almost free.

What is behind this behavior? Yale University psychologist Paul Bloom believes he has found a cause. He thinks that man is an essentialist. That means that we suspect a being behind things, behind their surface. A true nature. Just an essence. If we can get hold of them, we will find pleasure and satisfaction, says Bloom. So it has to be the real Pollock, the original.

Perrier tastes better knowing it's Perrier

In his book "How Pleasure Works" (German: "Sex and Art and Chocolate", Spektrum Akademischer Verlag), Bloom cites the example of the Perrier boss from North America, who only tasted his mineral water from seven varieties on the radio on the fifth try . Chances are, he'll continue to think his product is the best bottled water out there. “Perrier tastes great,” comments Bloom, ironically. "But to really appreciate it, you have to know that it's Perrier."

Eating and drinking, love and sex, enjoying literature and music, engaging in religion and science - in all of these activities Bloom also sees the desire for essence in the game. Those who love turn to the essence of a person and do not value them (only) because of their appearance, their income or their intelligence quotient. We would probably reject the genetically identical copy, a clone, as a replacement. Everyone has their own essence that cannot be divided or copied. The scientist takes pleasure in exploring the deeper reality beyond the superficial. And at the Lord's Supper the believer symbolically takes in the body of Jesus or worships relics, because the “essence” of the holy clings to them.

It is quite conceivable that we humans owe our “focus on the essentials” to our evolutionary heritage. For our ancestors in the African savannah, it could have been lifesaving in many ways to quickly fall back on “ready-made” categories. For example, associating the twitching in the grass with a poisonous snake, the appearance of a lion's mane in acute danger or hoof prints in the mud with a nourishing herd of antelopes. In other words: The pigeonhole thinking, which is rightly frowned upon today, was one day of vital importance. And it is not surprising that the psychologist Bloom found a tendency to categorize even in young children.

With the realm of ideas, Plato creates a world beyond the world

The first to reveal the hidden essences of things was Plato. With his theory of ideas, the ancient Greek philosopher gave them a philosophical foundation. There are plenty of chairs, but also the “idea” of the chair, its essence in an ideal form. Plato's world of ideas can also be found in the natural sciences, for example in the periodic table of the elements.

But ideas can also captivate the mind. The Harvard biologist Ernst Mayr, the father of modern evolutionary theory, identified Plato's idea of ​​immutable and timeless beings as one of the reasons why Darwin's theory was initially difficult to establish. Biologists, too, have long believed in unchangeable "types" of living beings. The fact that species change and new ones gradually emerge from old ones violated Plato's rule. Another example of questionable clinging to strange categories is classifying people into races and skin colors. Barack Obama, for example, is considered “black” even though he has a white mother. Some drawers are not only incorrectly labeled, they are simply unnecessary.

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