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Two years ago I posted about hyperrealism. Rarely have I discovered a topic that has fascinated me more–I haven’t really stopped thinking about the concept since. Specifically, I have been intrigued by the notion of “the natural” and what this means for individuals psychologically (do terms like “real” and “natural” have the same meaning and carry the same weight they used to? And what does/will this mean for us?). I remember hearing about a behavioral construct and a series of fascinating experiments in an introductory social psychology course I took many years ago that, until today, I could not recall…

“A superstimulus is an exaggerated version of a stimulus to which there is an existing response tendency, or any stimulus that elicits a response more strongly than the stimulus that normally releases it.

Konrad Lorenz observed that birds would select for brooding eggs that resembled those of their own species but were larger. Niko Tinbergen, following his extensive analysis of the stimulus features that elicited food-begging in the chick of the herring gull, constructed an artificial superstimulus consisting of a red knitting needle with three white bands painted round it; this elicited a stronger response than an accurate three-dimensional model of the parent’s head (white) and bill (yellow with a red spot).

It is sometimes argued that phenomena such as sexual fetishes and the taste for junk food can be partially explained as examples of superstimulation. Modern artefacts may activate instinctive responses which evolved in a world without shiny fabrics or double cheeseburgers, where shiny skin was a sign of health in a prospective mate, and fat was a vital nutrient.” <wiki>

My favourite (living) philosopher, Daniel Dennett, on Cute, sexy, sweet, funny:

Couple of short essays that really captured my interest in the subject:

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“In semiotics and postmodern philosophy, the term hyperreality characterizes the inability of consciousness to distinguish reality from fantasy, especially in technologically advanced postmodern cultures. Hyperreality is a means to characterise the way consciousness defines what is actually “real” in a world where a multitude of media can radically shape and filter the original event or experience being depicted. Some famous theorists of hyperreality include Jean Baudrillard, Albert Borgmann, Daniel Boorstin, and Umberto Eco.Most aspects of hyperreality can be thought of as “reality by proxy.” For example, a viewer watching pornography begins to live in the non-existent world of the pornography, and even though pornography is not an accurate depiction of sex, for the viewer, the reality of “sex” becomes something non-existent. Some examples are simpler: the McDonald’s “M” arches create a world with the promise of endless amounts of identical food, when in “reality” the “M” represents nothing, and the food produced is neither identical nor infinite.

Baudrillard in particular suggests that the world we live in has been replaced by a copy world, where we seek simulated stimuli and nothing more. Baudrillard borrows, from Jorge Luis Borges (who already borrowed from Lewis Carroll), the example of a society whose cartographers create a map so detailed that it covers the very things it was designed to represent. When the empire declines, the map fades into the landscape and there is neither the representation nor the real remaining – just the hyperreal.” <wiki>

  • A sports drink of a flavor that doesn’t exist naturally or elsewhere (“wild ice zest berry”)
  • Pornography (“sexier than sex itself”)
  • A plastic Christmas tree that looks better than a real Christmas tree ever could
  • A magazine photo of a model that has been touched up with a computer
  • A well manicured garden (nature as hyperreal)
  • Any massively promoted versions of historical or present “facts”
  • TV and film in general (especially “reality” TV), due to its creation of a world of fantasy and its dependence that the viewer will engage with these fantasy worlds
  • A video game, realistic or not, in which the player temporarily forgets the difference between the game and reality

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