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May 30th, 2019
All decisions have a cascade of consequences that arise through time. The so called ‘first-order consequence’ is the initial effect that our decision or action produces. A second-order consequence is something that arises from this initial effect, or rather the first-order consequence of our actions then cause second-order consequences to occur, regardless of whether such an effect was intentioned by our initial action.
An example helps illuminates this: biting the donut creates a first-order consequence of pleasure and elevated blood-sugar levels.
The actual experience of pleasure in this instance actually has a small down-regulating effect on the brain that makes a person less sensitive to that pleasure the next time it comes around. This down-regulatory effect would be a second-order consequence that’s caused by the tasty pleasure of the donut – the tasty pleasure being the first-order consequence.
Another second-order consequence is an accumulation of fat as a result of blood over-saturated with sugar.
A potential third-order consequence could be a higher likelihood that we will grab a second donut next time because one donut is no longer satisfying because of the down-regulatory effects that occur as the second-order consequence of eating donuts.
Another example highlights the polar nature of consequences even better.
Anyone who has had too much to drink can grapple this concept in a sickeningly visceral way.
Alcohol provokes a spike of pleasure that is similar to sugar. Perhaps unlike sugar, however, as more alcohol is consumed, the desire for even more alcohol rises, this is pretty much always a bad idea, and it’s painfully obvious just how bad of an idea it is to act on this increasing desire.
The more we act in the short term and drink more alcohol, the worse the hangover is going to be in the morning.
The exact opposite is –thankfully- also true: the more we abstain from alcohol, the less of a hangover we will experience in the morning.
Hangovers are a second-order consequence. A first-order consequence of having a drink is that we experience a rise in both pleasure and desire. Not only do we experience the illusion of artificial happiness, but we crave more via more booze.
But here’s the kicker: what’s the famous cure to a hangover?
The Hair of the Dog.
More alcohol. Which then reinitiates the entire cascade of consequences.
The hair of the dog is a basic and potent example of how a vicious cycle simultaneously completes it’s first full cycle and begins it’s next.
While a good hangover can be an effective reminder of just how fast short term benefit flips into a bad situation once that short term benefit passes, it’s imperative to keep the process from replicating. Like a virus replicating in the blood stream, a bad pattern repeated can become a habit and bad habits pull us away from more fulfilling goals faster and faster.
Best to never even entertain the hair of the dog, and simply endure. Preferably with a healthy laugh at one’s own dumb decisions.
This episode references Episode 386: White Diamond, which is all about vicious and virtuous cycles, it’s an episode that is centrally important to the topics of Tinkered Thinking, so if you haven’t checked it out yet, queue that one up.