• Your brain is like a blind person searching in a dark room for a black cat that isn’t there.
  • Alcohol only makes the brain’s difficult job even harder.
  • Some of the most intoxicating shopping pleasures are subtle and sensual and easily overlooked on alcohol.
  • Be particular circumspect when drinking and e-shopping extravagances.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are shopping alone in a completely dark Louboutin boutique, with your sunglasses on and your eyes firmly shut. The shop is comfortably warm but very humid. You can hear a regular thudding drum-beat in the distance. You are searching for a pair of black shoes (completely black except for the soles) which, unbeknown to you, the shop no longer stocks. A dark, handsome and mute waiter, dressed in black tie, approaches you and offers you a choice between a Kahlua and Coke, a Sambuca (black with ice), or an espresso martini. What do you do?

As difficult as it might seem, this is more or less how our brains go shopping. They operate in a pleasantly warm, moist but jet-black environment within the skull. And, aside from rare head traumas and brain surgeries, the inside of the skull never sees the light of day. In other words, our brains never directly or intimately experience sunlight, moonlight, candle light, shop light and the myriad other amazing types of light that we all know, enjoy and love.

The brain relies entirely on small electrical signals produced by the eyes. And it is upon the translated, summarised and redacted information contained within those signals that the brain creates our sensations and perceptions, including the feeling of being bathed in light. Disturbingly, we must base many of our conscious decisions, indeed all the visual stuff of our lives, on a narrow stream of heavily compressed electrical signals passing to our brains from the outside world (and vice versa). The information that reaches our brain is anything but comprehensive and unfiltered. Mostly it is just rapid and of sufficient quality to keep us alive and mating.

To understand the profound shopping (and broader) implications of this observation, the following extract makes the key point for us. To fully absorb this point, I recommend attending closely to one of the cleverest empty spaces in the Western canon, after the word “endure” (and time-permitting read Shelley’s full conclusion linked in orange below):

“For love, and beauty, and delight,
There is no death nor change: their might
Exceeds our organs, which endure
No light, being themselves obscure.”

If our brains are habitually producing thoughts that are causing us distress, then Shelley suggests (amongst many things) to take comfort from the realisation that our brains are literally in the dark. As powerful as that wrinkly grey organ may be, the brain is not the perfectly tuned instrument of wisdom that it would like you to believe. It is certainly not infallible; indeed it is inherently prone to obscurity. And this deep, initially unsettling, realisation paves the way for all sorts of “pleasant” creeds, which we might also call useful self-deceptions.

And even during highly pleasurable experiences there are many phenomena which the brain can try to process but will never itself “access” or quite “understand”. There is a “ne sais quoi” to the glow emanating from a pair of black and gold Louboutins, an agate-polished handbag, a South Sea pearl and countless other extravagances. Scientists refer to these types of experiences as phenomenal consciousness. These moments are like standing in front of a Van Gogh (which is what we do) versus seeing a picture of the same painting in a book (which is what our brains do).

And so if you seek true extravagance then I honestly urge you to avoid, or at least limit, the Kahluas, Sambucas, martinis and everything that seductively bubbles and beckons as you sagaciously peruse and choose. The brain is hard-pressed to make sense of what’s really going on without immersing it in a potent cocktail of psycho-active chemicals. There will be time, as you bask in the afterglow of a magnificently skillful “Bought”, to sip on something spiritual, grapey or hoppy in whatever order or combination you wish. But for now, be drunk on the smell of full-grain leather, the slide of hand-hammered platinum, the cuteness of an obsequious smile and a thousand other subtleties that are no less powerful nor real because they lack common accessibility.

And let’s not forget our old friend internet shopping, where the sensuality of the experience is restricted to the visual and the auditory, both of which must be squeezed through typically constrained internet bandwidths? This is where I firmly believe that alcohol exerts a particularly insidious influence. Numerous studies support the popular wisdom that alcohol contributes to failures of self-control by causing us to gradually stop monitoring our own behaviours. Moreover, alcohol has been linked to a greater tendency to accept the gamble when the wrong outcome carries high potential penalties. Who amongst us enjoys paying thousands for something you just can’t bear to display or wear when sobriety settles back in?

“And if sometimes, on the steps of palaces or in the green grass of a ditch, or in the dreary solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminished or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . . ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: “It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.”
Enivrez-Vous, Charles Baudelaire, derived from a translation by Arthur Symons

Therefore, my advice, as impractical as it may initially sound, is to strenuously avoid committing to any unfamiliar purchase of an extravagant nature unless you can experience the full sensuality of the brand or product in person. Traditionally at least one-third of the price we pay is taken by brands to fund the physical shop experience, which includes the shop interior, the window-dressing, the rent and the staff attention. Why sacrifice that one-third of your money, hard-earned or otherwise, unless you really must? And in this way, by committing ourselves to sucking out the full value of a purchase, we free ourselves up to enjoy a drink at home, to relax after a stressful day, without the danger of making a purchase that sticks in the memory for all the wrong reasons.

“There is a “ne sais quoi” to the glow emanating from black Louboutins, agate-polished handbags, South Sea pearls, and countless other extravagances. These moments are like standing in front of a Van Gogh (which is what we do) versus seeing a picture of the same painting in a book (which is what our brains do).”

Finally, if you’ve stubbornly disregarded any or all of this advice, and made a stunningly good purchase anyway, then feel free to drag my personal credibility through the social media mud with the Twitter or Instagram hashtag #saperaud (“dare to be wise”).

And, by the way, the correct answer to the opening hypothetical quiz (as to what is the right course of action in the completely dark shop) is to say nothing at all. There’s no point dealing with a sales associate who would keep you in the dark.

If, somehow, remarkably, this particular dose of sagacity has failed to quench your thirst, or perhaps even left a bad taste in your mouth, another swig from the refreshing well of von Donia aphorisms awaits you here. And if you would like to be emailed upon the publishing of my upcoming articles then please click here.

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