Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Pain Demands An Explanation

 

shutterstock_314240933There are two truths about pain that every good conservative believes. First, pain is the most straightforward incentive; people need pain to correct their behavior. Second, we believe in “no pain, no gain;” i.e., that pain is a necessary sacrifice in the pursuit of accomplishment. In either case, pain is useful. At least, that is our moral ideal of pain and how it ought to act to fulfill its purpose.

That pain, whether of the body or the psyche, serves a useful purpose is easy enough to see. We need only consider what happens when it’s absent. Lepers and CIPA patients become horribly disfigured because they can’t feel pain. Lepers lose sensation in their extremities. CIPA patients cannot feel pain at all. They only avoid injury and disfigurement through a tedious process of consciously checking themselves, which is much less effective than simply feeling pain. Similarly, mania and psychopathy both reduce a person’s capacity to feel the psychic pains — shame, remorse, etc. — that keep us on the straight and narrow, and both mental states are quite sensibly regarded as dangerous.

That not all pain serves a purpose is somewhat harder to see. Complex Regional Pain Syndrome and phantom limb pain both loudly contradict the notion that pain is always useful, but both are so freakishly rare they can be dismissed as aberrations. While much more common, garden-variety chronic pain is so frustratingly subjective that it’s tempting to moralize it away as a manifestation of moral fragility, as a “cross” bestowed on us by a loving God for the purpose of spiritual refinement, as a failure of mind over matter.

But pain demands an explanation, and pain without any apparent meaning is an affront to us. It shouldn’t exist. As the founder of painscience.com puts it:

Pain is a message, a sort of public service announcement from your brain about a credible threat. Supposedly.

In the case of the pain of a burn, the message is simple: “Fire is super-duper dangerous! Don’t mess with it!” But does the message really need to be as loud as it is? Does it have to last for days?

Maybe it does. I always assumed that the explanation for this was that pain has to be extreme to have the desired effect — that the logic of neurology and psychology requires pain to actually be emotionally traumatic in order to ensure that we remain permanently keen to avoid whatever caused it. This rationalization of the severity of pain can be stretched to include basically any kind of pain that has any kind of obvious cause.

But what about pain with no apparent cause? Just what is it that your body is telling you to stay away from when you have an unending case of low back pain or plantar fasciitis? What’s the “information” encoded in that pain?

“Never sleep comfortably again?”

“Never walk again?”

And why does it continue telling you? Permanently, in some cases.

…[W]hen the message of pain is actually debilitating for long periods, how exactly is that sensation helping?

Descartes popularized the idea that pain is a mechanical signal sent to the brain, incentivizing action, rather analogous to the price signal of economic theory. But there’s evidently a lot of noise in that signal. How do we explain pain that doesn’t seem to accurately correspond to incoming noxious signals?

One way would be to divide apparent pain into two parts, labeling pain that corresponds to an incoming signal like tissue damage “real” or “true” pain, while pain that doesn’t correspond to an incoming signal is dismissed as noise, as our perception playing tricks on us. There’s much to be said for this signal-versus-noise model of pain. It accounts for both the usefulness of pain (the signal) and the variable perception of pain (the noise). It also suggests that correcting our perceptive defects can diminish “false” or “unnecessary” pain (reduce the noise in our pain-signals) just as common experience, philosophy, and religion have taught us all along.

But it’s not the whole story. Pain is better modeled as the brain’s way of alerting itself to an implicit threat. The “noise” our brains add to the incoming noxious signal to produce perceived pain isn’t just noise, but itself contains signals and added information. The subjective nature of pain is then not a bug, but a feature; the result of a brain that uses other cues to put incoming noxious signals into context, in order to form a more complete picture of what’s happening to us. Pain doesn’t emerge until the brain interprets multiple cues and decides a threat exists, a threat worth screaming to itself about.

Pain is an opinion on the organism’s state of health rather than a mere reflective response to an injury. There is no direct hotline from pain receptors to ‘pain centers’ in the brain. There is so much interaction between different brain centers, like those concerned with vision and touch, that even the mere visual appearance of an opening fist can actually feed all the way back into the patient’s motor and touch pathways, allowing him to feel the fist opening, thereby killing an illusory pain in a nonexistent hand.

That “real” pain isn’t just a raw signal, but an explicit (and attention-hijacking) manifestation of the “implicit perception of threat” our brains synthesize from multiple cues is dubbed the “neuromatrix theory” of pain. The brain’s ability to amp up or damp down pain according to what it thinks the pain means isn’t just a perceptual quirk that can be consciously hacked to overcome pain, but instead exists for a reason – and is, alas, not entirely under our conscious control:

“Pain really is in the mind, but not in the way you think.”…

…[T]he brain can’t be manipulated simply by wishing, force of will, or a carefully cultivated good attitude. The brain powerfully and imperfectly controls how we experience potentially threatening stimuli, but I’m sorry to report that you do not control your brain. Consciousness and “mind” are by-products of brain function and physiological state … It’s not your opinion of sensory signals that counts, it’s what your brain thinks of it — and that happens quite independently of consciousness and self-awareness. Many wise, calm, confident optimists still have chronic pain.

… Your brain modifies pain experience based on a number of other things that are completely out of your control, or rather difficult to control, or even just impractical to control. For instance, if you view a painful hand through a magnifying glass, it will actually get more swollen and inflamed — that is, if you make it look bigger, it will get bigger. And the reverse is true! Use optics to make it look smaller, and swelling will go down. [See this study. But also see this study, which found an inverse relationship!] Incredible, right? Jedi pain tricks! But … do you have a de-magnifying glass handy?

… Although it is technically the brain’s prerogative to ignore painful signals from your tissues, that doesn’t mean that it will — if there is a destructive disease process going on, for instance, the brain will usually not ignore those signals! The pain system evolved to report problems, and it will diligently do so.

…The brain has a picture how things should be, and acts accordingly… even when it’s blatantly ineffective… [I]f the brain believes there’s a threat, you’re going to hurt, no matter how pointless it is or how intensely you focus on trying to have more reasonable and rational sensations.

But that doesn’t mean that we’re powerless. Mind has some influence over brain.

The bad news, then, is that pain is neither a straightforward incoming signal nor one directly influenced by conscious control. The particularly bad news for chronic pain sufferers is that that the longer pain persists, the weaker the relationship between pain and damage in the “hurting” tissues becomes. Not only do “the neurons that transmit nociceptive input to the brain [and] … the networks of neurons within the brain that evoke pain become sensitised as pain persists,” but “the proprioceptive representation of the painful body part in primary sensory cortex changes,” too. Chronic pain remodels perception in self-perpetuating ways.

The good news, though, is that pain can be indirectly influenced by conscious decisions, including attitudinal changes and lifestyle adjustments; just not always in “obvious” ways.

For example, mood obviously influences pain (and pain influences mood), but getting the evidence to agree with one simple pet theory is hard:

Experiments that manipulate the psychological context of a noxious stimulus often demonstrate clear effects on pain, although the direction of these effects is not always consistent … Despite the wealth of data, consensus is lacking: some data suggest that attending to pain amplifies it and attending away from pain nullifies it, but others suggest the opposite.

Anxiety also seems to have variable effects on pain. Some reports link increased anxiety to increased pain… but other reports suggest no effect …

Expectation also seems to have variable effects on pain. As a general rule, expectation of a noxious stimulus increases pain if the cue signals a more intense or more damaging stimulus and decreases pain if the cue signals a less intense or less damaging stimulus … Further, cues that signal an impending decrease in pain, for example the process of taking an analgesic, usually decrease pain. Thus, expectation is thought to play a major role in placebo analgesia.

To make matters worse, just as increased inflammation causes pain “directly” in the part affected, increased inflammation also causes generalized “sickness behavior,” including depressed mood, which itself increases sensitivity to pain. The relationship between pain, tissue states such as inflammation, and mood seems quite complex, with causality running in every direction. For example, patients treated with inflammation-producing drugs such as interferon often become depressed. Conversely, COX-2 inhibitors — a kind of anti-inflammatory drug — show promise as antidepressants. And no one should need to be told that nagging pain can be depressing or that depression seems painful.

But this also makes matters better. Claire recently asked why there aren’t better pain-relieving drugs. In particular, why aren’t there better alternatives to opiates? And if you treat pain as the incoming “signal” that opiates supposedly block, no wonder you’d wonder. But if pain is the brain’s opinion – albeit, an opinion not directly under our conscious control – then the world of pain treatment broadens. For example, treatments that simply improve mood are no longer just warm fuzzies that make people “feel better” about having pain; they show promise to ameliorate the pain itself. Treatments that modulate the immune system – hence inflammatory response – in increasingly targeted ways show promise to alleviate both noxious sensations and the “sickness behavior” that heightens pain sensitivity without causing as much collateral damage as do our most powerful anti-inflammatories. Even just teaching suffering patients “about modern pain biology leads to altered beliefs and attitudes about pain and increased pain thresholds during relevant tasks.”

So what’s new in all this? First, teaching people about modern pain biology can add realism to the tried-and-true moral techniques for coping with pain. Without an appreciation that pain really is in the brain, but not under direct conscious control, it’s dangerously easy to over- or under-moralize pain. For example, the problems with the simplistic injunction to just “have a positive attitude” in the face of pain are well illustrated by the following comic:

XKCD Positive Attitude

If pain is reduced to a dualistic battle between incoming “pain signals” and our moral selves (with any sign of “losing the fight” condemned as moral failure), we lose sight of the fact that our physical and moral selves are aspects of the same whole, and are better off cooperating, not warring with each other.

Second, both pain and our conscious minds are phenomena emergent from our profoundly weird brains. Each influences the other, and yes, this means we do have some moral control over our pain. But not always in the way we like to think we do.

There are 34 comments.

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  1. Done Contributor

    I want to write like this when I grow up.

    • #1
    • November 3, 2015, at 7:28 AM PST
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  2. Barkha Herman Inactive

    Pain may or may not be “real” – hence inevitable. However, suffering is a choice.

    Being physiological, pain is inevitable. Like in Munroe’s example, telling someone they are not pained is just silly.

    Having been raised in a third world country in a time when what we considered middle class was in fact what I would now consider below poverty, I have had to struggle with having compassion for “perceived pain” (I grew up with real scarcity) in everyone I encounter. When I realized that it was self inflicted suffering I was against, not pain – it made things much more clear.

    Empowerment is a difficult conversation without compassion, and compassion is necessary to be a stand for someone – in pain or choosing suffering.

    P.S. I am not the biggest fan of the Buddhist thought, but the gift of the distinction between pain and suffering is indispensable, originating from Gautama.

    • #2
    • November 3, 2015, at 7:28 AM PST
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  3. James Gawron Thatcher
    James GawronJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    MFR,

    I think that recognizing pain as a necessary system that your biology has provided you is the beginning of wisdom but only the beginning. You have legs but you also have an automobile. You have skin but you also have clothing. Just because something is a natural biological system doesn’t mean it can’t be improved upon. Of course, we also shouldn’t be too arrogant as the automobile costs a lot of money, requires fuel, service, and insurance and can kill us in an accident.

    In short pain is part of being human. Surprise!

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #3
    • November 3, 2015, at 7:41 AM PST
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  4. Severely Ltd. Inactive

    Frank Soto:I want to write like this when I grow up.

    Yeah, well for those of us getting old with no chance in sight, it’s painful

    • #4
    • November 3, 2015, at 7:51 AM PST
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  5. Barkha Herman Inactive

    Frankly, Frank – I have seen (read) you writing close to like this. It’s about things you are passionate about and never introspective.

    If you choose to write about yourself, the rest is easy.

    • #5
    • November 3, 2015, at 7:56 AM PST
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  6. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Barkha Herman:Pain may or may not be “real” – hence inevitable. However, suffering is a choice.

    I agree a lot with that, though not 100%. It seems that if we treat suffering as something 100% within a person’s control, we fall into the same trap that Munroe’s comic illustrates:

    “Are you suffering?”
    “Yes.”
    “Well, remember – suffering is a choice.”
    “So if I’m struggling with suffering…”
    “Then, if you don’t get over it, it will be your fault.”
    “Well, that makes me feel even worse…”
    “See? You’re doing it to yourself.”
    “No!”
    “Stop it!”
    Argh!

    In that light, I think an attitude of, “Screw the self-blame. I’ll do what I can to reduce my suffering, and if it doesn’t go away completely, well, I’ll live,” is healthier than the attitude, “This suffering is all on me, so if I can’t overcome it completely, I must be a horrible, morally-defective person.”

    That suffering is entirely a choice runs so contrary to so many people’s intuition and lived experience that insisting on it may actually undermine moral agency during suffering. But something doesn’t have to be 100% our choice for our moral agency to matter. For example, if our own moral agency only matters, say, 50%, we’re certainly worse-off if we neglect that 50%.

    • #6
    • November 3, 2015, at 8:05 AM PST
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  7. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron MillerJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    This post is painfully long. ;) Very interesting. Thanks.

    Prolonged pain is a little strange. When a severe pain persists for hours, you wonder “Can’t you just dial it back a bit? I get the message — something is wrong. Now STOP! Pretty please?”

    A friend of mine is struggling with a cancer right now. Ironically, she’s the one insisting on the power of positive thinking, asking more for things to cheer her up than anything else. When severe pain or nausea last for hours, anything to break the monotony of misery is welcome… even if the pain persists.

    Pain can be an overwhelming experience in the midst of it, but it quickly becomes the vaguest of memories. Interesting to think how such experiences might rewire the brain and affect future sensations.

    • #7
    • November 3, 2015, at 8:07 AM PST
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  8. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Aaron Miller: A friend of mine is struggling with a cancer right now. Ironically, she’s the one insisting on the power of positive thinking, asking more for things to cheer her up than anything else. When severe pain or nausea last for hours, anything to break the monotony of misery is welcome… even if the pain persists.

    “The power of positive thinking” works for a lot of people – that’s why it’s so popular. And if it works, that’s great!

    If it’s not working, though, then all that means is it’s not working. Reading moral failure into the failure of one technique among many just makes maters worse.

    • #8
    • November 3, 2015, at 8:14 AM PST
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  9. Barkha Herman Inactive

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:In that light, I think an attitude of, “Screw the self-blame. I’ll do what I can to reduce my suffering, and if it doesn’t go away completely, well, I’ll live,” is healthier than the attitude, “This suffering is all on me, so if I can’t overcome it completely, I must be a horrible, morally-defective person.”

    That suffering is entirely a choice runs so contrary to so many people’s intuition and lived experience that insisting on it may actually undermine moral agency during suffering. But something doesn’t have to be 100% our choice for our moral agency to matter. For example, if our own moral agency only matters, say, 50%, we’re certainly worse-off if we neglect that 50%.

    The quest, of life, in the Budhdhas’ mind was “getting off of suffering”.

    Yes, suffering is also inevitable – if only as a starting point – and the mastery over it is the journey of life. Being married to an endurance athlete who is always focused on results not suffering is an illustration for me (the eternal sufferer with puppies, unicorns and bushels of optimism of getting off of it). Knowing it’s possible to “get off it” is the stuff that drives us (in keeping with your #2 – pain is motivation).

    Blame is another thread altogether.

    • #9
    • November 3, 2015, at 8:16 AM PST
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  10. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron MillerJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    In regard to morality and pain, we old-school Christians have an advantage over many of our neighbors. We believe that the purpose of life is “to know and love God” and God suffers for us, so our suffering can take on a redemptive quality if we choose to use it to better relate to God. We actually perceive martyrdom and the stigmata (in rare cases) as supreme blessings, rather than punishments. Yet joy is an ubiquitous aspect of saints, because closeness to God is joyful. So the most exemplary Christians typically experience both extreme suffering and extreme joy/contentment, often simultaneously.

    I have known many people with severe and chronic health problems who are exceedingly joyful; charitably so. But it is a choice. One must allow oneself to be joyful and open to others in the midst of pain.

    Of course, there’s some value in non-theological sympathy as well. It happens that I had a painful stomach bug for about five hours last night. It helped me to sympathize with my friend who has cancer and the seemingly never-ending pain/discomfort of certain therapies. When our pain reminds us sharply of another’s pain, it can inspire one to reach out or renew that effort to help each other.

    Pain also strongly encourages one to reflect on one’s recent behavior and root out anything that isn’t helping.

    • #10
    • November 3, 2015, at 8:26 AM PST
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  11. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron MillerJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Barkha Herman: Being married to an endurance athlete who is always focused on results not suffering is an illustration for me

    I admire people who are disciplined enough to hurt themselves when necessary.

    As little children, we get splinters and yell at our parents not to touch, knowing that we won’t be able to use that hand or foot until the splinter is out. Or some skin is burned and we fear touching it with a salve. We have to learn that healing can hurt.

    It never hurt so bad as when my dad poured rubbing alcohol on bleeding knees. I learned not to get injured when Mom wasn’t home.

    • #11
    • November 3, 2015, at 8:35 AM PST
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  12. drlorentz Member
    drlorentzJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I did an experiment on myself concerning pain. It’s ethical to experiment on yourself, right?

    Background: The sensation of heat or cold depends mostly on thermal conductivity and less on temperature. A metal object at room temperature feels cold; a plastic object at the same temperature does not. You may have experienced this with a physician’s stethoscope.

    coin holder

    My car has a coin holder built into the center console, presumably for parking meter change. It’s filled with nickels, dimes, and quarters. In the summertime the car interior gets hot, ~120F in this case. (I have a thermometer in the car.) That’s hot, but not burning hot. I grabbed a stack of quarters and squeezed them between my thumb and forefinger for about 30 seconds. It hurt a lot, as if my skin were burning. After I released the coins the skin was only a little red; there was no damage and the pain faded almost immediately.

    As the TEDx video explains, the sensation of pain is related to one’s prior experiences. Things that feel as hot as those coins are normally dangerous so it’s natural to recoil from them. If I repeated the experiment often I might be able to train myself to ignore thermal pain signals. That would be interesting but probably not the best idea.

    Edit: Great post, btw, Midge.

    • #12
    • November 3, 2015, at 8:50 AM PST
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  13. Shawn Buell, Jeopardy Champ! Contributor

    As a species we are motivated primarily by two impulses: to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

    • #13
    • November 3, 2015, at 8:51 AM PST
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  14. Barkha Herman Inactive

    Aaron Miller:In regard to morality and pain, we old-school Christians have an advantage over many of our neighbors. We believe that the purpose of life is “to know and love God” and God suffers for us, so our suffering can take on a redemptive quality if we choose to use it to better relate to God.

    That, IMHO, was the brilliance of Christ. What faster way to get rid of blame than redemption?

    Talk about the power of positive thinking. But in order for it to really work requires faith.

    • #14
    • November 3, 2015, at 8:55 AM PST
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  15. Manny Member

    Fascinating. You obviously put a lot of work into this, Ms. Snake. I learned quite a bit. Thank you for your effort.

    On the lighter side, I will now associate pain with radio frequency reception: Signal to noise ratio! (Google it if you don’t know what I’m referring to.)

    • #15
    • November 3, 2015, at 10:29 AM PST
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  16. Manny Member

    From the Christian aspect of pain, this quote seems applicable:

    “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
    C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

    • #16
    • November 3, 2015, at 10:34 AM PST
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  17. Tenacious D Inactive

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: The particularly bad news for chronic pain sufferers is that that the longer pain persists, the weaker the relationship between pain and damage in the “hurting” tissues becomes. Not only do “the neurons that transmit nociceptive input to the brain [and] … the networks of neurons within the brain that evoke pain become sensitised as pain persists,” but “the proprioceptive representation of the painful body part in primary sensory cortex changes,” too. Chronic pain remodels perception in self-perpetuating ways.

    This description reminds me of the readings from process instrumentation “drifting” over time. I wonder if there is a way to “recalibrate” pain perception…

    This discussion also made me think of the experience where you come home after a strenuous hike (or other exercise) and your muscles ache. It’s kind of a satisfying feeling, even though the same physical sensations could be interpreted as pain in other contexts.

    • #17
    • November 3, 2015, at 11:14 AM PST
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  18. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Aaron Miller:In regard to morality and pain, we old-school Christians have an advantage over many of our neighbors. We believe that the purpose of life is “to know and love God” and God suffers for us, so our suffering can take on a redemptive quality if we choose to use it to better relate to God.

    It can take on a redemptive quality. I question, though, whether it always will when we think it will.

    According to Oliver Sacks, Hildegard of Bingen’s mystic visions were migraine auras, transformed by spiritual understanding. For a nun and mystic, having a physical disorder so transformed must certainly be a wonderful thing. It may be less wonderful, though, if you are called to some other occupation where the migraines are more of a hindrance than their auras are mystic inspiration. Most of the time, I’m gonna guess, God would prefer you to take the course resulting in fewer migraines and more productivity (I suspect only a few rare souls will ever find migraines very productive).

    Pain also strongly encourages one to reflect on one’s recent behavior and root out anything that isn’t helping.

    Yeah, and that’s both good and bad. Good when the rooting actually solves problems. Bad when the rooting is no longer serving its purpose and either accomplishing nothing or making the problem worse.

    Rumination exists because it begins life as an adaptive response – a problem-solving strategy. It can go horribly wrong, though.

    • #18
    • November 3, 2015, at 11:14 AM PST
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  19. Mike H Coolidge

    Majestyk:As a species we are motivated primarily by two impulses: to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

    I’ve always thought this was inadequate. In the most naive sense, this is true. On a short enough time horizon this is what we seek and therefor consequentialist utilitarians believe maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain is the ultimate moral goal.

    This just seems… wrong.

    When our time horizon is long enough suddenly we try to maximize something approximating “satisfaction” or “contentment.” This often means doing things that induce a lot of pain that has no guarantee to produce much pleasure. Think about having and raising kids. We don’t seem to do it because we think having kids with maximize pleasure. It’s more because of some need to create and improve and have something tangible to show for our time here. We want to look back at everything we accomplished. In a physics sense, we like to see how much we decreased local entropy. We tend not to look back and remark at our happiness in terms of how much pleasure we experienced.

    • #19
    • November 3, 2015, at 11:17 AM PST
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  20. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Barkha Herman:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:In that light, I think an attitude of, “Screw the self-blame. I’ll do what I can to reduce my suffering, and if it doesn’t go away completely, well, I’ll live,” is healthier than the attitude, “This suffering is all on me, so if I can’t overcome it completely, I must be a horrible, morally-defective person.”

    That suffering is entirely a choice runs so contrary to so many people’s intuition and lived experience that insisting on it may actually undermine moral agency during suffering. But something doesn’t have to be 100% our choice for our moral agency to matter. For example, if our own moral agency only matters, say, 50%, we’re certainly worse-off if we neglect that 50%.

    …Yes, suffering is also inevitable – if only as a starting point – and the mastery over it is the journey of life.

    OK. It sounds like we’re in more agreement than I thought.

    Being married to an endurance athlete who is always focused on results not suffering is an illustration for me…

    Certainly. For some, of course, the greatest suffering stems from knowing that a problem they haven’t solved yet (and which might be insoluble) is keeping them from getting the results they expected or once used to get.

    Blame is another thread altogether.

    I agree it should be. People can be worse at separating blame (either in themselves or others) from pain than they suspect, though.

    • #20
    • November 3, 2015, at 11:19 AM PST
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  21. Shawn Buell, Jeopardy Champ! Contributor

    Mike H:

    Majestyk:As a species we are motivated primarily by two impulses: to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

    I’ve always thought this was inadequate. In the most naive sense, this is true. On a short enough time horizon this is what we seek and therefor consequentialist utilitarians believe maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain is the ultimate moral goal.

    This just seems… wrong.

    When our time horizon is long enough suddenly we try to maximize something approximating “satisfaction” or “contentment.” This often means doing things that induce a lot of pain that has no guarantee to produce much pleasure. Think about having and raising kids. We don’t seem to do it because we think having kids with maximize pleasure. It’s more because of some need to create and improve and have something tangible to show for our time here. We want to look back at everything we accomplished. In a physics sense, we like to see how much we decreased local entropy. We tend not to look back and remark at our happiness in terms of how much pleasure we experienced.

    That’s not to say that a significant investment of “pain” upfront isn’t an understood cost when considering the long-run.

    Most people don’t do a very good job of considering the long-run and have short time preference. Our personal savings rate would be much higher if this weren’t the case.

    • #21
    • November 3, 2015, at 11:22 AM PST
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  22. Mike H Coolidge

    Majestyk:

    Mike H:

    Majestyk:As a species we are motivated primarily by two impulses: to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

    I’ve always thought this was inadequate. In the most naive sense, this is true. On a short enough time horizon this is what we seek and therefor consequentialist utilitarians believe maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain is the ultimate moral goal.

    This just seems… wrong.

    When our time horizon is long enough suddenly we try to maximize something approximating “satisfaction” or “contentment.” This often means doing things that induce a lot of pain that has no guarantee to produce much pleasure. Think about having and raising kids. We don’t seem to do it because we think having kids with maximize pleasure. It’s more because of some need to create and improve and have something tangible to show for our time here. We want to look back at everything we accomplished. In a physics sense, we like to see how much we decreased local entropy. We tend not to look back and remark at our happiness in terms of how much pleasure we experienced.

    That’s not to say that a significant investment of “pain” upfront isn’t an understood investment when considering the long-run.

    Most people don’t do a very good job of considering the long-run and have short time preference. Our personal savings rate would be much higher if this weren’t the case.

    Yes, I have a lot of empathy for people with a short time horizon, but at the same time, there’s no better remedy for a short time horizon than feeling the full brunt of your decisions. In the end we must understand that much of the time people deserve what they get, even if it seems like too much of a burden for them to make the right decisions. People getting their desert is the only way to maximize each person’s time horizon.

    • #22
    • November 3, 2015, at 11:26 AM PST
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  23. Shawn Buell, Jeopardy Champ! Contributor

    Mike H:Yes, I have a lot of empathy for people with a short time horizon, but at the same time, there’s no better remedy for a short time horizon than feeling the full brunt of your decisions. In the end we must understand that much of the time people deserve what they get, even if it seems like too much of a burden for them to make the right decisions. People getting their desert is the only way to maximize each person’s time horizon.

    Socrates said:

    Learning is not child’s play; there can be no learning without pain.

    • #23
    • November 3, 2015, at 11:27 AM PST
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  24. Barkha Herman Inactive

    Majestyk & Mike H: At some point, we move past overcoming pain and seeking pleasure to finding purpose. Or I might just be getting old :-D.

    • #24
    • November 3, 2015, at 11:29 AM PST
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  25. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Majestyk:

    Socrates said:

    Learning is not child’s play; there can be no learning without pain.

    Sadly, our pain-perception is glitchy enough that there’s a lot of pain without learning, though.

    Some of this is from willful refusal to learn, of course. Some is not. Some people don’t give enough thought to what their pain might mean, morally. Others get trapped in a cycle of trying to extract more meaning from their pain than is really there.

    Like Job’s friends and God. Job’s friends were positive they knew the real moral meaning of Job’s suffering, despite the fact that God Himself came down and refused to say what it meant. Instead, God talked about… other stuff. Anything, really, besides Job’s pain. It’s a powerful parable, I think, even for those who don’t believe in God.

    • #25
    • November 3, 2015, at 11:39 AM PST
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  26. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Barkha Herman:Majestyk & Mike H: At some point, we move past overcoming pain and seeking pleasure to finding purpose. Or I might just be getting old :-D.

    Desiring purpose can also manifest itself at an early age. I think people also sometimes get frustrated and give up trying to find purpose after previously seeking it. Which is sad, but not surprising.

    • #26
    • November 3, 2015, at 11:41 AM PST
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  27. Shawn Buell, Jeopardy Champ! Contributor

    Barkha Herman:Majestyk & Mike H: At some point, we move past overcoming pain and seeking pleasure to finding purpose. Or I might just be getting old :-D.

    That’s just a more highly developed means of seeking pleasure. It also has the advantage of by-and-large avoiding pain.

    I have to keep scolding myself when people tell me that they’re 38 or something that… that’s not old at all. I’m 36.

    • #27
    • November 3, 2015, at 12:59 PM PST
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  28. Barkha Herman Inactive

    Majestyk:

    Barkha Herman:Majestyk & Mike H: At some point, we move past overcoming pain and seeking pleasure to finding purpose. Or I might just be getting old :-D.

    That’s just a more highly developed means of seeking pleasure. It also has the advantage of by-and-large avoiding pain.

    I have to keep scolding myself when people tell me that they’re 38 or something that… that’s not old at all. I’m 36.

    48, me.

    • #28
    • November 3, 2015, at 1:23 PM PST
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  29. Barkha Herman Inactive

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Barkha Herman:Majestyk & Mike H: At some point, we move past overcoming pain and seeking pleasure to finding purpose. Or I might just be getting old :-D.

    Desiring purpose can also manifest itself at an early age. I think people also sometimes get frustrated and give up trying to find purpose after previously seeking it. Which is sad, but not surprising.

    I think, at least in my case, the purpose was more about family; Now I have more room for other things. I don’t think our purpose changes a lot – raising empowered and successful children has now transformed to empowered and independent community.

    • #29
    • November 3, 2015, at 1:26 PM PST
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  30. GrannyDude Member

    Midge— I have a couple of personal “commandments” that may be relevant. One is “never waste pain.” I know, it sounds like Obama’s ‘don’t waste a crisis’ meme, but it’s more that since pain is inevitable, we might as well extract every last ounce of information, growth, love, wisdom or whatever that we possibly can from any given painful episode. “Don’t waste the blessing!”

    Then there’s “unnecessary pain is sinful.” I got impatient with people who needlessly prolonged their own pain (or suggested others do so) on the grounds that pain is somehow redemptive. Same with self-mortification; there are so many people in the world who suffer uncontrollable pain that to volunteer for a safe, controlled taste of their misery seems self-indulgent. Anyone who wants to participate in the sufferings of Christ need only wait a bit—sooner or later, one of the many excruciating trials of human life will be visited upon you. In the meantime, I starchily insist, why not go do something useful for someone who time of trial is now?

    • #30
    • November 3, 2015, at 1:47 PM PST
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