Pain vs Pleasure

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People have a difficult time accepting that emotions as well as sensations exist on a continuous basis. Generally one type of emotion must exist and be experiential and the other polar opposite emotion must also exist and be experiential. This means you cannot have pleasure without pain, and that you cannot have pain without pleasure. People seem to be under the impression that an eternal pleasurable experience is possible without any reference to pain whatsoever, this being a state of eternal and sensual bliss.

People believe this is possible without giving it too much thought. Surely we have all had painful experiences, but also pleasurable experiences, why not have a state where one exists without the other. Many people believe you can only really experience pleasure or pain, at any one moment in time and not both simultaneously. However, I think you can experience both at the same time for example a woman in labor could feel pain and pleasure as she has a contraction and starts delivery.

Although choosing the better experience of ‘pleasure’ for all eternity, seems plausible and doable. The dualistic approach begins to break down when pleasure as well as pain, while not being quantifiable is qualitative and has properties that can easily be described. Some things are extremely pleasurable, some things are moderately pleasurable, some things are relatively pleasurable, and some things are just ok. On the other hand some things are extremely painful, some things are moderately painful and some things are only mildly painful.

As one can see, the sensations of pleasure and pain exist on a continuum with an almost infinite amount of variations of ”in-between” states. If somehow one were able to achieve a state where you only ever felt one very specific kind of pleasure, one would not and could not comprehend any other state of less or more pleasure, or pain for that matter because you have no reference points. Just like a person born deaf who has never been able to hear has no conception of what sound is or a blind person of what color is.

When it comes to measures of sensation, only experience can actually give you an idea of what something is like. One might say I can accept that some degree of variation is a necessity in order to sense something and be able to have a distinguished and unique experience about it, but it could also be said that there isn’t a state where you only had various degrees of pleasure? The important thing to understand is where your measure of normality lies. It’s important to understand the greater the spectrum the greater number of possible sensations and feelings are possible.

So is it safe to assume that a greater depth and appreciation is attained when you experience all parts of the entire spectrum. If all you ever felt and experienced was a little to a moderate amount of pleasure of a spectrum, what kind of depth would your experience have? It would probably be minor, you would probably not feel or think much of the pleasure at all because of how little variation it has. Thus behaviorism, in experience and sensation is a true gift in a sense. It expands your horizon of possible experience.

Surely you may think you would want to choose an experience where only pleasure was possible, but if you did attain such an experience you would most likely wonder what else was possible in terms of feeling and sensation. It’s like a child who has been warned not to greet a strange dog, however the child chooses to get close enough to pet the dog and the dog responds with a bite. It’s not until the child experiences being bitten that it becomes painful and the child pulls their hand away. The experience even if it only occurs once is required for true understanding and for the behavior to change.

The emotions of joy, sadness, depression, anxiety, relaxation, love, happiness and fear can be experienced, but like a blind or deaf person, you won’t truly know what it is like to experience the behavior a sensation or feeling gives off until you experience it yourself. Pleasure cannot be understood until its counterpart pain is also experienced in my opinion; this is apart of behaviorism that one can’t explain without knowing the difference of the other. All sensations as well as feelings and perceptions occur in a dualistic framework, one can’t exist without the other.

Now it’s possible to have an experience of no pleasure and no pain, as if you didn’t have that type of sensory system. But only pleasure and only pain is impossible. Even a moderately painful experience is inherently more pleasurable than an extremely painful experience. Likewise a moderately pleasurable experience is thus more painful and less pleasurable than an extremely pleasurable experience. As long as variations of sensations exist, there will automatically be more pleasurable and less pleasurable sensations.

The ‘norm’ may vary from person to person, what is painful for one person may be pleasurable to another given their experience. Take for example a person who is very, very ill and endures much continuous physical pain. As the person gets incrementally better a new standard is set. At first a small bit of relief is automatically more pleasurable than what was experienced before, and this sets a new standard. That standard may still be very low, but if it’s all the person has experienced, it will be subjectively high for them.

Likewise, imagine a person who is always happy and has never experienced pain, how much meaning would their happiness really have? Not much it would be pretty shallow, for the meaning is always derived in comparison to something else. What if a co-worker brought you coffee everyday to work for the rest of your life, it may have meaning to you at first but over time you become accustomed to it. We live in a judgmental society, where many people like to simplify things by labeling them right or wrong, good or bad.

Most people will automatically, without much thought, label pain as something bad and pleasure as something good. This creates a serious problem in terms of perception, for example the pain felt when being in a physically abusive relationship can be a good thing because it allows one to realize that the pain you feel is not right; realizing that something is wrong. In those terms it would be wrong to demonize pain as we seemingly so often do, not realizing the benefit we gain from such a sensation. Likewise not all pleasure is necessarily and inherently a good thing for example; doing drugs!

As one might endure the pleasure of this self-inflicted act eventually leading to pain if addicted. Many find the views of Leibniz very difficult to accept, precisely because it is very hard for us to believe that, when we get a shot from the doctor’s office, we feel pain because the needle pierced the skin in a certain way. Many think that, unless the dualist can make sense of genuine causal relations of this sort, we should find dualism unacceptable. Most philosophical questions, point back to the fundamentals of universals and forms.

If you have a dual world view which believes that the mind and soul is separate from the body, that the soul is good and seeks knowledge of the real world of the forms and the body is evil and seeks pleasures of the physical world then you may lean more towards the behaviorist view or be stuck in an impossible dualistic view. I think the question will always exist are we getting closer to being able to explain the difference in the experience of pleasure and pain? Or is one just a mind set and the other just a physical act, or do they actually work hand in hand, who can really say?

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