Punchinello’s Chronicles

November 13, 2008

Fear, Joy or Satisfaction?

Filed under: Just Thinking — Punchinello @ 1:08 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

Throughout all of history, right back to the first people who sat around fires and wondered about life, we’ve had arguments and discussions about the nature of mankind. What’s the basic motivator in human beings? There are always two sides, represented by God and the devil, good and evil, Jekyll and Hyde, and so on and so on.

Many people believe that fear is the basic driver in human actions and thought. We’re always living in fear, born with fear, and our option and choice is to learn to control that fear. Is that true? When you strip away everything in psychology, are left with only fear?

Others believe that love is the basic driver. But what is love? Nobody seems to know; you’re just supposed to feel it and somehow recognize it if it happens. And suppose there isn’t any love in your life, does that mean you’re no longer human? What if you just like a lot of things, but don’t love anything in particular?

Suppose we do actually strip away everything, and get right down to the most basic parts of living beings. We’re actually left with pain and pleasure. Both of those are active, in that pain is a real event and so is pleasure. They’re both real.

We actively feel pain when something fires the nervous system, just as we actively feel pleasure for the same reasons. Physical parts of the brain generate what we experience and call pain or pleasure.

So what moves us?

Let’s suppose we have no pain, no pleasure, and we’re in a static moment between the two. Why do we act at all? Why don’t we just sit like lumps of clay on the ground? Isn’t that what happens when we use drugs to shut down pain and pleasure in mental wards?

Transistors are a most basic component in electronics. They’re a a switch, but they have a bias. In one form, the transistor tends toward being negatively charged. In the other, it tends toward being positively charged. So too, we have a bias, and that bias is curiosity. We can be curious about what might happen, or curious about what isn’t happening; curious about what is or curious about what isn’t.

The basic electronic switch is biased by an electrical polarity. Curiosity is similar in its “perspective.”

Think about wanting something. How do you know you want it? You’re in a static condition, no pain and no pleasure, simply existing. Then your imagination starts working and you get curious. “What if I could do something?” “What if I could stop something?” “What if this existed?” “What if this didn’t exist?”

Curiosity is essentially our imagination wondering “what if?”

Curiosity seems to be inherent and intrinsic to complex living beings, including animals. Why? How come we have such a thing as curiosity? I’m curious. Is that part of our basic nature? Does it apply when we discuss virtue, honor, good or evil?

Let’s also consider the concept of fear itself. Is it a “thing?” No, it’s not. Fear is a not-thing. It’s what we feel when we don’t have enough certainty. As we remove certainty, which does exist and is the result of thought and action, we’re left with a void. It’s an emptiness, but we experience that emptiness.

It’s like darkness. Does darkness exist? No, darkness is the absence of light. Light itself exists as moving waves of photons. When no such photons or movement are present, the emptiness is noticeable to our perceptions. We give that nothingness a word, calling it “dark.” The word is a placeholder for the purposes of thinking.

What if we have pain on a regular basis. Would we say that the removal of that pain constitutes pleasure? Does the absence of pain automatically mean the presence of pleasure? No, it doesn’t. In the same way, the absence of pleasure doesn’t automatically constitue the introduction of pain.

Between pain and pleasure are comfort or apathy, two different experiences.

What seems to be missing from much of the long-term discussion on human nature is the concept of a continuum. Life isn’t binary. We don’t instantly go from on to off, alive to dead, happy to sad, pleased to hurting. There are gradations, and we’ve invented all sorts of words to describe those variations.

Modern religions tend to tell us that human beings are either fundamentally bad (sinful) or fundamentally good (redeemable). Philosophy isn’t quite so easily categorized. But the question does actually have a lot to do with you, how you live your life, and how life in the culture and world around you works.

Why else do we have arguments about the criminal justice system? Should we have capital punishment, killing people who murder other people? How about family values, or the role of religion in the lives of politicians? All these types of questions rest on the core beliefs and premises describing the very foundation of human nature.

Fear doesn’t exist as a real thing. That doesn’t mean we don’t experience fear. Cold doesn’t exist as a real thing, and we certainly experience coldness. But cold is the absence of heat. Heat is the movement of particulate matter. The more movement, the hotter something becomes. The less movement, the colder it becomes. When we remove movement, we don’t “create” cold, we’re left with “no heat.”

Any positive number is considered to be a number. Their opposites are the negative numbers. But zero is a placeholder. There’s no real thing as “nothing.” Nothing is not something. And yet we can experience “nothing” as the absence of “something.” So too, fear is a perceptible event, even though we’re only perceiving that some…thing no longer is present.

When we have pain and then remove that pain, we return to comfort. Comfort is the zero, or middle state of our emotional continuum. When we want something that doesn’t yet exist, then we get what we want, we end up with satisfaction. That’s a slightly different form of comfort.

Likewise, when we have pleasure then remove it, we become frustrated and left with wanting a return to that pleasure. We’re not comfortable, we’re not satisfied, nor are we apathetic. Isn’t it interesting that we become comfortable or apathetic when we remove pain, but we don’t have those same feelings when we remove pleasure?

Sadly, our experience of pain and pleasure are one thing, but the words we assign to pain and pleasure can be very badly confused. Some people experience pain as a form of pleasure. Other people feel pain instead of pleasure, when they feel guilty or anxious. There are people who enjoy causing pain and destruction, and find it to be rewarding. But does that mean that the natural condition of mankind is painful?

We all have both pain and pleasure mechanisms, built right into the body. We don’t like pain, and we like pleasure. That’s the natural condition and basic foundation of human nature. To elevate pain as the natural condition, placing it at a higher priority or bias than pleasure is utterly absurd. And yet, much of modern history is about doing just such a thing.

Neither pain nor pleasure is “more important.” They’re equal in importance. Without pain, we would die. Without pleasure we would die. And so life is a constant movement, back and forth between some form of pain and some form of pleasure. Even comfort can last only so long before it becomes numbing and we want something different.

Satisfaction, on the other hand, can last for a long time. Like happiness, satisfaction is an ongoing, dynamic emotional process. To be satisfied requires having a desire. If the desire continues and resolves, we reconstitute our satisfaction each time we get what we desire. I would argue that satisfaction is a stronger motive than fear.


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