Re: qualia, once and for all

From: Jef Allbright (
Date: Sat Jun 19 2004 - 13:50:55 MDT

Ben Goertzel wrote:

> > So, some would say, let us have constant pleasure, but let it be
> > varying degrees of pleasure, such that we are motivated to interact
> > with our friends, love others, and inspired to create. Well, then
> > you would be right where you are now, with only a shift in
> > viewpoint.
> >
> > - zen jef

> Ok, I will briefly take the bait, o dharma brother...
> Clearly, human life as a whole isn't very well described by your
> phrase "constant pleasure, but ... varying degrees of pleasure."

True, I recognized that it wasn't well described, but for the sake of
brevity, I did let that stand as written since the underlying principle
is the same.

> Hence the well-known Buddhist dictum, "All existence is suffering."

This is true, in the context that all sentient existence involves *some*
"suffering" related to displacement from a desired condition. The
wisdom of this statement supports that it's naive to think that constant
pleasure is practical or attainable. What I didn't spell out, assuming
it was implied, is that "constant pleasure" simply resets the baseline.
As I said earlier, it's the getting there that gives pleasure, not the
having. It's the differential that matters. For electronic geeks,
it's AC coupled, dude.

 But perhaps a more appropriate Buddhist quote, paraphrased, is "pain
is a given, suffering is optional."

> Perhaps your phrase describes YOUR life reasonably well. If so
> you're a fortunate dude.

Interesting statement. We could talk privately about some very painful
stuff I've dealt with over the decades, mainly from marrying into a
chronically dysfunctional family, but my point would be that no matter
how much it hurt at the moment, I always saw it as a positive learning
experience. Fortunately, and exceptionally (I realize) I have always
seen my own pain and suffering from a kind of third-person point of view
that puts a lot of things into a useful perspective. I seriously
studied zen in my twenties (somewhat concurrently with reading the
just-released and fabulous Godel, Escher, and Bach, Buckminster Fuller's
Synergetics, Daniel Dennett, Joseph Campbell, Alan Watts, and many other
influential works that convinced me that we are indeed immersed in a
dependable reality, that it's certainly not what it appears, but that we
can do best by successively improving our understanding of what we are
and what works. At a certain point, I had an experience I describe as
"going into the void and coming out the other side" that has left me
with a lasting feeling of compassion with unattachment (more or less).

(The above should make me a little clearer on various targeting
screens.) :-)

> It describes my life during its best intervals. It doesn't do much
> justice to the experience of the average Sudanese right now, or say
> the average Afghani soldier.... Alas, even as a spoiled middle-class
> American I've had many life experiences that don't match this
> description too well, such as serious auto accidents, divorce,
> colitis ... I'll refrain from boring you with the full list....

I wasn't denying that people live in pain, but only that life of
constant bliss is ultimately life without meaning.

> The phenomenology of pleasure and pain are somewhat subtle. As
> Nietzsche and many others have pointed out, pleasure and pain are not
> exactly opposites. It may be possible to eliminate pain from the
> experience of intelligent beings without reducing everything to a
> massive undifferentiated orgasmo-tinuum.

I agree with this, and appreciate the progress that we continue to make
reducing pain from the human experience.

Then we would be left with
> your hypothesized phenomenology of "constant pleasure ... but varying
> degrees of pleasure... such that we are motivated..." Sounds good
> to me!
> -- Ben G

What I enjoy most about this list, and a few others, is that the members
are generally motivated to improving our understanding and our lives.
At the same time, it is clear that some are strongly motivated (usually
transparently to themselves) by pain from their past. The
one-upsmanship, sarcasm, arrogance, even idealistic fixations, that we
see are all symptoms of pain and anger (among this demographic set,
often from feeling misunderstood and unappreciated as a child) that
while certainly motivating, get in the way of the clear value judgments
that constitute wisdom.

- Jef <stepping down from the soapbox>

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