The latest issue of the JCS is all about pain.  Pain has always been tough to deal with: it’s subjective, not a thing out there in the world, and yet even the most hardline reductionist materialist can’t really dismiss it as an airy-fairy poetic delusion. We are all intensely concerned about pain, and the avoidance of it is among our most important moral and political projects. When you step back a bit, that seems remarkable: it’s easy to see more or less objective reasons why we should want to prevent disease, mitigate the effects of natural disasters, prevent wars and famines – harder to see why near or even at the top of the list of things we care about should be avoiding the occurrence of a particular kind of pattern of neuronal firing.

It’s hard even to say what it is. It seems to be a sensation, but a sensation of what? Of…. pain? Our other sensations give us information, about light, sound, temperature, and so on. Pain is often accompanied by feelings of pressure or heat or whatever, but it is quite distinct and separable from those impressions. In itself, the only thing pain tells us is: ‘you’re in pain’.  It seems sensible, therefore, to regard it as not a sensation in the same way as other sensations, but as being something like a kind of deferrable reflex: instead of just automatically moving our arm away from the hot pan it tells us urgently that we ought to do so. So it turns out to be something like a change in our dispositions or a change of weightings in our current projects.  That kind of account is appealing except for the single flaw of being evident nonsense.  When I’m in the dentist’s chair, I’m not feeling a change in my dispositions or anything that abstract, I’m feeling pain – that thing, that bad thing, you know what I mean, even though words fail me.

If it’s hard to describe, then, is pain actually the most undeniable of qualia? From some angles it looks like a quale, but qualia are supposed to have no causal effects on our behaviour, and that is exceptionally difficult to believe in the case of pain: if ever anything was directly linked to motivation, pain is it.  Undeniability looks more plausible: pain is pre-eminently one of the things it seems we can’t be wrong about. I might be mistaken in my belief that my hand has just been sheared off by a saw:  that ‘s a deduction about the state of the world based on the evidence of my senses; I don’t see how I could be wrong about the fact that I’m in agony because no reasoning is involved: I just am.

One of the contributors to the JCS might take issue with that, though. S. Benjamin Fink wants to present an approach to difficult issues of phenomenal experience and as his example he offers a treatment of pain which suggests it isn’t the simple unanalysable primitive we might think. In Fink’s view one of the dangers we need to guard against is the assumption that elements of experience we’ve always, as it happens, had together are necessarily a single phenomenon.  In particular, he wants to argue for the independence of pain and suffering/unpleasantness. Pain, it turns out, is not really bad after all (at least, not necessarily and in itself).

Fink offers several examples where pain and unpleasantness occur separately. An itch is unpleasant but not painful; the burning sensation produced by hot chillies is painful but not unpleasant (at least, so long as it occurs in the mouths of regular chili eaters, and not in their eyes or a neophyte’s mouth). These examples seem vulnerable to a counterargument based on mildness: itches aren’t described as pains just because they aren’t bad enough; and the same goes for spicy food in a mouth that has become accustomed to it. But Fink’s real clincher is the much more dramatic example of pain asymbolia. People with this condition still experience pain but don’t mind it. It’s not at all that they’re anaesthetised: they are aware of pain and can use it rationally to decide when some part of their body is in danger of damage, but they do so , as it were coldly, and don’t mind needles being stuck in them for experimental purposes at all. Fink quotes a woman who underwent a lobotomy to cure continual pain: many years later she reported happily that the pain was still there: “In fact, it’s still agonising. But I don’t mind.”

These people are clearly exceptional, but it’s worth noting that even in normal people the link between nociception, the triggering of pain-sensing nerve-endings, and the actual experience of pain is by no means as invariable and straightforward as philosophers used to believe back in the days when some argued that the firing of c-fibres was identical with the occurence of pain. Fink wants to draw a distinction between pain itself, a sensation, and suffering, the emotional response associated with it; it is the latter, in his view, which is the bad thing while pain itself is a mere colourless report. As a further argument he notes research which seems to show that when subjects are feeling compassion, some neural activity can be seen in areas which are normally active when the subjects themselves are feeling pain. The subjects, as it were, feel the the pain of others, though obviously without actual nociception.

So is Fink right? I think many people’s first reaction might be that unpleasantness just defines pain, so that if you’re feeling something that isn’t unpleasant, we wouldn’t want to call it pain. We might say that people with asymbolia experience nocition (not sure that’s really a word but work with me on this) but not pain. Fink would say – he does say – that we ought to listen to what people say. Usage should determine our definition, he says, we should not make our definitions normatively control our usage.  But he’s in a weak position here. If we are to pay attention to usage, then surely we should pay attention to the usage of the vast majority of people who regard pain as a unitary phenomenon, not to a small group of people with a most unusual set of experiences which might have tutored their perceptions in unreliable ways. I’m not sure it’s clear that asymbolics, in any case, insist that what they’re aware of is proper, echt pain – if they were asked, would they perhaps agree that it’s not pain in quite the ordinary sense?

I’m also not convinced that suffering, or unpleasantess, is really a well-defined entity in the way Fink requires. Unpleasantness may be a slight lapse of manners at a tea-party;  you might suffer badly on the stock exchange while happily sipping a cocktail on your sun-lounger. I’m not sure there is a distinct complex of emotional affect we can label as suffering at all. And if there is, we’re back with the sheer implausibility of saying that that’s what the bad stuff is: when I hit my thumb with a hammer it doesn’t seem like a matter of affect to me, it seems very definitely like old-fashioned simple pain.

If we’re going to take that line, though, we have to account for Fink’s admittedly persuasive examples, in particular asymbolia.  Never mind now what we call it: how is it that these people can experience something they’re willing to call pain without minding it, if it isn’t that our concept of pain needs reform?

Well, there is one other property of pain which we’ve overlooked so far.  There is one obvious kind of pain which I can perceive without being disturbed at all – yours. We may indeed feel some sympathetic twinges for the pain of others, but a key point about pain is that it’s essentially ours. It sticks to us in a way nothing else does: it’s normal in philosophy to speak of the external world, but pain, perhaps uniquely, isn’t external in that sense: it’s in here with us.  That may be why it has another property, noted by Fink, of being very difficult to ignore.

So it may be that subjects with asymbolia are not lacking emotional affect, but rather any sense of ownership. The pain they feel is external, it’s not particularly theirs: like Mrs Gradgrind they feel that

‘… there’s a pain somewhere in the room, but I couldn’t positively say that I have got it.’

 

 

29 Comments

  1. 1. Kevin Kim says:

    “…a key point about pain is that it’s essentially ours. It sticks to us in a way nothing else does: it’s normal in philosophy to speak of the external world, but pain, perhaps uniquely, isn’t external in that sense: it’s in here with us.”

    Very interesting post, as always. But I’m left wondering: what exactly gives pain such pride of place? What about temporary sensations of joy or an abiding feeling of happiness? It seems to me that these internal states are no less “essentially ours.” Experiments in which animals neglected food after learning to stimulate their own pleasure centers electrically (see here, for example) are evidence that it’s not just pain that can be difficult to ignore.

  2. 2. scott bakker says:

    Isn`t this apiece with the larger question of what to make of any apparent neurofunctional decomposition of an otherwise apparently unified experience? So neuropathology shows that suffering can be detached from pain: but isn`t it the case that all experience, given a complete neuroscience, could be functionally disassembled? Neuron by neuron, if need be.

    Which is just to say: Isn`t this just the Hard Problem?

  3. 3. Peter says:

    Kevin: good question, to which I don’t have a detailed answer. Pain just does seem harder to ignore to me: with sensations of joy you can easily think about something else. I’m inclined to say that fascination with a pleasure stimulus seems different and weaker; on the other hand I can imagine that certain addictive or very powerful cravings might almost match up to pain. Suppose you were dieting and there was a bacon sandwich on the table, but at the same time you had a particularly nasty piece of grit in your eye: which of the two would more effectively stop you paying attention to what someone was saying? (Actually that may not be as clear-cut as I intended.)

    Scott – broadly yes, and when you pare it down a bit it is the Hard Problem. But I’m not sure it’s clear that phenomenal experience can be functionally disassembled in a way that matches up with a similar neural disassembly. I think that’s still to play for. After all, you can disassemble a text in terms of the words or letters it contains without that necessarily telling you how to analyse the story it tells?

  4. 4. John says:

    “Fink wants to draw a distinction between pain itself, a sensation, and suffering, the emotional response associated with it; it is the latter, in his view, which is the bad thing while pain itself is a mere colourless report.”

    Last time I had a serious pain I described it, see the section on pain in Space in the dark. “A mere colourless report” does not do this justice.

  5. 5. Vicente says:

    which of the two would more effectively stop you paying attention to what someone was saying?

    The one that saves your life.

    I am not inclined to mix evolution and consciousness but, in the case of pain, I’ll have to make an exception.

    I believe that pain is encompassed within the set of mechanisms related to, or that support, the “survival instinct”.

    To me, the main difference between pain and other qualia, entailing more or less urgency, food cravings, sexual desire… is that pain can safe your life, by triggering a fast and unavoidable reaction, when needed.

    Parents watching their offspring in a critical dangerous situation experience some sort of physical pain, probably in a “Dawkinsian” survival fashion.

    As with many other adquired traits useful in the stone age, the thing has nowadays become a “pain in the ass”.

  6. 6. Vicente says:

    Kevin: it’s not just pain that can be difficult to ignore

    Well, to make the difference just think of torture as a “tool”. Could you picture an interrogation, using stimulation of the pleasure centres? and the arrested person (a tough enemy agent) confessing it all, and asking for more…

    difficult vs. impossible

  7. 7. Tom Clark says:

    Whatever else is true about pain, it’s the case that its neural correlates (NCs) are the drivers of pain-related behavior, so even if pain itself is epiphenomenal, its NCs aren’t. The question then is whether pain is something besides its NCs, and if it is, whether it contributes causally to behavior above and beyond what the NCs accomplish.

    Epiphenomenalists such as Bill Robinson think sensations like pain are the causal product of their NCs, hence not identical to them: “The causes of our own sensations are not known in detail, but there is wide convergence in science on the view that sensations depend on activities in our neurons,” from http://onthehuman.org/2011/06/challenges-for-a-humanoid-robot/ They then claim that pain is epiphenomenal since they don’t see how, once produced by neurons, it could play a causal role in behavior, which they say is fully accounted for by the neural goings-on.

    Of course epiphenomenalists have precisely *no* story about how sensations are caused by neural activity in the first place. But without such a story, why should we suppose pain is in the same public, 3rd person explanatory space as its correlates? If it isn’t, then it isn’t in a position to be epiphenomenal. Rather, it’s in 1st person subjective explanatory space, and it plays a perfectly respectable causal role in first person accounts of behavior as certified by our experience: my pain causes me to wince, seek medical attention, etc., so isn’t epiphenomenal.

    From a 3rd person outside perspective you can’t (and will never) see my pain, and the neural story is all you need to explain my behavior objectively, even my verbal reports of being in pain. But this doesn’t mean pain is objectively epiphenomenal since it doesn’t even exist in 3rd person objective explanatory space. Unless, that is, one can establish an identity between pain and its NCs.

  8. 8. Tom Clark says:

    Sorry, I should have prefaced my previous message with this quote from Peter’s typically insightful article:

    “If it’s hard to describe, then, is pain actually the most undeniable of qualia? From some angles it looks like a quale, but qualia are supposed to have no causal effects on our behaviour, and that is exceptionally difficult to believe in the case of pain: if ever anything was directly linked to motivation, pain is it. Undeniability looks more plausible: pain is pre-eminently one of the things it seems we can’t be wrong about. I might be mistaken in my belief that my hand has just been sheared off by a saw: that ‘s a deduction about the state of the world based on the evidence of my senses; I don’t see how I could be wrong about the fact that I’m in agony because no reasoning is involved: I just am.”

    In message #7 was responding to the statement that “qualia are supposed to have no causal effects on our behaviour.” Some believe this, some not, depending on their conception of qualia.

    I’d also add here that whether I’m right or wrong about being in agony, I can’t be wrong about *seeming* that I’m in agony, which is all that the qualia realist insists on. People who doubt the existence of qualia, like Dennett, often say that it only seems like we have them. But as Sam Harris put it recently, “To say that consciousness may only seem to exist is to admit its existence in full—for if things seem any way at all, that is consciousness,” http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-mystery-of-consciousness/

  9. 9. Callan S. says:

    I think pain, from an external viewpoint, is a process that controls the encapsulation of urge/enthusiasm, to a degree.

    For example, lets say you enjoy food A, giving that enjoyment a rating of 100. Pain (ie the data from nerves and how they enter the processes of the brain) basically has access to that rating and can push it down. Both temporarily, long term and possibly in a scarring type effect, permanently. That’s why you get ovewhelming pain – it’s temporarily pushed down the enjoyment of pretty much every other action except perhaps escape type moves. Like being put into a maze, with the walls that block action are things that have had their enjoyment rating slammed down.

    If my hypothesis of long term and possibly permanent scarring effects is the case, you might want to simply consider pain as a desease. On the other hand, much like a wolf taking out the weak in a flock, the desease helps take out what most people would call abberant behaviour. Certainly behaviour that in the past, without medical technology, would lead to death. Anyway, perhaps pain is a symbiote process in conjunction with the rest of the logic of the brain, but occasionally it slips out of symbiote status into damaging parasite. Though this is really evolutions fault, to give evolution some intent in describing it as such. Evolution doesn’t care if your permanently scarred in terms of going to a certain place you loved before. It just cares that the saber tooth lion that was there doesn’t eat you and that you make babies. Or even, if your too weak, if your scarring also stops you making babies, that’s for the best in evolutions view. I like to call nature/evolutionary pressure a thing that is a manpulative user of us, as if it were an entity to ascribe intent to.

  10. 10. John says:

    Vicente has focused on the impossibility of ignoring pain and Tom on pain as a rebuttal of epiphenomalism.

    If someone were slowly crushing my fingers into splinters, one by one in a vice, it would be impossible for me to resist all reflex action. The autonomic reaction from such deep pain would possibly lead to unconsciousness. It becomes impossible to maintain an observational mode of being and conscious composure when there is deep and severe pain. The role of conscious experience appears to be to provide overall stability to the brain so the non-conscious brain will reflexly do almost anything to prevent the disintegration of this function.

    I described a moderate to severe pain that presented no threat to composed consciousness in the article referenced above. Such pain is not much different from putting quinine on your tongue or some other extreme sensation and does not extend the argument about epiphenomenalism and is not irresistible. But what happens in the transitional period between composed consciousness and unconsciousness due to the autonomic reaction to extremely severe pain? Deep and severe pain can produce an autonomic reaction even when I try to recall it which makes it very difficult to analyse.

  11. 11. Vicente says:

    Good point John. Actually one of the ways to show the control of the mind, the power of “spirit” over flesh, is the capability to take pain.

    You can find it from Shaolin monks, “little grasshopper” initiation ceremony, to self inflicted pain as a way to purify the soul in the middle age.

    Also intelligence services agents are trained to manage pain as a major skill…

    Definitely pain can push conscious control to the limit…

    The pain you described is part of propioception, and probably its purpose is to prevent more pain, and facilitate healing. It clearly has an important subjective component. The same condition can produce very different reactions, eg: Sylvester Stallone and Woody Allen both twisting their ankle, the former will go on carrying a 173kg back bag for another 340 miles without a groan, the latter will call a helicopter to be moved to hospital and ask to have a full body MRI and morphine directly injected in the brain…

    So, somehow, physiological pain can be decoupled from psychological (perceived pain), by some objectivation or disembodiment technique, and be controlled. Probably not in the very extreme cases though, in which as you said, consciousness could be even switched off as a last resort.

    Nevertheless, pain is “perceived pain” or “felt pain” by definition. Maybe it could be possible to produce some “objective” scale, measuring the afferent nervous signals from the injured area, and compare how different people describe the feeling for equivalent inputs.

    Another effect I find very difficult to understand is why some sounds are so unpleasant, like nail scratching on a blackboard, or twisting a cork closure in the bottle neck… for the case of a baby craying, or some smells or flavors, I could understand that there is a relation with survival mechanisms…

    It is true that among qualia there is something special about pain, to dislike a color has nothing to do with pain…

  12. 12. Shankar says:

    I am not sure if asymbolic patients perceive pain in the normal sense, or as an entirely different qualia. To me, pain, as we normally acknowledge it to be, is the very definition of suffering. So it is possible that they experience a different sensation altogether, but which correlates with “our” pain.

    It should be noted that pain, along with bad odor and queasiness (among others) are qualia that can be classified as ‘suffering’ qualia. I mean, however less their intensity, they are not pleasant.

    Others such as spiciness of chilies, or deafening sounds or even heat, can actually be pleasurable at lower doses (eg. mild or medium spiced food, music, or a dip in a hot tub at the right temperature.

    I also want to state my theory that pain (along with all other qualia) are actually experienced by a qualia field, with each conscious entity forming an independent 3-D space in it (this gives the pain or any other quale a location).

    sort of like when Obi Wan Kenobi feels the pain of a million living beings getting killed when Alderaan gets wiped out by the Empire.

  13. 13. scott bakker says:

    Peter: I’m just saying that one sense, Fink’s point is trivial: all experience can be decomposed given the dramatic asymmetry between it and the neural complexities generating it. Maybe it dissolves, transforms, or breaks (as in this case) into multiple phenomena – I’m not sure it matters.

    It’s the information asymmetry between the neural and the phenomenal that’s key here. The skeptics dredge up more information inaccessible to experience (such as the detachability of pain and suffering), and say, “See? You don’t know what you’re talking about!” And the realists say, “That may be, but I’m talking about something!”

    “Well, don’t be so sure.”

    “Well, I can’t make sense of doubt without it!”

    It begins to feel like a mug’s game, intractable. All the while no one pauses to consider the fundamental asymmetry that makes the debate possible, the strange sense in which consciousness is PRIVATIVE. Perhaps, if we puzzle these privations through, issues like this will resolve themselves.

  14. 14. Arnold Trehub says:

    Right. Consciousness is private, and the brain that gives us consciousness is public. This is why we need to adopt a bridging principle to bring the understanding of consciousness within the ambit of science. So I have proposed the following bridging principle:

    *For any instance of conscious content there is a corresponding analog in the biophysical state of the brain.*

    The scientific problem is to specify putative brain mechanisms that can generate salient analogs of conscious content. I have argued that the neuronal structure and dynamics of what I call the retinoid system can do the job, and I have presented empirical evidence in support of this claim. For more information about this, see “Where Am I Redux” here:

    http://www.people.umass.edu/trehub/where-am-i-redux.pdf

    Also

    http://people.umass.edu/trehub/YCCOG828%20copy.pdf

  15. 15. Vicente says:

    Shankar:

    From, p.43, “Feeling pain and being in pain” by Nikola Grahek

    In spite of apparently normal pain perception of superficial and deep pain, the patient showed a total lack of withdrawal response[….]. Verbal and visual threats also failed to produce protective or emotional reactions

    I believe this is the key point, in asymbolic patients, the link between pain, as a threat sign, and the corresponding response to protect self integrity is broken. It is a survival instinct implementation malfunction.

    It seems, pain requires of a two-phased mechanism:

    1) Perception (as any other qualia)
    2) Response to avoid the threat.

    Only the cascaded combination of 1) and 2) makes pain to be what it is. Otherwise it is pain without painfulness (from Grahek), to me more adequate than pain without suffering, since suffering involves other psychological dimensions, quite distinguisable from pain.

  16. 16. John says:

    Vicente: “Nevertheless, pain is “perceived pain” or “felt pain” by definition. ”

    As an adherent of Aristotle’s analysis of observation, that “the brain that is actively thinking is the objects that it thinks”, I find it hard to see why observing would need to be separate from feeling. A composed consciousness has the feelings all nicely laid out in spacetime whereas a consciousness that is being wrecked (or wracked) by pain probably loses the temporo-spatial order. The trouble is that when I think back to the couple of occasions in my life when this may have occurred I cannot really remember and I am definitely not volunteering for any experimental studies!

    Returning to the separation of observation from feeling, nothing flows into my observation point, what is in my observation is also AT the observation point as well as being arranged in space and time, what I take to be spatial separation from the content of consciousness is actually spatio-temporal separation between different instants of experience. See Time and conscious experience for a full description. “I” am arranged in space and time, the observation point is nothing more than that, a geometric point, “I” am not the geometric point. I am my mind and my mind is the content of my experience although this has an nD geometrical form that has a twist in it that creates an apparent observation point. Think about it, nothing flows into the observation point yet it exists so it can only be a complex geometrical form. I am my pain even though it is over there in my toe!

  17. 17. John says:

    I have been trying to remember very severe pain. The moderate pain that I describe in Space in the dark was mobile and could displace away from the site of injury. What I can recall about very severe pain is that it was not fully localised, certainly the source of the pain was evident but the pain also spread everywhere, suppressing inner speech and perception, and I think my body reacted as if it was entirely in pain, as if each part was injured. (This pain occurred many years ago and was due to being crushed in a head-on road accident between a car and a lorry – fortunately I only have a couple of scars on my legs and hips and a bit of internal metalwork to show for it now!).

  18. 18. Vicente says:

    John[16], you are write, bad and misleading phrasing, sorry. Please delete “perceive”, leave “felt”.

    John[17], yes, intense pain can be overwhelming for the first instants (mind seizure), everything ceases to exist but the pain. In those cases, the system is saturated and even the reaction could be blocked.

  19. 19. Vicente says:

    [18]write -> right, I was thinking of writing (phrasing)… it is funny how people educated in phonetical spelling commit this kind of subconscious typos all the time.

  20. 20. scott bakker says:

    I’m going to take a good hard look at your Time and Consciousness essay, John. I actually picked up this wonderful little book, The Wraparound Universe, wondering if I could find analogies between cosmological topology and the queer temporal ‘topology’ of consciousness.

  21. 21. Vicente says:

    I found this interesting quote from Jane Goodall:

    There is of course no question that there is a continuity of feelings and emotions. There is no question that animals feel pain . I don’t know how far down the scale of species it goes, but I am sure that insects feel some kind of pain since they avoid bad stimulus. In the case of animals with more complex brains it is not only the pain they experience, but also the fear and the suffering, mental suffering as well as physical.

    From the phenomenal conscious research view, it is very interesting, since it points out that pain could be the connection thread that associates conscious phenomenal experience and qualia, to any nervous system structure, even to very simple ones.

    I have always suspected that nervous systems hide some biophysical processes and properties, still to be discovered and understood, that underpin the fundamental machinery in consciousness set up.

    Arnold, what do you think?

  22. 22. Arnold Trehub says:

    Vicente: “I have always suspected that nervous systems hide some biophysical processes and properties, still to be discovered and understood, that underpin the fundamental machinery in consciousness set up.”

    “Arnold, what do you think?”

    As you know, I claim that the essential biophysical machinery for consciousness to exist is the retinoid system. This is what provides a creature with subjectivity, the sense of being at the spatiotemporal origin of a volumetric surround — its phenomenal world in which personal pain and other qualia can exist. Without subjectivity, there can be no feeling because whatever the sensory stimulus — a stimulus pattern that might induce pain, color, sound, shape, etc., in an organism with a self-locus (I!) — would belong to no one without subjectivity. See “Evolution’s Gift: Subjectivity and the Phenomenal World”, here:

    http://theassc.org/documents/evolutions_gift_subjectivity_and_the_phenomenal_world

  23. 23. Arnold Trehub says:

    Vicente, the avoidance of noxious stimuli and the approach to nutritive stimuli seen in insects and other lower organisms is easily attributable to reflexive sensory-motor response. This kind of behavior can be duplicated in simple chemo-electro-mechanical devices and is not indicative of feeling.

  24. 24. c.k.Bharathy says:

    I found the post (by chance) its engaing. I was reading J Krishnamurti & D.Bohm dialogue (wholeness of life). I am just appending a section. There is no one to one correspondence or relevance. But I thought that “suffering” or “sorrow” as we discuss is the”mental stuff” from which we are “made”. Our body mind seems to be in this field rather than other way around. It can not (seems to be at least) taken up as an individual suffering and explained within the confines of the “mind-body” organism. The “mystery” stooped the mind for few minutes when the whole argument is irrelenat and thought slows down. Please ignore if this doesnt interest you.

    K: Time coming to a stop totally. There is no future in the sense
    of the past meeting the present and carrying on. B: Psychologically
    speaking.
    K: Yes, psychologically speaking, of course; we are speaking
    psychologically. Psychological ending to everything.
    S: Right.
    K: That’s what death is.
    B: And when your organism dies then everything ends for that
    organism.
    K: Of course. When the organism dies it is finished. But wait a
    minute. If I don’t end the image, the stream of image-making goes
    on.
    B: It is not too clear where it goes on. In other people?
    K: It manifests itself in other people. That is, I die; the organism
    dies and at the last minute I am still with the image that I have.
    B: Yes, well then what happens to that?
    K: That image has its continuity with the rest of the images,
    your image, my image.
    S: Right.
    K: Your image is not different from mine.
    S: Right. We share that.
    K: No, no. Not share it. It is not different. It may be a little more
    frail, or have a little more colour, but essentially my image is your
    image.
    S: Right.
    K: So there is this constant flow of image-making.
    B: Well, where does it take place? In people?
    K: It is there. It manifests itself in people.
    B: You feel it is in some ways more general, more universal?
    K: Yes, much more universal.
    B: That is rather strange.
    K: Eh?
    B: I say it is rather strange to think of that.
    K: Yes.
    S: It is there. Like a river, it is there. K: Yes, it is there.
    S: And it manifests itself in streams.
    B: In people.
    S: Which we call people.
    K: No, that stream is the maker of images and imagery.
    B: In other words you are saying that the image does not
    originate only in one brain, but is in some sense universal?
    K: Universal. Quite right.
    B: You are not only saying that it is just the sum of all the
    brains; you are implying something more?
    K: It is the effect of all the brains and it manifests itself in
    people as they are born.
    B: Yes.
    K: Now is that all? Let’s say, yes. Does death bring about this
    sense of enormous, endless energy which has no beginning and no
    end? Life must have infinite depth.
    B: Yes, and it is death which opens that out.
    K: Death opens that up.
    B: But we say it is more than the death of the image-making.
    You see, this is not clear. Is it something real which is blocking
    that from realizing itself?
    K: Yes. It is blocking itself through images and the
    thoughtmaker.
    S: The image-making and thought-making are blocking this
    greater…
    K: Wait a minute. There are still other blocks, deeper blocks.
    B. That is what I was trying to get at. That there are deeper
    blocks that are real.
    K: That are real.
    B: And they really have to die.
    K: That is just it.
    S: Would that be like this stream that you were talking about.. ?
    K. There is a stream of sorrow, isn’t there? B: Is sorrow deeper
    than the image? K: Yes.
    B: That is important.
    K: It is.
    S: You think so?
    K: Don’t you?
    S: I do.
    K: Be careful, sir, this is very serious.
    S: That’s right.
    B: Would you say sorrow and suffering are the same, just
    different words?
    K: Different words.
    S: Deeper than this image-making is sorrow.
    K: Isn’t it? Man has lived with sorrow a million years. B: Well,
    could we say a little more about sorrow. It is more than pain.
    K: Much more than pain. Much more than loss. Much more
    than losing someone.
    S: It is deeper than that.
    K: Much deeper than that.
    B: It goes beyond the image, beyond thought.
    K: Of course. It goes beyond thought.
    B: Beyond thought, and what we ordinarily call feeling.
    K: Of course. Feeling, thought. Now can that end?
    S: Before you go on – are you saying that the stream of sorrow
    is a different stream from the stream of image-making?
    K: No, it is part of the stream.
    S: Part of the same stream? K: The same stream but much
    deeper.
    B: Then are you saying that there is a very deep stream, and that
    image-making is on the surface of this stream?
    K: That’s all. B: Right. The waves on the surface, right? Could
    you say we have understood the waves on the surface of this
    stream, which we call image-making?
    K: Yes, that’s right. Image-making.
    B: And the disturbances in sorrow come out on the surface as
    image-making.
    K: That’s right.
    S: So now we have got to go deep-sea diving!
    K: You know, sir, there is universal sorrow.
    B: Yes, but let’s try to make it clear. It is not merely that there is
    the sum of all the sorrow of different people…
    K: No, no. Could we put it this way? The waves on the river
    don’t bring compassion or love – compassion, love, we have said,
    are synonymous, so we will keep to the word “compassion”. The
    waves don’t bring this. What will? Without compassion human
    beings are destroying themselves. So does compassion come with
    the ending of sorrow, which is not the sorrow created by thought?
    B: In thought you have sorrow for the self – right?
    K: Yes. Sorrow for the self.
    B: Which is self-pity.
    K: Self-pity.
    B: And now you say there is another sorrow, a deeper sorrow.
    K: There is a deeper sorrow.
    B: Which is not merely the total sum but something universal.
    K: That’s right.
    S. Can we spell that out? Go into it?
    K: Don’t you know it? I am just asking. Don’t you know, aren’t
    you aware of a much deeper sorrow than the sorrow of thought, of
    self-pity, the sorrow of the image?
    S: Yes.
    B: Is it sorrow for the fact that man is in this state which he can’t
    get out of?
    K: That is partly it. That means partly the sorrow of ignorance.
    B: Yes. Man is ignorant and cannot get out of it. K: Cannot get
    out of it. And the perception of that sorrow is compassion.
    B: All right. Then the non-perception is sorrow?
    K: Yes, yes, yes. Are we seeing the same thing?
    S: No, I don’t think so.
    K: Say, for instance, you see me in ignorance.
    B: Or I see the whole of mankind in ignorance.
    K: Mankind in ignorance. Ignorant in the sense we are talking
    about – that is, the maker of the image…
    B: Let’s say that if my mind is really right, good, clear, that
    should have a deep effect on me.
    S: What would have a deep effect on me?
    B: To see this tremendous ignorance, this tremendous
    destruction.
    K: We are getting at it. We are getting at it.
    S: Right, right.
    K: We are getting at it. B: But then if I don’t fully perceive, if I
    start to escape the perception of it, I am in it too.
    K: Yes, in it too.
    B: The feeling is that universal sorrow is still something I can
    feel, is that what you mean to say?
    K: Yes.
    B: Although I am not very perceptive as to what it means.
    K: No, no. You can feel the sorrow of thought.
    B: The sorrow of thought. But I can sense, or somehow be
    aware of the universal sorrow.
    K: Yes.
    B: Right.
    S: You say universal sorrow is there whether you feel it…
    K: You can feel it. B: Feel it or sense it.
    K: Sorrow of man living like this. B: Is that the essence of it?
    K: I am just moving into it. Let’s go.
    B: Is there more to it than that?
    K: Much more to it.
    B: Then perhaps we should try to bring that out.
    K: I am trying to. You see me: I live the ordinary life, image,
    sorrow, fear, anxiety; I have the sorrow of self-pity. And you, who
    are “enlightened” (in quotes), look at me, and I say, “Aren’t you
    full of sorrow for me?” – which is compassion.
    B: I would say that is a kind of energy which is tremendously
    aroused because of this situation.
    K: Yes.
    B: But would you call it sorrow? Or compassion?
    K: Compassion, which is the outcome of sorrow.
    B: But have you felt sorrow first? I mean, does the enlightened
    person feel sorrow and then compassion?
    K: No.
    S: The other way?
    K: No, no. Go very carefully. You see, sir, you are saying that
    one must have sorrow first to have compassion.
    B: I am not. I am just exploring.
    K: Yes, you are exploring. Through sorrow you come to
    compassion.
    B: That is what you seem to be saying.
    K: Which implies that I must go through all the horrors of
    mankind…
    S: Right.
    B: Well, let’s say that the enlightened man sees this sorrow, sees
    this destruction, and he feels some tremendous energy – we will
    call it compassion.
    K: Yes.
    B: Now does he understand that the people are in sorrow..?
    K: Of course. B: …but he himself is not in sorrow.
    K: That’s right. That’s right.
    B: But he feels a tremendous energy to do something.
    K: Yes. Tremendous energy of compassion.
    S: Would you say then that the enlightened man perceives, or is
    aware of the conflict, the awkwardness, the blundering, the loss of
    life, but that he is not aware of sorrow?
    K: No, sir. Dr Shainberg just listen. Suppose you have been
    through all this – image, thought, the sorrow of thought, fears,
    anxieties, and you say, “I have understood all that”. But you have
    very little left. You have energy, but it is a very shallow business.
    And is life as shallow as all that? Or has it an immense depth?
    Depth is the wrong word.
    B: Well, yes, inwardness?
    K: Inwardness, yes. And to find that out don’t you have to die to
    everything known?
    B: But how does this relate to sorrow at the same time?
    K: I am coming to that. You might feel that I am ignorant, that I
    have my anxieties and fears. You are beyond it, you are on the
    other side of the stream as it were. Don’t you have compassion for
    me?
    S: Yes. B: Yes.
    K: Compassion. Is that the result of the ending of sorrow,
    universal sorrow?
    B: Universal sorrow? You say the ending of sorrow. Now you
    are talking about the person who is in sorrow to begin with.
    K: Yes.
    B: And in him this universal sorrow ends? Is that what you are
    saying?
    K: No. More than that.
    B: More than that? Well, we have to go slowly because if you
    say the ending of universal sorrow, the thing that is puzzling is to
    say that it still exists, do you see?
    K: Eh? B: You say if the universal sorrow ends then it has all
    gone.
    K: Ah, it is still there.
    B: Still there. There is a certain puzzle in language.
    K: Yes, yes.
    B: So in some sense the universal sorrow ends, but in another
    sense it persists.
    K: Yes, that is right.
    B: Could we say that if you have an insight into the essence of
    sorrow, universal sorrow, then sorrow ends in that insight? Is that
    what you mean?
    K: Yes, that’s right.
    B: Although…
    K: Although it still goes on.
    S: I have got a deeper question. The question is…
    K: I don’t think you have understood.
    S: Oh, I think I have understood that one, but my question
    comes before, which is that the image-making has died – right?
    That is, the waves. Now I come into the sorrow.
    K: You have lost the sorrow of thought.
    S: Right. The sorrow of thought has gone but there is a deeper
    sorrow.
    K: Is there? Or are you assuming there is a deeper sorrow?
    S: I am trying to see what you are saying.
    K: No, no. I am saying: Is there compassion which is not related
    to thought? Or is that compassion born of sorrow?
    S: Born of sorrow?
    K: Born in the sense that when the sorrow ends there is
    compassion.
    S: OK. That makes it a little clearer. When the sorrow of
    thought…
    K: Not personal sorrow.
    S: No. When the sorrow…
    K: Not the sorrow of thought. B: Not the sorrow of thought,
    something deeper.
    S: Something deeper. When that sorrow ends then there is a
    birth of compassion.
    B: Of compassion, of energy.
    K: Now is there not a deeper sorrow than the sorrow of
    thought?
    S: There is. As you were saying, there is sorrow for ignorance
    which is deeper than thought – the sorrow for the universal
    calamity of mankind trapped in this sorrow, the sorrow for a
    continual repetition of wars and poverty and people mistreating
    each other, that’s a deeper sorrow. K: I understand all that.
    S: That is deeper than the sorrow of thought.
    K: Can we ask this question: What is compassion? Which is
    love. We are using that one word to cover a wide field. What is
    compassion? Can a man who is in sorrow, in thought, in the image
    – can he have that? He cannot. Actually he cannot – right?
    B: Yes.
    K: Now when does that compassion come into being? Without
    that life has no meaning. You have left me without that. All you
    have taken away from me is superficial sorrow, thought and imagemaking.
    And I feel there is something much more.
    B: Just doing that leaves something empty.
    K: Yes.
    B: Meaningless.
    K: There is something much greater than this shallow little
    business. B: When we have thought which produces sorrow, selfpity,
    and when we also have the realization of the sorrow of
    mankind, could you say that the energy which is deeper is in some
    ways being..?
    K: …moved.
    B: …moved. Well, first of all in this sorrow this energy is…
    K: …caught.
    B: …is caught up in whirlpools or something. It is deeper than
    thought but there is some sort of very deep disturbance of the
    energy. K: Quite right.
    B: Which we call deep sorrow.
    K: Deep sorrow.
    B: Ultimately its origin is the blockage in thought, isn’t it?
    K: Yes, that is deep sorrow of mankind. For centuries upon
    centuries it has been like that – you know, like a vast reservoir of
    sorrow.
    B: It is sort of moving around in some way that is disorderly.
    K: Yes.
    B: And preventing clarity. I mean perpetuating ignorance.
    K: Yes, perpetuating ignorance, right.
    B: Because if it were not for that then man’s natural capacity to
    learn would solve all these problems.
    K: That’s right.
    S: Right, right.
    K: Unless you three give me, or help me, or show me, an insight
    into something much greater, I say, “Yes, this is very nice”, and off
    I go – you follow? What we are trying to do, as far as I can see, is
    to penetrate into something beyond death.
    B: Beyond death?
    K: Death we say is not only the ending of the organism, but the
    ending of the content of the consciousness – consciousness as we
    know it now.
    B: Is it also the ending of sorrow?
    K: The ending of sorrow of the superficial kind. That is clear.
    B: Yes.
    K: And a man who has gone through all that says, “That isn’t
    good enough. You haven’t given me the flower, the perfume. You
    have just given me the ashes of it.” And now we three are trying to
    find out that which is beyond the ashes.
    S: Right.
    B: There is that which is beyond death?
    K: Ah, absolutely.
    B: Would you say that is eternal, or… K: I don’t want to use that
    word.
    B: I mean is it in some sense beyond time?
    K: Beyond time.
    B: Therefore eternal is not the best word.
    K: There is something beyond the superficial death, a
    movement that has no beginning and no ending.
    B: But it is a movement?
    K: It is a movement. Movement, not in time.
    S: What is the difference between a movement in time, and a
    movement out of time?
    K: Sir, that which is constantly renewing, constantly – new isn’t
    the word – constantly fresh, endlessly flowering, that is timeless.
    But this word flowering implies time. B: I think we can see the
    point.
    S: I think we get that, the feel of renewal in creation, and
    coming and going without transition, without duration, without
    linearity.
    K: Let me come back to it in a different way. Being a fairly
    intelligent man, having read various books, tried various
    meditations, at

  25. 25. Vicente says:

    Arnold:

    Yes, your answer is precise, my question was not. I meant some biophysical mechanism at a very low hierarchical level, neuron or sub-neuron, so that we can decouple it from the global architecture, or generalise it to any architecture. Something that would apply to: warms, insects or humans, leading of course, to different level of conscious complexity, according this time to the architecture, i.e. number of neurons and synapsis distribution.

    Regarding the second point, how are the sensorial stimulii classified as noxious? I could understand that tissue damage is a good criterium, but in the general case, how does the organism set a threshold? Where is the border for complexity? which one was the first species to feel pain? and what made the difference between that and preceding ones?

    Of course, this behaviour can be duplicated in simple mechanisms, and the opposite one, you could design the mechanism to show almost any behaviour (I would say response).

    But you see, we have no way to check if a bee is really feeling pain when hurt, no matter how well you know its nervous system functioning.

  26. 26. Vicente says:

    Arnold,

    In my view the processes that take place in the retinoid system are not biophysical strictly speaking, rather logical. Like walking, yes it is biophysical instrumented (muscle mithocondria play a role), but biomechanics have a life of its own… similarly the logical architecture of a processor is not “component electronics”, despite it has to be consistent with it, and based on it.

    I am talking about, some sort of “molecular quantum entanglement effect” resulting from the coherence protection (isolation) within the skull or the neuron membrane, to say something, just an example… I am talking about qualia generation at a basic level, not about information processing, I am referring to the canvas and the paints, not to the painting technique….

  27. 27. John says:

    c.k quoting:
    “K: It is a movement. Movement, not in time.
    S: What is the difference between a movement in time, and a
    movement out of time?
    K: Sir, that which is constantly renewing, constantly – new isn’t
    the word – constantly fresh, endlessly flowering, that is timeless.
    But this word flowering implies time. B: I think we can see the
    point.
    S: I think we get that, the feel of renewal in creation, and
    coming and going without transition, without duration, without
    linearity.”

    I agree with this analysis of “becoming” being outside time. Time is lifeless without becoming. Krishnamurti seems to put these two ideas together and be saying that “becoming” is beyond death. The real question here is whether “becoming” is a movement of the conscious observer through time (possibly a multiverse of possible worldlines) or a creation of time, in the sense of creating new temporal arrangements of objects. In other words the real question is what is the cosmology of the universe that supports conscious observation?

    On Krishnamurti’s other point of compassion being born from the transmutation of mechanical suffering into a deep phenomenal sorrow. I do not feel that he has justified the presence of deep sorrow as a part of consciousness itself rather than deep sorrow being a content of consciousness. The only deep sorrow I can find is the weight of material being. My body feels like sorrow when my mind is fully clear. But this is a content of consciousness – my perceptions are not sorrow, or are they… I really do not know.

  28. 28. Arnold Trehub says:

    Vicente: “I meant some biophysical mechanism at a very low hierarchical level, neuron or sub-neuron, so that we can decouple it from the global architecture, or generalise it to any architecture.”

    It seems that you think a consciousness-generating substance of some sort is needed to explain consciousness. Suppose such a substance X really does exist. How would science recognize it? Well, you might say that substance X would be found in all conscious entities, but never found in non-conscious entities. But then you would have to *independently* distinguish conscious entities from non-conscious entities. The presence of X could not be your criterion. So you would have to have an independent definition/criterion for distinguishing C from not-C. Since we can’t use substance X as a criterion, what other criterion would you propose? And if you really had an independent criterion or definition for the existence of consciousness, what would X add?

    Vicente: “Regarding the second point, how are the sensorial stimulii classified as noxious? I could understand that tissue damage is a good criterium, but in the general case, how does the organism set a threshold?”

    The threshold for noxiousness in any creature would vary around some normative point set by evolution. In general, whatever is noxious works against the survival of the creature.

    Vicente: “In my view the processes that take place in the retinoid system are not biophysical strictly speaking, rather logical. … similarly the logical architecture of a processor is not “component electronics”, despite it has to be consistent with it, and based on it.”

    I disagree. The processes that take place in the retinoid system *are* biophysical, even though they can be *described* in logical terms. Similarly, a digital processor is a particular kind of physically connected organization of component electronics that can be *described* in terms of a logical architecture. The mathematics of physics are logical inventions that *describe* the structure and dynamics of real or theoretical physical processes.

    Vicente: “I am talking about, some sort of “molecular quantum entanglement effect” resulting from the coherence protection (isolation) within the skull or the neuron membrane …”

    As I said in my paper in *The Journal of Cosmology*, on the basis of our present understanding of quantum electrodynamics we should expect quantum events to be relevant to all biophysical processes at a fundamental level, but if particular kinds of quantum events are selectively determinate for conscious content, they must conform in some way to the structural and dynamic properties of the retinoid system.

  29. 29. c.k.Bharathy says:

    John: “The only deep sorrow I can find is the weight of material being. My body feels like sorrow when my mind is fully clear. But this is a content of consciousness – my perceptions are not sorrow, or are they… I really do not know.”

    You may be closer to the truth than you think!

    I am not familiar with the fusion of topics such as consciousness, neurology, physiology discussed here but sort of get the general drift. This is an engaging subject and would be a good new direction. I need to read this post again.

    With apologies for throwing the spanner in the works – I am giving a counter point that exists in Hindu and Buddhist meditative traditions. I am not proposing these as truths but as a belief system. I am not an expert and have not experienced the truth of it. But have great respect for the sages who are established in truth.
    The mind-body is said to be (not in a manner of speaking but literally) the ‘embodiment’ of the residual karma – the primary cause of cycle of birth and deaths. In Buddhist terminology the word for suffering is it ‘Vedana’ which is mind-body sensation- includes pleasurable painful & neutral sensations – they are different sides of the same coin. In mindful mediation people have reportedly felt the absence of body sensations which incidentally is considered not as a proof of achievement but a passing phase to go into deep levels.The seeds of karma unfolding in time yielding the fruit apparently works through matrix of mind – body c neumoplex of the concerned individuals’ involved. The intelligence of thought (structure of logic, fuzzy logic, illogic and emotion and all the tools thought can muster) is said to be inadequate for a comprehension of the phenomenon. The Indian and Chinese models of ‘energy flow channels’ such as Chakra has been similar attempts to gain insight and use for healing. The deep silence beyond thoughts and self care – in this sacred emptiness is supposed to give insight which destroys suffering. There is operation of ‘grace’ from self realized sages which works outside of the known channels of communication.

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