It's all about pleasure/pain
I saw this being mentioned by some technical/natural sciences people when they were talking about the psychology/nature of humans. A very simple "theory". I'll use my own words to make a definition:
Everything/anything a person does is either to maximize the pleasure or to reduce pain or a combination of both.
At first sight it seems like a true statement to me, haven't really thought about it very much tho.
What do you think?
BTW, I think that philosophically it could be debated heavily, due to potentially unclear definitions of pleasure/pain.
But I'd rather stay "common sensish" on this one.
But people often act counter to their rational self interest. They may do this because:
1. They believe that experiencing more pain now will on balance result in more pleasure later ("no pain, no gain"). Sometimes this is true, sometimes it is not.
2. They misjudge the primary or secondary consequences of an action. It's been proven that most people have a tendency to underestimate difficulties and overestimate positive outcomes. Hence, you might indulge in the pleasure of driving 150 miles per hour and ignoring train signals, but you might find a very painful outcome. Or, you might fear the pain of rejection and pass up an opportunity for love.
3. They may be in thrall to a religious or philosophical system that teaches some variation of the old "suffering is ennobling" fallacy. You do not want to give up too easily, but you do need to "know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em" as Kenny Rodgers would have it.
4. Related to (3) above, you may have an incorrect idea of how something "should" work. When experience proves this idea wrong, you can't let go of your attachment to the "should" so you just do the same thing again, only harder. Rinse and repeat. This is in my view the source of most human suffering: trying to make some aspect of life or love something that it's not.
5. Related to (4) above, you may be laboring under (perceived or real) expectations from authority figures, spouse, peers, employer, etc. to be a certain way or do certain things that are not in your best interest. Because you want to please and/or don't want to offend and/or hate fighting and/or don't want to go to hell and/or don't want to communicate honestly, etc., you may do all sorts of things that cause yourself pain.
So in summary I would say I agree with the statement as far as it goes, but because we are a sentient species with the ability to think ahead to anticipate consequences, and the ability to delay gratification when we judge it prudent, you can't always predict people's actions in some simplistic, Pavlovian fashion. People don't always behave rationally, judge correctly, or have the best perspective. In general they want to avoid pain and suffering, but they very often take action that brings them pain and suffering. I'm a former world champion at that; I should know!
My mother used to say, "there is nought stranger than folk." I have witnessed repeated behaviour causing more pain and angst in my own life and others. The mouse wheel goes around and around. :)
I tried so many times to get off this wheel, change the wheel, control the wheel, reverse the wheel and nothing worked. Aha, finally I realised, "I am not a mouse!"
I often do 'nothing' because it brings peace and happiness. Which asks the question of whether you include peace and happiness in 'pleasure'.
But I think for the majority who live the semi-automatic life ruled by thoughts and emotions then I think the statement is rather accurate.
I think that even when we're "delaying pleasure" or "suffering now, to enjoy later" we are in fact still, right now, avoiding pain or having the most pleasure we think we can.
Why? Take, for example, a person who wishes to lose weight. If that person went to eat a donut then would he experience pain or pleasure? IMO, there's a very high probability that he would in fact experience pain, because the feeling of guilt would be stronger than the sensual enjoyement of eating a donut.
Or take a religous freak who hurts himself to "be closer to god" or whatever. If he lived a normal or hedonistic life he could've been experienced much stronger pain, perhaps in the form of mental torments for not "aiming at the higher goal".
So eventually the experience of pain/pleasure is highly subjective. (Well, duh...) And it applies to every aspect of a human being, not just physical, but everything that can be experienced.
Once doing 'nothing' becomes painful (boring/unsatisfying/...) you'll start doing something.
I think there are states different to pleasure and pain, but they are difficult to describe because any discussion of positivity or negativity is allocated to pleasure and pain by most people. Personally I believe a state of peace as different to pleasure, but it's a matter of interpretation.
Tonight at work, I was thinking about why I don't do the things I say I'm going to do or I think I should do. And generally, it because I fall into one of the reasons that you mentioned. The last one I find particularly insidious.
Do you think these go in stages? Like does 3 lead to 4?
I didn't number them because they are a sequence. They are really bullet points. I think they feed each other but I don't see a hard and fast progression.
My biggest problem historically has been #4 also. I don't know if it was best for me to say it was related to #3. It's not causally related, at least not strongly; it's just that both involve ignoring negative information to sustain an illusion. The difference is the illusion. For #3 it's the illusion that suffering is desirable and necessary as opposed to simply being the consequences of beliefs that are untrue or ill-suited to you. For #4 it's the insistence that things must be or go a certain way -- basically, adhering to a bogus cause and effect chain.
The problem with letting go of your pet cause and effect beliefs is that it usually involves the death of a dream or assumption that you're terribly fond of -- to the point where you actually have to do some grief processing because letting go of the dream is a huge short-term loss. As an example, having been raised in "fundie" Christianity, one of my false expectations was that my faith was the correct answer to all of life's challenges and problems and therefore since I had this knowledge, things would basically go well for me. This caused me to reject the painful lessons life was trying to teach me, dooming me to repeat them over and over. But to stop doing that I had to let go of the certitude and security provided by my faith -- and let's be honest, I had to let go of the ego gratification of knowing it all. Smug little bastard that I was, I did not want to be taken down a few pegs!
/shrug If I was simply into a pain / pleasure model I'd be playing wow for the rest of my life or jumping from mmo to mmo. As it is life doesn't really make a difference to me whether it is pain or pleasure. My motivations for actions go far beyond something that simple to the point where if you told me the rest of my life would be nothing but pain by continuing down this path I would still choose to do it.
My problem with the pain / pleasure model is that it does not add in the element of conscious choice and free will. I might agree that the vast majority of unconscious (not awakened) people follow this model but even then I'm not entirely sure.
For example why would a father save his child from a burning building and die for his child? Why do people sacrifice their lives for others? Why do people join the military if they know they are going to go to war?
The model is too simplistic and doesn't encompass enough for me to consider it an accurate model of human beings.
I personally interpreted it as:
- I didn't see "maximize pleasure" or "reduce pain" as necessarily referring to a specific person or necessarily referring to only physical pleasure. For example, dying for your child might be done with the intention of maximizing the pleasure for your conscience. The physical pain from burning would be interpreted as less pain than the emotional pain of not rushing to rescue your child.
I might also insert in there "one's perception of what maximizes pleasure and reduces pain." Or replace "pleasure" and "pain" with "benefits" and "detriments," just to generalize everything more.
That's how everything seemed congruent to me (though, and it was already mentioned, you never know if that'd apply to enlightened folk and such).
But yeah, just an interpretation.
A bit more complicated
As pointed out our perceptions, thoughts and past experience affect what is pleasurable or painful.
Even at the common sense level it is tricky. We are motivated to meaning/completion. Eg on a maths test we remember the one's we got wrong and think them over until we figure out the solution. (But the pleasure/pain folks say that this completion is pleasure.)
It's very difficult to get a handle on the argument because means and ends get all mixed up. Obviously not everyone avoids pain and maximises pleasure at every moment. But then the pleasure and pain talked of is imagined (what we think will give us pleasure and pain). Saying that people are motivated by imagined pleasure and pain doesn't sound nearly so neat; it's closer to the reality though.
Ramiel: Lanya pretty much said what I was about to.
But let me add that the belief of afterlife/heaven/justice can be pretty strong motivators to even intentionally kill yourself and other people (see suicide bombers). I mean heaven is supposed to be the most awesome place, full of pleasure. Add to this the experience (perception) of a lot of pain in the current life, so one has "nothing to lose", and it's a done deal.
The whole thing gets even more complicated when we talk about motivations of a certain self, even tho the self is not a constant object but is in fact always changing.
Let me conclude that I'm not trying to apply this theory to everything, or to such things as enlightened people™.:) I realize that theories and the whole mind/language system are just a part of life and they most probably can't explain life itself.
The whole point of making such discussions then, is to bring light to some mind mechanisms. You can probably tell that I find Eckhart Tolle's teachings very insightful.;)
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