Sunday, February 20, 2011

Brains are the source of suffering

If the universe were a closed system composed of nothing but temporally "closed" subsystems, then the eventual entropic decay of each "isolated" system -- and of the universe itself -- would be inevitable. However, for some currently unknown reason, at some point in the past, a process called life emerged on at least one planet in the universe, effectively breaking the previously prevailing chain of tendency toward system disorder. Once this event took place, it became possible for systems that were more or less closed in the traditionally understood, macroscopic sense to -- almost contradictorily -- remain open -- by seeking out energy actively rather than passively.

Of course, to prevent integration with competing systems and other environmental parameters, these new systems also had to remain partially closed -- at least in the sense of putting defense and regulatory mechanisms in place. This kept the systems well-defined, with physical barriers and spatial limitations, while still allowing them enough openness to acquire the energy necessary for their perpetuation.

So what did this opening of otherwise self-contained, self-regulating systems accomplish? For starters, it introduced homeostasis into the environment. This was initially a radical, if meaningless, departure from the way in which energy had been transferred from one location to another in the past. After the fact of life's emergence, though, it turned out that the "mostly closed" systems, or organisms, were nevertheless quite susceptible to the various forces of the universe, and thus, entropy. Mobility and a binary attraction-repulsion system enabled them to disperse energy in an entirely new way, but other physical agents were still quite persistent in their vying for physical space, and were occasionally successful at bringing about states of maximum disorder among some living organisms; this eventually culminated in what we call death.

The organic instructions to resist disorder were mutually persistent, however; as time went on, organisms managed to find, by happenstance, new ways to perpetuate themselves -- even with both living and non-living "space competitors" vying for the same resources. Finally, a few billion years into this routine, one motivation mechanism of incredible efficacy arose -- sentience.

But why does it matter? What was sentience effective at?

Well, as it would turn out, the goal of sentience was not to help organisms "enjoy" their processes; rather, it was to stop organisms from decaying, as it had been with all previous biological mechanisms.

In short, this meant that neural nets would go on to continually birth, over and over again in successive generations, increasingly complex incentives for organisms to avoid behaviors and parameters conducive to their own destruction. At some point during all of this, fully robust brains emerged, and with them, not the capacity to feel pain, but pain itself. To put it succinctly, brains did not attempt to manage pain to the benefit of organisms; they attempted to manage disorder to the benefit of nothing, using the pain that they created entirely on their own as a motivator. We sneeze a lot when sick not because viruses convert themselves into mucus as they multiply, but because, to prevent the body from being destroyed, the immune system must produce mucus. We experience pain not because external agents are inherently painful, but because brains are painful while attempting to prevent disorder.

If you're not following along, again, "disorder" in this context refers to that lack of physical work that causes closed systems to literally "freeze," having no more energy to convert from one state to another; everything has been evenly distributed, and each piece is incapable of transferring energy to any other, or has itself decayed.

Is there anything wrong with decay, though? When two weather patterns collide and eventually disperse their energy content, leaving no further work to be done, is this a bad result? Is it something to be avoided, or even stopped at all costs? It doesn't appear to be, based on anything that we've ever observed; furthermore, without any good reason to invest in the god hypothesis, the agenda of brains (and of central nervous sytems as wholes) must be questioned, for the alternative to the god hypothesis is that the universe -- and thus, all constituents, including central nervous systems and other organic systems -- emerged.

This, if true, essentially means that no intelligent or coherent reason for the existence of life was considered beforehand by a rational entity in some planning stage. In the absence of any good reason to take the notion of a planning stage seriously, or the notion of there being a valid goal in preventing the decay of material systems, we more or less have to conclude that the brain's ability to create sensations in reaction to stimuli is not only unintelligent, but downright nasty.

So, to reiterate: Nothing capable of being received by a brain as sensory input is possessed of some innate unpleasantness; the brain, as part of the central nervous system, is chiefly interested in preventing the genotype, as an energy-dependent process, from decaying; to this end, the brain creates unpleasantness as a reaction to the "efforts" of external agents to bring about disorder in the system; however, there isn't any intelligent reason to believe that entropy is something to be stopped, making the brain's extremely painful efforts to stop it really unnecessary and unintelligent; additionally, every brain has failed or will probably fail in its efforts, and over 99% of them no longer exist.

Pain is bad, but is termination of life? If we were completely incapable of feeling anything, but, unlike bacteria, still possessed language, would we really mind dying? Are shark teeth bad because they can damage our organs, or because they hurt? Would you mind a lion ripping your guts out if it didn't hurt or cause intense fear, and if not, why is that a bad thing? If the AIDS virus were the only entity in the universe capable of replication, it would no longer be a terrible virus, for what do rocks care if they "get AIDS"? Brains create pain to preempt decay; get rid of all the brains and you could have a universe composed of nothing but AIDS -- with no problems whatsoever, anywhere.

The next time that you try to avoid a horribly painful situation, remember that it's not the world that you should be fearing -- it's your brain and its childish insistence on resisting entropy. Bullets, kidney stones, births, panic attacks? Bone cancer? They're okay in themselves. Really, the only thing that's actually capable of hurting you is that pink thing in your skull.


  1. DUH

    You should have titled this "Pain is the source of suffering" it's nearly as stupidly obvious and unimportant.

  2. If it's so obvious, then why do so many people love the only generator of pain in the universe -- their brains? Why try to stop virii and asteroids when those things are so innocuous in the absence of sentience? Why not address the problem at its source?

    This idea is incredibly simple, but simplicity is lost on those with an agenda other than understanding reality.

  3. Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so. It really is true.

    Personally, I'd support engineering out the ability to feel pain if the technology was available.

    Also, people fear death, so I don't think we can "Stop the problem at it's source" without generating even more pain. Suicide is scary.

  4. I suppose that should have been the "the brain makes suicide scary". Which brings me to a different point. It's convenient shorthand to say "getting bitten by a wolf hurts" instead of "my brain produces a sensation of pain when I get bitten by a wolf". Pleasure and pain are produced by the brain, but in everyday life, we think of external objects as producing those reactions even though we could have those sensations be produced without said external things, given the right technology.

    That said, I don't think anyone would disagree with you if you said "A world without mind would be a world without pain". And why call the brain childish for automatically doing something it can't possibly avoid doing? It seems unnecessarily insulting.

  5. And why talk about "your brain" and "you" as two separate things?

  6. That last comment was by me, sorry, forgot to sign it.

  7. To me, the source of the problem isn't the existence of the current brains/nervous systems; it's the impetus behind reproduction. Stopping the problem at its source, then, entails refraining from reproducing, and convincing other living things (or forcing them, if it ever really becomes necessary) to stop reproducing. You can't really generate any kind of meaningful pain by not having kids, and such a display of abstinence is ridiculously easy to accomplish. Nothing horrible happens when people don't have children.

    "Pleasure and pain are produced by the brain, but in everyday life, we think of external objects as producing those reactions even though we could have those sensations be produced without said external things, given the right technology."

    This is something that is very important to understand, I think. If we can regulate the administration of sensations via technology, then we can greatly reduce deprivation durations, and put hard limits on the extent of the deprivation experienced.

    "And why call the brain childish for automatically doing something it can't possibly avoid doing? It seems unnecessarily insulting."

    It's just a poetic way of relating the absurdity of sentience to an anthropocentric concept like stubbornness. Brains aren't actually childish or stubborn, but when you think, "What are they gaining by preventing their own systemic disorder if they're going to end in disorder at some point, anyway? Furthermore, why is disorder worse than suffering?" you start to realize that something with true intelligence -- something human-like -- would, barring our current cultural presumptions, be laughed at for designing such a system.

    "I'm going to design a system."

    "What for? What will it accomplish?"

    "Hm? It doesn't accomplish anything. I just want to design a system -- you know, something to just, like, exist. It'll be fun."

    "Oh, so you're doing it out of boredom. Okay. Why not have some built-in goals, though?"

    "You know what? You're right. I'll make it so that the goal of the system is to keep itself from breaking."

    "That sounds like a rather boring goal..."

    "Better yet, I'll make it so that if the system even hints at breaking, it'll be tortured! How dare it slack off!"

    "Uhh... I thought you said that this was for fun."

    "And why talk about 'your brain' and 'you' as two separate things?"

    I talk about "your brain" as a separate thing just to demonstrate that you don't have complete control over your person; much of what your body does is automated. The ego inside of my head is not the part of my brain responsible for painful sensations.

  8. Heh, reminds me of a joke I once heard about the best argument against a benevolent God being the level of sadism people display when playing videogames that put them in a godlike position.

    Anyway, that was a very coherent and enlightening response. Thanks.