Of Pleasure and Pain

New Year ’s Eve is not a good night for the lobster species. Multitudes never experience the new year, but rather end the old one by being boiled alive for our pleasure. The effects on our individual and collective karma I dare not think about!

The reason we give for putting a quite sophisticated animal through such torture is first of all that we do not consider it so sophisticated. And then we argue that such animals probably do not have the same perception of pain as we do. Yet, anybody having heard and felt the desperate banging on the lid of the pot should know that the latter assumption is wrong and also that death does not come quickly, because the long struggle is a consequence of lobsters having been so successful in building their shielding armour. Tragic irony, is it not? As to sophistication it is, of course, true that a lobster is not a refined creature compared to a human. But this argument is of little consolation because it only raises the question why we believe that we humans are the measure of everything, not only in terms of what we consider large or small as addressed in my last blog post, but also in terms of pleasure and pain, in terms of intellectual capability, in terms of the ability to love.

We seem to lose the general wisdom of the relativity principle very quickly. The pain of an ant might be negligible by our standards, but by ant standards not. The pleasure of the day fly for a day should not be considered valueless just because humans might have many days of pleasure. If your whole life has an arc of one day only, the pleasure of that day becomes the only measure. Still, we believe that our utmost pain is the utmost pain possible and that our utmost pleasure is where the scale ends. Same with intellect, same with love. Towards ‘lesser beings’ this is wrong, because it ignores relativity, but also it might be wrong because it disregards the possibility that there may be ‘greater beings’ than humans, who might outperform us both in terms of pain, pleasure, intellect and love.

In fact, we might be part of a greater being. Religious thought will often have it that way. Humans as part of the divine being rings true to deistic religions. But the consequence of such a view is that the human is not the measure of all; the measure of pain, pleasure, intellect and love of the divine being should be infinitely bigger than ours – but does that really make our pain and pleasure irrelevant? Ah, relativity!

Relativity has a cousin called karma, and let us reflect on this as well. The idea of karma assumes that good and bad deeds are paid back in some way or another. Yet, even in rebirth scenarios it is hard to believe that anybody deserves to be boiled alive, hard to believe that even those boiling others alive deserve to be boiled alive in return. An eye for an eye is in most respects an idea of yesteryear. Yet, even if one does not assume that there is a karma scoreboard on the individual level it is easy to believe that pain and hatred, and on the positive part of the ledger, pleasure and love, have transcendent effects in a more general sense.

Physicalists assume that pain and pleasure are neurological consequences of input stimuli. Lobster gets boiled, it feels pain, it dies, and that is that! Pleasure, pain and love are qualities we understand as self-standing occurrences or states, and it is mind’s matter entirely.

Yet some people will argue that there is more to spirit than the physical as we understand it currently. Spirit might be a unique quality, and, as part of spirit, so may pleasure, pain and love. Spirit as a quality may be as little understood as dark energy or anti-matter, and may, I guess, be a quality that can be subjected to scientific analysis much like dark energy. But it does not mean that spirit, pleasure, pain and love, are all just electric impulses of the brains of beings.

Does it, in fact, not resonate better with our general understanding of existence that doing good and evil reverberates in our world in a fashion that cannot be explained just by cause and effect relative to the ones involved?

Hence, is there not credibility to the belief that the suffering of the lobster is not just the suffering of the lobster, but also part of a universal spiritual texture that influences the lives of all beings?

Would the world be a better place, not only for the lobster, if we did not boil it? – Would the world be a better place, not only for the ones we love, if we would love more? Sounds about right to me!

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