Wednesday, June 13, 2007

this is normal

i just had a weird thought. i don't know if it will make any sense if i try to explain it. i was staring at my lab computer box and not really thinking anything. i drifted into the mental situation where i "feel my mind" for any drug effects. that part is hard to explain, too, but it's sort of like a particular "location" in my mind that i can probe to check out what my overall state is like. it feels almost tangible. this whole explanation makes the process sound very concrete, but it's really normally pretty subtle, and it's maybe even something i'm doing without thinking about it sometimes. anyway, the weird thought was, "no, i'm not on any drugs; this is normal". this is what normal feels like.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

email to

I was reading through the objections to the Hedonistic Imperative (, and I thought of one that isn't listed.

To preface this, I am really excited about your ideas. I'm so glad that there are people thinking like this and working to make substantive changes in the world. I'd just like to hear your take on the following issue.

What is suffering? Drugs like opiates or MDMA can make me feel great, warm, comfortable, loved. But in the back of my mind there can still be some "existential distress", like the "big problem" of my existence is still unanswered. [You might reply that solving this big problem just requires a more thorough re-engineering of my brain, but please keep reading...]

What if what we normally call suffering is actually part of the development/evolution process, and it's not intrinsically bad, but rather one side of a yin/yang-type dualism in the manifest world? A lot of times when I force myself to closely examine subjective experiences that I thought were "bad", I find out that they aren't actually bad; it was mostly my fear or avoidance that was causing me distress.

Sometimes it's when I feel most "existentially distressed" that I make the most internal progress. The distress forces me to address and open myself to parts of myself/reality that I otherwise wouldn't.

States of happiness or well-being are states of the self. Buddhism claims that suffering is caused by attachment, or wanting. When you feel an emptiness and you try to solve it by seeking the thing you think will cure it, you distract your mind. This process is actually what generates the self. But if you feel the emptiness and let it be what it is, then part of the self dissipates, and what's left is more enlightened. If we anesthetize ourselves against what is "bad" on the relative plane, then our selfs are reinforced.

Some people say "Love has no opposite". I think that means that although there are "good" and "bad" in the manifest world, the superior principle through which the universe is unfolding is neither "good" nor "bad" and has no dualism or opposite. If this is true, then in some sense the abolitionist project is already complete!

Now, to be fair, bad experiences clearly exist nowadays, and I think most people would agree that we should work to reduce suffering in the world. But I wonder about the difference between "working to reduce suffering" and "working to reduce the capacity for suffering". If someone has a broken leg, you set the bone, but if someone lost a family member, you support them and show them compassion as they heal. Through the healing process, you and that person both grow, and you grow closer to each other.

One more thought. "Bad" subjective experiences may actually be a constitutive part of development and growth. Just to throw out a crazy idea, suppose a network of neurons has learned a certain set of inputs pretty well. Now the network is exposed to new inputs and wants to change itself so it can generalize to both the old and the new. There may be an unsettled period between stably representing the old and stably representing both. (Something like an increased temperature parameter for the network.) What if that unsettled period *is* the material correlate of the subjective experience of negativity?