How would you explain to a person who cannot experience pain, what pain is?

How would you explain to a person who could never experience pain, what pain is?

Do the following:

1. Get a dairy food that is extremely spoiled.

2. Get the person to fill his or her mouth with this delightful food.

(ESSENTIAL: The food has to remain in the person’s mouth! Under no circumstances can the person spit out the food and clean his her mouth.)

3. Chew the food.

This test is a good model for the nature of pain.

Pain is aversive. We want to avoid pain. Eating spoiled food is the same: we want to avoid at all costs putting, much less chewing and swallowing, bad food.

Having a really bad taste in your mouth is like having a pain in your body.

What is religion? Next question, please.

What is religion? If this question asks what all religions have in common, then the answer is: next question, please.

What do all religions have in common? Nothing.

In contrast to Christianity, Islam and Judaism, Buddhism is atheistic with regard to a creator god. There is no doctrine of karma in Christianity. Hinduism is opulently polythesitic, but Islam is not. And so on.

In this kind of situation, it is more promising to offer a simile. What is religion like? Religion is like a cord composed of braided strands (e.g., a rope). The strands overlap and lie over each other in complex ways. The integrity of the cord does not consist in one strand, but in the arrangement of many strands.

Take any family. Look at the faces of its members. Do they have one facial feature in common?  No. There are both similarities (e.g., eye color), and differences (e.g., face contour). The relationships are complex, not simple. That is how it is. Just look and see for yourself.

Religion is extremely complex. To make a decent start at understanding it, good questions need to be asked. This is not easy. So, I urge looking first. What is observed? Compare your visual experiences. Look first, ask questions later.

Religious pretenders

I am too honest to be religious. Religion lains waste to honest reflection and questioning.

Many people claim to be religious. How many are pretenders?

There may be good reasons why a person pretends to be religious. A religious son adores his devout mother so much that he could not bare her to learn of his atheism. However, unknown to him and family, the mother is an atheist, and has been for decades. Like the son, she became a religious pretender in order to protect her mother’s feelings, and so on.

How to break this circle of lies? Honest reflection and questioning. And that takes great courage.

There is good news here

I cannot predict your every thought and action for the simple reason that most of my own thoughts and actions are completely spontaneous.

I cannot predict what I will do in most instances. I cannot know myself, so I cannot know you. True enough? We are both in the dark, it seems.

That sounds a bit bleak.

Is there any good news?

Yes: A person is not a vacuum. Human thought and action is shared. Shared, copied, modified, suppressed, distilled – we live in each other’s facial expressions.

Why are dreams mysterious?

I wake-up and tell my wife about the dream I had while sleeping. That’s a dream-report.

Dream-reports are given by the dreamer in the first-person present-tense. Even if  I dreamed I had incarnated another person (either a real or imagined person), it is always I (the dreamer) who peers out from the face of the other person during the dream. And that’s what is communicated when I tell my dream to another person.

Why do human beings share dreams? 

Sometimes a dream is amazing. Amazing that I could even dream up such an experience. What is important to human beings in this case is that the dream really did impress me. Dream-reports can be spontaneous responses to what we see during sleep. So: that I dreamt such-and-such is amazing and of more interest to other people than what the dream describes. Dream-reports can therefore function more like exclamations or interjections than descriptions of what the dreamer experienced. 

However, the dreamer may sometimes become frustrated trying to communicate the dream in a dream-report. We try to describe what happened in the dream using the medium of language (the dream-report), but we cannot. The dream eludes the net of language. At least that’s how we feel. The dreamer is frustrated with language and may think that since the dream cannot be described, it points to something beyond itself. But – why must a dream be capable of being described? After all, can you describe all the experiences of your waking life? Try and do it. Why must dreams be any different? In life, human beings are both the way and the wayfarers.

For some reason, we see dream-reports as descriptions of dreams. We see them as fragments of a story we assume can be told in full. Yet, dreams cannot be described to our satisfaction. Frustrating. Frustration leads to puzzlement. Most of the time we are puzzled by dreams (our own, and those of other people). Why? – are dreams seen as mysterious because dream-reports are assumed to be descriptions of dreams? 

Is Simon van Rysewyk interesting?

Academics sometimes lament that the number of scholars working in their chosen field is less than the population density per square kilometer of Antarctica. They may have forgotten that to be considered interesting by the half-dozen other researchers in the field is already achievement enough.

Is classical music superior?

It has sometimes been stated that classical music is superior to other forms of music. Why would a person say it? Well, human beings are consummate imitators, and if a person stands to gain by publicly making another copy of it, then imitation – camouflage? – is a strategy for success.

There are other possibilities. Listening to and performing classical music does not conventionally engage the human body in dance. The relative passivity of the body in classical music may therefore signify by default – to some, at least – that this form of music is more cerebral than other forms of music which have a dance component and, therefore, is superior. Certainly, the body produces bodily sensations and perceptions (e.g., propioception). Take those out of the picture, and what is left: mind. Is it correct?

Music and human imitation

Apparently, human beings who wish to be only happy in life, are the same people who the next moment willingly listen to sad music and make themselves become sad. Why?

Does such a person think to himself: ‘This music is sad; I want to be sad; therefore, I listen to this music to be sad’? No, of course not. A person in this situation does not need to inform himself why he acts as he does. In addition, there is typically no such thought process preceeding a musical experience, during it, or following it. It is not characteristic of listening to or performing music to bethink to oneself such motivating factors as if the experience must be accompanied by a spoken soliloquy to make sense. Isn’t this true of routine human behaviours generally? Second, such a thought process cannot inform me in the same way as it informs you. For you, it is information. For me, a point of emphasis? Let me develop this last idea.

A human being may talk to himself inwardly while the music is on, but not to give himself information. Then, what is the meaning of this internal monologue, and how should it be described? The words used may convey the the level of interest in the music (a melody, a recurring theme, how the trombones sound, etc), and may function more like an exclamation than a descriptive statement. Certainly, one can imagine this occurring in upbeat or joyful music. In sad or melancholic music, self-talk is expressive of the sad quality perceived in the music. Again, it stresses what is noteworthy in the music. The music merits attention. It really did amaze me.

We want to be sad for a time; at least, sad for as long as the music lasts. The listener follows the sad music as he follows the sad face which changes expression. Music is like a familiar face, and we resonate with it in understanding as long as we are interested. The music plays on, the face moves predictably. On occasion, the music is too predictable. So, we stop it in mid-flight, like an uncomfortable human conversation, and move to something else. Typically, however, the sad piece of music I know completely by heart is a rewarding experience as though I listen to it for the very first time. It really is like empathy for a fellow human being, or parity in facial expressions exchanged between close friends during conversation. Now – is your closest friend entirely predictable? No. Even deep rapport between human beings harbours dark regions. I do not even wish to say that we aim in music listening to recreate sadness, happiness, or any such fleeting emotional response. What human beings do, I believe, is empathize with what is perceived in the music as expressive of our shared human interests, wants, desires, hopes, etc. We find it there in music, and return to it habitually, just as we find it in the faces of other people.