Re: Unbounded happiness

From: Stathis Papaioannou (
Date: Thu Apr 24 2008 - 23:17:16 MDT

2008/4/25 Lee Corbin <>:

> It makes sense that trees don't suffer when you chop
> them down, *because they can't do anything about it*.
> A mammal, on the other hand, has all sorts of reasons
> to suffer. For one, it's nature's way of telling him that
> he must extricate himself from this situation, no matter
> what. For another, nature is telling him "never, never,
> never forget how you got into this, stupid".

Yes, that's why pain would evolve in some species but not others.

> So I proceed to refute my own long held position
> thusly: let's suppose that to get out of some horribly
> painful situation, the subject must solve a puzzle.
> Isn't it rather likely---at least from the depictions
> I've seen on TV---that people can hurt so much
> that they can't think clearly? In some hideous
> experiment (well, the Nazis were helpful in one
> small, unfortunate way), the mean time of unlocking
> a puzzle chain could be measured as a function of
> pain. Indeed, there might be a minimum: up to a
> certain threshold, the victim/subject doesn't really
> bother with solving the puzzle, or puts it off. At
> a certain higher threshold he hurries as fast as he
> can. Then isn't there also a point where his performance
> tanks as the pain becomes blinding? I think so.
> Therefore, a Darwinian analysis suggests that elephants
> might suffer pain as much or more than do humans.
> Hmm, can this be right? Of course if your KC analysis
> is right, we still win the sensitivity contest.

Another reason why evolution might make the maximal pain intensity of
more intelligent animals like humans lower than that of less
intelligent animals is that humans have foresight. There are
situations where it appears that suffering pain in the short term may
have long term benefits, so those individuals which don't find the
pain completely unbearable in these situations will be at an

But these considerations of why differing experiences of pain might
evolve does not answer the question of what determines maximal pain
intensity. A mouse may have fewer neurons firing when its foot is put
on hotplate than a human does, but what reason is there to assume that
the mouse experiences the same amount of pain *per neuron* as a human?

Stathis Papaioannou

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