As you say, it seems that I have a tall order in front of me.
Well, at first read, it seems that some of the problems you brought up could be answered by taking into consideration that the model of reality human beings have inside their brain is imperfect. So I might make allusions to that in future arguments.
I think every feeling is a variation of suffering, but our brain classifies them on a spectrum ranging from what it considers negative to what it considers positive. So it gives us the impression that there exists negative, neutral and positive feelings, when in fact, I pretend it is all some sort of suffering. In other words, I would refer to what I said in the previous paragraph. The way our brain misinterprets our reality leads to it stating “I feel good” when it feels less suffering.
I just want to mention, before I continue, that I don’t pretend my affirmations are facts, I only make affirmations to illustrate my hypothesis.
I think it can be evolutionary advantageous for our brain to regulate our feelings of need (suffering as I see it) in such a way that, sometimes, it makes us forget some needs. As an extreme and simplified example, you might be hiking somewhere when your brain suddenly makes you feel the need to eat. Twenty seconds later, you see a bear. In that case, I think it can be advantageous for your brain to completely forget about hunger in order to address the new needs emerging from the presence of a bear near you. Although being an extreme situation, it serves to demonstrate that a statement like “it wouldn't be evolutionary advantageous for chemicals to make you forget needs” might be a little bit too simple to make a point in my opinion.
Yes, your brain, having an imperfect model of reality, perceives some feelings as rewards. That reward being a feeling in which you don’t suffer over some needs you normally suffer over.
If I understand correctly, the point you make with your analogy is that pleasure is not the reduction of suffering itself. It would be a product of it. And I think I agree. I think what we call pleasure is the state of mind we are left in after that reduction of suffering. And I think that state consists in a feeling with less suffering than normal, which your brain perceive as good feeling.
“To ignore that independent positive experiences exist is to essentially believe that people are fundamentally mistaken about what positive experience is”
Yes that is part of my whole hypothesis. I think the human brain would have evolved in such a way that it perceives some experiences as good, whether or not those good experiences really exist.
I think what happens is, your brain recognize that drinking coffee would be what it calls a positive event. It makes your consciousness feel the need to drink coffee and you, in order to fill that need, you drink it, and when you reflect on it, your imperfect perception of reality makes you reason that drinking coffee is something positive that did not require suffering. Me, I pretend that you experiencing a need was you suffering, and that without any suffering, you would not have decided to drink a coffee, in fact, without suffering, your consciousness would not do anything. In fact, I don’t even think you would experience consciousness without suffering. But that last statement is just a consequence of my hypothesis being true, if it is, so I don’t think we would make progress arguing on that in particular.
“yet where did this concept of an independently good feeling come from?”
Again, I think it is a matter of our brain having evolved in such a way that it perceives reality in a more practical way than an accurate one.
“As soon as I start considering this I begin to feel as though an illusion might be slipping away - but surely this illusion is nevertheless something real?”
Well, at first, when I read that, I tried to define real, but I don’t think that was the best way to address that question.
A lot of people often feel cold; you might use the same logic to pretend that this illusion of the existence of coldness is real, and you would be right, the illusion itself is real. But the fact that your perception of reality leads you to nourish an illusion does not tell you much about what is really happening.
I think you find it difficult to have adverse reaction to something you enjoy the same way a child find it difficult to understand that -30 degrees Celsius is not really cold, but just less warm (the first time he is told coldness is just the absence of heat).
“Raphi, to be clear, you are saying that pleasure is not independently good because it really is only the experience of being in a comparatively lesser suffering state?”
“Do you think it is plausible that I can be sunbathing on a beach in the Caribbean, drinking a margarita and reading Shakespeare and believe that I am feeling independently positive pleasure, and yet be mistaken in my belief, and actually suffering in all these forms of experience?”
I think the issue you raise about belief is well addressed by my answer to your question about the “realness” of your illusion.
About the choice of the word unpleasant, I just feel in general that our human languages have been based on our incorrect understanding of psychological phenomena. So, I would need my own language to really be accurate in what I say. But even though I think cold does not exist, I use the world cold to be understood. Also, it is way easier to follow what I say if I use the expression “unpleasant feeling” instead of “feeling that has the characteristic that its holder wants it to go away”. You could say I find it unpleasant to have to use a word like “unpleasant”.
“And you later used the analogy to temperature, however this is also problematic, because temperature is an objective feature of reality whereas the experience of heat is subjective. Just as someone may have a million dollars and feel poor, someone else may get their first job and feel rich.”
What “subjective” means is that your experience of heat is influenced by feelings, tastes or opinions; I don’t see how it disqualifies my analogy. I don’t claim anything about how you perceive your feelings; I claim something about what constitutes those feelings.
“There's another issue here, a phenomenological one. Compare the experience of avoidance and pursuit. We avoid suffering and pursue pleasure. We do not simply avoid suffering. When I find something to be pleasurable, I do not tell myself "this sure is better than the alternative!" I tell myself "I sure am glad I'm able to experience this, it feels good!"”
If my hypothesis is wrong, I don’t think it will be about something like that. I can just replace what you call “pleasure” by “less suffering” and “suffering” by “more suffering” and it makes perfect sense. Here it is just a problem of what name we give to what concept. We should not forget that we observe the same phenomena and the same interactions between them; our disagreement is about how to explain them.
“Are you attempting to argue that what we see as independently good experiences only look good when in comparison to our current state?”
Although I used the analogy with temperature a lot in my previous answers, I feel like it serves me very well in that discussion, since it is about how a brain perceive something in a practical way, what can lead someone to misinterpret somethings. If I use it again, basically, your example is about someone getting hot, then getting hotter, then getting back to hot and not considering that cold even though he was hotter previously. I think it makes sense; your brain is not in that hotter state for a long enough period in order for it to readjust its perception of cold, neutral and hot to that new standard. If your arm makes you suffer during 25 years, and your migraine never goes away during that time, and then your arm stop hurting you, your mind will probably enjoy that new feeling.
In other words, I don’t pretend your perception of pleasure is related to your previous feelings, I pretend it is related to the imperfect model of reality your brain has created about feelings.
You might argue that there exist independently positive experiences, which can arise when we don’t suffer, but to me it feels more like faith than anything else since my hypothesis seems complete without it.
If our perception of reality was perfect, I think we would seek the absence of consciousness.
“I wouldn't say that suffering can obtain if it's not a present-to-consciousness state. At least I wouldn't characterize unconscious, non-mental states as suffering. To me that misses an important aspect of the conventional sense of the term.”
You are right. Basically, I just expressed myself in a wrong way. To accurately put my thoughts into words, I should have written something like “I don’t think people understand that what they are experiencing is always some sort of suffering, that the absence of consciousness might be the “better” state they could ever be in”.
By “better”, I mean “less worse”.
I’m not sure how your comment fits into our discussion here or even my hypothesis. Could you make the connection more clear to me please?
“It's impossible to prove that all change is due to natural selection for survival. What would be the proof? The species survived? Well in this case, natural selection had worked very poorly since so many species disappear.”
The theory of evolution by natural selection basically pretend that our designed-like appearance can be explained by the simple fact that the organism that is more fit to survive and reproduce has more chance to survive and reproduce than another organism being less fit at it. In other words, the theory makes a connection between two individually obvious facts. (1. We look just as if we had been designed. 2. The fitter organism is more likely to survive and reproduce)
Changes are explained mostly by mutation I think.
Evolution by natural selection can explains how organisms have developed such physical features; it can also explain how some species have survived while others have not. You can make an analogy between species and mutations if you want to make it more intuitive.
“One can make a case that many, if not most, activities in human experiences have very little to do with survival. More broadly, I would propose that all activities are associated with learning, learning to live longer being a subset of the larger initiative. In this context, suffering is a whisper (or maybe a shout) to try something else.”
You have an interesting point here, but I don’t think you are right. I think that since consciousness has developed as one of our features, a lot of our behavior changed in agreement with the theory. I think those who have a perception of reality that makes them more fit to survive and reproduce are those who have more chance to do so. Mentalities play a big role in that.
So yes, if you look at a particular activity of some random human being, you might not see the connection with survival, but it is not because there is none, it is because you don’t understand well enough the relations between, human behavior, mentalities, perception of reality and survival.