It is entirely by accident that my bench in the sun is situated at an animal graveyard. But it provides a sort of appropriate absurdity that it is in between the beloved remains of what once were parakeets and kittens that I take a short leave from life as I know it.
The other week I watched a not-so-quite-but-still-a-little-bit sciencey approach (100 Humans ep. 5) to analyse the role pain and pleasure play in controlling our lives and the conclusion has been haunting me ever since. It turns out that while physical pleasure is entirely possible to fabricate with nothing but imagination, pain isn’t. For pain to manifest, it needs to be physically experienced. In some ways this makes perfect sense. Pain is a physical sensation based on a specific combination of nerve endings. Despite being embodied, pleasure is still a mental construction based on previous experience, associations and personal preferences.
But I’ve been asking myself how this physical sensation translates to more abstract ones such as our emotions and psychological states.
It is widely known that we can fabricate happiness from something as simple as joyless smiling or by adding a gag reel on an otherwise not particularly funny video. It feels genuine because the brain generate a hormone cocktail based on the same constructs as when something good happens to us. Arguably happiness is the emotional correspondence to pleasure, but I ask myself: is the antecedent “sorrow” a correspondence to pain?
If this were the case, that would mean that all our grief is far more genuine than our happiness. That sorrow, depression, deep and dark emotional states, do not manifest as an illusion, rather that they would be far more real than our happy states.
What then about situations in which we bring forth anger and sorrow? Watching Mufasa fall to his death in the Lion King traumatized a whole generation and even as a rational adult, watching the scene still breaks my heart. I am heartbroken over characters that does not exist, over a story that never taken place and perhaps the most crucial point: it has nothing to do with me.
It is of course possible to claim that my sorrow is a sign of empathy. A mental capacity that evolved for me to bond with my group and become a functional social entity. But what about the sorrow that is a direct consequence of events or situations present in my own life. That sorrow is hardly empathy. It is a truly selfish point of view. If emotions are anything like physical sensations, it follows through logical deduction that either: one’s own sorrow has higher integrity than one’s happiness, or there must exist benefits of simulating sorrow just like it does to simulate happiness.
I am not entirely sure where I am going with this…