26 June 2007

Some more notes about pain

Copy of a letter, following on from this.

I think that the pain thing is complicated for most people by the fact that their ‘individualistic’ drives are repressed by their need to derive significance from social approval so that they think they are ‘really’ bad, inadequate, evil and deserving to suffer. I suppose this is one of the things that Christianity plays on. However, it really makes it more necessary to reject the belief in society and its evaluations, while no doubt making it even more difficult to do so (or even to start wanting to do so).

However, I can tell you what I was thinking about before I got the solution to pain, although I had really eliminated the inhibitory belief in society 18 months earlier (and at the time that had been experienced as an appalling and irrevocable loss).

Here you are, existing and threatened from all sides, especially threatened by mortality and the extinction of consciousness, and not knowing anything about anything. This gives you a tremendous drive to react against this claustrophobic situation, and a sense of immediacy and urgency because you could die at any time. This went into my urgency about exam-taking; however young I was, I might die the next day and I had to get on with it. Apart from any considerations about needing to do things at the right age for oneself in terms of one’s mental, rather than chronological, age.

So you have very strong drives to assert yourself against the threatening unknown that surrounds you, but you are afraid of failing and reminding yourself of how puny you are. So you try to find out what you can succeed in doing and to put your drives into things that won’t immediately bring you up against your finiteness.

People play on this and want to make you feel that if you are less good than some other person at doing a certain kind of thing, that is a permanent limitation that you must accept and live within, not think that circumstances might all be different on some other occasion.

So you get a fear of doing something in which you might fail. People who are academically successful usually have techniques for pretending, both to others and themselves, that they are not trying. E.g. Bill Gates playing bridge all day and only working for his degree at night, Kierkegaard putting in an appearance at theatres in the intervals, and then going home to swot up on the classics (or whatever it was he liked to show off about).

But, I had thought, this leaves you with very little of your emotional drive. If you want to try with 51%, and 49% is wanting to preserve itself from failure by not trying, you have 2% of your motivation left. But every failure, of whatever kind, is a horrifying reminder of finiteness and mortality and hence (if you are centralised enough) drives you back onto the point of ricochet and rebounds as the drive to infinity. Because in reality it is not any finite goal that you are aiming at; you want to be omniscient and omnipotent, and it is terrible that you are not. So everything can be made unconflicted if it is turned back into, or recognised as an expression of, the drive to infinity.

And in fact by applying this I had achieved freedom from conflict and certainly had the impression of deploying extremely strong emotional drives, even for someone who had always been uninhibited and regarded as ‘intense’.

But pain presented a serious problem. Any psychological thing, however bad, can be relatively easily ignored. Well, relatively, at least in comparison with pain. As you said, even if they tell you that you have cancer and will die soon, you are still alive. They may be wrong, it may not happen. Anyway, perhaps you can still enjoy yourself.

When Bill’s brother John actually was dying of cancer and Bill took this seriously, John said (as Bill told me), ‘Well, I feel bad about it sometimes, especially when I wake up in the night, but if I do something like going to dinner with your sister, I feel all right again.’ [names changed]

However, pain is difficult to ignore. It is there and you do not want it to be there. It is a proof that your will can be violated (something that you try to overlook as far as possible) and ultimately violated by death. So it is actually a proof of mortality and the ultimate horror of the situation.

It is difficult now to remember how desperate my situation was then. I had to get a solution to pain, if only because I abhorred anaesthetics. And so I set my emotional drive at the problem and determined that my subconscious should forthcome this solution, which I had to have.

This led to the most intolerable existential claustrophobia and nostalgia; I would be driven back onto the point of ricochet and get a violent recoil driving forward again at the problem which had to be solved.

In fact I suppose you can say one was being driven further and further away from any possibility of being related to ‘normal’ life on ‘normal’ terms, past the point of no return. And, of course, it is the great problem with higher level psychology that you lose everything, and lose it irrevocably, before you get everything. It is not a case of giving up on what you have got (or might have) because you see that something else will be better. You give up on it because it is not good enough, although you are still shut in and cannot see how to get anything else.

I have written elsewhere about the despair of finiteness; and it may sound like resignation. But actually it was very complex. I was extremely angry, claustrophobically appalled, and disgusted, that a consciousness should be in such a position, without knowing anything or having any way of finding anything out. It certainly was not resignation in any sense that made the situation tolerable; it made it seem more intolerable than ever, as I reassured myself, wondering whether to go along with it. I had a principle against resignation, which was unrealistic. But a despair so profound as this was dangerous. However, I said to myself, if it arises from a perception of reality that my psychology really reacts in this way to the situation, that is realistic, be the consequences what they may, and so I entertained the despair of finiteness.

Nietzsche, who did not get a higher level, said, ‘If there were God, how could I bear to be no God? Consequently there is no God.’ More precisely, ‘Whether there is God or not, I cannot bear to be no God. Consequently my life in finiteness is worthless and I have no interests worth defending.’