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Pain and Pleasure: Our basic driving forces?
Posted: 18 March 2008 06:36 PM   [ Ignore ]
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So here’s the 1st thread that I’ve started. Over the past 8 or so years, I’ve read quite a bit of “personal development/self help”-type of books, cds and programs. I’ve found that a large majority of the stuff is over-simplified garbage that probably does more harm than good, especially when taken too seriously, literally or followed too rigidly. But in the minority of concepts that I’ve found to be effective and helpful (to myself at least) in getting the results that I’ve wanted in my life, I’ve found to be of great value. 

One of the concepts that I’ve found to be consistent with my experience and have yet to find a contradictory instance is the concept of pain and pleasure, which I first heard from Anthony Robbins. I’m not sure if originated from him, but I haven’t heard it from anyone else (though it seems to have been influenced or derived from Freud’s pleasure principle). And here’s the basic idea:

Our behavior (actions and even lack of actions) is/are essentially dictated by these 2 forces. Whichever we perceive as greater, is going to determine our action or lack of action. If we have 2 choices, we will pick the choice that has the most “pleasure” and the least “pain” associated to it.  In a situation where there are only 2 pains, for instance, we will pick the lesser of the 2 pains (and the same for “pleasure”). And in places of indecision, it simply means that we don’t know which of the choices will “mean” more pleasure and less pain.

It is important to recognize that these are “perceived” pains and pleasures. The definition or meaning we associate to it is what determines what is actually painful and pleasurable. So we can have 2 people with the same 2 choices, but because they associate more pleasure and less pain to opposite choices, they end up picking different choices. The meaning associated to the variety of choices out there is determined through a number of different ways and is outside of this point. Keep this in mind if you’re thinking of a scenario that you think would contradict this concept, that although you may think that a certain choice “should” be more painful, it may not “mean” that in the person’s shoes.

I imagine that I haven’t explained this as eloquently as some of you guys may have if you were in my position, so I anticipate that I may have to answer some question for clarification.

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Posted: 19 March 2008 01:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Although I am (according to my wife) a behaviourist I wouldn’t say pain and pleasure ARE our basic driving forces, I would say survival, sex and so on are with the latter being the most basic and everything else geared up to ensure that ... I’d say pain and pleasure are just inputs into that, survival just a means of achieving it.

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Posted: 19 March 2008 10:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I think “survival” is the driving force.

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Posted: 19 March 2008 11:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I thought “replication” was the driving force.

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Posted: 19 March 2008 11:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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George - 19 March 2008 11:15 AM

I thought “replication” was the driving force.

a.k.a. sex .. I like sex, sex is good cool smile

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Posted: 19 March 2008 12:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Kyuuketsuki UK - 19 March 2008 11:47 AM
George - 19 March 2008 11:15 AM

I thought “replication” was the driving force.

a.k.a. sex

Nope. We use sex (thank god) to replicate, but many animals, plants and other life forms don’t. Sex is not the driving force. (That’s if there is any driving force to begin with. Don’t forget, before biology there was chemistry; not much of a driving force there.)

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Posted: 19 March 2008 12:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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George - 19 March 2008 11:15 AM

I thought “replication” was the driving force.

Thus promoting the survival of a species.

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Posted: 19 March 2008 02:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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[quote author=“George”]Nope. We use sex (thank god) to replicate, but many animals, plants and other life forms don’t. Sex is not the driving force. (That’s if there is any driving force to begin with. Don’t forget, before biology there was chemistry; not much of a driving force there.)

Fair enough though I meant replication, I was just being more crude/imprecise

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Posted: 19 March 2008 03:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Survival: If survival is a constant driving force, then I don’t see how that would hold up in instances of suicide or sacrificing one’s life for a cause, belief, person(s) or thing(s).

Replication/Sex: If replication or sex is a constant driving force, then I don’t see how that would hold up in cases of suicide (prior to replication), life-long commitments to celibacy, and becoming a hermit.

In all of these cases, the pain/pleasure concept holds as far as I can tell.

Suicide/sacrifice: When someone commits suicide, they are in a great deal of pain and the only or best answer that they can come up with is to end their life. Meaning: Continue living is more painful than ending life—-> Therefore, end life. If a guy jumps in front of a car to move his child/friend/father/dog out of the way, then he (in that moment of decision) sees allowing that to occur as being more painful than the consequences of jumping in front of the car.

Replication: If someone commits to a life of celibacy or hermitage, they’ve equated doing so to, at least in the overall understanding, being worth whatever “sacrifices” that they would be giving in order to live that life or the results they would get from living that way.

[ Edited: 19 March 2008 03:52 PM by Kaizen ]
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Posted: 19 March 2008 03:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Reproduction is the driving biological force, and it has stimulated the necessary mechanisms for survival (a pre-requisite up to a point for reproduction) and reproduction itself. But it is a fallacy to assume that every act, every single behavior must itself serve the end of survival or reproduction even if these are the ultimate driving forces. Several reasons why:

1) No individual or species is perfectly adapted, now or in perpetuity. Maladaptive behaviors may persist for evolutionarily long periods of time depending on how intense the selection pressure and how maladaptive they are

2) Mechanisms evolved for one purpose can come to serve others, and this may persist if these other purposes are evolutionarily advantageous or neutral. The brain that finds food and avoids predators effectively can also write symphonies, so the proximate purpose is not solely a direct result of the ultimate prupose.

3) Mechanisms that are, on balance, adaptive can persist and propogate their genes even if they are, in some individual instances, maladaptive. Sickle cells are less efficient for oxygen transport than normal red blood cells, but if they provide in the heterozygous state some protection against malaria, and if malaria is a strong selection pressure, the gene for sickle cell can survive even if the homozygous state is lethal. Likewise, if the genes that promote empathy, altruism, self-sacrifice, and generally adaptive behaviors ocassionally lead a person to forgoe reproduction and devote their life to serving a mythical god, the genes may still survive if in most individuals they do better than their competitors, even if in some they don’t get passed on.

4) Humans create many, if not most, of their own selective pressures these days, so what may have been evolved in a natural environment may no longer work, and what may not have worked well there may now be better. And, we may actually being in the process of dying out and just haven’t noticed, since our lifestyle has channged its pattern of millions of years in only a few hundred.

There are probably other arghuments I haven’t remebered or thought of, but these are some reasons why it can be true that survival and reproduction are the driving forces for the evolution of our behavior even though this behavior doesn’t always seem to effectively serve survival and reproduction. Similarly, we can have goals and purposes not related to sruvival and reproduction even if we do so using a system (brain and body) evolution has developed for its own purposes.

FWIW, I think pain and pleasure are powerful proximate driving forces evolution has developed to serve the ultimate driving forces of survival and reproduction. I’d hesitate to call them the only significant forces, though. I think intellct and reason drive some (though not enough) of our behavior, as do other drives that might not fit under the broad category of pain or pleasure (especially social drives like the tendancy to mimic the behavior of others through mirror neurons and so on).

[ Edited: 19 March 2008 04:01 PM by mckenzievmd ]
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Posted: 19 March 2008 04:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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To start, I’m certainly not saying that survival and reproduction aren’t mechanisms that influence us. Keeping this in mind:

mckenzievmd - 19 March 2008 03:57 PM

1) No individual or species is perfectly adapted, now or in perpetuity. Maladaptive behaviors may persist for evolutionarily long periods of time depending on how intense the selection pressure and how maladaptive they are

So if someone doesn’t adapt as much or as close to ideal as next, then the forces of survival and reproduction don’t maintain at such intense levels and influence on the person? This sounds to me that although those may have been the initial forces that caused the individual to come about, they are no longer the dominating forces on the daily, practical level (though it may continue on the cellular level).

2) Mechanisms evolved for one purpose can come to serve others, and this may persist if these other purposes are evolutionarily advantageous or neutral. The brain that finds food and avoids predators effectively can also write symphonies, so the proximate purpose is not solely a direct result of the ultimate prupose.

So again, this sounds like an argument for initial motivation and not a constant and continuing motivation, especially in the cases that I mentioned above.

3) Mechanisms that are, on balance, adaptive can persist and propogate their genes even if they are, in some individual instances, maladaptive. Sickle cells are less efficient for oxygen transport than normal red blood cells, but if they provide in the heterozygous state some protection against malaria, and if malaria is a strong selection pressure, the gene for sickle cell can survive even if the homozygous state is lethal. Likewise, if the genes that promote empathy, altruism, self-sacrifice, and generally adaptive behaviors ocassionally lead a person to forgoe reproduction and devote their life to serving a mythical god, the genes may still survive if in most individuals they do better than their competitors, even if in some they don’t get passed on.

This seems like another example of the above arguments

4) Humans create many, if not most, of their own selective pressures these days, so what may have been evolved in a natural environment may no longer work, and what may not have worked well there may now be better. And, we may actually being in the process of dying out and just haven’t noticed, since our lifestyle has channged its pattern of millions of years in only a few hundred.

There are probably other arghuments I haven’t remebered or thought of, but these are some reasons why it can be true that survival and reproduction are the driving forces for the evolution of our behavior even though this behavior doesn’t always seem to effectively serve survival and reproduction. Similarly, we can have goals and purposes not related to sruvival and reproduction even if we do so using a system (brain and body) evolution has developed for its own purposes.

None of my responses were meant to disagree with any of your above statements.

 

FWIW, I think pain and pleasure are powerful proximate driving forces evolution has developed to serve the ultimate driving forces of survival and reproduction. I’d hesitate to call them the only significant forces, though. I think intellct and reason drive some (though not enough) of our behavior, as do other drives that might not fit under the broad category of pain or pleasure (especially social drives like the tendancy to mimic the behavior of others through mirror neurons and so on).

I think situations where intellect and reason are used is a great example in support of the first post. The reason is used to determine meanings in life, which tells an individual what hurts (not necessarily physically) and what feels good. I maintain that although things may be occuring on the cellular levels that may indicate (or do) a choice outside of these forces, the concept remains consistent in those instances.

So my question is, could you provide a situation on the level of someone in their practical life. where there would be a clear counter instance to the first post?

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Posted: 19 March 2008 05:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Well, my purpose wasn’t to counter the first post but simply to explain why I think evolutionary exigencies like survival and reproduction can be the underlying driving force while still not being the proximate or only consideration determining behavior. I am essentially agreeing with you on that, I suspect, in saying that proximate (what you might call immediate or everyday) drives are related to ultimate evolutionary driving forces (survival and reproduction) but not necessarily directly and immediately or unvaryingly expressions of them. I was partially countering the implication of some of the other members that proximate causes are always directly subsidiary to ultimate causes, and partly countering your examples of celibacy and suicide as examples of why survival and replication were not valid explanations for behavior, and showing why I think they are on one level and these behaviors don’t disprove that.

As for your initial post, I think you can define pain and pleaure broadly enough to account for anything, thus making your argument irrefutable. I don’t think, however, that’s how the words are generally used, or that doing so strikes me as a profound or especially useful model for everyone, though I won’t dispute your own experience or its impact or usefulness for you personally. Physical or emotional pain and pleasure are generally distinguished from each other and from more abstract, intellectual conclusions and principles, which I also suggest drive behavior. If I choose to forgoe food even though that causes pain because I know intellectually I will live longer and be healthier or because I think skinny is esthetically superior to fat, I think it is cheating to say that the intellectual conclusion is a form of choosing one pleasure over another. It defines pleasure as anything we seek and pain as anything we avoid, and then circularly defines seeking pleasure and avoiding pain as the driving forces for behavior. I think pain and pleasure are important proximate drives, but not the only ones (with, as I said before, reason and social drives also playing a big role).

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Posted: 19 March 2008 05:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Kaizen - 19 March 2008 03:43 PM

Survival: If survival is a constant driving force, then I don’t see how that would hold up in instances of suicide or sacrificing one’s life for a cause, belief, person(s) or thing(s).

Suicide is a selfish act. Often done because someone wants to rid themselves of discomfort. Perhaps the person feels this is the only way they can “survive” their discomfort, by self termination.

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Posted: 20 March 2008 03:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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mckenzievmd - 19 March 2008 05:04 PM

Well, my purpose wasn’t to counter the first post but simply to explain why I think evolutionary exigencies like survival and reproduction can be the underlying driving force while still not being the proximate or only consideration determining behavior. I am essentially agreeing with you on that, I suspect, in saying that proximate (what you might call immediate or everyday) drives are related to ultimate evolutionary driving forces (survival and reproduction) but not necessarily directly and immediately or unvaryingly expressions of them. I was partially countering the implication of some of the other members that proximate causes are always directly subsidiary to ultimate causes, and partly countering your examples of celibacy and suicide as examples of why survival and replication were not valid explanations for behavior, and showing why I think they are on one level and these behaviors don’t disprove that.

As for your initial post, I think you can define pain and pleaure broadly enough to account for anything, thus making your argument irrefutable. I don’t think, however, that’s how the words are generally used, or that doing so strikes me as a profound or especially useful model for everyone, though I won’t dispute your own experience or its impact or usefulness for you personally. Physical or emotional pain and pleasure are generally distinguished from each other and from more abstract, intellectual conclusions and principles, which I also suggest drive behavior. If I choose to forgoe food even though that causes pain because I know intellectually I will live longer and be healthier or because I think skinny is esthetically superior to fat, I think it is cheating to say that the intellectual conclusion is a form of choosing one pleasure over another. It defines pleasure as anything we seek and pain as anything we avoid, and then circularly defines seeking pleasure and avoiding pain as the driving forces for behavior. I think pain and pleasure are important proximate drives, but not the only ones (with, as I said before, reason and social drives also playing a big role).

I think I do agree with your post here.

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Posted: 20 March 2008 03:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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[quote author=“morgantj” ]Suicide is a selfish act. Often done because someone wants to rid themselves of discomfort. Perhaps the person feels this is the only way they can “survive” their discomfort, by self termination.

I agree that it is a selfish act. In fact, based on the 1st post, I think all actions are selfish acts on some level. I don’t see why you feel the need to force the word “survive” into a concept that is in direct conflict with it’s definition.

[ Edited: 20 March 2008 03:55 PM by Kaizen ]
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Posted: 21 March 2008 05:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Suicide is a selfish act. Often done because someone wants to rid themselves of discomfort. Perhaps the person feels this is the only way they can “survive” their discomfort, by self termination.

Suicide is not a selfish act. And while it might be counter-intuitive to 2000+ years of religious propaganda, suicide is an act of strength and in many instances, OBVIOUSLY confers an evolutionary benefit.

First point. It’s been said, and i think largely true, “People do no love life, so much as fear death”. Overcoming our fear of harm and death is a very long process of habituation to pain. Let me make this clear, very few if any people commit suicide out of the out of the blue. Virtually everyone can be shown to have lived lives filled with pain. Every suicide attempt (they aren’t pleas for attention) is part of a habituation process. Drug abuse, sexual abuse, physical assaults, constant suicidal ideation, all part of a habituation process that creates an opponent process. This opponent process gives more and more pleasure to the person attempting self-harm as they continue down the path of habituation, until one day, they don’t feel the pain any longer, do not fear death, and begin to crave it. The more people attempt suicide. The greater the chance of a sucessful suicide. The more attempts, the more violent.

This has nothing to do with selfishness. Or being self-centered. It’s easy to think you’d act differently if you experienced similar problems. But being in constant unbearable pain, feeling hopeless, worthless and feeling you don’t belong anywhere, is something few if any of us would care to overcome, be able to imagine, or would be able to.

Prior to Christianity, there were movements that valued rational suicide. Such as the Stoics. Seneca committed suicide, for instance. Then there are the Asian cultures and so on.

And lastly. Because suicide exists, one can postulate it must have SOME evolutionary basis. And it does. Caring for a despondent person has shown several things. a) the person who is suicidal is not as productive b) doesn’t earn as much c) their sense of self is deflated e) the person caring for them has been shown to have a lowered opinion of that person d) are less likely to pass on their genes and so on. It should be mentioned that in the USA at least, people who attempt suicide see an increase in wealth of 20-30 percent over those who quietly suffer in silence.

And lastly, suicides, while a leading cause of death for many different age groups, the mentally ill and men in particular aren’t all that common. There is about a 0.001? percent chance someone without a mental illness will COMMIT suicide. Of course, when it comes to mental illness your chances go through the roof. Borderlines, anorexics and bipolars have at least a 10 percent chance of committing suicide, and have many, many more attempts.

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