Everything on the Topic of Suffering

2008 January 17

Responding to the constantly neglected all-important issue

Filed under: Uncategorized — robertdaoust @ 7:17 pm

I’d like to tell something to Thomas Metzinger and to Randolph Nesse.

Thomas wrote the following in his response to Nicholas Humphrey at the Edge’s Reality Club:

Flowery placebo or not, the merit of Nick’s contribution lies in drawing attention to a truly deep, highly relevant and constantly neglected issue. It is not at all clear if the biological form of consciousness, as so far brought about by evolution on our planet, is a desirable form of experience, an actual good in itself. Let me further provoke Nick by playing the Gloomy German here.

The theoretical blind spot of current philosophy of mind is the issue of conscious suffering: thousands of pages are being written about color qualia or the contents of thought, but almost no theoretical work is devoted to ubiquitous phenomenal states like physical pain or simple everyday sadness (“subclinical depression”), or to the phenomenal content associated with panic, despair and melancholy — let alone to the conscious experience of mortality or of losing one’s dignity. There may be deeper evolutionary reasons behind this cognitive scotoma, but I am not going to pursue this point here (didn’t Jaron Lanier talk of “death-denial” some years ago?)

The ethical/normative issue is of greater relevance. If one dares to take a closer look at the actual phenomenology of biological systems on our planet, the many different kinds of conscious suffering are at least as dominant a feature as are color vision or conscious thought, both of which appeared only very recently. Evolution is not something to be glorified. One way — out of countless others — to look at biological evolution on our planet is as a process that has created an expanding ocean of suffering and confusion where there previously was none. As not only the simple number of individual conscious subjects, but also the dimensionality of their phenomenal state-spaces is continuously increasing, this ocean is also deepening. For me, this is also a strong argument against creating artificial consciousness: we shouldn’t add to this terrible mess before we have truly understood what actually is going on here. I admit that there exists unfathomable beauty in phenomenal experience.

I would like to tell Thomas that algonomy is perhaps the only appropriate response for taking care at last of “a truly deep, highly relevant and constantly neglected issue”, “The theoretical blind spot of current philosophy of mind”, “this cognitive scotoma”, “The ethical/normative issue (…) of greater relevance”, “a process that has created an expanding ocean of suffering and confusion where there previously was none”, “this terrible mess”.  

Algonomy appears indispensable as well for answering Randolph’s question at the 2002 Edge’s World Question Center: “Why is life so full of suffering?”.

(The following is added on 2008-01-19. — It would be interesting to look at all contributions on www.edge.org from an algonomic viewpoint. Most contributions there are oriented toward ‘betterment’, and while not all betterment has to do with suffering, I think that suffering is ‘the’ primary concern which is invoked, more or less overtly, for justifying a whole lot of ideas or policies. An algonomic analysis could reveal that the issue of suffering is indeed important, prevalent, and … utterley neglected as an issue in, for, by itself.)

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