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Pain and suffering vs. pleasure and enjoyment

Ying and Yang

Having recently experienced a horrific accident in October 2017 where I sustained multiple complete fractures in my shin and dislocations in 2 fingers and well as breaking 2 of the knuckle joints in the same 2 fingers. I have come to learn some interesting life lessons.

Today I am going to touch on my life lesson on pain and suffering vs. pleasure and enjoyment.

I took on the good services of a psychologist just in case years down the line I may suffer with post traumatic stress disorder as a result of the accident. In our one session, he made reference to how the human body distinguishes the differences between pain and suffering vs. pleasure and enjoyment and that the body identifies pleasure over discomfort and that I should focus on that, over the crucial first few months of my recovery straight after the accident to keep myself in high spirits and to almost gippo my body into forgetting for a moment what it is going through.

I was amazed to see how well this worked and thought I would share the theory behind it all courtesy of Wikipedia.

Some philosophers, such as Jeremy Bentham, Baruch Spinoza, and Descartes, have hypothesized that the feelings of pain (or suffering) and pleasure are part of a continuum.

There is strong evidence of biological connections between the neurochemical pathways used for the perception of both pain and pleasure, as well as other psychological rewards.

Perception of pain

From a stimulus-response perspective, the perception of physical pain starts with the nociceptors, a type of physiological receptor that transmits neural signals to the brain when activated. These receptors are commonly found in the skin, membranes, deep fascias, mucosa, connective tissues of visceral organs, ligaments and articular capsules, muscles, tendons, periosteum, and arterial vessels.  Once stimuli are received, the various afferent action potentials are triggered and pass along various fibers and axons of these nociceptive nerve cells into the dorsal horn of the spinal cord through the dorsal roots. A neuroanatomical review of the pain pathway, “Afferent pain pathways” by Almeida, describes various specific nociceptive pathways of the spinal cord: spinothalamic tract, spinoreticular tract, spinomesencephalic tract, spinoparabrachial tract, spinohypothalamic tract, spinocervical tract, postsynaptic pathway of the spinal column.

Perception of pleasure

Pleasure can be considered from many different perspectives, from physiological (such as the hedonic hotspots that are activated during the experience) to psychological (such as the study of behavioral responses towards reward). Pleasure has also often been compared to, or even defined by many neuroscientists as, a form of alleviation of pain.

Psychology of pain and pleasure (reward-punishment system)

One approach to evaluating the relationship between pain and pleasure is to consider these two systems as a reward-punishment based system. When pleasure is perceived, one associates it with reward. When pain is perceived, one associates with punishment. Evolutionarily, this makes sense, because often, actions that result in pleasure or chemicals that induce pleasure work towards restoring homeostasis in the body. For example, when the body is hungry, the pleasure of rewarding food to one-self restores the body back to a balanced state of replenished energy. Like so, this can also be applied to pain, because the ability to perceive pain enhances both avoidance and defensive mechanisms that were, and still are, necessary for survival.

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