Joy and Pain

Joy and pain as Firsts are, like all Firsts, raw and unanalyzable.

They simply are what they are.

Saying they are something else, is a matter of drawing relationships and patterns, and thus moves one into the realm of Third.

In the midst of a moment of joy or pain, analyses are irrelevant. The experience is what it is.

But from the point of view of planning our lives, relationship is important: we want to understand what is likely to bring joy or pain to ourselves or others, or to the world as a whole. And we want to understand what joy and pain are, in a relational sense. What kinds of organization-patterns are they?

They are emotion-patterns, yes. But they are simpler emotion-patterns than the other ones. They are not specific to humans or any kind of organism -- they are very generic patterns, infrastructural to the Cosmos.

Joy as Increasing Unity

Paulhan, a psychologist writing 100 years ago, had the very interesting insight that "happiness is the feeling of increasing order."

Joy is unity. Joy is togetherness. Joy is the gaps getting filled, so that there's no more emptiness craving to be sated, but everything is newly filled-up and satisfied.

Joy is the feeling of increasing unity.

Of course there is much more to the human experience of joy than this -- all human emotions are complex, multifaceted beasts. But this is part of it, and an important part: it's the pattern-space dynamic at the heart of joy.

Minds contain various expectations: meaning, they contain internal representations of patterns they would like to see emerge from their experience, and they seek out experiences that will cause these patterns to emerge.

When the seeking ends and the pattern emerges, there is a feeling of unity: the mind and the experience are bound together. Patternment has increased.

A body feels joy when patternment that is central to its function and integrity increases.

A self feels joy when patternment that is central to its function and integrity increases.

A mind feels joy when patternment that is central to its function and integrity increases.

What About Drugs?

What about the pleasure that comes from smoking crack, for example? Is this true joy?

It is, in fact, a brief rush of incredible unity. Everything flows together into one long joyous instant of raucous excitement.

Unfortunately it's short-lived -- and it's achieved by shutting down many important parts of the mind, so that the others can exist together in a unity of excitation.

During a crack high, parts of the mind are experiencing great joy, and other parts are effectively put to sleep.

This is different from some kinds of natural joy, in which all the parts of the mind and body are bound together in one joyful experience.

Joy and Growth

The role of increase in joy is worth reflecting on. We habituate quickly to new pleasures. Statistically, lottery winners are ecstatic for a while, but in the long run are no happier than others.

Stasis is not the path to joy. This simple fact becomes important when considering the various pathways open to humans as technology advances. There is more potential joy in developmental trajectories that lead to a continuing onset of new unities, than trajectories founded on "more of the same."

Joy and Pain

What about joy's opposite?

Pain, Paulhan notes, is the feeling of decreasing order: disharmony, disunity, the dissolution of patternment.

Of course, there is much more than this to the human experience of pain -- but, this is pain's pattern-space core.

From the perspective of a whole body, mind or self, pain and and pleasure are not necessarily opposites -- because these are all complex systems, and increasing disunity in one part can be coupled with increasing unity in another.

Complexity of Human Joy and Pain

Joy and pain are simpler than other emotions, at core -- but they also grow, within the human mind, into complex, coordinated systems.

There are neurological disorders which cause people to experience pain without the painful aspect. That is: they realize they are having a sensation identifiable as "pain," but there is no emotional component -- the pain doesn't seem to hurt!

What this indicates is that the sensation of the body being damaged (or the mind being damaged, in the case of psychic pain) is not quite the same thing as the negative emotional experience attached to this sensation! Ordinary human pain is the result of a complex coordination between sensation and emotion (and often cognition), but in these brain damaged individuals, the coordination is broken.

And something similar can happen with joy. Certain kinds of depression involve being happy but not enjoying it. The positive evaluation is there, but not the emotional component that's normally attached to it.

When the abstract structure of joy (increasing unity) or pain (decreasing unity) is allied with the emotional centers, then we have the typical, glorious human experience of joy or pain.


  1. How is this connected to the fact that we can experience extreme joy or pleasure by for example taking drugs like heroin or MDMA or running certain programs in our brains/creating certain experiences in our mind? Is the experience of joy dependent on actual or just perceived increase of integrity, and what would the difference between those be? I've read countless of times that dopamine, serotonin and endorphins among other things supposedly 'cause' pleasure when released in certain areas of the brain but through what processes do they supposedly do that? Is there a branch of philosophy or actual science that is seriously trying to figure out what exactly pleasure and pain, joy and suffering are physically correlated to and why such a correlation exists? And how does it all fit together with the range of our available experiences being determined by evolution? Is the evolutionary process literally calibrating our minds and correlating individual qualia to individual cognitive representations of our fitness/integrity and is this something we could hack in a much more extreme way than we can now with the use of painkillers and mental state altering drugs?

  2. I would say that stimulating the pleasure center of the brain in some artificial sense - with drugs, electric current, optogenetics, etc. - would be not giving true joy, but rather confusing the body's mechanism for registering joy. We are imperfect beings, and we have imperfect experiences. We think we are experiencing pain or joy because we've had a good or bad thing (truely joyful or truely painful) happen to us, such as eating food when we are very hungry and feeling joy or feeling pain in an injured limb. But our experiences are only connected to the goodness or badness of the situation as well as evolution has managed to manipulate our bodies to be able to do. There are lots of loopholes. Drugs for joy, or for instance phantom limb pain. The pain is real in the phantom limb, but wrong, since the problem is not still occurring but is long past. It can be cured by teaching the relevant subconscious part of the brain the truth by fooling it with a mirror-box. The pain will immediately cease. Just because the pain was wrong, doesn't mean it wasn't real, it just wasn't accurately reflecting the current state of the body.