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Sensations : Subject to Mind Set?

  1. May 21, 2004 #1
    Are sensations dependent on your impression of what the particular sensation should feel like?
    For example, pain. How do we know that pain generally causes hurt? Why does it make us feel uncomfertable?
    Zen priests are able to put an immense amount of pressure on their arms (about 1000 pounds, according to a particular documentary I saw), such that for a "normal" (that is, an average non Zen practicing human being) human, it would crush their arms. They say that they are able to withstand this enormous amount of pressure because they are able to control their "chi" (their life energy). They do this by deep concentration, by meditation. They basically concentrate on calming their body, and mind and controlling their emotions. Apparently, when placing a thousand pound object on their arms (when their arms are on a stone table, on Earth) , they don't feel anything uncomfertable...any pain.
    Are we just accustomed to thinking that certain things will cause pain, were others will not because of our natural instincts or just because of a social mind set (which if one carefully analyses what we like to do and how we are as a person, one will find that our social environment contributes to us immensely).
  2. jcsd
  3. May 21, 2004 #2
    Good question: This example would be a good test, to comtemplate on, if emotions are innate, intrinsic, inherent constucts, that consciousness entails or if it is learned experience.

    On all the four corners of the earth the basic emotions are interpreted the same and that seems to hold true, for all animals also.
  4. May 21, 2004 #3
    Sometimes when I'm in pain for a long period of time I ask myself, "what is pain, and why does it hurt?". As far as I can tell, on close observation pain is nothing, but the realization that it is nothing doesn't make it go away. Kind of a mystery to me.
  5. May 21, 2004 #4


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    There is a sense in which we can distinguish between phenomenal properties in themselves (qualia) and the dispositional attitudes we adopt towards these qualia, and our attitude towards qualia in itself seems to be at least partially under our voluntary control.

    For instance, in a workshop about meditation conducted by Charles Tart, he brought up the suggestion that the unpleasantness of pain is proportional to the intensity of the sensation itself and the individual's cognitive resistance towards that pain. In a loose mathematical metaphor, he characterized this as P = I*R.

    The implication is that the same physical sensation of pain can be more or less unpleasant or 'painful' depending on the extent to which the individual resists that pain. If an individual dwells on the pain, bemoans his unfortunate circumstances, and so on, he is putting up a strong resistance to the sensation and thus is (relatively) strongly disturbed by it. On the other hand, a person with a more meditative mindset will detach himself from the pain and simply observe it in an accepting, nonjudgmental way, thus making for a relatively less painful experience. In the limit, a person who allows himself to be extremely bothered by painful experiences (high R) will be inordinately uncomfortable even in situations where the intensity of the experience is relatively low; on the other hand, a person who can detach himself from any attempts to resist the experience (low R) will not be phased even by physical sensations of pain with a high intensity.

    I happen to agree with this general idea, as it makes a good bit of intuitive sense and can even be tested empirically (in a somewhat loose sense) by any particular individual to verify its claims.
  6. May 21, 2004 #5
    Yes, confutatis, I consider those questions too, when I am in pain. A short while before I started this thread, I accidentally hit my foot on a table leg (and it hurt really bad). I suddenly found the sensation rather fascinating, and began to think about it a little more. So I posted my ideas here for further analysis.

    Good point, Rader. What emotions are unique to humans? Do humans interpret certain emotions somewhat differently than other animals?

    Also, can animals undergo social influences?

    I am sure you all realize that much of our opinions and other ideas/choices are heavily influenced by social role ideas. Imagine taking out the media (that includes t.v., newspaper, radio and other forms of communication) from our lives. So much of what we know is based on what we hear from the media. I would like to focus more on how the media influences our social obligations and ideas, at this time. In fact, I see the products of these influences every day, when I attend school.
    There are many cliques at my school, and many students in each. What interests me is, in each clique, there will at least be one or two students in it that are diliberately not being themselves just to be socially accepted. Once the most popular person begins to dress a certain, unique way, (that, if the person were not popular, would be rejected even more for being different), the majority of students will follow in his path. And that, I have observed is generally one way a social/clothing trend starts.
    Anyway, if you take for example, the unpopular feelings there are towards eating vegetables (this is an unpopular for children/teens I don't know about adults) are a social norm. Why? Because normally, vegetables don't taste good. But there is an addition to this idea: "Vegetables are not tastey (sp?), and it is normal for KIDS/TEENS not to like them. Adults just make you have them." (that is according to the social norm idea for children/teens like myself. I have no way of knowing what goes on in the adult realm. :cry: I hope I will be educated of it here) And, it is taken rather lightly too. When kids refuse to eat vegetables, it is not seen as a great offense to their own well being as drugs (I refer to the "bad drugs" such as meth..etc.) are.

    And to return to the subject of this thread:
    If some [people] feel that spicy foods cause pain when they enter the mouth, then generally, over a certain period of time as the idea gets popular, (and the idea is very normal to people) people who try spicy food for the first time will expect to feel pain. Will they feel a certain degree of pain?

    I was eating chips the other day at a friends house. They tasted very salty to me, until I was told that they were flavoured with lime. After being informed this, I began to taste lime instead of salt when I ate the chips. This is a very interesting phenomenon in my opinion. Why do you suppose this would happen?

    [sigh] Okay, I just typed everything that has been going through my mind for many weeks now. I'm sure I don't sound too organized, but not so that you don't understand what I'm getting at. If it happens that you do not understand, feel free to ask questions.

    comments will be deeply appreciated. :smile:
  7. May 21, 2004 #6
    Wow, that is brilliant. So did Charles Tart formulate other mathematical metaphors to specify other congnitive things?
    Do you think mathematical metaphors accurately describe cognitive responses/states? Or rather just approximately describe it? (I am more for the implicatins of the second question)
  8. May 21, 2004 #7


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    If the laws of physics say the priest’s arm should be crushed, and it isn’t, then I’d be very interested to see this miracle. I highly doubt that is the case.

    I have to tell this story because it actually happened as I was writing a reply to this post. My mom called, and, as I was pacing and talking to her, I saw, through the sliding glass doors, a snake slither across the back porch. I recognized the snake immediately- it’s commonly called a black racer and is practically harmless to humans. Besides, it’s outside, and I’m inside. My only intentional reaction was to say to my mom, “Great, I just saw a snake.” I happen to have an anxiety disorder, (OCD, I think) and I had to stand in the middle of the livingroom for almost an hour (so I watched the news) before I could come back in here and finish my post- without having a heart attack ;) Right now, I am working towards putting my feet on the floor, but my autonomic nervous system is still going haywire. I have had this problem for about 5 years (it’s much more than snakes). I knew exactly how the image of the snake would affect me, but I could do nothing to stop it. There is no “reasoning” my way out of it, unfortunately. Fortunately, I can control how much this problem disturbs me. It was very disturbing when it first started, but I have learned to deal with it. “I” was calm the whole time, “my body” was the one with the problem- however you make the distinction between the two. I think it is a good example of the different physical and philosophical aspects of sensation, emotion, and reason.

    BTW the basic idea hypnagogue mentioned go back at least to the Stoics. Read the first chapter here:

    Happy thoughts
  9. May 21, 2004 #8
    Ok, I’m probably off topic but I feel an urge to write about my technique for dealing with pain of the ‘pulsating’ variety;

    I consider this type of pain analogous to riding waves in a dory, and I visualize myself doing precisely such a thing. When the intensity of pain is extreme my dory and I ride at a 90-degree angle to the wave (ouch!). It hurts, but know that the wave will swell and eventually crest. When it crests, ride the wave down, down, into the peaceful valley below. Should one dwell on the pain? No. Try only to acknowledge it while concentrating on the troughs, not the crests. The first step is to attempt turning the dory to take each wave at angle while eagerly anticipating the downward run (it may take a number of waves to gain an angle). The second step is attempting to hold the dory in the trough, extending the duration little by little until at last the time spent ‘on high’ is exceeded by the time spent in the valley. If you’re lucky, the lows will be pain free moments. If you’re not lucky, the lows will be relatively pain free. You are attempting to stretch the pain free moments. Eventually, instead of breaking over the top of the next wave, the dory rides only near the top before returning to the same trough it had just left. So, turn that dory 90-degrees to the pain and ‘ride the trough’. Some pain lasts for days or even weeks or months, and it is good to have some method at your disposal I think. Pain killing pills can lessen the height of the waves, making for a more pleasant boating experience! :smile:

    I know this will come across awkwardly, but the inhalations, holding of breath, and the exhalations, strike me as being somehow orgasmic in nature. That’s a lousy way to have sex, true enough, but when the only other option is no sex at all, I guess I’ll take it. :biggrin:
  10. May 21, 2004 #9


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    P.S. Just to show the extent to which this problem goes- at one time, aerosol cans would induce an attack- the thought that (G/g)od would cause them to explode to punish me for not believing in him/her/it persisted in my head. How crazy is that?! But it wasn't "my" thought. I get these thoughts and images all the time, ripping out my eyes and such- potentially very disturbing.
    Happy thoughts
  11. May 21, 2004 #10


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    I actually developed similar methods for dealing with toothaches- the worst, for me- and they didn't always work. If only everyone could afford medical treatment! :frown:

    LEONATO I pray thee, peace. I will be flesh and blood;
    For there was never yet philosopher
    That could endure the toothache patiently,
    However they have writ the style of gods
    And made a push at chance and sufferance.
    -Much Ado About Nothing- Shakespeare.
  12. May 21, 2004 #11
    Methods to do with orgasms or wave riding with the 'man in the boat' ? haha.
  13. May 21, 2004 #12


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    One explanation: Your tongue (and nervous system) can detect four "tastes": sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. (The rest of a "flavor" comes from smell.) I doubt the receptors on your tongue failed to detect the bitterness of the lime, at first, but started to function properly after your friend's remark. I think it's more probable that somewhere "higher up" enough attention was not paid to distinguishing the different tastes. Furthermore, I'd bet that if your friend had said, "No, there's something else in them." you would have been able to decipher the lime flavor. Refining your sense of taste is a learning process- ask any wine enthusiast, or cognitive scientist, or both ;)

    Of course, you're right- taste alone is not the only factor. Delayed gratification, social pressures, addiction, etc. can play a role. Beer and cigarettes are common examples.

    As to the social influence in the "adult" world, I think it's a matter of adults being more self-observant and self-aware, in general. Childhood and adolescence are- generally, again- the stages where the greatest changes take place in discovering and establishing personal preferences and identity. And so teenagers are typically more impressionable than adults. Of course, some people remain in these developmental stages longer than others :)

    Happy thoughts
  14. May 21, 2004 #13


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    What's that Aerosmith song- "and pain is so close to pleasure"? Or is it Queen? Whatever, I'm more a detachment kinda girl :wink:

    EDIT- Queen- they have a song by that name, but I was thinking of the line in "One Year of Love"
    Last edited: May 21, 2004
  15. May 22, 2004 #14

    We can not communicate with animals but we can certainly identify certain of the main emotions in humans that animals have. When someone hugs you, you hug him back, it you do this to your dog he does not bite you, he licks you. In general you can do this experiment with any number of emotions to answer your question. There are exceptions to the rule but that would be only accomplished by conscious thought.

    Have you ever observed a dog closely and its master. Is it an illusion that over the years the dogs temperment highly resembles his master?

    Your right, except when you go to a tribe in Africa that knows nothing of what you have mentioned. Go back 100 years before there was none of these things. So how come they know pain as pain and not as joy?

    These are learned experiences but hate is hate and like is like, understood all in the same manner even though red is likable to one and hateable to another.

    I think I can say from experience at 5 years old that, no matter how many times I was told peas are good for you and taste good, they tasted bad for me. Yet today 45 years later they taste good to me and I know they are good.

    The mind can be tricked into different feels but we know what dislike and like means and there is no mixing it up. Not withstanding do not quote me as there is probably drugs that can do that also. I would make that statement under normal conditions. Do you like when hot jalopeña peppers burn your tongue, I do? Sombody else might not.

    The fact remains that emotions seem to mean the same in all places at all times and over many species.
    Last edited: May 22, 2004
  16. May 22, 2004 #15


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    Could you explain social role ideas? I think I have moved past being heavily influenced by what others think I should be.

    Do you make a distinction between media and culture? For instance, things that your parents teach you, stories you read in history books, art, music, holidays, religion, science, language, and so on.
  17. May 24, 2004 #16
    NOTE: I will finish replying to all your responses later. At this time I have insufficient time right now; but just enough to make short posts.

    Not all peoples of Africa are that isolated you know. In the part of Africa I'm from, everything is industrialized(almost).
    What I was saying in the portion of the post that you quoted was that our lives are heavily influenced by the media. This includes our perspectives. Now my primary question is are our opinions about taste, pain, joy etc. also to some degree (no matter how minute) influenced by the media as well?
  18. May 24, 2004 #17
    I believe the expectation of pain has an effect on whether we feel pain or not. It think the sensations are real in themlselves but maybe influenced by others. As for Zen monks, there have been claims of moving past all emotion by mistycs - that is an extraordinary case that can only be confirmed by experience. As the mystics say themselves - 'he who tastes knows'. Your ideas about Zen monks are from hearsay.
  19. May 29, 2004 #18
    Okay, I still am really short on time. These next couple of weeks are finals weeks, so I have two 200 point projects all due next week, a bunch of tests (which are worth between 100-200 points) to take, so sorry if I am incomplete in my replies. I will just take it step by step...but in 2 weeks, school will be over and I can post! yay!

    back to business...
    Quddusaliquddus: I learned of the Zen monks from a discovery channel documentary. It was not hearsay. Unless you will do the honors of proving the documentary wrong?

    I believe that the more industrialized a society becomes, the more stress (however it may be light) will be imposed. For example, countries who follow capatalist forms of industrialization tend to demand workers who are educated etc., and have higher demands on the workers. (This also applies to students like myself) There is little time for family and friends, for a personal life. So people are stressed more often, and some suffer from a stress disorder.
    There is a business opportunity in this (inadequately summarized stituation, I know). The name of the game is to make people happy, relaxed and make money for yourself. Of course, this can only be done with the wonderful world of the physical. The aim of many companies is to make people pay less attention to non material things and more on material things. I believe they have succeeded. At my school, there was a boy who was a rocker (rocker- classified by black w/ some color clothing, and they listen to only rock). Then suddenly he started to hang out with rappers (people who listen + dress like rap artists). And this is the climax: he started wearing rapper shoes instead of the rocker converse shoes. Stunned, many rockers felt betrayed and started to dislike him. Why? All because of shoes! It becomes popular to think this way because all "the cool kids" are acting this way (I dislike this idea, and therefore do not follow such beliefs).

    Unfotunately I am unable to finish (or even write an adequate post as you may have noticed). I will try to make time some time soon.
    here is some interesting data I would like to share:

    A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of watching a documentary concerning the international population vs. industrialization rates. (you may read of it here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/worldbalance/campaigns.html)

    I also found a peculiar set of data from different sources that I think contradict each other. I would like this cleared up:
    According to the NOVA documentary (see above link), the population growth in India declined by 40%. But this site: http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/indiaenv.html [Broken] it is the contrary; the population is booming. Which [do you think] is correct?
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  20. May 29, 2004 #19


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    Total fertility rate, not population ;)
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  21. May 29, 2004 #20
    Well, there are more "old" (40<x) people than there are young people in China you know. As a country increases in industrialization, a population boom will incur. Then the government makes a family-planning policy to keep the population stable. Then, when the country reaches a point where there is a high rate of industrialization, there will be no time for people to have families (hence it is no longer common to see people with 12 kids) because of many factors such as co$t$ for childcare. Also, western ideas pertaining to the rights of women may contribute to the social realm of society.
    Independence is a common idea.
    Has anyone ever watched shows where they tell people how to dress? Appearance is a huge method for judgement. When you go to a job interview, do you go wearing sweat pants (ah, but with a sweater that has the name of some prestigious university such as Harvard on it) ? No. that is unthinkable if you want the job. Why does dress matter??? Over and over again I have seen kids who dress opposite to their personality. I have actually met someone who doesn't get good grades, doesn't behave in class....Once he saw me reading the Elegant Universe. He came by, read the first chapter, restated its contents, asked deep intellgent questions and suddenly became extremely polite. Wow.
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