Suffering - Biology, Neurology, Psychology

Biology, Neurology, Psychology

Suffering and pleasure are respectively the negative and positive affects, or hedonic tones, or valences that psychologists often identify as basic in our emotional lives. The evolutionary role of physical and mental suffering, through natural selection, is primordial: it warns of threats, motivates coping (fight or flight, escapism), and reinforces negatively certain behaviors (see punishment, aversives). Despite its initial disrupting nature, suffering contributes to the organization of meaning in an individual's world and psyche. In turn, meaning determines how individuals or societies experience and deal with suffering.

Many brain structures and physiological processes are involved in suffering. Various hypotheses try to account for the experience of unpleasantness. One of these, the pain overlap theory takes note, thanks to neuroimaging studies, that the cingulate cortex fires up when the brain feels unpleasantness from experimentally induced social distress or physical pain as well. The theory proposes therefore that physical pain and social pain (i.e. two radically differing kinds of suffering) share a common phenomenological and neurological basis.

According to David Pearce’s online manifesto The Hedonistic Imperative, suffering is the avoidable result of Darwinian genetic design. BLTC Research and the Abolitionist Society, following Pearce's abolitionism, promote replacing the pain/pleasure axis with a robot-like response to noxious stimuli or with gradients of bliss, through genetic engineering and other technical scientific advances.

Hedonistic psychology, affective science, and affective neuroscience are some of the emerging scientific fields that could in the coming years focus their attention on the phenomenon of suffering.

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