I haven’t been actively engaging with this list for awhile, but I recently posted something to another mailing list, where someone was posing the question “what is suffering?” in the Buddhist sense.
Here I’ll close the same way except instead of “familiar with PCT” I’ll say “familiar with Buddhism, or similar philosophies or practices”.
Here’s roughly what I sent, starting with quoting something someone else had said:
Pain is an error signal. It correlates with the distance between an active model and perception.
When an error signal canâ€™t be handled locally, it gets escalated to greater consciousness.Â
Suffering is an internally-generated error signal. It correlates with the distance between an active model and perception.
When an error signal canâ€™t be handled locally, either by updating the model or by changing perception, it gets escalated to greater consciousness.
â€œFundamental sufferingâ€? relies on a model that â€œ(most) error-signals should not be part of the global modelâ€?. Therefore, rather than allowing escalation, and particularly the step into conscious awareness - for the exact same purpose as in any other stage of this process - it gets resisted.
Resistance is (how an ignorant effort is made to maintain) suffering. Everything fully accepted (as part of the model) is bliss.Â
This sounds like a PCT-based model of suffering, which is something I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years.Â I don’t have a very clear model of what’s going on here but it seems worth talking more about.
My current sketch of a model of what’s going on with things like sufferingÂ is something like…
There are error signals—of course. Some of these are pain, some are hunger. Somee are just “I want to type this email and I haven’t yet finished typing the email.” When error exist and there is no conflicting error, the organism simply acts so as to close the gap. When thereÂ isÂ a conflicting error, the organism may or may not be able to do something about any of the things, depending on something like “productivity techniques that allow one to overcome, distract, or eliminate resistance”. (These techniques vary in their amount of dangerous side effects.)
One type of conflicting error is a meta-error: I shouldn’t have this error. I don’t know wtf is happening here neurologically at all, but it seems like a thing that happens. I can imagine one person who is hungry and upset about that, and another person who is equally hungry (and equally physiologically affected by that hunger) and who has a kind of equanimity. Hell, we can make it even more simple: I can imagine one person who is upset and another who is upset and in some sense “okay” being upset. “I’m upset and I shouldn’t be” vs “I’m upset”
(This connects for me with thisÂ quote from an Aro Buddhism siteÂ (the school of Dzogchen that Dave Chapman follows) “Self-liberation meansÂ allowing emotional energy to be as it is.”)
Whether or not the difference I’ve just described is literally the difference between suffering and not-suffering, it seems to be structurally similar. This whole thing, btw, also relates to Scott Adams saying “don’t have goals because then you’ll have pre-success failure”. Pre-success failure is an instantiation of this thing. It says “Oh man, now that I have a goal to X, I need to feel bad that I haven’t achieved X yet, even though I literally just decided right now to have this goal so of course I haven’t achieved it yet.” There’s a kind of meta-error here too.
One thing one might call this meta-error is “judgment”. (I want to be clear in saying this that there are other ways to use the word judgment; I use the word “discernment” for those. Being post-judgmental in the sense in which I’m using the term “judgment” doesn’t mean giving up having preferences at all nor being able to tell which X is better for some purpose Y. It means not resisting the reality of what is so or grasping to it staying the same.)
Taking this whole thing a little further, I think that “judgment” is a general term for what Buddhists sometimes call the three poisons: “attraction, aversion, and ignorance”. (Again, there are ways of using all of those words that are not the thing I am trying to point at).
What I like about having the PCT model is that it points at how there is something that could be called “desire” (ie the tendency to act so as to reduce error signals) but that is clearly not itself the thing that is causing suffering. Which provides a concrete starting point for Romeo’s original question: What then, is suffering?
On the original thread, I closed withÂ
I would really like a better map of what’s happening here in PCT terms, but I don’t yet have one. Hoping others who are familiar with PCT can jam with me on this. Open to doing so via email or video-call.
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