reneliza Level 03
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Posts by reneliza

    Confession: I don't know Greek like AT ALL so reading Don's posts is usually me trying to brute force my way through Greek words by applying what I remember from college math/engineering classes.

    It's important to be really careful when talking about DA in the context of motivation

    Okay, D probably stands for dopamine since we're talking about that. But the A must be an abbreviation for something... ^^

    See, it can work both ways ^^

    DA together is dopamine! (not sure why it's abbreviated like that but I should have clarified!!)

    Also in case it comes up elsewhere, DAT is Dopamine Transporter which is INVERSELY correlated with DA activity (DAT is responsible for dopamine reuptake, which means sucking it back up into the pre-synaptic neuron before the neurochemical message can be conveyed.)

    DAT is important in motivation circuits and gets brought up a lot, but people can be confused when they find higher DAT activity means lower apparent motivation

    I actually completely agree! That's why I included the second paragraph there. I appreciate getting called out though when I go too far analytical. IANAL but I do have a tendency to think like one haha.

    I think if you find a struggling Epicurean trying to find the true meaning of pleasure by eliminating all desire and pain and experiencing endless tranquility that explaining that pain and pleasure are mutually exhaustive and that you reduce one by increasing the other is helpful.

    It's a lot easier to eliminate pain once you understand this. I am on the Epicurean subreddit and see many people trying to avoid both pain and pleasure (out of fear that pleasure will cause long term pain) and that's simply not possible. The only way to eliminate pain as they are trying to do is to move toward pleasure.

    Somewhat unrelated, but I also think it's helpful to remind people that many "simple pleasures" are without question kinetic. The most classic example to "stop and smell the roses" is a sensory pleasure and therefore kinetic under any definition!

    If you're talking about someone who hasn't been tainted with the Stoic interpretation of Epicureanism, it may be less important to stress this point, especially if they don't associate the word desire with pain. It certainly isn't necessary to tell them to pursue pleasure only so they can remove all pain which is the goal of life. Pleasure is always the goal.

    To consider for example the excitement of children waiting for Christmas morning to receive their presents to be a state in which they are in pain would I think a highly inverted way of looking at the ultimate reality.

    This, however, I do disagree with. (I have to find something, right? I'm a contrarian with an unnatural desire for arguing that certainly outruns the limits fixed by nature)

    The pain may be worth it in the end - the pain may even make the eventual satisfaction even sweeter - but it's still a state of pain. At least, that's how I would have described it for myself. I loved surprises but only when I didn't know they were coming. Knowing a surprise was on the way was unbearable. Perhaps this is just an individual trait though which could explain why I associate desire directly with pain.

    But I also find that some desires (perhaps certain kinds of desires?) not only bring pain of wanting, but also that once they're fulfilled, the pleasure isn't nearly what I expected and I end up more likely in a state of disappointment than satisfaction.

    "This is because we are genuinely persuaded that men who are able to do without luxury are the best able to enjoy luxury when it is available."

    My understanding of this line is that partaking in a pleasure without desiring or expecting it makes us more likely to appreciate it and to gain more from it.

    The Letter to Menoikeus also states that "the storm of the soul" can't be settled until we no longer have need to go looking for something which we lack.

    I have read through the whole thread at this point, but I have to admit I'm still not sure what different kind of definition/interpretation other people are using. How is having an unmet longing NOT painful? I'd love to figure out where the misunderstanding between the two sides is occurring.

    If desire is a pain, then per PD03 the limit of the magnitude of pleasure would include the removal of all desire. Is this what Epicurus had in mind? Then why would he describe natural and necessary desires? Does he say somewhere that gods have no desires?

    I would think that the pain-free ideal would be to remove all desire by meeting all desire. So the only ones that would need to be dealt with would be the ones that can't be satisfied. (or that can't be satisfied while also satisfying desires of greater importance to you)

    However, it's not like all desires are being actively desired at all times, so one can certainly reach a pain-free state even with unmet desires.

    As I recall from an experiment described in the book Dopamine Nation, rats with their dopamine blocked would starve to death. They weren't motivated by the pleasure of food or by the removal of the pain of hunger, but by dopamine. So if dopamine equates to desire (does it?) then it would clearly not be a pain or a pleasure. Desire would be a stimulus to action as opposed to pleasure and pain, which serve as guides to action and results of action. (OK I'm mixing modern and ancient here)

    It's important to be really careful when talking about DA in the context of motivation because it does a lot of different things, but of course gets presented in popular media as neurochemical pleasure which is a gross misrepresentation. For example: the only disorder for which the standard course of treatment includes synthetic dopamine is Parkinson's Disease. It is dysregulated in some way in just about all mental health conditions, and current understanding is basically that it fills a lot of different roles in a lot of different circuits and we're not sure of the exact mechanism. (Some animal models for ADHD include subjects with blocked DA to simulate loss of motivation, but subjects with increased DA activity to simulate hyperactivity are ALSO used)

    Anyway, I found the paper referred to here, or at least a similar one studying DA-knockout rats which states (emphasis mine) "The feeding deficit in the rat model has been attributed to sensorimotor impairment and/or a loss of motivation to eat; however, the mechanisms have not been elucidated. Delivery of DA agonists and antagonists to different sites in the brain has identified specific regions that influence feeding behaviors (8, 9), but they have not indicated where the DA action is essential. Furthermore, the genetic approach of inactivating individual genes encoding DA receptors or transporters has not revealed any striking effects on feeding behavior (1013). Thus, the specific roles of DA in feeding remain enigmatic."

    In reading the last few posts on desire being associated with pain, I personally find it disturbing to think my life would be motivated by pain. Desires are motivating factors. Maybe not the only ones and I admit I need to think about this more. But desires motivate us to take action. If desires are initiated by pain, then is my life motivated by pain?

    I would rather think my life is motivated by an appetite to move toward pleasure. I realize that could simply be rephrased as "to move away from pain" to me it's a matter of emphasis and/or perspective. Am I concentrated on the pleasure or the pain?

    All that said, Epicurus did write:

    By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul.

    I'm still not convinced that desire (epithymia/ orexis) necessarily involves pain but I'm not saying I have a cogent alternative at this point.

    I see the concern here, but my thought is that "moving toward pleasure" and "moving away from pain" are not just closely related concepts, but literally exactly identical. If pleasure and pain are the only two feelings, then having less of one means more than the other. The only way to remove pain is to add pleasure. The only way to add pleasure is to remove pain. There is no neutral state in between. There is no intermediary. So life can't be motivated by pleasure without being motivated by pain as well (more of one, less of the other)

    But if it's disturbing to think of being driven by a negative, then by all means say that you're motivated to move toward the pleasure found in fulfilling desire rather than ending the pain of desire. Because they're wholly equivalent, one just feels more positive because of perspective.

    ^ all that said, I still hold a difference between "interests" and "desires" and having unexplored interests need not be painful, except for the necessary ones like food and shelter (and yes, the ones needed for happiness, whatever those are). "Desire" in common English means to me "wanting something I don't have (yet)" but I'm not certain that Epicurus meant to be referring to something that was inherently painful when he spoke of desires. I am not at all familiar with the Greek or even if this sort of connotation existed with the language he used.

    Oh shoot! My time agnosia really got the best of me this week. I somehow simultaneously knew today was Wednesday, knew this meeting was on Wednesday, yet thought that I missed it last night. My partner was even out with the kids, so I could've been participating in real time instead of just looking up dictionary definitions of desire.

    I'm curious about this conversation tonight. This is another one that (based on this translation) seems like it could have a couple of interpretations. What are these possible "nearer" standards? Is he referring to pleasure as the end of nature, or is he talking about looking out past the near future to make good decisions for the long term?

    I guess my question is, in part, what standard could be nearer than pleasure?

    Having again consulted Merriam Webster, I think I view Epicurean "desire" as more closely akin to "concern" or "consideration" or even "interest" (noting that "concern" obviously has a negative connotation in most people's minds as a type of worry so it wouldn't be best for communication)

    The difference to me is that a desire must necessarily be unmet. Once it's met, the desire goes away. But a consideration doesn't go away when it's met, it just isn't really at the forefront anymore. There are other considerations that are more important or interesting at the moment, due to being unmet.




    1a: a feeling that accompanies or causes special attention to something or someone : CONCERN
    b: something or someone that arouses such attention




    2a: a matter weighed or taken into account when formulating an opinion or plan

    Maybe we ought to be considering the dictionary definitions of "desire" today, and also follow Don's lead and take a position on what we think the word meant exactly to Epicurus. Otherwise we are likely to never gain much clarity.


    well we crossposted but yes this corresponds well with my last post. I did also consult before I posted haha

    I think "desire" must be a lack of something good (or at least something I perceive as good), and given that we're using pretty broad definitions of "pleasure" and "pain" here, that any lack must be a pain.

    Reneliza would you say that your sentence there boils down to "all desire is painful?" Would that cause you any issue to embrace that as a sweeping general statement?

    Yes, I would agree with that, but with the understanding that some desires are painful at the level of noon-time hunger after a 9AM breakfast, and some are painful like losing a limb.

    However - I do think I'm defining "desire" here as I do in everyday English, and it seems to likely be different than what Epicurus meant. At the same time, I'm defining pleasure and pain as I understand them from a broad Epicurean point of view and that mix-and-match may be complicating things. I don't have a desire for needs that are already met, only for things I'm lacking, and I'm not sure that's what he meant for this concept. I don't desire housing because I already have it. But if I was outside in a downpour, I would have a desire for shelter.

    This is a really interesting topic and basically I agree with everything Joshua says here. I think "desire" must be a lack of something good (or at least something I perceive as good), and given that we're using pretty broad definitions of "pleasure" and "pain" here, that any lack must be a pain.

    Hunger is a desire for food, and I think it is clearly a pain, even though it's one so easily satisfied for me that I rarely get to the point of actually registering the lack as pain.

    I am interested to look more into the neuro side of things though. There is some neurological overlap between the experience of physical and emotional pain (and of course emotional pain can be manifested as physical symptoms) but I'm not sure how desire might register. I would also expect hope to be entirely different, but I'm interested to see if any studies have been done looking into any of these things

    Elisabeth Kübler-Ross said that all emotions derive from fear and love. I'm wondering if gratitude might be an inverse of fear. Instead of pain from worrying about how things are, it's a pleasure from appreciating how things are.

    Also I just saw there's a few more pages so sorry if I'm repeating others!

    This is probably a good example of a field in which lots of caution and consideration of multiple possibilities even "waiting" is appropriate

    It could also be an example of someone not wanting to accept the preponderance of evidence and wanting to cling to an "alternative" pet theory.

    I think that if we DID have a situation where a long established theory with such a large amount of support and evidence to date was undeniably, irrefutably disproven… Yes, scientists would be terrified, but they’d also be super excited. That’s what nerds do. We love any good data even if it disrupts our deeply held beliefs and shakes us to the core and quite frankly makes us want to vomit lol

    People with alternative theories love to talk about The Real Truth They Don’t Want You To Know but if there’s one thing scientists can’t shut up about it’s new evidence that challenges classical understanding!

    Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a very seductive idea. However I've encountered more confusion than clarity when I've tried to relate it to the categories of desires and my personal conclusion is that it's not helpful to one studying Epicurus. The more that I looked into it, the more academic criticisms of it I found.... It appeared to me that it could turn into another rabbit hole that would actually take me further from understanding Epicurus. I dropped it and focused on Epicurus and feel that I've been well rewarded for my choice.

    I think that a lot of psychological models work really well as models and that like you said, it just becomes complicated and confusing when you try to use it as some real strict and decisive rule. With Maslow and Epicurean desires both that it's worthwhile to note that there are some fundamental things that, once taken care of, make it easier to pursue the other less basic desires. But I wouldn't do a whole lot more with the hierarchy of needs than that.

    Although anyone may of course use the words they want, I have to side with Don when it comes to the word striving. It has a relatively positive connotation these days (in a world where it is believed that anything worth having is difficult to obtain), but it is etymologically related to strife and I just FEEL that element of discord and contention in the word. It feels unnatural as though anything that would require me to strive would be something that is at odds with my nature and I’m trying to work through that to force it to fit anyway. (Noting of course that sometime people have to do exactly this in order to provide for themselves - I still don’t see it as a positive but as unfortunately unavoidable in certain situations)

    Having looked into the dictionary definitions a bit, I think I really like the verb “endeavor” which yes, also implies exertion, but in a way that feels less unpleasant from the start, and even adventurous and exciting. It’s the exertion that allows me to feel pleasure and accomplishment even while it’s hard work and sometimes painful.

    This conversation is also bringing to mind another common saying that I was going to post on the forum anyway, because I see some problems with it.

    “Nothing in life worth having comes easy”

    My thought is that Epicurus tells us literally the opposite. There are sometimes we will chose pain to find a greater pleasure (or avoid a greater pain) but in general the things we need come easy. I suspect this kind of saying representing the Protestant work ethic is actually problematic because it makes it seem like the good life is out of your grasp (for now at least - you just need to work harder!!) where for most of us it is within reach. We don’t need to work harder, we just have to pluck it. I don’t remember now where the “plucking” language came from but I do really like it.

    (This isn’t to downplay the difficulties of dealing with things like poverty or abuse, but increasing effort is rarely going to improve those situations anyway)

    I’d love to hear other thoughts.

    There’s so much good in here, but I want to just specifically pull out this one quote “Pain is simply negative feeling without further judgement.

    I think that’s great, and the kind of practical thing that I could actually take and put into action in my life immediately. It’s reminiscent of the quote “pain is unavoidable, suffering is optional” which I have always really liked. The epicurean goal is to eliminate all pain but… sometimes things happen, and also I’m super clumsy so sometimes I run into a door frame or kick a wall and stub my toe while walking down the hall. There’s so much to be said for just accepting and feeling that pain (when it is unavoidable) and not ADDING to it with judgments or resistance to feeling it, which is when it goes beyond just pain, and becomes suffering, or stress, or anxiety, or any of these other things that are generally viewed as being problems to be solved beyond the pain itself.

    During our 20th meetup, I loved Martin’s temperature analogy, and thinking of pleasure as an intensive property so much! Temperature is such a familiar concept that I think it should work well for explaining some of these concepts generally

    "Infinite time contains an equal amount of temperature as limited time."

    I’m still curious about the second part though: “if one measures, by reason, the limits of pleasure.”

    What does it mean to use reason to measure the limits of pleasure? (Or is that wording not representative of what Epicurus meant)

    If we can have the same amount of pleasure in our short lives as we could over infinite time, but only if we use reason to measure the limits of pleasure, it seems pretty crucial to be able to do that!

    Does it mean that we’re using reason to generally determine what the limits of pleasure are (ie his response to the Platonic claim that there is no limit to pleasure) as a general principle? Or does it mean to measure the limits of pleasure in a more day-to-day or moment-by-moment sense, using our reason at the time? Or something entirely different??

    I will say, I think the whole thing makes sense together to say:

    Once you realize that pleasure doesn’t increase beyond removal of all pain, you can see that as much pleasure can exist in a limited life as an unlimited one.

    But I’m not certain if that’s how it was intended.

    In other words, I think that for an Epicurean, the greatest pleasure can be found in either limited OR infinite time.

    Playing around with substitutions in PD19 makes for really useful analogies, but I think putting in "quantity" of anything fundamentally breaks it, because it seems clear that the original is referring to quality. I mean, otherwise you might as well just sub in "quantity of hours" which would be by definition impossible

    Quantity is the only thing we have more of when time is unlimited

    The "infinite pleasure is boring" stories (which can sometimes lead to the "pleasure only feels good because pain exists" angle) tend to miss that - yes, while the greatest pleasure sometimes comes from a bit of exertion, that we humans create our own effort. Consider the new retiree who spends a month bored out of their mind and then takes up woodworking. Or the stay at home parent who is also a writer.

    I think this is a part of a societal narrative where we desperately don't want the masses to believe that they can be happy without the jobs provided to them from on high. In truth, we can and will easily create our own challenges, designed personally for us to give maximum pleasure, when we're granted the resources (time, space, energy, material, etc...) to do so.