The Elimination of Pain
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April 13th, 2022

Some people think we that should eliminate pain from human life. The goal of Transhumanist movement, for example, is to use chemical and genetic technology to live in a “sublime and all-pervasive happiness” – the eternal survival of a hedonistic body.

Over the next thousand years or so, the biological substrates of suffering will be eradicated completely.

– David Pearce (founder of the World Transhumanist Association)

In Transhumanism, “physical” and “mental” pain are viewed as biomedical afflictions to be overcome and relegated to “evolutionary history.” This includes pain such as that of love (“soul-destroying cruelties of traditional modes of love”).

But an immortality free of pain would not be a life worth sustaining. A life that turns away from pain withers into a comfortable survival.

Although I am bitter about the fact that I suffer such unbearable physical pain...I am attached to them, my sufferings, and I hate the thought they might leave me.

– Marcel Proust

Pain is usually resolved through experiences of transformation, that create narrative and meaning. Pain can be healed through art that connects us, or a loving caress that soothes us. Pain and healing are social processes vital for a deeply meaningful life.

Hegel argued that our minds are characterized and enlivened by painful contradictions. These contradictions trigger reflection that challenges our habitual understanding of the world. Great philosophical insight is usually birthed by painful experience.

And as far as my long infirmity is concerned, isn’t it the case that I am more indebted to it than I am to my health? ... I own my philosophy to it as well.

– Nietzsche

The Transhumanist promise of an anesthetized intelligence (even a blissful one) is not likely to produce the most meaningful experience for us. Its positivity will become mundane. Our most meaningful experiences, especially social ones, often risk or entail suffering. The human life worth preserving is the one that can receive a vulnerable other, in a play of intimacy and distance, that must necessarily be as sad as it is joyful.

Human profundity is in the wager of life in the face of pain and death, in which the mind is stirred through pain to imagine beauty. Removing pain and death from society, through biomedical control, precludes depth and beauty.

But today, when Hamlet ponders, ”To be or not to be?” we might say, "Oh, come on! Give him Prozac." The near future will have narrowly targeted psychological drugs that could change the behavior of most of Shakespeare' characters.

– James Martin, The Meaning of the 21st Century

But tragic Hamlet recognizes that our alternative, to end “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, is “to die: to sleep”. The transhumanists only promise a blissful eternal slumber.

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