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Pain

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"Owie!"

Pain is a kind of bread common distressing sensation in people that is caused by unpleasant stimuli. What does and does not feel pain, and whether we should care about minimizing whatever pain exists in anything other than humansWikipedia (or which humans), is an ongoing question in ethics and biology. The unpleasant nature of pain drives us to avoid it when possible[citation NOT needed] (at least most of the time). Unfortunately, the power of pain in controlling our behavior means people and organizations from alternative medicine proponents to governments to even your own mommy will exploit this fact of life for their own nefarious ends.

Pain and control[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Torture

Controlling people through pain is a tactic frequently used by impatient parents, abusers, and governments. Tactics include gaslighting, undermining independence, blackmail, threats of violence, plain old violence, etc.

In terms of extracting information, torture is actually not nearly as effective as movies would have you believe. Pain is good at getting people to do things to stop the pain, but "telling the truth" isn't necessarily one of those things, especially if the torturer doesn't know what's true and what's not. If the torturer did, well, what's the point?

Corporal punishment[edit]

Parents often use violence to get their children to behave. All it really does is hurt kids.[1] Pain and humiliation result in anxiety in the child when similar situations arise again, which hopefully causes the child to avoid doing things which are "bad". In reality, the child just develops loads of anxiety and not for what's intended. For instance, if a child's homework is late, and you smack your child, the result isn't always "I better get my homework on time to avoid anxiety" but often the child develops increasing amounts of anxiety whenever they are about to start their homework. What you end up with is a child who grows into an adult with higher risk of mental health issues.[2]

Pain and medicine[edit]

Painkillers[edit]

Paikillers are various type of pharmaceuticals (or sometimes, a placebo) that are administered to people to manage pain. Often these are opiates, so named because they derive from opium, and as such they may be highly addictive. Where's my morphine, doc?

Alternative Medicine[edit]

Acupuncture is a popular pseudoscience in which thin needles are stuck into the skin to relieve pain, usually chronic. It doesn't work.[3] Chiropractic, another common pseudoscience focusing primarily on the spine, also doesn't work.[4]

Emotional pain[edit]

Sticks and Stones XKCD.png

Pain in humans (and likely other intelligent animals) is not strictly limited to physical damage. Humans experience emotional pain as well.[5] Ask anyone in the military and they will tell you, the absolute worst experience they ever had was when they found out their significant other found someone else. So why is emotional pain worse than physical pain? Well, simply put, humans are a social species; your survival is less a matter of being able to wrestle a bear and more a matter of having have enough friends to help you take down that bear. Nearly all social pain and anxiety revolves around relationships and social status and whether your relationships are doing well and growing or whether you are gaining or losing social status. When we do something embarrassing and others chide or mock us, we feel bad. Why? So that we learn to avoid doing things which risk us losing too much social status and being thrown out of the community to the bears. Those that didn't feel this emotional pain were more likely to have been cast out of society, had fewer opportunities to procreate or otherwise aid in success of a species, and would've been slowly removed from the genepool. Thus, empathy, our ability to not just feel pain and joy, but feel emotions on others' behalf, as empathic individuals tend to do things which indirectly result in higher social status.

Pain and philosophy[edit]

Many consequentialist philosophies, like utilitarianism, prescribe minimizing total pain.[6] Utilitarianism can allow for, or even encourage, particular instances of pain. For instance, if a brief but painful punishment would dissuade a person from causing greater harm later on, and if no less painful method of dissuasion is possible, then inflicting this punishment would be good under utilitarianism. In contrast, moral systems like deontology hold that particular actions are good or bad regardless of their consequences, including whether they mitigate or produce pain. The deontologist Kant held that it was always wrong to tell a lie, even if by doing so it would be possible to prevent a great deal of harm, including death.

Pain and... pleasure?[edit]

Believe it or not there are people who like feeling pain, at least in the bedroom.Do You Believe That? Practitioners of BDSM frequently engage in roleplaying that involves physical pain and humiliation for the purpose of sexual pleasure.

How, exactly, does this work? Shouldn't pain always be felt as bad? In terms of physical pain, minor injuries release endorphins, the body's natural painkiller.[7] These hormones can feel better than the pain that is inflicted, and all the sensations can add to the whole experience. Just restrict yourself to activities that hurt without the risk of actual damage and always have a safeword.

We here at RationalWiki do not kink shame, so long as it's consenting adults behind closed doors and all that. However, some people are not as nice as us.

References[edit]