Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A true hog of Epicurus's herd!

          So, I am back after a brief hiatus. And as for the post title,well, I always wished, I could be a true hog of Epicurus's herd. For those who don't quite understand what I am trying to say, let me talk about Epicurus and hedonism here. Epicurus was a greek philosopher who taught that supreme tranquility and eternal happiness and peace in life were to do with pleasure and the absence of pain. According to him pleasure and pain are the measures of good and bad respectively. He taught hedonism and ataraxia. Without confusing this much, let me put this in simplest of words - to live a life devoted to pleasure and experience optimal and enduring pleasure. More can be found about Epicurus on wikipedia or google :P.
          Basically right from our childhood we are taught directly and indirectly, the concept of 'no pain, no gain'. Our mind gets trained to associate hardwork with pain and to associate rejecting pleasure with moral good. So although most of us yearn to live a life full of pleasure, we reject the same pleasure considering it something very negative. And thanks to moral ethics and being taught to instill guilt into our ownselves, we often forcefully put ourselves through pain thinking it will remove the guilt and silence our conscience. This goes on and on almost throughout our life. I believe even in pursuit of pleasure, we put ourselves through pain thinking it would take us close to pleasure sooner.
          That being said, a point to be noted is that, while brain knows both the concept of pleasure and that of pain, these are two basically two opposite phenomenons. Biologically our natural tendency is to pursue pleasure and avoid pleasure, which is part of what Epicurus taught as a part of hedonism. But our body needs both the opposing phenomenon for being well controlled. Modern psychology describes Epicurus's teaching in a slightly different manner in terms of a control system. A theory supporting this is the opponent process theory which treats pain and pleasure as two opponent processes for controlling the body. Without delving much into details, I am going to explain a simple phenomenon here called 'Hedonic contrast' using opponent process theory (Originally explained in modern psychology by Richard Solomon a professor in the University of Pennsylvania). Just as we have rebound in several other facets of life, pain and pleasure have the tendency to rebound in the opposite directions after an intense experience of either. In other words, after a strenuous and difficult experience, we feel a lot of pleasure and relief. Similarly, sometimes, after a having a period of extreme joy,we have the tendency to go cranky or even cry or get sad for no reason.
          All said, Epicurus tried to preach the pursuit of pleasure to the extent where it can cancel the opposing force pain. According to him, when you get more pleasure than just what you need, it leads back to pain. For example, when we eat enough to satiate our hunger which can be associated to pain, we would feel pleasure, however when we overeat, we would feel pain again. Pleasure and pain are two opposing yet balancing forces, but no one ever said that in order to pursue pleasure we need to go through pain. We look for pleasure to get rid of pain. It is difficult to change our paradigms about pain and pleasure, but Epicurus did definitely have a point to make.


  1. Superb Pavi.keep it up,One day u will become a
    psychologist.God bless u.

  2. When i started following your blog i was looking forward to YAY i went shopping ... YAY i got Tivo ... Yay Vir Vikram Venkatesh Vinod Vivek Varadharajan Vishnu Venugopal came to Visit ... not Epicurus definitely had a point ... :D

  3. Alavukku merinaaal amuruthumum vesham nnu Tamil llu yaro solirukkanga ;) , however a good one as usual .