Heaven and Hell

English: Punishment Monument An historic colle...
English: Punishment Monument An historic collection of punishment equipment. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As children we learn that there are consequences to everything. If we misbehave, we are punished in some ways. In earlier days we may have been smacked, but, thank goodness, those days are past. While corporal punishment has done little harm to most people who have suffered it as children, it is very very rarely justified and other options are available.

A child learns quickly that misbehaving leads to withdrawal of treats and privileges, which serves them well when they become adults and the punishments become imprisonment, restriction (like the loss of a drivers license) or the financial punishment of a fine.

English: The Prison
English: The Prison (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other side of the coin is rewards. For children the rewards for being good are treats and privileges. For adults the rewards of a virtuous life are esteem and again privilege. A virtuous life might also bring financial rewards – you are more likely to go back to a good lawyer, or a good mechanic if he or she does a good job and you may be prepared to spend a little more to do so.

When humans first contemplated death, the obvious question is what happened to the person, his self, his personality, after death. The answer that he just stopped is disagreeable and possibly upsetting. So it was natural to conjecture a non-physical something, a “soul” which encapsulated the persons personality which in some sense continued after the person died.

English: Depiction of a soul being carried to ...
English: Depiction of a soul being carried to heaven by two angels. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some individuals claim to have had contact with souls after death, and claim to pass messages on to the living. Such “mediums” often get money or gifts in thanks or as a reward from the living relatives of the deceased person. Many so-called mediums have been discredited and proved to be merely charlatans, to the extent that to call someone a medium is tantamount to insinuating that they are a fraud.

It’s debatable whether a self-professed medium is a con artist or whether such a person is deluding themselves, but the concept of a soul is to my mind merely wishful thinking, or another name for the personality of the person, which is embedded in and part of a person’s mind. Since the mind is probably an emergent property of the brain I can’t see the soul or personality surviving the death of the brain.

English: Main regions of the vertebrate brain,...
English: Main regions of the vertebrate brain, shown for a shark and a human brain (the human brain is sliced along the midline). The two brains are not on the same scale. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nevertheless, if you allow the concept of a soul, which inhabits a body during life, what does happen to it during and after death? Does it “softly and suddenly vanish away” like a sailor who has met a Boojum? Or does it continue, either in this world or some other? There are those who have claimed to have encountered incorporeal beings or ghosts, but like the stories of mediums, these claims are dubious.

The most common claim is that souls have passed on to other worlds, to some other realm, and this is where heaven and hell come into the picture. If a person has been a good person, then his soul goes to a better place, and if he has not, then his soul goes to a place of endless punishment of a mental and physical type.

Embed from Getty Images

Many people over the year have been vouchsafed visions of both heaven and hell. Such visions are often weird and look to me more like the utterances of someone who is not completely sane, but the thing that strikes me is that they are all intensely physical – the sinner is thrown into a fiery pit for all time, and good person gets to consort with heavenly virgins or to worship the deity while being in his presence and partaking in his glory.

We know the physical because we live in it. We are it, in some senses. It seems to me that those with visions, even those whose visions are a result of their inner mental issues, can only talk of heaven and hell is physical terms. It is impossible for us to consider a world that is not physical. The very concepts of heaven and hell are concepts of places and places are physical.

Embed from Getty Images

If, for the sake of discussion, we assume the visions are of something real, then if these visions represent something they are interpretations of something so different from out physical being that they must be severely distorted and much will have been lost in the translation. I myself don’t think that they represent anything more than the scrambled thoughts of a probably mentally sick person.

However that hasn’t stopped people building on the earlier visions of others. What happens to someone who dies? In the Christian tradition, if they are good they are allowed entry to heaven, and into the presence of the Deity and to worship Him. There is a certain blandness to this vision, and presumably the presence of the Deity makes up for this.

Pandemonium - One out of a set of mezzotints w...
Pandemonium – One out of a set of mezzotints with the same title (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those who are sinners (that is, pretty much everyone!) is sent to hell. Eternal fire and so on. Now things get complicated. Pretty much everyone has sinned at some time, so everyone is going to burn in eternal fire. Theologians (alone with their private damning thoughts) came up with a number of issues. What about those innocent who died before having a chance to sin but had not been accepted into the Church? The theologians came up with the concept of Limbo, where these children, mainly those that died in the womb, can reside.

There are other complications, but probably the most famous complex description of hell comes from the Dante’s “Divine Comedy“. The hell contained in the work has nine circles and is a complex system within those. Dante’s Purgatory and Paradise are similarly complicated.

Frontispiece to Purgatory by Dante
Frontispiece to Purgatory by Dante (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All these visions of the afterlife are enthralling and entertaining it is true, but (seeing as no one has verifiably been there and returned), surely there contradictions embedded in the concepts of heaven and hell as found in religious and other literature.

It seems to me that the idea of heaven and hell as places which have a physical nature cannot be true. Dante’s heaven and hell for example, has physical attributes like distance and extent. Things are nearby or over there. Time also passes which allow the narrative development of course.

Embed from Getty Images

However, distance and time are attributes of the physical world, and while scientists have postulated other worlds, the worlds that they postulate are very similar to the world that we experience. Heaven and hell, and any other layers of the afterlife, are conceptually in a different realm, and I can’t see why such a different realm would have anything recognisable as physics.

The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1480-1505) ...
The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1480-1505) by Hieronymus Bosch. Oil on wood triptych, 220 cm x 389 cm, now in the Museo del Prado. High-resolution version from The Prado in Google Earth. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fighting Terrorism

Embed from Getty Images

(Second post of Terrorists – this won’t become a theme. At least I will try not to make it a theme).

A terrorist is someone who kills people, often innocent bystanders in an attempt to force his or her views on others. Sometimes the terrorist is part of a persecuted minority, but often he or she is driven by religious fervour. His or her beliefs maybe include the concept of rewards after death and he or she will likely be prepared to lay down his or her life in the furtherance of his or her objectives.

How do you recognise a terrorist? With the current spate of Islamist inspired shootings and bombings many people are looking askance at people with dark skins, beards and who tend to wear a particular style of clothing. To say that this can be misleading is obvious.

Islamic Center of Washington DC
Islamic Center of Washington DC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The case of a Sikh student who was questioned by police when someone suspected that he was a terrorist merely because of his appearance and the wires of his earphones protruding from his bag is a good example. The person who reported him was obviously ignorant of the fact that Sihkism is a religion which is totally different from Islam. This is sad, but not surprising.

So how do you identify a terrorist then? It’s very hard indeed. The young white spotty youth who lives down the road and has taken to calling himself “Jusef” and dressing in Middle Eastern clothing is almost certainly more of a threat than anyone in the area with dark skin and a habit of fasting for a month at certain times of the year.

William Henry Quilliam (April 10, 1856 – 1932)...
William Henry Quilliam (April 10, 1856 – 1932), who changed his name to Abdullah Quilliam, was a 19th century convert from Christianity to Islam, noted for founding England’s first mosque and Islamic centre. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The things that people have done in the name of religion have led to a call for religion to be banned. This obviously won’t work and it would drive religion underground and radicalise it. There are billions of people who do have a religion or belief which they base their life around who would not dream of using violence to further their religion.

Much of the tension between religious groups is the result of ignorance. There are probably as many texts in the Koran which promote peace and harmony as there are in the Christian Bible. There are also likely to be as many violent exhortations as to what to do to non-believers in the Bible as there are in the Koran. After the Bible and the Koran are related documents with the later Koran commenting on the earlier Biblical texts.

English: Handwritten Koran Nederlands: Koran. ...
English: Handwritten Koran Nederlands: Koran. Handgeschreven Koran in donkerbruine lederen band met overslag (afgebroken). Het eerste en laatste dubbele blad zijn versierd, evenals het dubbele blad middenin. . Handgeschreven koran Unknown language: Qoran seunoerat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How can we spot terrorists before they commit their crimes? How do we determine who is a harmless and friendly family man and who is plotting to blow us up? Certainly not be looking at the colour of the skin and the possession of a copy of the Koran. Not by checking if he or she visits the Mosque every week. Even if such a person seems surly and unfriendly, he or she might just be having a bad day. And we cannot decide based on their choice of clothing.

The only real way of detecting a terrorist in our midst is unfortunately by closely watching for them. Of course, we should have our suspicions first, otherwise we would need to track everyone who “looked like a Muslim”. This is unacceptable in a free society.

Embed from Getty Images

We can get better understanding of Muslims and vice versa, by education. One proposal was that religion, all religions, be taught in schools. This is a good idea but will not work unless similar is done in Islamist states and countries, and that will never happen.

One big issue is the case of the alienated white teenager. A certain few will for one reason or another completely flip and commit murder, usually of their contemporaries, and sometimes at random. Any nominal motive would be attributed to anything from white supremacy, to political reason (usually nihilistic), or  to nothing significant.

Embed from Getty Images

It seems that such teenagers are more and more and more being attracted to Islam and the violent side of that religion and we find that atrocities are sometimes being carried out by white boys who have converted to Islam.

I question whether the problem here lies with the religion or in the fact that these kids had easy access to guns and that their alienation was either not recognised or ignored. If they had not had the concept of Islamic jihad to adopt, would they not have found some other cause to espouse?

Arabic script. Eghra, Read. The first Quoranic...
Arabic script. Eghra, Read. The first Quoranic word, in order of arrival. (Letter Qaf eight times, letter ‘Alif sixteen times.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So how do we fight terrorism? Do we suspect our neighbours who have ties to the Middle East, or do we quarantine them, or even deport them? All these solutions are ineffective and some followers of Islam have lived here peacefully for generations. Do we force them to give up their culture and assimilate more closely into the community?

All these options have been tried in the past and historically have shown that these tactics are ineffective, not to mention brutal and demeaning. And that is without considering the case of the alienated white boy.

CCTV cameras
CCTV cameras (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Government would have us believe that the answer is for more surveillance of all citizens. This is certainly effective in some cases, but in the few cases which escape the notice of the authorities, the terrorists can cause untold damage and inflict a large number of deaths on many innocent people. And this still doesn’t really address the issue of the white teenager who typically acts alone and who quite often has no close ties to Islam.

Another option is for retaliatory military raids on the overt face of the organisation that the terrorists are connected with, but this will always happen after an atrocity and merely gives the organisation rhetorical weapons to justify their aims.

English: A payload surveillance camera made by...
English: A payload surveillance camera made by Controp and distributed to the U.S Government by ADI Technologies. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is sad but I don’t believe that things will change until Islam changes. I have high hopes that it will as the adherents of Islam move into non-Moslem countries and integrate with the non-Moslem communities there. Then perhaps the more liberal ideas will filter back to the Moslem counties together with increased prosperity.

After all, the Christian religion mounted the largely ineffective Crusades against Moslems in the Middle East, admittedly as a result of an Islamist expansion and that crusading religious fervour eventually died out in Europe.

English: Saladin
English: Saladin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a pity that there is no real solution to the problem of terrorists. One can only hope that ultimately people will evolve to be more understanding of their neighbours and that xenophobia will diminish to almost nothing. Until then we will have to live with the inconveniences at airports and the much more significant internal spying of authorities on citizens.

Unfortunately, we will have to read in the papers of atrocities carried out by one group or other against unarmed people for some time to come. I can see no real effective solution.

Crusades Task Force icon
Crusades Task Force icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(I note that I have conflated “terrorist” with the fanatical Moslem activities that we have seen recently. Terrorists however come in all shapes and sizes, all religions. This was not intentional but shows how easy it is to slip into the habit of equating the one with the other).


French tricolour flag, the "Tricolore"
French tricolour flag, the “Tricolore” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Terrorism. It’s a hard subject to discuss rationally, because the very essence of terrorism is to stir up emotion. Fear or terror in the populations being attacked. Exultation and joy in the terrorist organisation. Horror and disgust in those not directly affected.

It demonstrates the relativity of morality. From the point of view of the terrorists there is nothing wrong with targeting people in the streets because they are considered less than people for believing differently from the terrorist, and therefore deserve to die. From the point of view of everyone else, this is callous sickening nonsense.

US Navy 990913-N-1350W-004 Anti-terrorism Trai...
US Navy 990913-N-1350W-004 Anti-terrorism Training Washington, D.C (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An interesting argument which bring home this point is the contention that, in the Star Wars films, that the rebels, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Hans Solo and all the rest are simply terrorists and not freedom fighters at all. After all, they kill people, destroy property and cause mayhem. They consort with criminals, use violence and trickery to advance their cause.

Since we only see their side of the issue, can we be sure that the Empire is the evil entity that it is portrayed as? For all we know the Rebel Alliance may be causing untold damage within the Empire, and their support may only come from a few disaffected planets.

The Death Star in A New Hope
The Death Star in A New Hope (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, in the real world it is easy to see who the terrorists are. Targeting and killing innocent people who can’t fight back is a heinous crime and cannot be justified in any way. People who use their religion to try to justify such actions are not right in the head.

The religious bigots interpret the words of their holy book or books to justify such things as punishing women who have been raped, and stoning to death people who have been caught committing adultery.

Embed from Getty Images

Some would try to excuse terrorists by pointing out that all religions tend to lead to murder and torture, and this is so. Christians have raped, tortured and killed people who subscribe to other religions. Even sectarian disputes (such as that between the Christian Protestants and Christian Catholics) frequently lead to violence between the parties involved.

Some people use such facts to argue that religion causes its adherents to perform such violence against non-believers, but it is evident that adherents to mere ideologies will on occasion torture and kill non-adherents. Nazi Germany and Communist Russia are cases in point, but even the American military has been caught using torture on prisoners.

Water and rack in the torture museum in the Ca...
Water and rack in the torture museum in the Castle of the Counts, Ghent, Belgium: The victim is forced water and then stretched out. Useful knowledge for the CIA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Torture and killing, along with random bombing and shooting targeted at killing or maiming and inducing terror in a population is never justified. That’s as close to a moral absolute as there can be.

Is there something in the human psyche that makes us want to kill and harm others, perhaps. Certainly a fear of strangers is large part of our make up, especially if the stranger is large. The big guy with the leather and the tattoos may be only returning the keys which you dropped in the street, but that doesn’t help when he comes up to you.

At 77 East 3rd Street on April 19, 2009
At 77 East 3rd Street on April 19, 2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It doesn’t take much for fear to turn into violence, but that only helps a little with understanding terrorists. It is probably true that terrorists are scared of the religion or society that they are attacking. It is likely that they are incited by religious leaders who see others’ religions or beliefs as wrong, and that they believe that the end result of their actions will be rewards in the next world and the destruction of the “evil” that they are attacking.

The idea that you will die one day is scary to some people and the concept of an after-life is some consolation for that. In general religions tend to describe the after-life as like real life, but better. Or like real life, but worse, if you contravene any of the rules and laws of the religion. That’s a powerful incentive to follow the religion, and even if you can’t fully believe in God and the after-life, Pascal’s Wager suggests that it would be a good idea to try.

Bust of Blaise Pascal.
Bust of Blaise Pascal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Terrorists act as if they fully believe that their religion or belief is true, in an absolute sense. They act convinced that they are doing God’s work in blowing men, women and children to bits, not to mention maiming many more. They must truly believe that they are working for the greater good, and that is true of any extremist. I can’t help thinking that either the fanaticism has crowded out any common sense that they might possess or they are so fanatical because they want to squash a small amount of doubt which cannot be assuaged.

The difference between terrorist and rebels is that a rebellion mostly doesn’t bring God into it, though exceptions exist, and generally a rebel will do his/her utmost to avoid hurting those who are mere bystanders, but it is not a black and white thing. Suppose I told you that to save billions of people you would need to kill, say, a thousand people in cold blood? Most people would have a problem with that.

Cosplayers portraying Rebel Marksmen from Star...
Cosplayers portraying Rebel Marksmen from Star Wars at WonderCon 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As an example of this sort of thing is the example of the Death Star II in Star Wars. When building something that size, the Empire would have had to have employed millions or even billions of people, depending on how far the building process could be automated. If we assume that most of them were neutral about the Empire/Alliance conflict, then they were, in the horrible phrase, collateral damage.

Obviously that’s a contrived example, but it is true, as someone once said “History is written by the winner” (variously attributed to many people). If the Empire eventually wins the Alliance will be reviled as traitors. If the Alliance wins, then the rebellion overthrew a corrupt and oppressive regime. The winning side’s acts will be whitened and the losing side’s acts will be blackened.

At 5:55 p.m. on December 24, 1964, Viet Cong t...
At 5:55 p.m. on December 24, 1964, Viet Cong terrorists exploded a bomb in the garage area underneath the Brinks Hotel in Saigon, South Vietnam. The hotel, housing 125 military and civilian guests, was being used as officers’ billets for U.S. Armed Forces in the Republic of Vietnam. Two Americans were killed, and 107 Americans, Vietnamese, and Australians were injured. Small buildings at the rear of the Brinks Hotel were completely destroyed by the force of the blast. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

None of the above should be seen as an apologia for the acts of the terrorists in Paris. In that case, the situation is as clear as it can be – these were terrible acts directed at those who were not able to defend themselves, who would have no idea that they should defend themselves. Who were murdered without warning, and mowed down without mercy, by people whose sick minds were harnessed by the sick terrorist organisation behind these crimes, to cause chaos, havoc and suffering. Terrorist pawns who were recruited from among the very people that they massacred.

English: A view of the Eiffel Tower, across th...
English: A view of the Eiffel Tower, across the Seine, from Avenue de New York. Français : La Tour Eiffel vue depuis l’Avenue de New-York, de l’autre coté de la Seine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The muse

Hesiod and the Muse
Hesiod and the Muse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(Whoops! I forgot to post this on Monday, though I had finished it on Sunday)

My musings are generally thought up on the spur of the moment, as I’ve said before. Sometimes I get an idea a few days before I write my post, but sometimes it will come to me when I open WordPress and click on the “new post” link. Today’s post is inspired by a new television show that has just started here, about someone who writes a newspaper column. “Inspired” is too grand a word for it really – the TV show gave me the idea.

I’ve set myself a target of a thousand words per week. The writer in the TV series (called “800 Words“) has a column that is exactly 800 words long. He has just suffered a bereavement and decides to take his kids and relocate to a small town in New Zealand.

1000 words to the big crater (19)
1000 words to the big crater (19) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Naturally the kids don’t want to go, and when he gets to his new home, it’s only half built and it isn’t the house that he thought it was. On the trip to the new house he meets a bunch of eccentric locals and stumbles on the local nudist beach. So far, so standard sitcom. I’ll have to see how it goes, but it has apparently gone down well in Australia.

The interesting thing to me, for the purposes of this blog, is the 800 words thing. OK, I set myself a target of over 1000 words, and I generally don’t go many words over that, but to keep it to exactly 800 words seems a bit obsessive. The writer, as part of the continuity of the story, is seen typing his article, and the number of words is shown on the screen.

Embed from Getty Images

Now, I don’t (usually) take much notice of the structure of my blogs – I don’t do an intro, a body, and a wrap up, but I presume the writer does (or is supposed) as he is writing for a newspaper. That’s more complicated than what I do. I can imagine reaching around 900 words and realising that I need to do a wrap up in 100 words or so. Or worse, maybe, reaching 750 to 800 words and realising that you’ve covered your main points and the wrap up is going to have to be stretched to 200 to 250 words.

Of course he is a professional writer so such matters are his bread and butter. This brings me to another point. He gets paid for his column, and apparently gets paid enough to feed himself and his kids! This is slightly more than a little bit unbelievable, to say the least, as what he is shown writing amounts to not much more than a blog. If he writes 800 words a day, 5 days a week that amounts to 4,000 words, and his rate per word would have to be astronomical to keep him and his kids fed and watered.

Embed from Getty Images

The writers of the series have thrown in a few classic clichés in the first episode. There’s the end of the world cell phone coverage or lack of it. There’s the being swindled by the savvy locals, and there’s the saving the bad boy by hiding him from the cops thing. Oh well, perhaps things will get better. It’s not that bad a little show.

The writer in the show is inspired to write about all the things that are happening to him, so he has a ready source of material but my intent is not to make my blog anecdotal in that way. I might mention stuff in passing (like the Rugby World Cup. Yeah! All Blacks!) but in general I want my post to be like a bead necklace with beads on a wire, rather than a single long chain of interrelated links.

Cloisonne beads
Cloisonne beads (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, I will use the same themes repeatedly, such as science or maths or computing, just as a bead necklace generally has similar beads in many places but my intent is that each “bead” will stand alone.

I get messages from WordPress saying that so and so is now following my blog, but I don’t know what that really means. Does it mean that Mr Blobby is avidly waiting for my blog to come out and is disappointed if I am late? Probably not! But thank you for reading the blog, even if you only do it once. I do occasionally go and look at the blogs of those who are mentioned as following me and I may follow some of them.

Start of the Oracle Act
Start of the Oracle Act (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nevertheless, I write my posts with no specific reader in mind. By that I mean that I don’t visualise a person reading, which is odd, because that means that I send my words off into a vacuum. They must however sound good to me, as I write them, and if something that sounds awkward to me reaches the page, it gets altered.

Actually now I come to think about it, the “me” that writes the words seems to be different, or slightly separated from the “me” that does the reading, like Siamese twins in my head. It’s like a different aspect of myself.

"Head of a muse" by Raffaello Sanzio
“Head of a muse” by Raffaello Sanzio (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For me the actual process of writing goes like this. I form a sentence or part of a sentence in my head and start to type it. My reading self closely follows this process and notices any typos and mistakes and my writing self corrects them, but these things happen so fast and the two processes are so integrated that it seems seamless.

It’s like an ongoing game of ping pong in my head. One part of my mind says to type the word “the”. Another part tells the fingers what to do. I’m unaware or maybe unconscious of what this part is doing, and I specifically don’t think “move the fingers to the letter t and push”. So far as the conscious part of my mind is concerned it just happens.

Embed from Getty Images

The fingers move and the letters get typed. Another conscious part of my mind follows the letters that appear on the screen and passes off to an unconscious part the instructions to edit and retype. After a person has been writing for a while, it seems to your conscious mind that you think the words onto the screen.

Hmm, I’ve reached just over a 1000 words, so it is time to stop. I’ve shifted from talking about the muse and shifted to the mechanics. Either way the process is, as usual, more complex than it appears at first. I’ll have to think some more about how my words reach the page.

A pain in the…

Regions of the cerebral cortex associated with...
Regions of the cerebral cortex associated with pain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everyone has experienced pain at some time, even it is caused by a simple knock or scratch. Many people have  experienced pain over the whole range from mild to excruciating. Of course it is impossible to know what another is experiencing so we compare pains by saying that a pain is like, for example, toothache, or that it is a stabbing pain.

We still don’t know exactly what others feel. As JLS sings “Do you feel what I feel?”. But we might have some idea, by comparison with our own experience. Another way that doctors use is to ask the patient to rate the pain on a scale of 1 to ten. as in this case the doctors can usually assess the type of pain. But they will sometimes ask if the pain is stabbing, pricking, aching, or whatever.

Embed from Getty Images

There is no doubt that pain, real pain, is an intense feeling. but our memories of pain that we have experienced seem curiously muted. If you think back to a time when you were injured, however, you will probably not be able to exactly how intense the experience was. I recall from somewhere that a mother, reflecting on the whole process of child-bearing said of the pain that if mothers could remember how it felt to give birth then it would be unlikely that there would be any second or third babies in a family.

Just as one remembers some life events and forgets others, seemingly at random, we may remember some injuries and forget others. I remember vividly scraping my skin on a rock which resulted in a nice scar, but I don’t remember the pain that I must have suffered when I received another scar, on my hand this time. It could of course simply be that the second injury happened decades before the first, and the memory of the pain may have simply faded. I think that there is more to it than that, though I don’t know what, exactly.

Embed from Getty Images

When a predator brings down its prey, say a lion captures a gazelle, it may often start to feed on the prey even though it might not yet be completely dead. This seems to us, today, to be cruel, but some people say that the prey doesn’t experience the pain as its brain switches off the pain and its consciousness, as a result of the shock. I’m not sure that this isn’t wishful thinking with nature thereby being thought of as “being kind” to the prey.

I put the scare quotes in there because it is gross anthropomorphism to say that. Nature is neither kind nor cruel. Also, on the rare occasion that a prey animal is accidentally freed by the predator, the prey will immediately try to escape, which it would not if it were stunned by the shock of its capture.

Embed from Getty Images

Nevertheless, there is something in the idea. People who have been stabbed or shot sometimes say that they thought that someone has hit them and that they were unaware that they had been stabbed or shot. This could be for a number of reasons. The nerves that affected by such puncturing wounds pain are mainly located on the surface of the skin, and a projectile or blade may affect only a few of them. When a person notices that they have been stabbed, they may suddenly experience the pain.

My experience backs this up. I have found that even a quite deep cut may not hurt until you notice it. A burn, however, is usually felt very quickly. In fact the body’s response to a burn is an almost immediate recoil.

Burn icon
Burn icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some pain, organ or visceral pain, happens deep inside the body. It’s the pain of appendicitis for example, or of gall bladder disease to name just two examples out of many. It may be difficult to tell which organ is affected as the pain may seem to be located in a different location from the affected organ. For instance in appendicitis the pain may start towards the middle of the abdomen rather than at the side where the appendix is located.

A different category of pain is mental pain. This is distinct from physical pain, though the two types may be linked as pain can affect the emotions, either directly through the autonomic nervous system, or indirectly through the sufferer’s physical restrictions caused by the pain, such as frustration, anxiety and other symptoms.

Embed from Getty Images

Mental pain is often likened to physical pain, as when grief is described in terms of physical pain and other symptoms. To someone who has suddenly been bereaved it often seems very much like a physical blow, and physical effects such as weight loss, nausea, sweating and feeling cold are all possible. I believe that mental pain can be as deeply felt as physical pain.

While we have pain killers for physical pain which can be targeted at specific symptoms and even organs, treatments for mental pain seem to me to be primitive in comparison. I need to add a disclaimer here, as I am not a medical practitioner nor have I experienced grief or other deep mental pain, so I simply do not know for sure if what I said above is true.

Embed from Getty Images

I do know that treatment for depression, which I suffer from now and then, appears to be effective, but there appear to be as many treatment and drugs as there are people suffering from the disease. Again, this is my non-medical view and I may be unaware of why there seem to be so many treatments for one condition. There may be reasons.

One other thing from my random stroll through the topic of pain – we seem to be able to feel things outside of our bodies. Amputees often report feeling itching and pain in their removed limbs or parts of limbs. This is known as “phantom pain“, and strangely it can be helped by superimposing an image of the patient’s intact limb over the absent or partial limb.

English: SAN DIEGO (June 13, 2011) Lynn Boulan...
English: SAN DIEGO (June 13, 2011) Lynn Boulanger, an occupational therapy assistant and certified hand therapist, uses mirror therapy to help address phantom pain for Marine Cpl. Anthony McDaniel. The Occupational Therapy department provides patients with rehabilitation services to heal and restore service members to their highest level of everyday functional outcomes. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Joseph A. Boomhower/Released) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The phantom limb pain obviously arises in the mind and the mirror trick fools the mind somehow into thinking that the limb is intact again. Of course, all pain is, fundamentally, in the mind, but apparently the mind can be fooled into firstly creating the phantom pain and secondly, into forgetting it, even though the patient knows that the limb has been damaged.

The reason for pain seems obvious – the body (or mind) is damaged in some way, and the pain is a signal that something needs to be done. But this simplistic answer doesn’t cover a lot of cases – the phantom pain of an amputated limb, for example. Nothing can be done about such pain, so why do we feel it? I think that I need to do some reading!