I had a cortisol injection this morning to hopefully relieve pain and inflammation in my thenar eminence (thumb pad.) While I’ve had multiple covid, flu, pneumonia, shingles, and other shots in the last few years this one really hurt. In fact, it was the most painful shot that I can recall. (My doctor thought he might have hit a nerve.)
Now I’m not complaining. I can’t even imagine the pain of childbirth, breaking my femur, being shot or stabbed, severely depressed or incarcerated, or a thousand other things. Furthermore, the severe pain only lasted about 30 seconds. But it caused me to reflect on pain. Those 30 seconds were, as the utilitarians would say, a bad thing. Imagining that very brief state being extended for many years would render life not worth living.
In my case, the potential benefit of alleviating my current pain with 30 seconds of intense pain is well worth it. But if that pain were extended for a significant time with no potential benefit then life would be bereft of meaning.
Now you could argue that I also gain from the shot by being reminded of how fortunate I am to be relatively healthy and not in pain—although I’ve always been skeptical of those “you need to experience the bad in order to know the good” arguments. Moreover, my very brief encounter with pain also reminds me to help and be sympathetic to others in pain.
Yet the biggest takeaway from this very minor experience was … physical and emotional pain is unequivocally bad and we should do all we can to eliminate it. And yes I’m familiar with the various arguments for the benefits of pain but I’ve never found any of them at all convincing.
Also, this does not mean that I’m advocating that we be connected to Nozick‘s experience machine (where we experience continual bliss) but that we definitely should be disconnected from the many ills of our existence. Here’s to hoping that someday, somehow, we can create a world in which all conscious beings can flourish.