Imagine that you feel a burning pain.

Let's ask the question from the start, and develop some context afterwards:

  • Is it possible that what we call conscious feeling of burning and pain, just don't exist ?

For example in Functionalism SEP's entry, a similar idea is described:

For (an avowedly simplistic) example, a functionalist theory might characterize pain as the state that tends to be caused by bodily injury, to produce the belief that something is wrong with the body and the desire to be out of that state, to produce anxiety, and, in the absence of any stronger, conflicting desires, to cause wincing or moaning

What if those feelings, once we look very, very carefully, are just labels, but aren't there in the traditional sense? They could be a set of processes and some meta-process (higher in the hierarchy) that labels them.

But then, there can not be any burning sensation, and that should be a cultural, evolved illusion.

  • In which ways could we imagine, try to understand, that our own feelings (whatever is not observer from 3rd person PoV) could be an illusion ?

  • How far do we have to stretch it to accept that a burning pain could be an illusion ?

If there is no burning, but only a label, and a conviction that there is pain, pretty much as when we believe we saw a person, but we may have had only the processes that correspond to 'yes' or 'no doubts' running.

Next sections are only some extra context that I find closely related.

The 3rd person perspective

Clearly, from the outside, there isn't any pain. Pain is in the person experiencing. But also can be inferred or hypothesise to exist in other animals like a dog or a cat, or maybe most mammals.

From the third person PoV it may involve screaming, contortions, strong change in behaviour and response, and so on.


enter image description here

That's not moving. It's an illusion. An illusion needs an accepted truth, in this case considered the knowledge about what is the image.

Indeed an analysis of our brain will show some of the 'movement tellers' running.

In a similar way, a person may describe seeing certain colour that was not there from a third person point of view.

We are seeing the power of creation of the brain, in the same way that certain image patterns seem to move, when they are frozen (just images.)

What is seen corresponds to a mix between something external (see next section), and our own internal (brain) states.

Another aspect is the pure 'creation' that we see in dreams, where there isn't likely an external input.

Out there, there are some things

The brain couldn't just simulate all of experience. For that, due to the complexity of the task, we would need a supercomputer.

We conclude that, at least, there is something out there, although that's not exactly our experience of it. (See Daniel Dennett's Consciousness Explained, chapter 1 for more details.)

  • I feel like the initial question was clear, but the rest was too incoherent and ruined any understanding I had of your question... Commented Jan 1 at 3:10
  • @DavidRaveh can you suggest some improvement or specific sentences that I could try to make more clear ?
    – Mah Neh
    Commented Jan 1 at 3:32
  • At first I thought you are asking this question. Could you clarify how/if your question differs from this one? Commented Jan 1 at 3:43
  • @DavidRaveh It's got nothing to do, just read what the main question is. Even if we were dreaming or living an illusion my question still stands (but I included a simple proof of why we are not dreaming i.e the computational section.). I have edited the body to make it more readable as well. The brain can simulate dreams because they are lightweight and computationally cheap. Everyday experience is a lot (an awful lot) more complex.
    – Mah Neh
    Commented Jan 1 at 3:45

4 Answers 4


Pain is what philosophers call a quale. I call it an item of recognition. Is pain (or the say the color blue) an element of reality or does it reduce via analytical reduction to some other elements of reality that are the real things?


Day-after-day we exist in something we call reality. It is what we perceive with our five senses: vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. It is what we measure with our instruments, such as thermometers, rulers and clocks. Reality is as familiar as anything can be. But what is it? The method of reduction is an attempt to answer this question by separating reality into two categories: (1) those things that are irreducible, which we will call the Elements-of-reality, and (2) the assembly instructions, which are Information.

In my mind pain is an element of reality that does not reduce to any other things. Also, in my mind, it is the idea that neurons fire and generate my feelings of pain. Also, in my mind, it is the idea that other animals and people experience this same pain as I do.

Baruch Spinoza describes an affect as a feeling of desire, pleasure, or pain accompanied by an idea of its cause. This is a reductive model of affects or emotions to the elements of reality: desire, pleasure, pain, and causal ideas. In reality if I could feel pain, accurately identify its source of cause, and act to eliminate the source of cause, then I would be effective in my desire to eliminate pain and sustain pleasure. There is nothing more real in the human drama then desire even if we imagine that the world out there is just matter and energy without the illusion of human emotion!

There is a Zen story where the student is informing the Master that ultimately nothing exists! This is the Buddhist doctrine of void or emptiness as the essence of all things! The Master has a small stick with horse hair on it for keeping away flies. The Master swats the student sharply with the stick and says, "If nothing exists then where did your anger come from?"


Have you read Wittgenstein's account of pain? Quotes here: Are beliefs like "I am in pain" really incorrigible and basic?

'I feel your pain' is not just a comforting phrase. See Pain Empathy. This kind of intersubjectivity, of 'seeing in' to other minds is the basis of mimicry, learning, and communication. See: According to the major theories of concepts, where do meanings come from?

Also of moral reasoning. See: Is the Categorical Imperative Simply Bad Math? :)

And of developing shared abstractions related to shared experiences, like logic and mathematics, see: The Unreasonable Ineffectiveness of Mathematics in most sciences

What we take tobe direct unmediated experiences, like pain, are influenced by a host of contextual factors. We don't simply experience the world, but have a whole array of processing happening to process and filter for what is relevant. And this has not been developed by our rational minds, but by evolution. See Donald Hoffman's talk Do We See Reality As It Is? on why we cannot trust the results of that evolution to perfectly align with our reasoning.

An illusion needs an accepted truth

The use of the word illusion, implies the presence of a known contrast between states of affairs, sure. But you imply we can somehow know it's not 'turtles all the way down' in terms of illusions. See Anil Seth's talk Your Brain Hallucinates Your Conscious Reality.

Are we compelled to agree there are 'accepted truths'? Only as axioms to get on with reasoning from. You want to sneak in metaphysical commitments there and imply a theory of truth. Your picture of 'a mix between external and our own internal states' implies a kind of dualism, an 'inward being' like a homunculous seperate to sensory stimuli, to which sensations are presented. That is not the only way to go, nor even a good way to go...

'Pure creation'. We might not have a great understanding of dreams, but if there's one thing we can be sure of, it's that they aren't that. The clear observation of an Octopus Dreaming, shows convergent evolution leading to the same behaviour, in lineages with a gigantic seperatiin between last common ancestors, that goes back to something like a flatworm, without eyes a backbone or a centralised nervous system. One suggestion is that dreaming is what rewiring the brain feels like, as supported by psychedelic research where we know rewiring of the brain can be happening. Another dynamic seems to prevention of the visual system being taken up as 'spare' in the way that it is by blind people who reallicate it to non-visual inputs. See The Defensive Activation Theory: REM Sleep as a Mechanism to Prevent Takeover of the Visual Cortex or Time article summary.

The analogy Hoffman makes is that what we see is like the desktop of a computer, we see the labels and handles for us to interact with, but those hide the processing we do, and substantially filter what our brains allow in.

An especially interesting case is the idea that the way we experience time is limited by our cognitive need to impose a linear causal narrative. While we cannot freely move among alternate futures, we can meaningfully interact with them, which means we can reconsider the nature of time and the present moment. I like Carlo Rovelli's picture developed for Loop Quantum Gravity Theory, of a crowd of events jostling to be added to the timeline.

  • You just posted a bunch of unrelated links to your various posts having nothing to do with the question.
    – user71009
    Commented Jan 31 at 13:41

Just a thought, consider this... There is no truth or a lie, even those we consider to be universal truths are subjective based on the perceived position as related to the subject in question. What may be my truth could also be your lie. The only thing in this entire universe that is completely true or false would be math. The only variables that exist are the ones that we place there. In mathematics it is always either correct or incorrect there is no in between. Sorry that it's not actually an answer.

Speech patterns, build thought processes, that shape existences.

  • As it’s currently written, your answer is unclear. Please edit to add additional details that will help others understand how this addresses the question asked. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Commented Mar 2 at 16:06
  • This does not provide an answer to the question. Once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post; instead, provide answers that don't require clarification from the asker. - From Review
    – Ludwig V
    Commented Mar 2 at 16:08
  • That's just one view of truth. And I think one that denies incoherence, & contradiction, evaluatable regardless of subjective position/view. There's many views on math, you seem to take up Mathematical Platonism. I'd argue that's unscientific & involves unfalsiafiable claims. Math could be understood as related to what we can't avoid sharing in order for our biology to function, ie intersubjectivity: 'The Unreasonable Ineffectiveness of Mathematics in most sciences' philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/92058/…
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Mar 2 at 17:55

Pain is the main currency of our reality. Anything we want or need or already have costs a certain amount of pain. And the equation of pain vs reality is connected on many levels: personal, family, national, ancestry.

No pain - No reality

  • I think I can see your point. But I don't see how it answers the question. A bit more explanation of that would help a lot.
    – Ludwig V
    Commented Mar 2 at 9:49
  • @LudwigV - Thank you for your support. I am just finding my footing in philosophy.stackexchange. The Pain - would be a logical choice for a common denominator when building equations for the Matrix. As in physics, information can be scrambled, but never lost. In simulated life, pain always has value and leverage. Commented Mar 2 at 15:42
  • Perhaps you could look at nausea & anguish in Exustentialism, or the Three Marks of Existence in Buddhism. But you've just made an assertion, with no philosophical background or context.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Mar 2 at 17:48
  • @CriglCragl - Virtual reality became something real that can be compared to our normal life only recently. It is hard to find references to electronically created reality in traditional philosophy. Commented Mar 2 at 19:08
  • So, Nick Bostrom, David Chalmers, Zuang Zhi, Rene Descartes, Gilles Deleuze - especially the development from to a distinction between virtuality & potentiality. “Philosophy is the theory of multiplicities. Every multiplicity implies actual elements and virtual elements. There is no purely actual object. Every actuality surrounds itself with a fog of virtual images.” —Deleuze, The Actual and the Virtual Also Martial McLuhan on media theory.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Mar 2 at 19:28

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .