Let's say we take a group of volunteers willing to receive a 120V discharge under fMRI scanners. They all may receive the same intensity but how can we know that they all recieve the same amount of suffering and what makes some people more tolerant to pain than others? ref here and here.

Altered states of consciousnesses produced by natural means (deep meditation, hypnosis) seem to have relation with the level of suffering and physical pain the subject may endure nevertheless there is no much scientific literature on the subject. eg. Hypnosurgery has not been backed up by mainstream science but there seem to be successful cases. ref here

Some Buddhist monks have immolated themselves to protest for prosecution in Tibet, Vietnam and other places. They seem to enter a deep state of meditation and once the immolation starts they don't show any signs of physical pain.

Malcolm Browne won a Pulitzer Prize for his photograph of Thích Quảng Đức self-immolating

Malcolm Browne won a Pulitzer Prize for his photograph of Thích Quảng Đức

Psychic experiments such us remote viewing, telepathy, astral projection etc. are considered fraudulent and phony nevertheless some governments have spent millions of the taxpayers money on researching this topic eg. USA intelligence agencies (CIA) ref here then again the mainstream media don't tackle this issue.

Are there any credible sources investigating the nature of consciousness and its relationship with suffering? Is it possible that brains are just receptors of it because it exists independently? Do we have the freewill to detach our "consciousness" from our mind and body? Isn't that what most religions and spirituality through history have been about?

"Enlightenment is not suffering" Buddhist proverb

John 8:32 "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free"

"There is no coming to consciousness without pain" Carl Jung

  • 2
    Too many questions for one post, and answering each one properly would take a book. Telegraphically: there are plenty of sources investigating consciousness. Substance dualism (detachable consciousness) is a small minority opinion. It is also empirically untestable, just like free will. Only some religions opt for substance dualism, property dualism and variations on idealism/non-dualism are more common, they cover much of Christianity and Buddhism. Could you focus this on one of those, and ask something more specific about it.
    – Conifold
    Commented Aug 27, 2019 at 8:14
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    @Conifold It's just one question. Modern references on Consciousness and Suffering. The rest is just lateral thinking to ponder on the question. I'm sure there are authors connecting the same dots.
    – user22051
    Commented Aug 27, 2019 at 8:27
  • The literature is vast. You need to read people who investigate consciousness and not those who speculate about theories (as you seem to have already surmised). You're spoilt for choice. The Buddhist sutras, the Baghavad Gita, the books of Rupert Spira and Alan Watts, the poetry of Rumi, the teachings of Al-Hallaj. Even the 'Corpus Hermeticum' speaks on this topic. The entire 'Perennial' literature is about consciousness and its relationship with suffering.
    – user20253
    Commented Aug 27, 2019 at 12:53
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    @PbxMan - Ah. Pardon me. I don't know of any texts in neuroscience dealing with this issue. The topic is heretical.
    – user20253
    Commented Aug 27, 2019 at 13:17
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    Nature recently had a survey Decoding the neuroscience of consciousness, see also Meditation and the Neuroscience of Consciousness chapter, which discusses altered states. On suffering specifically see The Neuroscience of Suffering and Its End and Is the Default Mode of the Brain to Suffer?
    – Conifold
    Commented Aug 27, 2019 at 17:55

3 Answers 3


You are making a category error, between physiology like pain, and mental experience like suffering. Say I cut your legs off, but made sure using anaesthetics you never felt any pain, at the time or later. You might still be expected to suffer, knowing the things you could no longer do.

""Monks, even if bandits were to savagely sever you, limb by limb, with a double-handled saw, even then, whoever of you harbors ill will at heart would not be upholding my Teaching." - the Buddha, in the Parable Of The Saw, MN21.

The core teachings of Buddhism are about going beyond suffering, about ceasing to be coerced by physiology like pain, into behaviours that cause suffering like hatred. This passage indicates to how radical a degree the teaching aims to decouple these.

Boredom is usually considered suffering, and of a kind related to the capabilities of the bored person in some way. Research suggests that around half of people will give themselves painful electruc shocks just to alleviate boredom https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-28130690 So it's interesting to note that vipassana meditation seems squarely aimed at a way of using the mind in which boredom is absent. Boredom pushes us to use and develop our capacities, but can also be very problematic - long solitary confinement for instance being associated with deep trauma, and for most societies remains the most severe punishment available.

Schopenhauer and Cioran are among the philosophers with particularly interesting takes on suffering. It seems your concern is more with pain though.


The Buddhist monk's reference suggests you know the answer already – religion.

Buddhism is likely a more accessible instance of religion in this context in that

  • it is non-theological/non-theistic
  • it's more psychological than mythological
  • suffering is a primary axiom of the system unlike say sin

That said, great Christian (and Jewish and Muslim) saints could just as easily be found who had understood some "trick" about consciousness that puts them outside the pale of (normal) human suffering.

  • I have read references on Christian martyrs and saints who did not suffer while being tortured allegedly because they were protected by "holly spirit". Nowadays it's pretty much an urban legend. There is no much literature on the subject I'll go on doing my research.
    – user22051
    Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 6:40


Evan Thompson "Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy"

Thomas Metzinger, "The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self"

Richard Davidson, "Altered Traits", "The Emotional Life of Your Brain"



Non-narcotic Methods of Pain Management ref here

Congenital insensitivity to pain

Deep Brain Stimulation has succeeded in treating some specific cases of Major Depression. ref here The set of experiments by Milner & Olds on rats proved that the areas of the brain responsible for pleasure could be endlessly stimulated (until they died of thirst) ref here


It seems the that DBS will provide a tool to manipulate the human physique at will. There is no much literature on the altered states of consciousness produced by deep meditation and hypnosis and there seem to be no recent research on this topic.

  • If your concern is with physiology, ask in biology SE.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Aug 29, 2019 at 10:13
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    I would not worry myself about question-closing, especially on phil-SE. Note: There are hundreds of ppl eligible to close-vote. Yet you will notice that almost always its a tiny handful who dole out the vtcs. In effect a cabal.
    – Rushi
    Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 4:30
  • @Rusi Translation: it's a community, with rules
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 12:22
  • Rules need to work @criglcragl. See my comment.
    – Rushi
    Commented Sep 1, 2019 at 9:15

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