Friday, July 06, 2007

Indiscernible misery? (by guest blogger Dan Haybron)

I‘m on the road at the moment, so here‘s a quick traveler‘s post. A couple years back I had the pleasure of flying to California over the holidays with a family suffering from stomach flu. In my case the worst had seemingly passed, yet I was still definitely not feeling well. In fact the flight became excruciatingly unpleasant--one of those times where you keep changing positions and never manage to relieve the feeling for more than a few moments. I wanted to run screaming from the plane.

The thing is: even at times of peak discomfort, when I wanted to jump out of my skin, I could not discern anything in my experience to account for it. When I paused to introspect what I was feeling, I couldn‘t make out anything unpleasant--no discernible nausea, nothing. As if I felt fine. Except I didn‘t--I felt horrible--even, I think, at those moments. At least, that‘s what I recall, and I also recall at least getting some distraction thinking about these things at the time.

Has anyone experienced anything like this? Am I just confused? I don‘t think the overall unpleasantness of the experience was simply a matter of my intense desire to be rid of it--rather, it seemed the desire was a result of the unpleasantness...


Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Interesting thought! I do think I have sometimes felt intense aversion without a correspondingly intense basis for the aversion -- at least that I can discern. Motion sickness is a good case: I feel a slight nausea or discomfort along with a disliking that seems to be all out of proportion.

This suggests to me that the mildly unpleasant phenomenology is not the primary factor driving the aversion. I wonder if boredom is a similar phenomenon: The negative phenomenology of boredom is more the effect than the cause of the strong impulse to (say) leave the doctor's office.

(I have a few other thoughts on boredom, too, that I might work up into a post soon!)

dan haybron said...

Nice examples, Eric! I agree in both cases. I look forward to seeing what you say about boredom!