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The Table Video

Array Array& Lynn Underwood

What If Suffering Had An On/Off Switch?

Professor of Psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University
Senior Research Scholar, Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence at Case Western Reserve University
June 9, 2017

What If Suffering Had An On/Off Switch?


There actually are different areas of the brain that activate with pain and suffering. And in fact, I taught a course called Neuro-ethics, and one of the things I’d ask the students was, if you could remove, so there’s a part of the brain that activates the suffering, and that, I can’t remember it off-hand what part, I could insert it later in this conversation, but if you had the opportunity to remove that center of the brain, or deactivate the center involved in suffering, would you do so? And almost 100% of the students in the class said no, which is very interesting. So even in that, given that choice, they realize there’s something about suffering I would not want to lose, which is very interesting.

What do you think is motivating that response? The, given the choice, that you would accept and keep suffering as a part of our lives? Why do you think your students said yes?

I think we’ll probably expand on this as the conversation goes on, but there is something about suffering that is part of real life, that is part of what makes life rich, even without its prediction of flourishing. Now, one of the things I would like to say though too, when we talk about suffering leading to flourishing, is that you never want to say to somebody else, well you’re suffering, it’s good for you, you’re growing through this [laughs] I just think, or this is ultimately gonna be good for you, I mean that’s just not the sort of thing you say to somebody else. But when you reflect in your own situation, which is what these students were doing, and they may be if their mother was suffering they might have been willing to remove the suffering part of their brain, when we think of another person it’s slightly different but when you’re in the middle of it you can make that choice to stand in the suffering and there’s something about that that’s real life.