Notes toward a lay report on the joy debt
- Joy Debt, over half century reigning model for joy/pain science,
challenged by new evidence. Discoveries at frontiers of joy/pain
research leading some scientists to adopt new theories of suffering
- Lead: given nature of debt, we shud declare bankruptcy (tone?)
- Dr. Bill Cromer, sr. researcher at the Martin-Collins Inst. of
Despair: "It’s just a really exciting time to be studying pain. What
we’re finding out is that pain may be unquantifiable, infinite,
all-pervasive. It might even be possible now to speak of pain as part of
the very stuff that makes up the universe."
- Dr. Mary Anne Settle, Natl. Ctr. for the Study of Misery: "There’s a
danger in speaking prematurely, but I think we’re on the verge of
something very big. If these new findings are borne out, what we’ll see
is a paradigm shift in joy/pain science over the next five to ten
- 1 yr. ago (8/12) – neighbors’ child drowned in pool
- Current debt model in place more than 60 years. 1936 – Lucius Brant’s
definitive paper on Asymmetrical Model: pain exists far greater amts.
than joy. Brant Asymmetrical Model (BAM) initially met w/skepticism but
eventually won acceptance. Overturned trad. symmetrical (balanced)
model: joy + pain exist in constant precise balance
- Symm. model dev. by Simon Wells (UK) early 19th c. – any
fluctuation in joy or pain, however small/large, necessarily +
simultaneously accompanied by same degree fluctuation in counterpart.
Thus: universe maintains perfect joy/pain symmetry at all times acc. to
- Symm. Model simple, elegant. But Brant + others dislodged in 1940s by
demonstrating pain far outstrips joy, suffering exists in sig. greater
quantities than happiness/pleasure. Brant, ’49: "The Law of Balance is a
myth, a fiction . . . . Those who adhere to the ancient system are
rather more like religious zealots than scientists. Those who are
interested in truth and progress must undoubtedly see that ours is an
- Thru open windows still the crying + yelling at night nxt dr + Anna
gone from our bed
- Brant: Happiness remains frly constant while pain expands steadily,
oft. precipitously. George Melvin, student of Brant, devised Melvin Pain
Index (MPI) in ’50s to quantify grief, calculate expansion, measure
imbalance between j. + p.
- Imbalance came to be known as JOY DEBT. Term coined by NYT science
writer Maxwell Loots in 62
- Generation of scientists following Brant argued humans might mitigate
universal JD thru technology, medicine, social planning. Some said JD
cud be eradicated – never widely believed in sci. comm.
- Idea of severe but adjustable asymmetry has held sway for several
- Floating, dead, a star-shaped boy in the sun
- **Recent discoveries challenge notion that humans can mitigate JD –
also demonstrate self-correcting nature of science
- On science, bootstrapping: BAM generated research prgrms that
produced evidence that calls into question the model’s own principles,
assumptions – leads to revision of model, which leads to new forms of
- Dr. Lindsay Bahl-Smith, M-C Inst.: "I’m not sure it makes sense to
continue speaking of the Joy Debt. The debt model or metaphor is not apt
anymore. When we talk about the pain of the universe, we’re not talking
of something that can be quantified. We’re not talking about something
that can be reduced or, well, repaid."
- Bahl-Smith’s commts based on 3 recent discov. 1st involves
research on atomic particles. Mich. team concluded in journal J/P that pain exists at atomic and sub-atomic levels
- Team ldr Dr. Rachel Tomlin: "What we’ve found is fairly convincing
evidence of sub-atomic suffering. One way of explaining the potentially
awesome power contained within the atom is in terms of anguish."
- 2 a.m.: Anna kneeling by black pool, staring
- 2nd finding involves opp. extreme, deep space: Using most
soph. detection equip. researchers picked up "pain waves" from far
reaches of galaxy, perhaps neighboring gal.
- Dr. David Sayers, ed. of P/J and head of Interstellar Grief
Div. at Calif. Observatory: "We’re starting to believe that suffering is
part of the very fabric of the universe, as fundamental as time and
space." Admits not sure about orig. of cosmic pain. Competing views.
"The theory that I think is most likely true is that this energy was
unleashed in the Big Bang." (Call BB the birth of pain.) "If this is so,
the Big Bang might be regarded as an expression of pain so immense and
total that it exceeds our current understanding. All we can say is that
after the Big Bang, grief became one of the core elements of the cosmos.
It pervades all space and time."
- Music of spheres is dirge (too glib?)
- Boy’s father sits in driveway for hrs + Anna found him in bright pool
- 3rd discovery challenging JD – Galax, VA – Otis Shepherd,
mailman + amateur pain observer, claims saw hand-painted sign nailed to
tree along gravel road. Sign:
lost Dog –
old + blind
- State officials sent sci. team to investigate. Team will pub. report
in forthcoming Quart. Journal of World Pain
- Cromer: "We’re not sure about the Galax evidence, but if it checks
out to be true—if there is really someone out there in rural Virginia
looking for Murphy—then that just fits in with all the rest we’re
learning about grief. It’s irreducible. It’s measureless."
- 3 a.m.: alone in bed + smell of bread baking
- Sayers: "If we’re right about all of this, then we’ll have to
re-think the universe. Everything we know, or think we know, about the
universe might be reinterpreted within this framework, this Pain
Paradigm, as some are calling it. Black holes might be seen as vast
engines of sorrow, entropy can be seen as the tendency of all closed
systems to move toward despair and wretchedness, quantum weirdness may
be recast as quantum sadness, erratic and paradoxical. The answer to the
so-called GUT [grand unifying theory] or TOE [theory of everything] that
physicists and mathematicians have long sought might very well be found
- Ldr of Norwegian team wrkng on pain waves comm. suicide last month (7th
pain researcher in 14 months)
- Pool: a yr. w/out cleaning – a layer of leaves on dark water + the
rotten smell thru window
- Dr. Paul Thornwood, Chair, Dept. of Abject Studies, Penn State: "Some
of us are not quite ready to bury the debt model. And even if it is to
be superceded, as most scientific models eventually are, we need to
recognize what an extraordinarily fecund program it has been."
- Back in bed, slow breath, slatted shadow on her hip + neck – her
pulse on my lips + her hands on me then, warm from the oven – come back,
- "Come back and never leave."
- Dr. Elaine Mays, Prof. of astron. + beauty, Univ. of Chicago: "Look,
this new evidence about suffering simply confirms what many of us have
long thought and felt. It’s a disturbing conclusion, yes, but it’s not
shocking or counterintuitive. Now sure, I could go on ahead and make my
career in pain. Many scientists are doing exactly that. But I’m more
interested in how this new information will lead us to think in new ways
about grace and happiness."
Chris Bachelder is the author of Bear v.
Shark: The Novel and Lessons in Large-Market Freelance Virtual
Tour Photography, an e-book due later this summer from Future Profits
Now, the business and technology publication line of McSweeney's Books.
He lives in Colorado Springs and teaches at Colorado College.