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Chris Bachelder

Notes toward a lay report on the joy debt

  1. 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
  2. Lead: given nature of debt, we shud declare bankruptcy (tone?)
  3. 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."
  4. 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 years."
  5. 1 yr. ago (8/12) – neighbors’ child drowned in pool
  6. 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
  7. 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 Wellsian model
  8. 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 asymmetrical universe."
  9. Thru open windows still the crying + yelling at night nxt dr + Anna gone from our bed
  10. 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.
  11. Imbalance came to be known as JOY DEBT. Term coined by NYT science writer Maxwell Loots in 62
  12. 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.
  13. Idea of severe but adjustable asymmetry has held sway for several decades
  14. Floating, dead, a star-shaped boy in the sun
  15. Nicholas.
  16. **Recent discoveries challenge notion that humans can mitigate JD – also demonstrate self-correcting nature of science
  17. 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 evidence, etc.
  18. 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."
  19. 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
  20. 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."
  21. 2 a.m.: Anna kneeling by black pool, staring
  22. 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.
  23. 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."
  24. Music of spheres is dirge (too glib?)
  25. Boy’s father sits in driveway for hrs + Anna found him in bright pool
  26. 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 –

    gold Lab


    old + blind

  27. State officials sent sci. team to investigate. Team will pub. report in forthcoming Quart. Journal of World Pain
  28. 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."
  29. 3 a.m.: alone in bed + smell of bread baking
  30. 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 in pain."
  31. Ldr of Norwegian team wrkng on pain waves comm. suicide last month (7th pain researcher in 14 months)
  32. Pool: a yr. w/out cleaning – a layer of leaves on dark water + the rotten smell thru window
  33. 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."
  34. 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, Anna.
  35. "Come back and never leave."
  36. 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.

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