A Nerve Cell's Pleasure and Pain:
The math of the calculations that occur in the brain is different, although
related, to the math involved in the accumulation of experience that we call
As our vision can be broken up into much smaller and simpler "pixels" of
information, all of our perceptions can be broken into much smaller and
simpler parts as well. (See another essay of mine: "The Way it Works" in
www.braintheory.net) What we consider a thought is really the accumulation
of much smaller pieces of that thought experienced by each cell.
To understand the feeling of consciousness, the experience of consciousness,
we need to theoretically understand how a nerve cell can have a range of
feeling in relation to the nature of it's firings.
The math does not work without figuring out how a cell can have a range of
feeling, how a cell can express a binary range of information, instead of (a
common presumption) that the firing only represents something and nothing,
on or off.
The cell experiences a heightened experience during an action potential
(when firing). This heightened experience is pleasure. The math of how the
cells fire and how they grow and how they seek new connections and how they
let some connections die (or some cells die) has to do with a seeking of
this pleasure. The intelligence comes from the seeking of the greatest
amount of low frequency firing, or longer uninterrupted periods of firing,
than not. All intelligence is the seeking of pleasure and the avoidance of
For the pleasure to exist, pain has to exist too. But when a cell is not
firing it is not having an experience. But a transition from pleasure to
nothing is a transition after all. It is a something between the pleasure
and not having the pleasure. That transition from firing to not firing - or
from not firing to firing - is another experience. That period of time at
the beginning or end of the action potential is the moment of pain. (I'm not
really sure that this occurs at the beginning of the action potential but it
must happen at the end of the action potential, when the experience of
Time on the scale of the nerve cell is a very different matter. The nerve
cell has no experience of time, no sense of time. Time is just another sense
that evolves from the relationship of many nerve cells that grow a
relationship that is able to calculate that information, in the same way
that large numbers of these cells find ways to calculate the information
that becomes seeing or hearing or any other kind of sense or thought. The
scale of time for the nerve cell is very small. Many experiences, many
firings occur in a second. At the macro level of the organism, the
calculations that give a sense of time and experience slow things down
greatly so that much more time must pass for a sense of that time and
experience. The accumulation of many experiences in many different
expressions or frequencies is what creates the illusion of a range of
The period of time that a cell fires changes greatly depending on the
influences from other cells (across the synapse or from across the body
through the hormonal expressions of cells further away).
The period of time that a cell feels the lack of pleasure (during the
transition from firing to that of not firing) is a constant. This constant
is a very small portion of time in relation to the firing in most cases.
When a cell is firing, it is awake. When a cell is not firing it is asleep
(or dead). The transition from awake and pleasure to asleep is a constant
amount of time (very small amount of time) for pain.
Therefore, the slower the frequency of firing with the greatest amount of
time for action potential is the experience of the greatest pleasure when
translated into the much larger and slower scale of time of the larger
Because the amount of time spent firing is flexible with a very wide range
of diversity, and the amount of time for pain is a constant that occurs
every time a cell stops firing, the greater the number of stops per unit of
time, the greater the percentage of the experience of pain relative to the
experience of pleasure. The faster the frequency of that cell's firing, the
more pain in relation to time that cell is experiencing.
The amount of time spent firing in relation to being stopped is another
consideration. Little experience per second is little of any experience. The
amount of time firing per second is the amount of pleasure experienced. The
number of stops per second (frequency) is the relationship to pain. (The
greater the number of stops per unit of time, the greater the pain.)
No cell has any awareness of the experience of other cells. The experience
of a single cell is affected by the experiences of cells that feed into it,
but the cell only has it's own simple range of experience.
[The PSYCHE-B listserve just posted the following message:
Thursday, July 6, 2000
Ants Experts at 'Swarm Intelligence'
By John Fleck
Journal Staff Writer
Do not dismiss the lowly ant.
An individual ant barely has a brain, yet colonies of them dominate their
When ants swarm over a pile of food and carry it back to their nest, piece
by piece, they look like a disciplined army, marching in lock step.
But the army has no general, no boss ant telling the troops where to go.
"There is no central control," said Santa Fe Institute researcher Eric
Bonabeau. "No one is giving orders."
Like the ants, no brain cell is a general. There is no central control but
the control comes from the relationship of all of the cells seeking the
greatest health. Following the impulses required by each cell for the
greatest success, the accumulation of those cells survival mechanisms leads
to the intelligence of the organism that gives the greater organism the
greatest chance of survival as well. Pleasure and pain (health or not) are
involved and some of the cells suffer for the greater good. The
relationships of the cells is a voting arrangement where the the pleasure of
the majority wins over the minority in the communication of cells to
The cells function to increase the likelihood of their own firings at the
slowest or longest frequencies possible because they seek to expand their
connections and grow their connections to the other nearby cells that are
firing in the same frequencies in sync (at the same time) as that cell. By
making connections with cells that match frequencies, the cell has a greater
possibility of influencing it's own firings. (Those other cells will connect
back to this cell that has the same frequency as well. So the logic is
(This mathematics that leads to greater logic and intelligence is greatly
affected by the mathematics that gives the stop a greater edge over the
start. This protective mechanism is explained elsewhere. The mechanisms that
lead to inhibition are more numerous than those that lead to excitation. The
math leads to shorter periods of time spent at high-frequency firing and
more time spent in low-frequency firing for the majority of cells under
The experience of a single cell is representational. If that pleasure/pain
experience is connected to some part of the vision center, it is
representing light and dark, or color, or some piece of the understanding of
other cells that represent light and dark or range of light wavelength or
position. it is all math. Verbal representations of this logic take a lot of
time. I'll be taking a lot of time with this in other essays.
That same pleasure/pain cellular experience becomes a piece of taste or
sound or time or whatever depending on the placement of that cell in
relation to the other cells and the various parts of the body.
This math also leads to the greatest success in survival for that cell. The
more often it fires (without too high a frequency): the more growth, the
more pleasure (excitation), the more health, the more connections that lead
to more firing and more growth. If the cell cycles out too quickly without
much firing - if it does not fire enough - it can atrophy and die.
This pleasure/pain logic can solve all the problems of the body. It leads to
a logic that uses association to create new logics, new maths, new
perceptions and new abilities. It can constantly grow in logic with a large
enough nervous system. The system of seeking and reinforcing associations
with other synchronized firings (in other cells) creates a logic where
pleasure comes from eliminating conflicts of information and leads to the
pleasure of learning. This logic can regulate all functions in the body with
pleasure being the road to health and pain the antithesis.
When explained fully, this language makes the growth of a network of cells
into the shape and organization of the brains we see in all animals a
forgone conclusion of the expressions of these interrelationships of the
various mathematical factors.
[Essays in my website - www.braintheory.net - that are most directly related
to the information in this essay:
What is Emotion?
Another Very Big Clue
Colonies of organisms
The real miracle, the real mystery, is in the single-cell organism
A very big discovery
Think of the brain structure creating mind/consciousness as being like a
stadium full of people at a football game
The way it works
Steven Michael Harris