Coded green.

Friday 15 December 2000


Pic of the day: This is where my attention is tonight. Read all about it here! (Yes, and no wonder it takes an expert to decide which to remove.)


"Pain, even agony, is no more than information before the senses, data fed to the computer of the mind. The lesson is simple: you have received the information, now act on it. Take control of the input and you shall become master of the output."
--Chairman Sheng-ji Yang, Essays on Mind and Matter.

Yes, it's another fictive quote from a fictive character of Alpha Centauri. But the pain is not fictive. I'm testing his theory right now. But let us start from the start, why don't we?


I was very tired when I went to bed last night. Something strange happened: Evidently I started to dream as soon as I fell asleep. After a few minutes I woke up, then fell asleep again, dreamt again. I do not remember the dreams, this time, but it happened like four times. I looked at the clock and it had taken barely twenty minutes. I must have been desperate to start dreaming, but now I cannot remember about what.

I have officially started my vacation, but I still set my alarm clock to wake me in the morning. I had a head cold, and in these cases my throat tend to get clogged after some hours. I prefer waking to the clock radio and clear my throat rather than wake from not being able to breathe. I absolutely hate that. After waking up this way, I went back to sleep, since I had the day off. But a little before 9 I woke up from a long dream, which I actually do remember.

In the dream I visited a fictive family of Smith's Friends living in Northern Norway. They had a number of children, and one was a girl just on the verge of puberty who was teaching her siblings a kind of "dare" game that could be considered slightly erotic, depending on who played it. Those who took part were to first touch her thighs, and the higher up on her thigh they touch, the higher the stakes. The highest bidder was to go first in the next part of the game, where she made one of several symbols with her hand. (I did not really get this part.) The bidder then had to correctly recognize the hand symbol very quickly, and was then given the "dare" task, similarly to a task in the game "truth or dare". Her older brother, in the late teens, was clearly troubled by the game. He was a very serious young man and feeling responsible for the younger children. The parents were nowhere to be seen, but I met a woman in her seventies who was still an active medical researcher. She was also very pious and would start to pray without warning. I decided to shave off my moustache.

When I woke up, POP went the resolution to kill the moustache. But I was no longer interested in sleeping, and so I got up and walked over to my computer. I turned it on and started to play Alpha Centauri. After all, I had the first part of the day off, my appointment with the skin doctor was not until after lunch, a quarter to two. "I can't help but remember" said a voice in my head, "that you recently read in your own old diaries about two times in a row you lost an appointment because you thought it was after lunch, while actually it was in the morning." "Yeah, I remember. I wrote that I am not conscious before lunch. He he." "What if it happened again, today?" "I'll check on the pocket PC just to be sure. You can't be too sure about these things."

So I checked on the pocket PC. The appointment was 10:30, and I had an hour's travel. The clock was ca 9:10. The next minutes were pretty hectic.


The bus ride to town I was trying to concentrate on reading Scientific American, while my body insisted that I had to defecate as soon as possible. Why didn't it say so when I woke up? I decided to write a whole journal entry about the basics of defecation, and made it more or less ready for typing, in my head. (Evidently there is plenty of space, in my head, for anything that is not important.) Luckily I had time to stop by the workplace for a few minutes and still be on time for my appointment. Where I waited for half an hour.

Nervous? Me??

The dermatologist, being a reasonable guy, agreed to inform me about the details of the procedure. He would remove three spots. The important one was the black "birthmark", less than half a cm across. He drew a sketch of it and of the skin around that he would cut. Only a couple millimeter on each side. Then he would sew it shut. It would leave a scar, he warned me. There was no way to avoid that. But I could keep the scar small if I did not stretch the skin for the first couple months after. In addition, he was to remove two other outgrowths, though these were not dangerous. One was a fairly big brown wart-like growth on my back, and the last was the dangling spot on the front of my neck, by which you can usually recognize me on my pictures. I asked him to not apply local anaesthetic for the smaller ones. He seemed surprised, but agreed. It would bleed more without, he said, but otherwise it was OK.

After the "surgery", I asked him how much it would hurt when the anaesthetic wore off. Not much, the pain should be contained by a mild painkiller, like Ibuprofen. (The actual trademark name of these will vary from country to country. They are about as strong as Aspirin, or Globoid as it is called in Norway.)

The reason I asked however was not because I was afraid of the pain. Pain, I thought to myself at that time, does not worry me; not as long as it is temporary. What worries me is dying. I wanted to be able to know if the wound got infected - I am slightly more given to infections than the average male - and since I can't see it under all the gauze, the feeling is all I have to go by.

Because of my oily skin, he had real trouble fixing the bandage in place, but eventually managed, by applying liberal amounts of tape. This is exactly what I do myself. But of course, this being on my back, I will probably not be able to replace a compress once it is off. So I better not shower for a couple weeks ... :)


Obviously the anaesthetic has worn off sometime in the afternoon. Because it hurts. It certainly isn't agony, at least not yet, but it is pain. I have not taken any painkiller, and I rarely do. Intriguingly, I share the view of our fictive faction leader from Alpha Centauri: Pain is data fed to the computer of the mind. And it is there for a purpose. The pain reminds me to take care. In this case, to not stretch or flex needlessly, or lie on my back pressing the bandage against the wound. The pain helps me to keep the wound undisturbed as much as possibly while it heals.

I don't like pain. I am not a masochist who likes to be whipped or spanked. (Sorry about the spanking part, Warrior Goddess.) (Though I obviously like to humiliate myself in public. But that's rather different from physical pain.) When I was a child, I was very whiny about pain. The slightest abrasion would have me wimpering for a long time. And any pain inside, like my stomach or guts, had me quite hysterical. But over time, I have learned that pain - usually - is there for a purpose. Pain and fever are your friends. Within limits.

If pain comes from a condition that cannot be treated (for instance fanthom pains from removed limbs) I am all for using painkillers. The same when it interferes with sleep to such an extent that it threatens overall health. I also use fever-reducing medication before bedtime when I have a serious flu. This stems from one time when the fever rose sharply during the night and I woke up in the morning almost unable to move and with limited awareness of what was happening to me. Living alone, I could die if the fever takes out my mind. But within limits, pain and fever are friends of the body. "A useful servant, but a dangerous ruler" as they say about fire.


On a more metaphysical note, it could be said that pain reminds us of our mortality. Is that a good thing? I guess it depends on the circumstance. If you've lost a loved one - or is about to - thinking of your own mortality will remind you of the loss, I suppose. But some of us could certainly need to be reminded that we're not gods after all, or we would be insufferable.

I am personally of two minds about this. I have said this before, that I have two religions: One for life and one for death. They are both christianity, but of very different stripes. My life religion is a positive, life affirming faith. It is inherently optimistic, believes that things will work out in the end because there is a good and merciful God ruling all things, a strong and protective Father who knows our troubles and who will make it all all right in the end, if allowed to. Sin is not bad because God hates it: God hates it because it hurts his loved ones. His rules are given to protect us, and help us have a good life.

But my death religion worships an angry God, who does not listen to reason, who demands absolute and unthinking obedience in every detail and is pretty much fed up with my human follies. The axe is already at the root of the tree, and the lake is burning with fire and brimstone. The Lord God is a vengeful god; and if we sin willingly after having learned to know the truth, there is no more sacrifice for sin.

The worrying thing is that both of these beliefs are based on the same Bible. By and large, I think it would be better for the world if I stuck with my life religion. But whenever I am in pain and fear, the other one asserts itself.

Perhaps if I were to live long enough, I could sort of integrate the two, so I could combine my positive attitude with some serious virtue. Like give to the poor instead of increasing my heap of computers, or write some encouraging words instead of trying to rule the world (or Alpha Centauri) yet again. Now that would be a miracle of Biblical proportions! :)

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