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View Full Version : Would I suffer more than the hungry, starving people of the world?


Aankh
03-31-2004, 04:49 AM
Let's say I've been brought up in a well to do family: plenty of food, drink, entertainment, you name it. Let us say I start fasting one day. No breakfast, lunch or dinner, only water as often as I feel like drinking it. I'll be very hungry by the night of the first day, and will be in significant discomfort by the second day. Correct? Now let's say on the third day, I allow myself some meagre nutrition, something like a tuna sandwich. The fasting begins again, with me allowing myself only the sandwich and water as per the schedule I outlined. This system repeats. Within a month or two, I'll probably be dead.

Now, take the case of a malnutritioned, starving little orphan child in Somalia/India/RandomPoorCountry. This is a child that has been brought up in an atmosphere of scarcity. The concept of regular meals is alien to her. She gets a pittance to eat, and has been surviving on it for as long as she can remember.

My question is, is her degree of suffering from starvation less than my degree of suffering? Objectively speaking, it seems to me that it should be. Am I correct?

(No, I am not belittling the condition of people in such situations. Yes, it must be ghastly beyond belief to have to starve. No, I'm not being callous even if I sound like I am. Honestly.)

pjd
03-31-2004, 05:10 AM
is that you maria ?

Aankh
03-31-2004, 05:29 AM
is that you maria ?

Eh? you mean the Maria who made you...laugh?

quothz
03-31-2004, 10:39 AM
My question is, is her degree of suffering from starvation less than my degree of suffering? Objectively speaking, it seems to me that it should be. Am I correct?

I don't think this is an objective issue. You can't compare suffering.

Anaamika
03-31-2004, 11:52 AM
No no, I understand the question. The OP wants to know: does the human body get accustomed to / adapt to a way of life?

I think Cecil covered something like this in one of his columns about Eskimos feeling cold less than the rest of us. I can't remember and I don't have much time to search right now, but perhaps some kindly person could hunt it down.

I always thought it was true. I (East Indian, raised in US) am certainly more inclined to and more tolerant of extremely spicy food than my boyfriend (Chinese, raised in US) but I couldn't hope to eat the hot peppers straight that my father does (raised in India). Same with the mosquitos: when I went to India, I seemed to constantly be getting stung and my family not at all. When I got back someone suggested they were, they just don't feel it anymore.

So what's the verdict? The little girl in the OP's question, she would certainly die quickly from the rich, fatty foods we Americans have access to. If the OP eats her meal, is he inclined to die quicker than her? Has her body taught itself to make do with whatever it gets? Has it, essentially, trained itself differently than ours?

This is an interesting topic the OP has brought up. I hope there are more answers.

*I wanted to thank the person out there whose idea it was to copy your post into Word before submitting it. It's saved me so much hassle. Thanks!*

Celyn
03-31-2004, 01:14 PM
..... Now let's say on the third day, I allow myself some meagre nutrition, something like a tuna sandwich. The fasting begins again, with me allowing myself only the sandwich and water as per the schedule I outlined. This system repeats. Within a month or two, I'll probably be dead.
...... Honestly.)

For what it's worth, you'd probably last slightly longer than a month or two, given that you are eating something - this thread set me off checking how long people live on a hunger striek, for isntance, and I jsut picked on one well-known example, Bobby Sands M.P., who died after a hunger strike of 65 days (no tuna sandwiches involved).

http://larkspirit.com/hungerstrikes/bios/sands.html

Actually, my own thoughts are that you would pretty much get used to that level of hunger fairly quickly (this only based on a time when I was eating precious little for 3 or 4 weeks)*. But, as for the comparision with the unfortunate hypthetical kid, I think I agree that it would be hard to quantify the suffering.

*- wasn't trying to be anorexic, jsut a simple lack of food and

vykyng
03-31-2004, 01:27 PM
I think a hungry, starving person would survive longer than you would, if nothing else than because they probably have a lower caloric requiement. Also, I've heard that fasting is an 'acquired' skill. People who try to fast for too long without preparing their body for it are in for some hard times. I've heard that if you drink water you can fast with no food whatsoever for around 2 months or so (I believe David Blaine did it for 6 weeks recently, and even if that is a trick I've heard that hunger strike individuals have gone 2 months without food and lived).

As far as suffering goes, I believe you would suffer a great deal more than the starving hungry person. For one thing, a nice jumbo sized american tuna sandwich every couple days is probably more than the starving hungry person usually has to eat under 'ordinary' conditions (i.e. the conditions that put said individual into the category we're describing as 'starving and hungry'), and may be enough for this person to live indefinetly from.

If we assume that the food is NOT enough to live off of, then you would still appear to suffer more than the starving hungry person because you would probably starve to death first. Of course since we're assuming neither of you are getting enough nutrition to live off of, the starving hungry person would likely suffer nearly as much as yourself (though it would be a suffering they're accustomed to, whether that makes the suffering less or more seems to be up to the individual, though they'll likely be able to function better in any case), they just wouldn't reach the level of suffering you felt until after your death.

So to cut to the chase, I believe you would suffer considerably more in most fasting/starvation scenarios. This is not to make light of people who are starving and hungry as these people typically suffer every single day of their lives and not just when we create thought experiments like these so in total their suffering would eclipse the few days of discomfort you would have by many orders of magnitude.

Aankh
03-31-2004, 05:16 PM
The 'two months for survival' issue, yes, I wasn't sure how long one could last, which is why I threw in an arbitrary
Within a month or two, I'll probably be dead
in the OP. So thank you all for educating me in that direction.

As to the actual question posed in the OP, well, reactions seem to be mixed so far. Anyone with some specific information? Perhaps some medical studies? Qadgop? Someone else?

clairobscur
03-31-2004, 06:27 PM
As to the actual question posed in the OP, well, reactions seem to be mixed so far. Anyone with some specific information? Perhaps some medical studies? Qadgop? Someone else?



Who on earth would conduct a medical study on starving people rather than, say, feed them? And assuming someone would do, how could they compare the suffering?

Aankh
03-31-2004, 06:32 PM
Who on earth would conduct a medical study on starving people rather than, say, feed them? And assuming someone would do, how could they compare the suffering?
Well, I'm a psychologist (a student, anyway) and we've been known to conduct studies on perceived pain, both physical and mental, without attempting in any manner to actually cure the pain. Why not doctors too?


Spread the sadism around, I always say...

netscape 6
03-31-2004, 08:25 PM
Well, I'm a psychologist (a student, anyway) and we've been known to conduct studies on perceived pain, both physical and mental, without attempting in any manner to actually cure the pain. Why not doctors too?


Spread the sadism around, I always say...

Because it would be cruel and inhuman? Any doctor that would do that shouldn't be a doctor.

Thaumaturge
03-31-2004, 08:58 PM
I fail to see why. In order to effectively treat pain, it is helpfull to understand it. If it's a problem with you, don't volunteer for a study on pain.

Shalmanese
03-31-2004, 10:31 PM
Who on earth would conduct a medical study on starving people rather than, say, feed them? And assuming someone would do, how could they compare the suffering?

When you have 2 billion starving people, somehow feeding them doesn't seem quite feasible. However, there is a hope in that studying them, you could make a slight difference to public opinion and ensure at least some of them are better fed.

Aankh
04-01-2004, 01:06 AM
Sigh...someone with an answer? I really was not trying to be controversial here...

Aankh
04-01-2004, 01:07 AM
Because it would be cruel and inhuman? Any doctor that would do that shouldn't be a doctor.

That's an overly emotional statement, don't you think? Thaumaturge and Shalmanese have replied adequately, I think.

MaryEFoo
04-01-2004, 02:06 AM
Way I hear it, the first day or two of a fast is very hard, but then you lose your sense of hunger. Maybe eating the tuna sandwich every three days re-sets this? so you suffer more?

WAGGing away, I bet the starving person would know this and eat the sandwich anyway, any chance they got.

I don't think you would die first, I think they would. Say they have been scraping by on 750 calories a day; they wouldn't be carrying the normal fat reserve you are (your head doesn't look like a skull, etc). You also start with more muscle tissue than a starving person has. So by the time you've lost 50 lbs of fat and muscle, they have lost 40 pounds of muscle and organ tissue and have gone from 90 lbs to 50 and are now dying.

Humans adapt to most things within weeks, so by that time, you've probably adapted to about the extent they had, so from now on you only suffer about as much as they did as you go from 90 lbs to 50 in your turn.

[/gruesome]

clairobscur
04-01-2004, 03:28 AM
When you have 2 billion starving people, somehow feeding them doesn't seem quite feasible. However, there is a hope in that studying them, you could make a slight difference to public opinion and ensure at least some of them are better fed.


First there aren't 2 bilions starving people, by a long shot, and second, we would have the means to feed all of those.


But anyway it wasn't my point. What I meant is that if a medical team is present and has the means to conduct a scientific study on people who are currently starving, I can't fathom them conducting such a study about how much suffering these people endure instead of using their time and funds to feed them, and provide them medical care (let alone coming with some usually well-nourished people and starve them in order to make a comarative study).

muttrox
04-01-2004, 07:35 AM
Im with Quotz. You come up with an objective standard for suffering, then you can start designing experiments or looking at the evidence in the world thus far. Without such a standard, I don't see how you can make any valid comparisons.

Aankh
04-01-2004, 10:37 PM
Im with Quotz. You come up with an objective standard for suffering, then you can start designing experiments or looking at the evidence in the world thus far. Without such a standard, I don't see how you can make any valid comparisons.
Actually it's not all that difficult. For instance...

Take 150 volunteers who have agreed to be given low-grade electric shocks. They've been informed up front abou the procedure, no deception, and they're allowed to walk out of the study at any point. Then you give them a grade1 shock and ask them to record how much pain they felt on, say, a 5 point sliding-scale. Repeat for grade2 shocks and so on. For each level of electric shock, calculate the mean and standard deviation, and you have some basic pain perception data. Any random person's pain perception can now be compared against this standard.

(Disclaimer: The initial particpant selection process, not to mention the other sections of the study, would undoubtedly have to be more refined than what I described, so as to avoid a biased data sample. I'm just giving a rough example to show how the whole thing could possibly be done.)

Anyway, I just wanted to know if any work had already been done along these lines (whether in the less ethics-ridden era of Milgram, or in present day super-controlled times), or if someone could provide me a logical argument either way.

Aankh
04-01-2004, 10:38 PM
[QUOTE=aankh]Any random person's pain perception can now be compared against this standard.[QUOTE]

Perceived pain for electric shocks, specifically. A comparable study would have to be done on hunger etc.

Just to clarify.