Thursday, February 7, 2013

Healthy prostates and virtual experience

So I thought I would talk about frequent masturbation today. No, seriously, I want to talk about frequent masturbation. And dependent origination. Not for the entirety of this particular post, but for a good part of it. The masturbation part, that is.

One of my favorite YouTube channels (how's that for a transition?) is the Vlogbrothers. These guys are totally cool and very gay friendly. If you haven't checked them out before, you should. They are awesome! And what really got me thinking about the Buddha's teaching on dependent origination was a recent video of theirs, which you may watch below.

This video brings up something very interesting, and that's the question of whether a real experience is fundamentally different from a virtual experience. That's a very Buddhist question, particularly when you consider the Buddha's teachings on dependent origination, also known as dependent co-arising. There are a number of suttas on this topic, but this one linked here I will use for reference.

From a strictly biological perspective, when we "perceive reality," we are really experiencing the past, because no matter how fast our neurons work, by the time we are "conscious" of an event or experience, that event or experience is already over! Adds an entire new dimension to the concept of living in the present moment, doesn't it?

And what we experience as "reality" is just sensation turned into electrical stimuli in our brains via various chemical reactions and the movement of nifty neurotransmitters. We can create "false" realities by manipulating these chemicals in our brain, which is what a lot of humanity does when it consumers alcohol or other mind-altering substances. We tend to label these experiences as not real, but the fact is our brain responds to these experiences, and ergo our mind, as though they are just as real as a real experience.

As the Maha-nidana Sutta explains, everything exists because of what precedes that something. Why do we die? We die because we are born. Why are we born? We are born because of what the Buddha called "becoming," which is a process initiated by clinging, and this is preceded by craving for the thing we cling to, and that's preceded by feeling, which is preceded by contact (as in sensory contact), and that is preceded by name-and-form because we have to label everything, and that is preceded by consciousness, which is, whoops! Consciousness is preceded by name-and-form!

Work that one out sonny!

The Buddha's teaching on dependent origination is critical to his entire teaching, and the simplest way to explain it is nothing arises out of nothing, something never becomes nothing. Which, if you think about it for just a second, is basic physics. Matter and energy are neither created nor destroyed, but only change form. The Buddha said all you have to do is interrupt that chain anywhere along the line and you've done it - you've attained Nirvana and then you will go from being something into being nothing when you die. Because what is the origin or death? It's birth. And what is the origin of birth? It's because we are becoming. And why are we becoming? Because we are clinging, etc.

Which brings us back to our brain and eventually masturbation of the male variety.

If what we experience is nothing but how our brain processes various stimuli, which result in various feelings we have about that experience, is something we really experience truly different from something we virtually experience?

Consider the prostate gland. While the data isn't universally conclusive, the preponderance of data suggests that frequent masturbation in men contributes to better overall prostate health and a lower risk of cancer. Wait, let me back that up. What the studies really are saying is ejaculating several times a week contributes to better overall prostate health and a lower risk of prostate cancer than ejaculating less frequently, as in just a couple times a month. And what causes ejaculation? Well, there's either sex or masturbation. Yes, you can throw in there nocturnal emissions, but they hardly count even as sex.

There are a few studies that seem to present conflicting data, such as this one that suggests that wanking too often in your 20s may increase your risk for prostate cancer, while wanking in your 50s decreases that risk. But this article debunks that by pointing out the methodology employed in these studies is flawed.

So I'm sticking with the frequent masturbation is good scenario.

Hence, does the prostate gland care if you're having real sex or just doing the rattlesnake shake? No, it does not! All it cares about is expelling some happy juice on a semi-regular basis. And for that matter, we can add the experience of orgasm to this. Is the sensation of orgasm created from masturbating fundamentally different from the sensation of orgasm during real sex with a real person? While I am extremely hesitant to answer that question, the basic premise would suggest no, there really is no fundamental difference.

Regardless of the stimuli, it all becomes part of the sequence of events the Buddha outlined in his teaching on dependent origination. Our suffering, our dissatisfaction with the transitory nature of our experiences, feelings and of our very lives is wrapped up all the same whether we cling to real or false things.

So no, John, there is no difference between seeing the London Tower Bridge in London while standing along the Thames and seeing the London Tower Bridge in your video.

But I'd rather see it in London than in your video.

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