Religion/memeticity/lifestyle choice, based on extreme physical sensation, including self-torture.
To group all of Sensatism under a single banner is not quite accurate, as the numerous groups recognize no central authority and practice widely different forms of it. However, for the purposes of this article we have chosen to focus on the similarities rather than the differences. Though the psychological traits and trends which eventually became formalized in Sensatism can be traced back to at least the 5th century c.e. of Old Earth, the history of Sensatism generally begins with the Questioning of Rajiv Kra in 6229 (ref: Universal Church). In the spot that he originally chose for his seven years of meditation, he was often set upon by a variety of painful biting insect native to the area. After a month of this he asked to be moved to a place where he could concentrate more easily, but he found that in his new locale his insights and thoughts were less numerous, less profound, less deep. After another month he asked to be sent back, and this time instead of avoiding the insects he actively sought them out and smeared himself with herbal juices that attracted them. He had to be evacuated nine times for medical treatment by the time the Questioning was over, and his Answering spoke of how he had found truth in the pain and sensation of the insects.
After his return to society he began to recruit followers to his creed of seeking out pain in order to learn truth, of marrying the sacred and insane. Over the next century it grew to the point of being a major faction within Universalism, while embracing agony and torture to greater and greater lengths and putting less and less emphasis on the core beliefs of the Universal Church - specifically, Questionings and Confessions. Finally it grew too much for even the inclusive thoughts of Universalism, and the sect was quietly asked to either moderate or leave. Though a majority returned to the full Church, many others broke ties entirely. Kra said "I may be going to hell, but at least I'll enjoy the trip."
Today Sensatism is widespread, though not common. It is a totally individualistic religion, seeking truth and inspiration in extreme physical sensation, and has no central authority. Practitioners engage in every conceivable form of self torture, from whippings to burnings to exposing selective body parts to hard vacuum for short periods to nerve poisons to addicting themselves to drugs just so they can feel the agony of withdrawal. They can usually be recognized by the scars they carry with pride, and most have received alterations to enable them to withstand far greater extremes of physical punishment than otherwise possible. The only thing not found is direct neural stimulation of the pain centers - this is widely viewed as cheating.
Text by Michael Beck
Initially published on 31 December 2001.