A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Cyborgs Sharing Pain, Again

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on January 29, 2007

I wrote the following story as a part of a previous post:

Two cyborgs, Michael and Ethan walk on the surface of a distant planet after a fight with alien troops. Michael notices that Ethan’s finger has a hole in it.

-Does it hurt much? – asks Michael.

Ethan unscrews his finger, and hands it to Michael, who replaces one of his own fingers with it.

-Gosh, that hurts a lot – says Michael.

-Thanks for sharing my pain. – says Ethan. -Now give it back to me.

The issue was if the pain is different in that that it is being private and can’t be shown, while other things like colors, sounds, the texture and warmth of objects (accessible by touch) are in publically accessible space.
The point of the story is that while it is true that in the usual case pain can’t be shown, it is not because it is tightly connected to the subject, but because it appears in our body and we have privileged access to that pain. If the part of the body in which we feel the pain, however, can be “glued” to another body then that other person can gain access to the same instance of pain.

Phenomenologically speaking, this is how Ethan would describe what is happening in the story:

The pain is in my finger, and I can feel it.
I detach the finger, and I can’t feel the pain in that finger any more.
When I give it to Michael, and he attaches it instead of one of his fingers, now he can feel the pain in my finger.
The pain is in the finger, and we gain the access to the pain by attaching it to our bodies.

Here are some problems that the intuition might have with such conclusion:

Objection 1: In one case it is Michael which has pain, and in the other case it is Ethan that is in pain. So it can’t be that it is the same instance of pain that both are feeling.

Response: One can present analogy with colored object. When Michael looks at a colored object, it’s color is in publically accessible space, and Ethan is experienced in the same world, having access to the same color. One can also imagine a situation where Michael first looks at the object, and Ethan keeps his eyes closed, and then Michael closes his eyes, and Ethan looks at the colored object. While there is two separate instances of access to the color, the color is seen as something that doesn’t exist in the subject, but as something to which both subjects can access.

Objection 2:The pain is not something to which we merely have access. When Michael feels the pain in the finger, it is Michael who is in pain, he isn’t merely aware of the pain, but it affects him on very personal level.

Response: It is true that when we feel the pain in the finger it affects us strongly. But we can note that a music, which is also experienced as publically accessible, can be deeply irritating and we might want to stop listening to it. So it might be that pain isn’t a special case of a thing which affects us, but that we should consider all of the things not just as something that we are aware of, but which are affecting us too.

Objection 3:Michael and Ethan can differently experience the pain. Might be that the pain is stronger for Michael, and weaker for Ethan.

Response: That is true, but it is also true that Michael can have normal sight and Ethan be shortsighted. And when they look at a distant thing, Michael will thus see the colored thing clearly, and Ethan can see it vaguely. But the difference is not one of there be two instances of colored thing, but it is difference in the quality of the access to the thing.

Objection 4:People feel pain in so called phantom limbs. That shows that the pain can’t be something in the limbs themselves. As those limbs don’t exist.

Two responses: a) In case of phantom libs, still people feel the pain as in a limb. They don’t just feel pain in outside space, so it seems that the notion of pain is necessarily pain-in-something. b) People have visual illusions of objects which are colored and have shape. Analogously we would need to accept that shape and color can not be property of the objects. And if this objection is combined with 3, saying – “The pain in the phantom libs is as real as pain in the real limbs – it hurts!”, we can also say that “A visual illusion, can be as scary as a real thing. The music which plays in our head after night out in the club, and after few drinks, can be as beautiful as real music.”.

At the end let me add just one more thing in order to avoid misunderstandings.  I’m not arguing here about Pain Realism – that there is some essence of pain in the finger which is passed between Michael and Ethan. What I was interested is merely if in our phenomenological analysis we need to put the pain as something special, and intimately connected to the subject, or can it be categorized together with the other things of which we can be aware.
From what I said, to my thinking, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be categorized along with the other things which appear in publically accessible space.


6 Responses to “Cyborgs Sharing Pain, Again”

  1. Clark said

    What is interesting to me is to switch from pain talk (which I find somewhat misleading) to say seeing an apple. Both are phenomena and I think moving away from talk of pains with all the philosophical baggage can be quite illuminating.

    Consider your cases with this new switch.

    In this case the cyborg sees an apple and then unscrews his eye and hands it to his cyborg friend. He says, “thanks for sharing my apple vision.” Now consider your later discussion. Do we say the apple is in the eye, in the “mind” or where it appears to be? Now of course in this case folks are apt to say the apple is where we perceive it to be. But why is this less problematic for the apple than the pain? (Of course the empiricist might say, for both, that the apple and the pain are in our sense-data – but the apple example demonstrates why one needn’t say this)

    Now consider the objections.

    Does it make sense to say that the apple isn’t the same instance of apple sight? Maybe in one sense, but it depends upon what an instance is. For instance is the pain I felt a second ago the same pain I feel now? Well, depends what one means by “same.” I’d suggest they are the same type but not token. In that case the apple is helpful since the type is the same for the apple you see and I see but the token is different. But one could also argue that the phenomena is different (especially if one rejects the ideal objects of Husserl in place of a Heideggarian phenomenology). Thus even with the same input the phenomena of the apple I see and you see is different because apples have a different history for me than you. Further such things as my focus and my mood will affect the phenomena in question.

    I think the externalism issue is interesting, especially for the phantom limb. After all if I see the illusion of an apple I don’t think that invalidates externalism. I can be wrong about what I see and there’s no reason to assume I can’t be wrong about pains, despite what some internalists suggest.

  2. Hi Clark,

    I agree with you that the case with the apple is not less problematic than that of pain. In fact that is what I am arguing – that if we remove the specificity of pain-access, there isn’t any difference in principle between feeling pain, and seeing apple. Both appear (the pain in the finger, and the apple), so to say, as something which has existence separate and independent from the self, to which one might or might not have access (Apple might be seen or not seen, pain in the finger might be felt or not felt). I also agree that having put this aside, it is much easier to talk about apples then pains, and I would think we can remove even the switching of the eyes, and talk just about two people looking at the apple with their own eyes.

    So, to your central point…

    I don’t agree that there are two tokens. I think there is only one (and the same) apple. What we have are two “sightings” (of that one and the same apple). [Ignoring here the possibilities of illusion, e.g. in virtual reality where two people think they are seeing the same apple, but they are not, which is of course raises interesting issues by itself].
    Or, to put it in terms of the example – the apple that Michael sees is the same apple that Ethan sees, but Michael’s apple-sight, is not the same with Ethan’s apple-sight. The sights, though both of the same apple, by themselves have properties which are not shared. For example Michael sees the apple from *there* (and maybe through glasses, fog, etc…), and Ethan sees the apple from *over there* (e.g. without glasses, with poor eye-sight etc…). You say that the focus and the mood will affect the phenomena in question, but it will affect the sightings, and not the apple itself. I would say that for example, if the apple is seen clearly, or if the apple is seen not clearly doesn’t belong to the phenomenon of the apple, and in most cases (except in the cases were we speak of “illusions”), we as subjects are aware which are properties of the sightings, and which are properties of the apple.

    I would take such position also on the question if the pain that I’m feeling now,is the same one with the one that I felt a second ago.
    I think we acknowledge the possibility for it to be the same pain (of course which also means that we can be also be wrong), same as we acknowledge the possibility for the apple to be the same apple after blinking, even we might also be wrong – someone might have changed the apple with a new same-looking while we have blinked!
    I say we acknowledge the possibility, as without it such terms as “the pain is gone”, or “the pain got stronger” would loose meaning. That something is gone, requires that it has existed for some time. Or if it is not the same pain, it can’t get stronger.

  3. Clark said

    The way out of the token mess is to adopt a more general semiotical approach. The apple is a sign but our perception is a sign of this sign. So from one perspective there is a single token, the apple, but from an other perspective two tokens, the representation.

    The problem is that while we talk about the token/type distinction in practice to move from one to the other involves multiple tokens.

  4. Clark,

    I wonder though if there is a need for “representation” tokens. From the phenomenological point, when me and my friend look at the apple, the apple appears to me as one apple, there in space, and as publically accessible, and it is the same apple that I notice my friend looking at, and when we talk about it, I assume the possibility that we are talking about one and the same apple (the same one which I see). It appears as “full-blooded” thing, which can be taken in hand and inspected by rotating it etc… The notion of “representation” doesn’t appear in this experience. The notion of multiple instances of “looking at the apple”, and the notion of different properties of those “lookings” does. For example I can easily comprehend that my friend might not see it the same way, or that if I put the glasses on, I will see it more clearly, etc…

    I think one main point here (and problems outside of direct phenomenological analysis) is that if one takes that our experiences are grounded in sensory data, it is hard to see how experience as the one described can be constituted. That is – how can experience constituted in the subject contain objects which appear as transcending that experience?

  5. Clark said

    Certainly one can get away from the complexity if one adopts a certain approach to phenomenology. If one buys Husserl then what you say probably can be defended. If one buys Heidegger then it probably can’t.

  6. Mohit said

    Reminds me of Object Oriented Software Engineering! Is the pain “private” or “public”. Does it belong to the finger “object” or is it a “static” member of the body “class”..

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