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.