A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Does Pain Have To Hurt?

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on February 25, 2007

In the post Cyborgs Sharing Pain, Again I argued that pain can be treated like other things that appear as intentional content of our acts – like things we see, like music we hear, and so on…

While we have access to the things in the world through “seeing”, and while we have access to the music in the room through “hearing”, we might in similar way have access to the pains in our body through “feeling” (where “feeling” as type of access should be distinguished from emotions, of course).

Also we can make analogy between the pain affecting us (“hurts us”) and the possibility of those other things to strongly affect us too –  Something we see can produce e.g. fear in us, or something we listen can irritate us, or make us happy etc..

Also those things can affect us even if they are not real. (e.g. illusionary or hallucinated thing can be as scary as a real one). In such way there is nothing special about pain hurting us even if it is, for example in a phantom limb – that is when “I feel pain in my left leg.”, can’t be true, as the person doesn’t have left leg.

I pointed to few arguments intuition can present against such thinking in that post, but here I want to put attention on one of them that can be put in the sentence – the pain hurts us in the same way, be it real or in hallucination.  And when I point that the music can also be as irritating, be it real or in hallucination, one might respond that there is a distinction: In case of the music, there is a separation between the music and the way it affects me.

There is a possibility for the same music to affect me in different way, however there is no possibility for pain to affect me in different way. One might say that “It is in the nature of the pain to hurt.” Or “What makes pain – pain, is that it hurts.”

I don’t know what to think about this. I’m guessing that pain and the way it affects us might be separated. That is, that person can be aware of the pain, without it “hurting him”. Or to feel the pain, without being in pain so to say. Do different meditation practices succeed to separate pain from hurting? Are there some pathological states in which those two are separated?

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4 Responses to “Does Pain Have To Hurt?”

  1. Shawn said

    While I don’t have anything substantive of my own to add to the discussion, there is a paper by Mark Wilson that (judging by the title [I haven’t read it, alas]) looks to be relevant. It is:
    “What Is This Thing Called ‘Pain’? The Philosophy of Science Behind the Contemporary Debate.” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly (July-October 1985), 66(3-4):227-267.

  2. Hi Shawn,
    Thanks for the comment. I did some search and couldn’t find that paper, but found few interesting other papers on that issue. I will put few comments on them in the next post.

  3. Kevin said

    There is a neurological condition called pain asymbolia in which certain pathways between somatosensory cortex and the limbic system are broken (I’m not completly sure but I think this is the cause). It is not uncommon for these patients to feel pain without being bothered by it. Following injury they report pain and can detail its character (how intense it is, whether it is a burning pain, shooting pain, etc) but it isn’t unpleasant.

  4. Kevin,
    Thank you very much for the information!

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