Pains At The Brains

Seeing:Rabbit = X:Pain
X=?

As I’ve said in previous posts, I think that X=feeling, and that pain isn’t any more “private” than rabbits are. But, I will return to those issues once again, motivated by the post Is pain an intentional state? over at Brains.

We have a way to access pain, which we call feeling, same as we have a way to access rabbits which we call seeing. Same as the rabbit can be there and we can’t see it, the pain can be there, and us not to feel it. Sometimes, for example in cases of prolonged pain, we get distracted and “forget about it” for specific time, and then we think – Is the pain still there? By focusing, similarly to other cases of perception, we then figure out if the pain is still there or not. The most striking similarity is with the presence of some sound with bugs us – I think that both cases are very similar. And the similarity also covers that issue that both the pain and the sound affect us negatively – they bug us. But as in cases of pain asymbolia we know that this ‘hurting us’ part is not essential part of that thing that we feel – namely of the pain. However this is little hard to talk about, as usually “pain” is related to both the thing that is felt and how it affects us, so if we are gonna distinguish the felt pain from how it affect us, that we might need different terms.

Anyway, I said also in the comments, as rabbits are not mental states but something that we see, also pains is not mental states but something that we feel. Also, seeing rabbits is not a mental state (‘John sees a rabbit’ is literally true only if there is a rabbit that John sees), but even which includes the rabbit, John, the photons bouncing off the rabbit, and whatnot. So, I’m inclined to think that feeling pain is not mental state also.

Feeling pain is an intentional ACT. Of course ‘intentional’ here doesn’t mean that it is intended, but in Brentano’ speech, that it is act which relates the subject from the one side, and the object (the pain), from the other. In the other sense of ‘intentional’ (that is, everyday sense), feeling pain is mostly unintentional, that is, we don’t really want to focus on the pain, the pain attracts our attention. But, this is not different from outer perceptual modalities, where for example a clown jumping suddenly in front of you will attract your attention, as much you don’t want to put focus on him.

But what about the pain itself? What kind of object is it if it is not a mental state? I actually think that the pain is potential aspect of the parts of our body which we can access by that intentional act of feeling. And that it as an aspect it usually correlates with the aspect of tissue damage. What is the relation of those aspects, I’m not sure (maybe they are both aspects of the one and the same thing? Or maybe the presence of the one aspect causes the presence of the other through some contingent relation?). In any case this works for me as I don’t think that the body is reducible to the physical, instead think that the physical is merely one aspect of our bodies, so I can think that there are further aspects (like pains) which can be present in our bodies in reality, without the need to push those under the rug called ‘mental’ (that is what people usually do, if we are aware of something in the reality which doesn’t seem to be able to be nicely defined/explained/reduced through physics, they push it under the rug called ‘mental’). To say that pain is aspect of our bodies, of course doesn’t mean that there are such things as pains which may exist unrelated to anything else. Same as there are not forms, without there being things which have those forms, and same as there are no distances without objects, at least imaginary, between which there are those distances.

Related posts:
Cyborgs Sharing The Pain,  Again
Does Pain Have To Hurt?
Couple More Thoughts on Pain
Can There Be An Illusion of Pain?

Can There Be An Illusion of Pain?

Over at Philosophy Hurts Your Head, Sam has a post about how one can’t be mistaken about being in pain.

Though I’m not a physicalist, and don’t equate the pain with c-fibers firing, or something like that, I’m believe that one can have illusion of pain (in the finger, head, or wherever).

I think it is unproblematic that there is difference between seeing a rabbit, and illusion of seeing a rabbit. While the two cases might be indistinguishable for the person in certain moment (and really, that is what makes it illusion), the claim that we are not actually seeing a rabbit when there is an illusion, has a clear sense.

Now, we might be inclined to say, that in cases of colors, the situation is different. But really when talking about colors we distinguish a thing being red, and thing appearing red. So it can’t be that we use “red” for the qualia itself (let’s put aside the issue if we need to assume qualia as entities or not). We don’t say that white ball under red light is red. We say that it is a white ball, and that we just have illusion of it being red. We speak of the “red qualia” only when we assume that the appearing same of those two (a red thing and white thing under red light) is due to there being some “qualia” entities which are same in both cases.

In this way, we make distinction between ‘is’ and ‘appears’ for rabbits, colors, voices, and so on. We use the words simpliciter to refer to the things, and we may use them combined with ‘qualia’ (e.g. ‘red qualia’, ‘rabbit qualia’ etc…) for theoretical entities which we assume in order to explain sameness of experience.

So, now the question is, why would ‘pain’ be special case? Why would we wouldn’t use the word for the thing itself (e.g. pain the finger), accept that there is possibilities of illusions of pain, and if we are inclined to certain theory, speak of ‘pain qualia’ as entities which explain our inability to distinguish the pain from illusion of pain.


One reason we might treat ‘pain’ as a special case is because in those other cases, we have witnessed situations where we are under such illusion, but it is pretty easy to change the context somehow and “break the illusion”. But in case of a pain, we seem not to encounter such “appearance” situations.

I think though that there are examples of such situations. Several times I have mistaken cold water for very hot one, and in that split second, I felt the pain in my finger. (I’m guessing here that me being mistaken that my finger is being hurt by very hot water is a mistake of there being pain in my finger). The other example is with the cases of phantom limbs, where patients with amputated limbs say that they still feel like they have the limb, and that they feel pains in them. Here we have a case of illusion of the limb along with the pain being “broken” by using mirror boxes. Now, I agree that those are not best examples, as in the first case one might argue that I didn’t really feel pain, but that somehow I expected there to be a pain. Of course, I’m not even saying that I felt the pain, I’m just saying that one can be mistaken that there is a pain in the finger, even for a split second. In the second example, it is not very clear what (if anything) is being mistaken for a pain. But, I think those examples at least help make sense of the claim that one can mistake something else for a pain. Probably there are other more clear examples, in which one can mistake some other sensation for a pain for a longer time.


The other argument one can give against distinguishing ‘pain’ from ‘illusion of a pain’, is that in both cases the person is affected the same way. There are two responses for this.

First, we are affected by other kind of illusions, same as we are affected by the real things. We might be afraid of an illusionary lion the same way we are afraid of lion.

Second, one can blame the common-sense that it doesn’t have a precise enough awareness of phenomena which we relate to pain. Namely,  in most cases the pain goes along with certain affecting of us, and because those other cases in which those two are ‘divorced’ are very rare, people don’t distinguish between those two, and is aware of them as one single phenomenon. So, the word ‘pain’ is used for this tightly related duo. However there are cases (e.g. pain asymbolia syndrome) where person feels the pain, but it doesn’t suffer from it. So, now, having better awareness of the phenomenon than common person, we can ask for more precise usage of the word ‘pain’. In relation to such distinction, and possibility to use ‘pain’ for the very sense as distinguished from our suffering, we can now say that argument that ‘it affects us same’, can’t have the same force.

One can point also that ‘being in pain’ is often used for this second part of the phenomenon (i.e. how it affects us). So, as long as we are clear what we mean by the term, one can I guess agree that one can be mistaken that there is a pain in the finger, while still being in pain. Said like this, it does even seem as not very problematical sentence.

Related posts:
Cyborgs Sharing Pain, Again
Does Pain Have To Hurt?
Couple More Thoughts on Pain

A Couple More Thoughts on Pain

Connected to the issue raised in the previous post, that is if pain has to hurt, there are some interesting things said by George Pitcher in an article called “Awfulness of Pain” (The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 67, No. 14. (Jul. 23, 1970), pp. 481-492.), where at the start he asks “Is pain necessarily unpleasant?”

There he points to the case of:
    1.Masochism

    2.People with incurable diseases that have underwent prefrontal lobotomy. Those people typically “report after the operation that they still have pain but it doesn’t bother them; they simply don’t care about the pain and often forget it is there.” He further says…

It might be thought that the operation simply destroys the patients’ ability to feel any pain at all, but it is not so: for they still complain vociferously about pinprick and mild burn.

    3.People who have “trained themselves” not to mind pain – like fakirs.

Pitcher actually takes the position that the pain can be blocked in the brain, and so, he tends to think that those cases might be understandable in such theory, but as that doesn’t help much phenomenologically, I will just ignore that theory.

For the case of masochism, it seems to me that it is not about finding the pain pleasurable, but that it is the whole context that masochists find arousing (and find some kind of pleasure in it). Or – this case can’t be reduced to simple situation where masochist doesn’t find the pain unpleasant (or painful), but that it is probably that they find it painful which creates the situation in which their paraphilia is manifested. Pitcher also says that “Affirmatives” (people who think that pain is always unpleasant) can give analogies like…

…an object might be ugly in itself, but when placed in certain setting, it might make an essential contribution to a whole that is aesthetically pleasing. Or, a certain herb can be in itself foul-tasting, but nevertheless enhance the flavor of a delicious soup or salad.

Second and third case seem more straightforward, as they don’t seem to include this kind of problems. However still, if a person says that he feels the pain, but it doesn’t bother him, might not be a fact that the pain is not in itself “painful”, but that there is just difference in what I named in the previous posts – “access to pain”.
To make an analogy – some thing might look ugly to me. But if I put some kind of colored glasses, it might be enough for the thing not to look ugly anymore. By putting glasses, I’m not changing the thing, but I’m changing the access to the thing. (or instead of glasses, think few glasses of wine). But what changes in those cases is not how we are affected by the things, but the way we see the thing is changed, and that is the reason for change of the experience.

So maybe in case of 2 and 3 what is changed is also the properties of the access to the thing, and it is not a change of how we are affected by one and the same thing, while the thing, and the access to it are still the same.

Other thing that makes the analysis difficult is that the pain’s effect on us is what is usually taken as what “pain” refers to. In such way we are metaphorically using it to point to some unpleasant experience by using “painful experience”. So, if the prototype pain is which hurts us, probably “pain” isn’t best suited to point to a part of the pain abstracted from how it affects us…

Does Pain Have To Hurt?

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?

Cyborgs Sharing The Pain, Once More

At Kenodoxia there is a very interesting variant of the cyborg sharing the pain thought experiment I posted. Go there to check the changed story…

People waiting while you read the post at Kenodoxia.

I think that they are right when they point that the story presented there is odder than the original one, and that they are right that this might be because either:

  1. The pleasure can’t be in the Ethan’s finger or
  2. Pleasure is less sharable.

Actually I think 1) is the case. Think about this…

Two cyborgs, Michael and Ethan walk on the surface of a distant planet after a fight with alien troops. Michael notices that Ethan is smiling.
-What is it? – asks Michael.
-I am enjoying the sensation in my finger. – says Ethan.
-How does it feel? – asks Michael. Ethan unscrews his finger, and hands it to Michael, who replaces one of his own fingers with it.-WHAT?! You find this pleasurable? There is incredible pain in the finger!- says Michael.
-I knew you wouldn’t understand. – says Ethan – Give me back my finger.
-You sick son of a bitch! – says Michael.
-Whatever.

Cyborgs Sharing Pain, Again

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.

Cyborgs Sharing The Pain

Phenomenologically in terms of accessibility we can do a division:

1) One group of things are those which appear in publically accessible space. The objects, them undergoing changes, the agents’ actions, their speech, also sounds, smells and properties of the things, like colors, shapes, etc… – all appear in publically accessible space. A person can ask another person for example to touch surface of something, to smell or taste something etc… To access what is there publically accessible.

Here are some side notes on this (I have already wrote about those things in separate posts, I will just shortly repeat them here):

  • Some qualia, are in this publicly accessible space. Colors, sounds, music… they all are. It is not somehow to see them, they are themselves somehow, we just can see them in their being somehow. And being in publically accessible space, they are experienced as accessible by multiple people in their being somehow (if others can see them too).
  • People can show them to other people, and it is one and the same thing that that the one person is showing, and that the other person is being showed (that’s how is it in our phenomenal experience). It is one and the same intentional content for both of them – we have there the ground for the intersubjective transcendence of intentional content.
  • Things exist. The time is an abstraction taken from changes of those things, and is not some kind of self-subsistent background (absolute time idea) on which events unfold. Things undergoing changes are what is primary, time is what is only an abstraction. And such are the things in our phenomenal experience. They transcend time. (I’m looking at a thing. It takes time, but in that time, neither me, nor the thing that I’m looking at looses its identity, there are things which change through looking, but it is not me or the object [except if me or the object disappear, or change into something else])

2) But there are things which don’t appear as such. Pain is one example. It apparently doesn’t appear in publically accessible space. It can’t be shown to other person. For sure, other person can feel the same type of pain, and even one can show to the another person how to inflict such and such pain to oneself, but the token of pain isn’t in publically accessible space.

For example, I can touch some hot thing, and if it is not too hot, I feel its hotness as a property of the object. And even it is too hot, it is still property of the object. But when it is too hot, it burns me and causes pain in my finger. Now, if some other person touches the same object, he also will get pain in his finger. But now we have two tokens of pain – the hot object caused a change in my and his finger. Wherever I move my finger, the pain is there. And wherever that other person moves his finger the pain is there. But the pain in my finger is only accessible by me, and pain in his finger only accessible by him.

Both mine and his finger are though in publically accessible space. I can ask him which finger hurts, and he can show me. But if the finger is in publically accessible space, and the pain is in the finger, isn’t the pain in publically accessible space?

Maybe we thus shouldn’t say that the pain isn’t in publically accessible space. Maybe what differs is the possibility of specific access to that thing. While me and the other person have both the visual, tactile, auditory etc… access to my finger, maybe the other has no “feeling the pain in it” access, and I have.

If it was so, it seems that it would mean that it is in principle possible (in our phenomenology) to feel the same token of pain.

Imagine a scene in a SF movie…

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.

It this sharing of pain possible in principle? I’m inclined to answer positively.