THE MYTH OF PHYSICAL PAIN
AND
PHYSICAL PLEASURE




JUD EVANS


THE MYTH OF PHYSICAL PAIN and PHYSICAL PLEASURE

JUD EVANS
For the Eliminative Determinist [this eliminativist determinist anyway] painand 'qualia' don't REALLY exist. 'The painful toe' exists - the 'painful tooth' - exists - but not the painitself.

Before I go any further (as if by anticipating your immediate reaction)  I am not claiming that such ontological awareness brings any relief whatsoever to the sufferer. But this paper is not about an awareness of the abstraction  pain  - this essay concerns the analytic confusion between believing that the reification  pain exists rather than that part of the body which exists in a state that we describe as being painful.  

As an eliminativist - which really means the way I look at things - (for I only take the ideas of others as guides rather than gospel) I reject the suggestion that there actually exist physiological 'feelings' pertaining to, or involving pleasurable or painful sensations. For me only existentially pained humans and other animals exist - not pain itself. I therefore consider it apodictically obvious that the claim that the 'pain' we register we stub our toe - or the 'pleasure' when we experience orgasm, or any other so-called 'somatic feelings' or 'qualia' we undergo are bio-chemically definable and measurable 'objects' is a fiction.

For the eliminativist what is really being measured is the electro-chemical sensors whose modulation and intensity represent courier-coded information about the traumatic or pleasurable condition of the originative object-flesh or meaty tissue from which it comes, as heralded data via the nerves as mediated by the organic matter we call the neuronal networks or the central nervous system.

For me only the human experiencer exists. 'Experience' of 'physical pain' or 'physical pleasure' as a corporeal or somatic dualism is a myth.   For the a human experiencer so-called pain  is corporeally existing, injury-causing physical  stimuli which results in the manifestation of painful or pleasurable areas or components of our body, such as an aching tooth or a painful toe.

A persistent feature of folk psychology [compare the old belief of folk astronomy that the sun orbited the earth.] is the belief that 'pain' is something that actually exists 'in itself.'

Ontologically speaking it is incorrect to tell the doctor that you have a pain in in the toe - when in fact you have a painful toe.

How does this misunderstanding arise? I suggest here that it is because people confuse the apparent phenomenological existence of the abstraction 'pain,' with ''that part of the body which deterministically undergoes the tissue change known as 'trauma.'

Nociceptors respond to multiple types of physical stimuli, such as high levels of impinging pressure, high or low temperatures and chemicals, including acids. However, these types of stimuli will only generate electrical activity in such neurons when they are of an intensity sufficient to cause, or potentially cause, injury to the human  animal.

To convert such stimuli into electrical activity, the ends of these cells (the sensory terminals) contain a variety of specialized proteins, termed receptors, that are activated by mechanical, thermal or chemical insults. These receptors change their conformation when activated to form pores in the membrane of the cells. These pores, or ion channels, allow positively charged ions, such as sodium and calcium, to rush into the cell and in doing so they will lower the voltage across the membrane. In this way the intensity of the stimulus is encoded; the greater the stimulus, the larger the change in voltage. If the membrane voltage is sufficiently lowered (to the electrical threshold), other protein channels that are voltage sensitive are activated and these generate electrical impulses. Such impulses then travel along the length of the neuron. In terms of sensory coding, the larger the change in voltage at the terminal, the greater the number of impulses generated.'

[1] John N Wood, Simon Beggs and Liam J Drew 2006.

By way way of illustration and comparison, in the same sense as the abstraction pain does not physically exist - the reifications 'sweetness' or love does not actually exist. (only sweet things and lovers exist) What really exists is the crystalline carbohydrate we call 'sugar' and the human tastebuds that react to the substance and sensualises the chemical reaction between the monosaccharose and the human body - as 'sweet-tasting.'

Sadly an ontological understanding of the fact that it is our painful toe, complete with its arrays of nociceptors, that exists rather than the abstraction called 'pain' does nothing to alleviate our experience of a painful toe or an aching tooth. But the knowledge has an ontological value rather than an experiential human one - which has far-reaching implications for philosophy, and at least it lets our brain off the hook as the 'messenger or herald rather than the 'cause' of our discomfort.

From what I have read, and judging from the way I experience causal objects (i. e. existing as I do as an experientialist ) I experience the causal objects called the nervous impulses or the electrochemical messages [or choose any nomenclature you wish] as two basic types of modulation, or changing amplitude, or frequency and intensity of phase:

(A) The normal low intensity sensorial stimulus or background indicators signifying contact, temperature change, etc.

(B) The sharply sensed, unpleasant sensation occurring in varying degrees of severity as a consequence of injury, disease. If I bang my toe against an object it can be an urgent, stabbing unpleasantness. If it is the slowly increasing result of the disagreeable stimuli associated with say a toe-burn from an electric fire-bar, then I experience it as staged phases of increasing and exponential causalgia through a continuum of various disagreeable states of feeling

Regarding (B) Like all abstractions there is nothing descriptively definitive about the name that we give to these widely variable existential modes, and many people experience similar bumps and burns and trauma and are either more or less affected by the experience. It is notoriously difficult to describe pain to anybody, though persons who have themselves experienced a similar trauma will have a good idea. It is well known that some people are said to have a higher pain threshold than others for example.

It is extremely telling and significant that the treatment of so-called 'pain with morphine and other powerful narcotic agents with strong analgesic (painkilling) action and other significant effects on the central nervous system does not address the non-existent abstraction pain- but the meaty-bits of the brain by interfering with the mechanisms of the all too physical neurons and sensory terminals. In the same way drug-dispensing psychiatrists do not prescribe drugs that effect the 'mind'' - for that too is another ontological fiction - the chemicals the patients ingest affect the brain-tissue and not some spiritous fictional left over from the Middle Ages.

Anticipating your next question:

How would you distinguish one from the other?

The answer is that natural selection has deterministically selected for humans the ability to differentiate the signals to indicate which part of the body is traumatised and which areas remain in a condition of normality. Additionally humans are able to tell by the nature of the signals emanating from the toe whether it is an alert corresponding to the experience of being tickled with a feather or whether it is conducive to having the toe sensorially insulted by being squashed by some heavy object. If it were not so, then we would be unaware that the toe was being crushed and possibly maimed and the results could be disastrous for the survival of the individual entity.

Referred pain is the detection and interpretation of causal signals coming from [say] the injured toe, appearing to originate the next toe in line. This common condition arises when a causal nerve is compressed or damaged at or near its origin. In this circumstance, the pained area will generally be identified as being in the territory that the nerve serves, even though the physical damage originates elsewhere. From what I have read, and judging from the way I experience painful causal objects ( i. e. existing as I do as an experientialist ) I experience the nervous impulses or the electrochemical messages [or choose any nomenclature you wish] as two basic types of modulation, or changing amplitude, or frequency and intensity of phase:

(A) The normal sensorial background indicators signifying contact, temperature change, etc.

(B) The sharply sensed, unpleasant sensation occurring in varying degrees of severity as a consequence of injury, disease. It can be an urgent, stabbing unpleasantness if I bang my toe against an object, or the slowly increasing results of disagreeable stimuli; manifested as staged phases of increasing and exponential causalgia through a continuum of states of feeling associated with say a toe-burn from an electric fire-bar.

Regarding (B) Like all abstractions there is nothing descriptively definitive about the name that we give to these widely variable existential modes, and many people experience similar bumps and burns and trauma and are either more or less affected by the experience. It is notoriously difficult to describe pain to anybody, though persons who have themselves experienced a similar trauma will have a good idea. It is well known that some people are said to have a higher or lower pain threshold than others for example.

Ontologically and existentially there has never been, is, nor ever will be anything that exists as: 'what it feels like to be a bat, 'what it feels like to be a cockroach or 'what it feels like to be a human.' There exists only the flying or screeching bat, the foraging, antenna-waving cockroach and the studying, bicycle-riding or pained human. The human who is studying, riding his bike, or suffering with a painful toe simply exists that way.

The way that the human exists at that moment is conditioned by the painful flesh of his or her toe. The representation of the entity-threatening condition of the painful toe is mapped to the central nervous system because there is nowhere else to map it to in the foot.

Functionally it is in too much of an exposed position right down there near to the ground for the foot to have its own 'colonial or ancillary' brain. The toe contains its own reactive 'feeder cells' or 'nociceptors' which send the information regarding any physical trauma to the specialized areas for awareness and cogitation situated up in the head, 'out of harm's way' of the entity's locomotory action with its attendant exposure to the hazards of locomotion down below.

The condition of the damaged toe, [meaning the way the toe exists at that moment in time] as represented to the neural network as painis a protective physiologically centralised alarm system. If no such alarm system had developed (as when the signals are 'bracketed out' in the case of a modern surgical amputation of the toe) - then the neural network would be unaware that the relevant chunk of painful flesh had been crushed until the effects of the drug wears off or the patient is able to look down at his foot and see that the toe is no longer attached to his body.

In a surgical removal of the toe the painof the diseased toe is then replaced by the painof the cut tissue from where the incision and cut were made to sever the toe - but once again it is the insulted cut tissue and the rest of the body [including the neural network] that exists and not the 'pain.'

The cardinal mistake of folk psychology, and concomitantly, to a large extent the mistake of folk physiology, is to confuse the brain's 'awareness of a specified pain' for the brain's: 'awareness of a specified painful toe.' This misunderstanding and reification of painis part and parcel of the ontological ignorance engendered by whoever it was in the dim past [probably the Greeks or even earlier in Indo-European history] who first reified human feelings as something ontologically 'different' or 'separable' from the human feeler or the feeling human.

THIS then is the concrete, unassailable ontological ground of understanding of eliminativism. No other 'ontology' can attack it successfully - no other 'philosophy' can argue cogently or coherently against it - it is physiologically apodeictic in its logical impregnability. I can show you my painful purple, bruised, fractured toe with its gaping, bleeding wound - you can touch the toe-flesh and even feel the pulse throbbing as more blood is pumped to that area as part of the damage-control process - but I can NEVER EVER show you the pain - because it is not the painthat exists - it is the pained, suitably neurologically-mapped and aware Jud Evans that exists, his face contorted to signal his pained existential modality to others as he shows you the part of his body that is pained and is responsible for the neurological-mapping of penetrative invasion and tissue damage. But the 'neurological -mapping' does not exist either - only the neurologically-mapped hurt victim of toe-damage with the painful purple, bruised, fractured toe with its gaping, bleeding wound - exists.

The implications are indeed immense, for what it implies is a total, all-out rejection of historical ontology, which means a total abandonment of the ontological traditions of most sciences, philosophies, psychologies and biological sciences. It amounts to a turning point in the history of human understanding both of man himself and of the cosmos in which he finds himself.

The vagueness of description stems from the fact that the eliminativist is handicapped with corrupt forms of inherited language which have been developed to cater for and describe and discuss the old folk philosophy infected as it is with a contaminating verdigris of religious mumbo jumbo and dualistic nonsense. It SEEMS counter-intuitive at first because we have been subtly brainwashed since birth into accepting reificational grammatolatry as the norm in all aspects of our language.

Eliminativism is like no other ontology'philosophy. It is not intertheoretic and therefore is not dependant upon older ontologies. Eliminativism represents a complete liquidation of all former ontology, and whilst it is interesting to compare what replaces this good-riddance and total rejection with the historical and continuing rump of misunderstandings of old philosophies - (and remember ALL former philosophies are folk philosophies by this assessment) it is also interesting [and informative] to trace the origins of this philosophical act of rejection or revolution.

In my experience, to allow one to be drawn into discussing the subject on the basis of the old semantics is a major mistake, for the old forms have developed in order to provide communication within a bounded carapace of misunderstanding that represent the paradigms of containment within the parameters of the old ways of thinking . Not all have the intellectual ability to break out and wriggle free from this internalised cognitive cocoon and start to think for themselves.

On that rather melodramatic and somewhat histrionic note I will draw a close.

References:

[1] John N Wood, Simon Beggs and Liam J Drew 2006. http://www. wellcome. ac. uk/en/pain/microsite/science1. htm John N Wood is Professor of Molecular Biology at University College London (UCL); Dr Simon Beggs, formerly at UCL, is now at the University of Toronto, Canada; and Liam J Drew is a postdoctoral fellow in the Molecular Nociception Group at UCL.







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