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Conscious pain is always personal. It is experienced from the view of oneself, and is not real or meaningful apart from this perspective.
All pains cluster around one’s personal aperture as around a single point or origin from which they are all perceived, irrespective of where in the body pain is felt. The sensation of a pain in a hand is sensed as located in the hand, but that pain sensation in the hand is not felt from the hand, but from about the same spatial location from which that hand is personally seen, even if pain is felt in complete darkness or in a dream. It is the ‘here’ with regard to which any pain is ‘there.’
It may intuitively feel that this single experiential point is located at the mid-point between the centers of rotation of the two eyes. Mach’s drawing above shows a monocular view of this point given in peripheral vision. In fact, the empirically determined location of the point is deeper inside the head, in the midsagittal plane, roughly 4–5 cm behind the bridge of the nose. Initially developed by Herring (1879/1942), this determination identifies the intersection of a few lines of sight obtained by fixating certain locations in the environment and aligning pins with them along each of the lines of sight or attention.
The self thus located is the origin of all lines of sight/attention and so cannot be any kind of self-representation (Merker, 2007, 2013). It defines the view point from which any and all representations of sensory experience are perceived, including personal pain. It is the point from which attention is directed and relative to which percepts are located in the space whose origin it defines (Merker, 2007, 2013).
To think that self must involve a kind of self-representation is to transfer sensory experience from the sensory state to one of its sub-domains (the self), which I think motivates viewing the self as a kind of cartesian homunculus. On this cartesian view, pain is interpreted in presence of the self. To my mind, it seems the other way round: the self in pain finds itself in the presence of pain (the ‘content’ of pain). The self of any conscious pain is not inherently conscious. Pain is intruder, not self. That is why pain is an aversion.
From this single experiential point we look out upon the world along straight and uninterrupted lines of sight. This orientation is dramatically reversed in the experience of pain. During pain, attentional focus is rapidly and involuntarily moved backwards along these same lines toward their most proximal origin. I believe this reverse direction helps to characterize the meaning of conscious pain as intrusion or threat to oneself.
Hering, E. (1879/1942). Spatial Sense and Movements of the Eye. Trans. C. A. Radde. Baltimore, MD: American Academy of Optometry (Original work published in 1879).
Mach, E. (1897). Contributions to the Analysis of the Sensations. La Salle, IL: Open Court.
Merker, B. (2007). Consciousness without a cerebral cortex, a challenge
for neuroscience and medicine. Target article with peer commentary and author’s response. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 30, 63–134.
Merker, B. (2013). The efference cascade, consciousness, and its self: naturalizing the first person pivot of action control. Frontiers in Psychology, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00501.
No philosophy of mind is trouble-free.
Is sexual orientation a life choice? This is often asserted in connection with homosexuality, bisexuality and transsexuality, but never in connection with heterosexuality.
Can a child choose his or her own sexual orientation? For example, can a child decide to be transsexual? For that matter, did you choose your own sexual orientation? Of course not.
Understanding one’s own sexual orientation is not at all like choosing items to add to one’s own shopping list. You can’t shop for sexual orientation; you’re born into it.
Someone who comes ‘out of the closet’ to others is not choosing his or her sexuality, but declaring it.
If neuroscience identifies a brain signature of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, does the signature thereby replace Beethoven’s Fifth with a scientific explanation, as though Beethoven’s Fifth had never even existed? Of course not! The reduction explains the personal experience of listening to Beethoven’s Fifth by reducing it to the level of a brain activation pattern. It is not a denial of the existence of the particular experience. Now, is it possible for neuroscience to actually produce a neural signature of the Fifth? In the future – maybe.
Pain is part of the story of humankind.
Pain is affirmative of life, not destructive of it. Think of the scream of pain.
Pain is a vital molecule in a great, flowing river. Nothing moves in a stagnant pool, and you will not find pain there, only leering scum.
Pain is identical to brain activity. Pain is not one thing and brain activity another. It is one unitary movement. One pattern.
Whenever pain is separated from brain activity, a new philosophy results.
Call for Chapters: ‘Pain Experience and Neuroscience’, Edited Collection, 2014
You are warmly invited to submit your research chapter for possible inclusion in an edited collection entitled ‘Pain Experience and Neuroscience’. The collection editor is Dr. Simon van Rysewyk. The target publication date is December 2014. Target publisher: MIT Press.
According to the International Association of the Study of Pain, pain is ‘an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage’. Nociceptor activity induced by a noxious stimulus is not pain even though pain most typically has a peripheral physical cause. Pain is always personal. Many laboratory and clinical studies support the IASP pain definition, and it is widely endorsed in the international pain community. Not all pain is associated with tissue damage (stomach and head ache). Pains present in countless varieties associated with different sensations, imbued with different meanings and strong emotions and cognitions. Pain can have intense, complex features that need to be explained. The discovery of how such varied dimensions of pain experience relate to each other and to the pain-related neural pathways, neurotransmitters, and integrative centers of the brain that support them is a major scientific challenge in the study of pain. How can it be done?
The way to meet this challenge is to integrate knowledge from current models of pain with knowledge and insights from neuroscience, psychology, and humanities. A history of experiential pain investigations does exist. For example, early in the twentieth century, Sir Henry Head, William Landau and George H. Bishop conducted psychophysical studies on qualitative differences between ‘first pain’ and ‘second pain’ and neurophysiological studies on the relationship of these pain sub-types to brain activity. Later, temporal differences between first and second pain were explained in terms of central temporal summation in psychophysiological studies by Donald D. Price and others and Roland Staud. These integrative studies use well-known psychophysical scaling methods (e.g., ratio scales) or, the ‘experiential-phenomenological method’, in studies by Price and colleagues. Other experiential methods that form productive research programs should be considered to model pain experience, such as descriptive experience sampling (DES) (to analyze very brief episodes of experience in natural settings) developed by Russell T. Hurlburt and his colleagues, or the explication interview method to analyze the fine grain of chronic experiences, exemplified in the works of Francisco Varella, Claire Petitmengin, and Pierre Vermersch.
Without a detailed experiential analysis of the qualities of pain, or the qualitative differences between pain sub-types, it is extremely challenging to establish a detailed examination of the neural systems that support such features. Experiential analyses are also essential for the advancement of psychological pain theory and clinical practice. The aim of this edited collection is to contribute towards integrating pain psychology and neuroscience with the humanities in the study of pain.
Target audiences of ‘Pain Experience and Neuroscience’
The expected target audiences of ‘Pain Experience and Neuroscience’ are scientists, researchers, authors, and practitioners currently active in pain science, including the neurosciences and clinical neurosciences, psychology, and the humanities. The target audience will also include various stakeholders, like academic scientists and humanists, research institutes, and individuals interested in pain, including pain patients, their families and significant others, and the huge audience in the public sector comprising health service providers, government agencies, ministries, education institutions, social service providers and other types of government, commercial and not-for-profit agencies.
Intent to submit your chapter
Please indicate your intention to submit a manuscript to Simon with the title of the chapter, and author(s). He will approach a publisher once he has accepted 25 intents to submit.
Please feel free to contact Simon if you have any questions or concerns. Many thanks!
Intent to Submit: December 31, 2013
Full Version: May 31, 2014
Decision Date: July 31, 2014
Final Version: August 31, 2014
Dr. Simon van Rysewyk
Post-Doctoral Fellow, Graduate Institute of Medical Humanities, Taipei Medical University, 250 Wu-Hsing Street, Xin-yi District, Taipei City, Taiwan 110.
mobile: +886 916 608 88
A scientific reduction does change reality, for it changes us. It changes our understanding of things.
But a scientific reduction doesn’t change a thing into something else. Nothing in reality must disappear, except ideas or ways of looking at reality that no longer mesh with established evidence and theory.
Neuroscience is contributing to the gathering wisdom of who and what we are.