Monday, July 03, 2006

A Very Belated Response to Alan Cook

More than half a year ago, I wrote a defense of Descartes' "I think therefore I am" argument. (I redated it recently).
I attempted to defend Descartes's claim against the objections of people like Bertrand Russell, who says that Descartes was entitled only to claim "there are thoughts" as opposed to an "I" that does the thinking, and that the claim that there can be thoughts without a thinker is as incoherent as the idea that there is pain without a sufferer.

Alan Cook responded essentially by saying that a pain is an item in mental space, and the "awfulness" of pain can be overcome through meditation; the meditiation technique being a process of disowning the pain; the pain becomes a something in one's mental space but ceases to be painful.

I'd like to look at this issue by quoting some interesting comments by C. S. Lewis that concern the same issue, from The Problem of Pain p. 32.

"If fire comforts that body at a certain distance, it will destroy it when the distance is reduced. Hence, even i a perfect world, the necessity for those danger signals which the pain-fibers of our nerves are apparently designed to transmit. Does that mean that an inevitable element of evil, (in the form of pain) is inevitable in any world? I think not: for while it may be true that the least sin is an incalculable evil, the evil of pain depends on degree, and pains below a certain intensity are not feared or resented at all. No one minds the process "warm--beautifully hot--it stings" which warns him to draw his band from exposure to the fire; and, if I may trust my own feeling, a slight aching in the legs as we climb into bed after a good day's walking is pleaurable."

These considerations lead Lewis to make a distinction on p. 90.

"But the truth is that the word Pain has two senses which must now be distinguished. a. A partricular kind of sensation, probably conveyd by specialised nerve fibers and, recongnizable to the patient as that kind of sensation whether he dislikes it or not, (he faint ache in my limbs would be recofnized as an ache even if I didn't object to it). b. Any experience, whether physical or mental, which the patient dislikes."

Cook has some comments about pain as a motivator:

"Another reason that the pain I experience seems peculiarly “mine” may have to do with the motivational role of pain. When we say “Smith is in pain”, is it not a conceptual truth that “Ceteris paribus, Smith wants to do something to alleviate or eliminate the pain”? I’m quite willing to grant that this may be a conceptual truth regarding the use of the ordinary-language concept of pain, but that only shows that that ordinary-language concept is radically deficient. What one comes to see is meditative experience is that most, if not all, of what we interpret in naive experience as the aversion to pain is actually “mental chatter”, internal verbalization of phrases like “Damn, that hurts! I wish that would go away. Could I get away with moving my leg a little bit? I was an idiot to come here and put myself through this.” When one listens to that chatter for long enough, it eventually gets boring and something else in the mind thinks “Oh, shut up already. We’ve had enough of your grouching.” (This thought may or may not itself take the form of internal verbalization; at times one simply finds that the complaining voice has quieted down for a while, leaving it uncertain whether the rest of the mind got tired of listening or the complainer just got worn out.) And none of this is any way implies that “It stops hurting as much”, that the pain has decreased in intensity, because it’s evident that the sensation located in that region of space hasn’t changed at all.

If we are talking about pain in sense b, this does not seem to make sense at all. It is impossiible for there to be a state that a person dislikes if there is no person to dislike it. On this conception of pain the idea of "pain without a sufferer" is analytically incoherent.

And are pains in the particular locations of space that we suppose that they are, in the same sense that, for example, a green stapler can be behind my back and still green? Isn't it possible to have a pain "located" (phenomenologically) in body part that no longer exists? I can (phenomenologically) have a pain in the butt even though I have no butt. The pain in the butt is relative to the way it appears to my self, and if there is no self, then we really can't make sense of the idea of a pain in the butt.

Anyway, my apologies to Alan for this very very long delay.

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