Monday, September 09, 2013

A small question about the grammar of "pain"

I am in pain. I have the same persistent dull ache I have had in my elbow since the beginning of the summer when I began a new workout routine with a new workout partner. The pain is strong enough—so maybe not a dull ache—that it makes sleeping difficult. 
But, in the process of watching an episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, I forget the pain. The mixture of laughter at juvenile humor and wondering whether this isn't just a picture of human nature at its unvarnished core comes to the fore in my mind.
At the end of the episode, as I begin to get ready for bed, I again begin to think about my elbow and I notice the pain again.
A question presents itself: Would we say that I was in pain during the show? (This is a question about what we would say about the mental state, not a question about what science tells us about the operation of my nervous system and brain.) 


Andrew S said...

My answer would be "no." The mental state *is* what people refer to. It would not make sense for someone to say, "I was in pain but I did not feel it."

Tyler Hower said...

I suspect you are right, but I think talking in terms of the mental state may be question begging. At least part of the question is whether we treat pain as a necessarily concurrent state or whether we treat it as if it can be dispositional. As I can see something, in some sense, without being aware I've seen it, can I feel a pain without being aware I'm feeing it?

Tyler Hower said...

Of course, that was meant to be "occurent."

Andrew S said...

hmm...I guess I'm feeling particularly uncreative at this point. At this time, I can't imagine treating pain as dispositional. (But then again, I think similarly for emotions in general.)

Tyler Hower said...

I don't know, I suspect we might say I've forgotten my pain for a while, but it was there all the time.

With emotions, I think very much that I can have emotions that I am not occurently aware of. I can forget my sadness for a time without it being really the case that I wasn't sad in that period, or I suspect we sometimes might say that.

But, who knows, my intuitions are all messed up.

Andrew S said...

although I can't say I recall my entire history of experiencing pain, I think I would be more likely to say something like, "My pain went away, but now it's come back."

For example, if I have a headache that comes and goes regularly...maybe a headache isn't the right comparison.

Maybe it depends on what we attribute as the source of the pain? If we think the source was resolved, then we might say that the pain went away, but if we think that the underlying source did NOT go away, then we might instead say, "I forgot about my pain, but it was there the whole time."

Even if that were the case (which seems plausible to me), I have challenges against that...for example, let's take something like a cold. If I take medicine for a cold, then I don't feel miserable. I don't "forget" about my misery. No, I feel pretty great!

And yet, cold medicine doesn't actually address the cold..just the symptoms.

...hmm...on the other hand, if we look at a cold as being a "disease" (both in the sense of feeling dis...ease... and in the sense of having a disease), then I can see disposition. When I'm on medicine, I am diseased dispositionally as long as I still have a cold, but it's not occurent.

If that is the sense you're getting at, then maybe I could see it.

Actually, I was about to write another example, but I think it backfired on me. I was going to write about painkillers and anesthesia, but then it struck me that analgesics are different from anesthesia and maybe the difference can answer things.

So, if someone is on a painkiller, it makes sense that they say, "the pain went away" and not simply "I forgot the pain". But if someone is under anesthesia...wouldn't they also report that as "There was no pain", even though all that's really happening is the sensation is removed?

Finally...I personally don't buy your sadness example. I still don't understand how you would define sadness you "forgot". Or how you would differentiate that from simply "not being sad"

however, my intuitions are also probably all messed up, haha

Tyler Hower said...

I suppose the sort of example I was thinking of is where you are in grief, but in a short space of time, something distracts you from your grief. That is, it distracts you from what is there all the time; when the distraction is gone, you become aware again of the sadness. It is as natural, I think to say that you remember that you were sad and that you were the whole time as it is to say that you become sad again. Not more natural, but as natural.