Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Locating Pain

How is it that the following inference is invalid?
(1) I feel a pain in my fingertip
(2) The fingertip is in my mouth
(3) I feel a pain in my mouth

Tye's initial suggestion (C&P, p.52) invokes the opacity of representation. To experience pain "in" an area is merely for one's experience to represent pain (tissue damage) as being in that area. Because the information in (2) may not be included within the representation, (3) -- understood as the claim that you represent pain as being in your mouth -- does not follow. Such failure of substitution is a familiar feature of representations. (Compare Lois Lane's beliefs about Clark Kent/Superman.)

But this explanation seems misguided. Opacity problems derive from ignorance or incomplete representation (Lois doesn't know that Clark is Superman), whereas this doesn't seem essential to the pain problem. In fact, the problem doesn't seem to depend on the representational aspect of pain at all. Compare:

(1') There is tissue damage in my fingertip
(2') The fingertip is in my mouth
(3') There is tissue damage in my mouth

On the most natural reading, this argument is just as bad as the original one. So plainly the essential problem has nothing to do with representation. It's simply an ambiguity in the word "in". As Tye explains:
When there is a hollow physical object, O, the claim that something X is in O can be understood either to assert that X is within the cavity bounded by O or to assert that X is embedded within a portion of the cavity surround. (p.53)

Since my damaged finger is in my mouth, there is tissue damage "in" my mouth in the first sense, but plainly not the second -- it is not my mouth itself that is damaged. This carries over to the representations: a veridical experience will represent the pain as being "in" my mouth in the first sense but not the second, and indeed that seems to be exactly what happens. (I feel the pain in my finger, and my finger in my mouth. Hence I feel that there is a pain within my mouth -- specifically, in my finger -- even though it isn't the mouth itself that feels painful.) Thus the initial problem is cleared up nice and simply. So why couldn't Tye be clearer about it? (He doesn't explicate the argument as I do above.) As if this weren't irritating enough, he further muddies the waters:
Perhaps it will be replied that once different spatial senses of 'in' are admitted, that is all that is needed to explain the inference failure in the last case. The appeal to representation is otiose. This misses the point. The pain/experience of pain is not in my mouth in either spatial sense. To offer an explanation that supposes that it is is to offer an explanation based on false assumptions. And that is to offer no explanation at all. (pp.53-54)

Grrr. This really doesn't need to be that complicated. "The point", recall, is to explain the inference failure. The inference failure occurs because of the two senses of 'in'. It has nothing to do with referential opacity or substitution failure as a distinctive feature of representation -- that's a total red herring! Sure, representation may be relevant in the more general respect that experiences are representational, but it doesn't have any direct bearing on the particular point at hand. (Perhaps Tye has a different "point" in mind? Otherwise he seems to confuse "miss[ing]" the point with focusing on it! Bizarre.)

There are no "false assumptions" in my simple explanation above. The invalidity of the argument from (1') to (3') is precisely what explains why a representation of (1') -- as asserted by (1) -- doesn't imply a representation of (3') -- or the assertion of (3). My only assumption here is that experiences of pain represent something bodily (e.g. tissue damage), and that's an assumption that Tye himself grants! Whether we want to call this represented thing 'pain' is a merely terminological issue. But here's a quick argument suggesting that we should:

(P1) In general, experiences of X represent X.
Hence, (C1) Experiences of pain represent pain.
(P2) Experiences of pain represent bodily damage
Hence, (C2) Pain = bodily damage.

Of course, what we normally care about when we talk about 'pain' is really the feeling or experience as of pain. But if we want to distinguish the experience itself from the thing represented in experience, then this seems like a natural way to do it. Tye must agree that the thing represented by experiences of pain -- namely, bodily damage -- is "in my mouth in [one] spatial sense". If he denies that the same is true of 'pain', then our disagreement is merely terminological. He shouldn't think I'm making any substantive false assumptions here. I certainly don't think that the experience of pain is spatially located in the mouth, and no such claim figures in the simple explanation of the original inference failure. So there's no good reason to rebuke the simple explanation here.

Oh well, I guess I should quit growling and find something more productive to do. (Maybe sleep.)


  1. "Hence I feel that there is a pain within my mouth"

    On second thought, perhaps Tye means to deny this claim. I guess that would make more sense of his otherwise convoluted argument. Assuming that's what he's up to (though this isn't entirely clear), is he right to deny it?

    Quick poll: if you stick a sore finger in your mouth, do you feel the finger-pain as being spatially located in there (in any sense of the term)? More generally, do you feel higher-order locations, i.e. the locations of the body parts in which you feel a sensation as being in? (If you clap your hands above your head, do you feel the hand-sensations as being located above your head?)

  2. Moi tïnks it would be more amusing
    if you used another body locale, rather than the mouth, to put said finger.

    Stay on Groovin' Safari,
    TOR Hershman

  3. Language games.

    Feeling a pain in body part X is not the same as feeling a pain in body part Y while Y is at spatial location assciated with X.

    The "in" preposition refers to two different spaces depending on context. One is spatial, and the other is sensory/body-topological.

  4. Doctor Logic is right. The keyword is "in."

    You feel the pain via your finger, not via your mouth. That is, the signal comes from nerves in the finger, regardless of where the finger is in space.

    If your hand was in your pocket, you wouldn't say, "I feel pain in my pocket."

    Still, that doesn't answer the larger question of locating pain. What is happening when take pain medication and don't "feel" pain that you would otherwise? Where is the pain? Or the "feeling" of pain located?

  5. Timothy J Scriven1:35 am, August 17, 2006

    So what some of you guys are basically suggesting is that the problem is based on failing to see the distinction between phemonological and actual space? Or have I misread you?

  6. 1) Two difference senses of "in" you might as well say
    A) A rose is red
    B) I rose this morning
    C) Therefore I was red

    2)I am OK with the idea that I might fell pain "in my mouth" in the same way I feel pain "in a car crash" or "in a fight where I loose" however most people would probably guess you were being intentionally misleading if you used such an irregular usage as "in my mouth".

  7. what do u mean "in my mouth"?the inference, specifically the conclusion is rather vague and problematic so it would be rather risky to answer "how" unless all necessary fats has been laid down.

  8. i mean facts.hahhahaha!

  9. I'm not sure that there are two senses of 'in' here. Charity demands that we take 'in' to be univocal. And, it seems to me that 'in' can be read, in all 3 premises, as shorthand for 'at a particular location'. If that's so, then the argument is valid.

    The thing one ought to question is whether or not it makes sense to say that when one reports a pain in their fingertip, they are reporting it as being in one's finger and not just what seems to be in the finger. It's actually tough to say where the pain is. I think most philosophers would say the best way to report your pain is to say that "I feel a pain as in my fingertip". If that's what (1) says, then the argument is invalid. But, to answer the initial question, it is valid on a reading of (1) that locates the actual pain in one's finger, which is perhaps not that crazy.

  10. There's a hole in my sock.
    My sock is in my shoe.
    There's a hole in my shoe.

    Seems no different from the original (to me). I suspect that this is because "in" serves to tell us what the pain is a mode or state of.

  11. Oh, and I meant to add that they are both invalid for the same reason.

  12. Clayton, yes, I think that's exactly right -- your example mirrors my "tissue damage" argument quite nicely.

    (There's a very loose sense in which we might still say that there is a hole "in" your shoe, simply in the sense that the sock-hole is spatially located inside the shoe cavity. But perhaps this suggestion needlessly complicates things -- certainly, some of the earlier commenters appear to have misunderstood my point. Doctor Logic's comment, for example, is basically a distilled version of my central point, so it's odd to present it as somehow being in opposition to anything I've said here! Perhaps I wasn't as clear as I'd hoped. Oh well...)

    Anonymous (most recent) - you seem to be sympathetic to Tye's view, i.e. that the representational nature of pain experience plays a crucial role in the explanation here. But then how do you respond to the argument of my main post, where I show that "the essential problem has nothing to do with representation"? I argued that even if we take the actual pain as being something physical in your finger -- as simply being the tissue damage, say -- the resulting argument from (1') to (3') is still invalid.

  13. Richard,

    I'm not sure I see how the argument is invalid if we understand (1) in the way someone like Tye would suggest. The pain is located in the finger, which happens to be in a mouth. It's not as if we need to understand the conclusion to be saying that your mouth hurts. It's simply that there is a region of space time that is a pain and it is located in your finger, which is in your mouth, which is in the universe. Seems valid to me. But, as I suggested, it is questionable whether it makes sense to say that a pain is in a body part. Although, it seems to me that the pain is in our heads and in the finger, which is pretty weird.


Visitors: check my comments policy first.
Non-Blogger users: If the comment form isn't working for you, email me your comment and I can post it on your behalf. (If your comment is too long, first try breaking it into two parts.)