21 July 2004

Pain research

Yesterday, when the steel door of our department unexpectedly slammed shut on my finger, I was fortunate to be able to conduct some research and empirical testing of my philosophical views on pain.

I'm pleased to say that things turned out well. One consequence of my view is that by relaxing and accepting a pain --in particular, by letting go of the urge to fight it (see: Nagel, Korsgaard) and trying to associate with it as part of one's self (see: me)-- the pain becomes much less bad.* Importantly, that's not to say that the sensory qualities of the pain change (much). In terms of phenomenology, the pain still felt pretty much the same, but there was a substantial change in its badness.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to reconfirm my claim --arrived at mainly through broken fingers in the past**-- that certain pains have a distinctive character indicative of the injury. That is, broken fingers have a certain feeling to them. Its been awhile since I last broke a finger and thus I was curious whether I would recognize the alleged distinctive character again.***

*N.b., this is very different from trying to ignore the pain. Actively trying to put it out of your mind, I think, tends to make it worse.

**No, I'm neither a masochist nor particularly clumsy. All the broken bones resulted from martial arts injuries in my teenage years (when I viewed such injuries as a source of pride and badge of honor --now that I have arthritis at 27 and can reliably tell you when a storm's a comin', I'm a bit less proud).

***One must, I think, learn such pain identification through experience. Many traumas probably feel like broken bones to the naive injured patient; but many broken bones have a distinctive character to those of us with experience.

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